Earworms Inside Me: How One Song Entered My Brain and Never Left

Alexandra Szczupak
Nov 19, 2020 · 6 min read
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Harry Chapin watches over my cat who is cradled with spoon

I don’t need to set an alarm anymore. My brain’s like, “No. I got you!” And every morning at around 7:50 AM, Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” plays in my head and jerks me out of my sleep. Chapin’s hit song entered my subconscious a few months ago and has since given himself an underwear drawer and spare key.

The first sign something was amiss appeared one morning shortly after I mustered up the energy to log roll from one side of my bed to the other. As my big toe made contact with the carpet, that intro riff started up, the one that makes me think of a court jester leaping around with a Portuguese guitar. I hummed along as I swapped one Bud Light t-shirt and pair of sweatpants for an Amstel Light tank top and leggings. After I had willed myself down to my work-from-home station, the cat came barrelling down the stairs. My brain continued, “My child arrived just the other day/He came into the world in the usual way.” Weird. I didn’t know I knew any of those lyrics. I snapped out of it and continued my morning.

I went about my day, assembling emails that sounded less and less like English as the day wore on. On Slack, I tried to explain something very simple to my boss. What should have taken ten seconds tops, turned into three minutes. My boss messaged, “Gosh Allie. Are you writing a short story or is there something wrong with Slack?” I panicked, typed, erased, and repeated a few more times. When I had finally assembled, “No. Sorry. Just a busy day.” Chapin’s voice faded up in my brain Bluetooth with a “…there were planes to catch, and bills to pay.” Wow. I really do know this song. I couldn’t get the chorus out of my head for the remainder of the afternoon.

When I finally sat down to listen to the song, it smacked. Cool. I thought. It won’t be stuck in my head anymore. But, without my permission, it began to dub itself over more and more of my mundane, groundhog’s-day-esque time spent confined to my apartment while I socially distanced.

The song filled the long spans of silence where dialogue used to be. I’d be scooping the cat’s turds out of the box, with her in a chair behind me. I knew she was looking for her opening to jump into the box well before I was finished sifting. I took one look at a gargantuan poop clump she had produced and on came, “So much like a man I just have to say, son/I’m proud of you can you sit for a while?”

When I went to give the cat her helping of nightly treats, my mind started again with a, “My cat turned ten just the other day/She said, ‘thanks for the food, dad, come on let’s play/Can you teach me how to type?’ I said, ‘not today.’”

I felt a little guilty about not playing with her but ultimately went back to my usual nightly activities of trying to write and find love on the internet. I was successful in passing a couple of hours without the song playing. I opened the dating app that was up on the rotation. Three different TJs and two Matts who all claimed to be politically “center” asked me some variant of the same question in response to my profile which reads: “A shower thought I recently had: ‘I def would have been accused of being a witch had I been born in the 1600s.’

“Why would you of [sic] been accused of being a witch? Do you weigh more than a duck?”

The inanity of this many people unable to find subtext washed over me. Do they share a master doc of dating app boilerplate? I mean, they have to know they are all saying the same things, right? What is the endgame: finding compatibility or being a carbon copy of the other? Then, as I imagined a Zoom meeting of straight men shouting over top of each other about Monty Python, Chapin fired up, “I’m gonna be like you, dad/You know I’m gonna be like you.” And on went the chorus.

As much as I tried to coexist with the tune, it would rear its folksy head at the most inopportune times. Right before bed when I was messing around with the new sensual device I had purchased off Instagram, I noticed things were taking longer than usual — which is to be expected when your latest fantasy material consists of a slew of unimaginative moderates. There I was, minding my own business trying to get off and, “Little boy blue and the man in the moon/When you coming…?” No. We are NOT doing this now. I tamped down the lyrics and was successful long enough to achieve an orgasm free of Chapin’s only number-one single.

I thought that maybe if I listened to the song on loop, I could eventually evict it from my head. I went for a run and let it play, hoping to deprogram it for good. After listening to it a few times for the first mile or so, I transitioned into my usual running playlist. “WAP” came on. Megan Thee Stallion’s rap started, my favorite part, and I tried to hit my stride. But something strange happened. Where Megan Thee Stallion’s voice used to be, was Harry Chapin’s, but Thee Stallion’s lyrics mostly preserved:

“I don’t wanna spit, but I wanna gulp…” I paused the music and hit play, hoping to hear Megan Thee Stallion. But again, there was the chorus to “Cat’s in the Cradle:”

I wanna gag, and I would like to choke

Would you touch that thing, dad, in my throat

That little dangly thing, dad,

You know that little dangly thing

I ripped out my headphones and finished the run, extremely frustrated by my inability to exorcise this 70s folk-rock hit from my amygdala.

The latest affliction has been Chapin’s ditty manifesting as my actual speech patterns. On occasion, this very conspicuously hot person delivers the mail. He arrived on the porch one day just as I was about to go out for morning coffee break II. Instead of forming my own spontaneous dialogue, I said to him,

“Thanks for the ball.” I gritted my teeth and tried to speak my own words but out came, “come on let’s play.”

“Ma’am, I’m not sure what you’re…”

I relinquished my final reserve of power to Chapin, “Can you teach me how to throw?”

“Umm. Not today,” he said. “I got a lot to do.”

“That’s okay.” I stood resting on the door frame in shock. The mail carrier briskly walked back to his truck. Chapin had his hand fully up my ass, ventriloquizing me when I let out a, “But we’ll get together then.” I cupped my hand over my mouth. The mail carrier stopped in his tracks. I continued, “You know we’ll have a good time then.” And on it went.

As much as I tried to fight it initially, I do think the song’s permanent residency in my life may have revealed a silver lining. I had a lengthy conference call with my managing editor where he unloaded a huge list of things for me to do essentially with no turnaround time.

I said, “I’d love to, Jim, if I could find the time. You see this job’s a hassle, and the cat has the flu.”

“Excuse me?”

“But it’s sure nice talking to you.”

“What!?”

“But it’s been sure nice talking to you, dad.” *click*

And on went the chorus.

Alexandra Szczupak

Written by

Curious

Curious

A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

Alexandra Szczupak

Written by

Curious

Curious

A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

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