I was ten years old when I first realized my ability to listen to songs in my head. I usually relied on the transistor radio to help put me to sleep, but one night my brother Alan swiped it from me, and my parents had already shut me into my darkened room and warned me not to show my face again until morning. For a while I lay in bed coming up with ways to get even with Alan. Maybe I would make one of his favorite 45s disappear. Of course he would probably retaliate by not letting me listen to any of his records, which would be bad, because the only records left to play would be Mom and Dad’s bargain bin collections by Longines Symphonette, or the soundtrack of The Pajama Game. Alan, on the other hand, had the latest Top 40 hits like “Wooly Bully,” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, and “Downtown,” by Petula Clark. But the song I really wanted to hear was the current number one hit, “This Diamond Ring,” by Garry Lewis and the Playboys.
Garry Lewis was the teenage son of comedian Jerry Lewis, who I had seen many times on TV and in movies like The Nutty Professor. Garry’s song “This Diamond Ring” had rocketed to number one on the charts after his father arranged for him to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show, like teen idols Elvis, The Beatles, and many others before him. Afterwards, it got so much airplay on the radio that you would practically be guaranteed to hear it on any popular station if you listened for at least a half-hour.
But I couldn’t listen because my radio was gone. Maybe I would stick leftover mashed potatoes into Alan’s shoes. If I kept it a secret, he’d never suspect it was me. Since I’d never done anything like that before, he’d probably try to beat-up my brother Dennis, instead. But what good would getting even be if I didn’t get any credit for it? While I was pondering this, something weird happened. I started to hear “This Diamond Ring” playing. Could it be coming from my radio in Alan’s room? No, the song was much too loud and precise for it to be coming from the tinny speaker of an $8 radio on the other side of the hallway. The song was so clear and overpowering it sounded like it was coming from a radio inside my brain.
This diamond ring doesn’t shine for me anymore
And this diamond ring doesn’t mean what it meant before
So if you’ve got someone whose love is tru-u-ue
Let it shine for yo-ou-ou
It was amazing! I was listening to a hit song on the radio without even having a radio in my room! Even better, I could start the song from any point I wanted, and I could play it over and over again, without being interrupted by commercials for Thom McCann Shoes or Buddy’s Carpet Cleaning. So I proceeded to have a “This Diamond Ring” marathon until finally drifting off into a blissful sleep.
This is how I discovered my ability to listen to the music inside my head. It is an ability that I believe I share with many people, but my talent may be a little more finely tuned than most because I have practiced it diligently ever since that night. I taught myself to play songs on the piano and guitar “by ear,” or really, by trying to make these instruments sound something like the songs playing in my head. I was also very good at remembering song lyrics; I could sing them in sync (though not necessarily in tune) with the original hits playing in my brain. I could also endlessly entertain myself by listening to music while I walked to school, or whenever else I wanted, even learning to turn down the volume of boring lectures by teachers and parents, and turn up the volume of the soundtrack of my life.
So I have never really understood the fascination people have with Walkmen and iPods. Why drag around that extra equipment, and go through the trouble and expense of gathering together all your favorite music into a machine when you’ve already got it in your head, available instantly whenever you want it? Then there’s the worry involved. Is someone going to try to steal my iPod? What if I lose my iPod? What if it breaks? How will I ever recover all my music?
I’ve never lost my brain, and if it breaks, I’m pretty well screwed anyway, so I’m not going to worry too much about what’ll happen to the music in there. As for podcasts, that cutting-edge insight-filled blathering by obscure personalities who would never be allowed on commercial radio, my brain features a never-ending series of podcasts on every subject imaginable. Granted, many of them are repeats, but for the most part, I agree with everything the podcaster has to say, and when I don’t, I can easily shut him up by popping in one of my favorite songs.
On the most recent Space Shuttle mission, something new happened: NASA allowed each of the astronauts to carry an iPod with them into space. That’s right, you, the American taxpayer, spent billions equipping and training these pioneers of our planet so they could go up into the vastness of outer space and experiment with re-mixing their Britney Spears playlists. Were they able to get the latest downloads via satellite from the iTunes store? I’m not sure if results of that research are in yet, but we can be sure that Apple will come out with a really cosmic ad of the iPod-wearing astronauts dancing weightlessly to “Eight Miles High,” or staring out the porthole at a crescent planet while listening to Louis Arm-strong sing “What a Wonderful World.”
Meanwhile, back on Earth, I’ll be spacing out by listening to the voices inside my head, or what I prefer to call the iPod in my brain. And if that is God trying to tell me something, then it’s by singing perfect harmony and playing outstanding licks on electric guitar.