Putting on the Big Boots

We can’t stop the music!


There are hundreds, maybe thousands of them lying dormant in our brains, just waiting. Suddenly, at any given time, a signal triggers a part of our memories, and uninhibited, spontaneous song pours out. Whether we belt the songs out loud, or they play silently again and again in our heads, we can’t stop the music.

About once a month I stop in to see a dear couple in Missouri Valley. Sometime, during the course of our visit, the husband heads downstairs, and within a few minutes, glorious vibrato chords rise up to us from the electric organ. Presto! The music memories unfold, and the lyrics dance about in our heads. His wife and I name the songs: “Red Roses for a Blue Lady,” Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” “Side by Side,” “Moon River.” We remember. We smile.

A group of Dartmouth researchers has learned that the brain's auditory cortex, the part that handles information from our ears, holds on to musical memories.  The phenomenon is called involuntary musical imagery.

I can’t help but wonder how some of those musical images keyed into my brain. As a kid, I was a rock and roll fan. Old, gushy love songs were not cool for my generation. I remember Saturday nights when trumpets blared the theme music for one of my favorite TV shows, “Get Smart.” I plopped down, anticipating the antics of inept spy Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) and Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon). Just as Max injured his nose on the last door into CONTROL Headquarters in the opening credits, Dad glanced at his watch. “DeAnn, turn the channel. ‘Lawrence Welk’ is on.” With a huge sigh, and a groan (a quiet groan), I got up and switched stations. (I was the remote back then.) To show my disdain, I stomped to the kitchen and read a book. Did the wunnerful-wunnerful songs crooned by Norma Zimmer soak into my brain in spite of me not wanting to listen?

Likely, the stored-up memories originate from many sources: television, church, music class, radio, concerts and baseball games. Sisters singing around the piano, “Bless This House.” Delmer and Neil strumming guitars and singing in the living room, “My Baby Does the Hanky Panky” and “The House of the Rising Sun.”

Just as we don’t know when or what melodies were melded into our auditory cortexes, we never know what will trip the switch that releases the music memories.

I asked my siblings what song stuck in their heads and is most likely to pour out at any reminder. Delmer’s is “Amarillo, by Morning.” The Beatles’ classic, “Hard Day’s Night” is Darlene’s most-likely recalled song.

“The Little Brown Church in the Vale” is the song most dear to the childhood of my sister Deloris. Her adept fingers on the keys of the old upright piano brought the song to life many times in our living room.

Dorothy obviously loved music class, as she thought of “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree.” “Over the River and Through the Woods” can easily kick in. The melody helped their family pass the miles on long drives to Grandmother’s house.

The fascinating thing is that we don’t even have to actually hear the song. A word or two from the title or lyrics can bring out the music in us. Sometimes, the songs won’t stop playing, but often they are fun to remember. The backup singers sway to the music. Can you see Ricky Nelson’s gorgeous blue eyes as he sings “Hello Mary Lou?”

Have any of these songs flowed from your auditory cortex? Once they start, you can’t stop them. I cannot help but imagine the same songs dancing through the heads of thousands of newspaper readers across the country. Just in case none of these tripped the trigger in your brain, try to resist this one: “We All Live in a Yellow Submarine, Yellow Submarine, Yellow Submarine…”

I’m smiling.

Kruempel’s newest book, Once Upon a Midwest Sunset, as well as her 5-book series, Promises to Keep, are available on Amazon.com. Once Upon a Midwest Sunset (an excellent gift of memories) is a compilation of the stories from her NOOKS AND CRANNIES column, which was published in five newspapers in 2020-21. Contact her at deannkruempelauthor@gmail.com


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