Sunday, October 2, 2011

Which came first, the pumpkin or the earworm?

It's a chicken and egg question. If you're going to write a song, do you start with the words or the music?

With Paul McCartney, we know that the egg came first. The lyrics for the three syllables that became "Yesterday" were originally "scrambled eggs." Keith Richards, to judge from his autobiography, liked his fried--however his eggs may have been cooked.

Giuseppe Verdi's technique was to play chicken with a metronome. Tinpan Alley learned that if you cut the head off the chicken first and let it run around, sometimes it produced a golden egg before it died. If only they could clone that "sometimes." Hmm, wait a sec: "sometimes." It has the sound of a hit! Grab a chicken!

I share a study with three backup oboists who perform under the name of Los Tres Oboes. As far as they're concerned, every composition starts with eggs and chicken--huevos rancheros and pollo loco--as well as a part for each one of them. "But guys," I tell them, "you're backup oboists. You make 'afterthought' look like an alpha male."

They hate it when I say that. They get back at me by inserting an earworm into my, well, ear. Actually, they are very cleverfully inserting it into my brain--as should be obvious, but if you read Incognito by David Eagleman, you'll see that obvious things are quite invisible. Los Tres Oboes must know this, too, because along with the so-obvious-it-was-invisible earworm (in the form of an uptempo bass line), this time they left a pumpkin in my foyer, got my wife to decorate it with flowers, and pretended to know nothing about it even as they blinked an instinctive challenge at me to mate it with the earworm. Musically speaking, of course.

Talk about creative process. I might say I don't want to go there, but I have to. The earworm already has me muttering "p'tet' ta tete" which means "maybe your head," which could be a pumpkin, right? No? Folly? Of course. Grab a chicken!

Los Tres Oboes are pretty smug about it. I'm stuck, and they already have a part. Not bad for a backup oboe trio.

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