Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Haunting Musical Memories

Some songs stick in our heads whether or not we want to remember them. Sometimes it's something that we may have heard recently, and if the tune is particularly either catchy or annoying, it's hard to lose the melody.   Eventually another tune even catchier or more annoying than the previous one comes along to replace it. Other lingering melodies are of a more long-term nature. One song in particular haunts me.

When my twin  brother and I were very young, each night right before bed, one of our parents would read to us, then sing one song for each of us in our own rooms once we were in bed. My brother was incredibly predictable in making his requests..

From the time he could speak intelligibly (intelligibly, not intelligently; he's still working on that), each night he requested "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." Five verses. Every freaking night, *  If there are actually more than five verses to the song, everyone else in my family is most thankful that Matthew did not know about them. It didn't matter which parent was putting us to bed. If  Luciano Pavarotti had inexplicably babysat us one night and had been called into service to provide the night's lullabies, I'm sure Matthew would still have insisted on "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" instead of something more fitting --   maybe "Nessum Dormi" or a comparable aria,  if there is an aria comparable to "Nessum Dormi." (Once I requested "Nessum Dormi" when it was my dad's turn to sing to us. My dad is a former touring professional guitarist and backup singer, but his training was not classical.  Rock was his genre. Still, he brought the lyrics up on his laptop and did a decent rendition of the song.)

I had lots of  songs I enjoyed (some not particularly sleep-inducing) and I tended to vary my selections depending upon which parent was putting us to bed and also depending upon my mood  on a given night. I didn't request a different song every single night of my life until my brother and I both insisted we were too old for lullabies, which was when we were in third grade. (To be truthful, my dad still brings his guitar into my room and sings to me when I have trouble sleeping, but it's certainly not every night.) There were certainly repeats among my requests, but I did  at least have sufficient variety in my requests  that even the dog was sick of hearing when my mom or dad sang to me. I  can't  come close to remembering every song I  ever chose, and I know some of them were slightly odd  choices. I remember overhearing my mom as she complained  to my dad about what a very strange child I was when I asked him to sing Paul Simon's "You Can Cal Me Al."  I also remember trying to choose really long songs so I could delay the inevitable. (Why is it that little kids hate going to sleep with such intensity?) "American Pie" was a favorite in that regard, along with Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile," but had I asked for one of them each night, my parents would eventually gotten wise to my stalling tactics. I can recall asking for "House At Pooh Corner,"  "My Girl," "Fernando" [by Abba], "I'll Be There," "Down Under,"  "Beauty and the Beast,"  "A Thousand Miles," 'Free Fallin'" [by Tom Petty], "April Come She Will" ** [Simon and Garfunkel],  "Sweet Baby James" [James Taylor] "Counting Blue Cars," "O Canada,"  "Levon," and "Hey Jude."  The  song I requested most often, in addition to "House at Pooh Corner," was probably "Surfer Girl" by the Beach Boys. Nevertheless, I probably requested either one no more than ten times in the six or so years that my parents took bedtime song requests. 

You presumably can relate to  how thrilled we all were when Matthew was in kindergarten and decided that he .no longer wanted to hear "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." That night my dad was on duty, and he was playing chords in preparation for preparing to play "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" in an unfamiliar key  (his way of  combating the boredom of having to play the same song repeatedly) when Matthew  suddenly
announced  that he was all done with stars. Dad and I both stared blankly at him. "I want you to sing that Titanic Song," he told my dad.

"Nooo," my dad responded in semi-disbelief.

My brother was serious, though, and one or the other of my parents could be heard belting out, "Near, far, wher-EV-er you are," every night for the next three years, minus a few nights when my parents were away.

Is it any mystery why that song gives me nightmares to this very day?

* My parents' few nights off were during times when my mom was away receiving treatment for leukemia. Even if they went out for the evening and left us with babysitters, we would lie awake in our beds until they came home and sang to us.

** This song was featured in a relatively recent  episode of  the TV series  Parks and Recreation. I'd forgotten song  existed until I heard it again during the episode where April and Andy were married.


  1. We have repetition issues with Benjamin and music. Oh my God... anything by Taylor Swift now gives me hives. Chipmunks, too. I sleep in a recliner in my living room because Dr. Boris thinks it's good for my blood pressure to sit up and it's easier with all the TPN tubing-- anyway, Jason said that he came downstairs one morning and I was talking in my sleep about chipmunks and squares. It invades your subconscious. Yeah, you don't ever want to hear the Chipmunks rendition of anything. It's torture.

    But, I think we are doing something right. He was singing Cat Stevens' "Wild World" the other day, so I guess that's some progress. :)

    That's really neat that your dad and mom sang for you. I sympathize with the over playing of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", and actually I didn't know the song had 5 verses.

  2. PS: I just saw the comment you left on my blog... haha. That's not a funny laugh, that's a "they're coming to take me away" laugh. :P I think generally anything in excess causes insanity. :) Though you should definitely hear him sing it. He could be the fourth member.

  3. Becca,
    We have three of those great big vinyl recordings of the Chipmunks that are relics from my mother's childhood. My parents still have a turntable attached to their stereo. When Matthew and I were little, my mom used to play them for us on occasion. One was a Christmas record. Another was based on a "Chipmunks Around the World" theme, and the third featured the Chipmunks singing Beatles' songs. My dad found the Chipmunks' renditions of the Beatles' songs to be particularly abhorrent, and would not allow the record to be played when he was home.

    I'm impressed that Benjamin sings "Wild World." That shows some serious good taste in music.

    My dad, who really doesn't play the piano all that well because he's been primarily a guitarist since he was about fourteen years old, plays a Cat Stevens song called "How Can I tell You" on the piano while he sang. He also plays "Morning Has Broken" on the piano. All other Cat Stevens songs he plays on guitar. Those songs and Bach's 2-part Inventions are about all I ever hear him play on the piano anymore.

  4. addendum:
    Verse # 3 of "Twinkle Twinkle" was used in a hotel commercial -- Sheraton, I think -- when we were really little. It went, "Then the traveler in the dark thanks you for your tiny spark. He would not see where to go if you did not twinkle so. Twinkle, twinkle, little star" etc. The artist used guitar accompaniment and took a few liberties with the melody.