February 6, 2015

I can’t get no satisfaction. But I can hum it.

When you hit about 60, you get a free pass to be annoying. Annoying kids are just pests, but annoying old men are just, well, old men.

By now I’ve perfected all 50 Shades of Gray Irritations, but there is one I have employed for as long as I remember.

I hum.
I’ve suffered countless elbow jabs and shooshing fingers over the years, but it has only become worse. Now I also sing.

Neither would be bad if I did them well or even knew the words to the songs I share. But quality is not the object of my vocalization. I’m just sharing what my mental radio is playing.

Portrait of a hum
A few years ago, one of my students launched a blog called “The Song in My Head.” Several times a week, she would become conscious of a song playing in her head and then research the lyrics, popularity and background. It was one of the most interesting student blogs I’ve read.

I never had the time nor inclination to delve into the details of the songs in my head. For one, they change too quickly. For another, I can’t remember them five minutes after I stop humming.

The thought of singing in a choir or, God forbid, performing on a stage terrifies me. But give me a shower stall, an empty hallway or a workshop that requires ear-protectors and I am the star of Clyde’s Pretty Good Record Co.

And any other time, I’m probably humming.

Most of the songs are from the musically amazing period of my youth – the 1960s. I think that all of the nuclear tests back then created not monsters, but the best songwriters in history.  The Eagles, Simon and Garfunkel, the Beatles, all of MoTown. Every few years something that I hummed in high school comes back as a hit song. It is Baby Boomers' reparation for having to put up with Richard Nixon.

Some songs come up in my repertoire frequently. “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone,” sounds great while walking through the University basement after hours. “My Girl” pops up when I think of my wife (it’s also her ringtone). “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” can stick with me for weeks. And sounds unintelligible when hummed.

But I drift to classical, try a little country and sink into the blues. “The Voice” TV show may be my ultimate undoing. After every episode, I find myself mumbling through a catchy new tune.

The hell of it is, I know this will get worse. My ears are already cratering from all the loud music I listened to as a teen (Baby Boomer’s penance for electing George Bush). That means I’m well on my way to one of those really annoying old men: Deaf as a post but sitting in the corner humming at increasingly high volume.

Ah, but at least I’ve got great songs to hum.  
-- Clyde