The Persistence of the Brothers Gibb

Storm with Bee Gees coming out of his head in front of Devil's Tower

Here we are on the first “real” day for Longer Thoughts, and I’m already going to break my self-imposed rules. But I never was one to slavishly heed authority, and Just Yesterday Storm is kind of a dick, so screw him. I actually wrote the essay below a few days ago, and the only original writing is this introduction, which only adds up to 158 words. Also (semi-spoiler alert), the condition described in the first paragraph no longer exists in my mind, so that whooshing sound you hear is honesty going straight out the airlock. But in my own defense, every word was true when written.

Now that I think about it, I should probably get bonus honesty points for ‘fessing up, since I could have just posted the essay sans intro and you’d have been none the wiser. At any rate, for now please set your searing judgement aside and enjoy “The Persistence of the Brothers Gibb”…

For nearly two weeks I’ve had a single 8-bar section of the Bee Gees song “Nights On Broadway” playing in my head on a near-constant loop. Not the whole song, mind you. Just the small segment that ties the verse to the chorus:

Well, I had to follow you
Though you did not want me to

Yes, it’s ironic. I do occasionally make it to the chorus, and sometimes it starts from the top of the first verse, but by and large it’s just that little dollop. In and of itself having a “stucksong” isn’t notable; millions are probably afflicted with them every day, and when my mind isn’t actively occupied, I pretty much always have music of some sort playing in my head anyway. And no, the fact that it’s Bee Gees doesn’t make it any worse than usual. I have nothing but admiration for the Gibb brothers’ ability to craft catchy songs, both for themselves and for pop royalty such as Diana Ross, Barbara Streisand, and Celine Dion.

It’s the tenacity of this particular stucksong that makes me want to scoop out my brains with a melon baller, bit by bit, until the responsible gobs of gray matter have been extracted. After registering my dilemma on Twitter, I received a satisfying mix of sympathy and practical advice, though as a veteran earworm fighter I was already familiar with the two suggested excision techniques: Substitution and Overdose.

In theory, Substitution works exactly like it sounds: focus on an equally persistent but more tolerable song in order to smoke out the invading music-strain, much as white blood cells in the body surround and destroy viruses and other malicious contaminants. Recommendations ranged from other catchy tunes to the Oscar Mayer weiner song to the “The Ballad of Gilligan’s Isle”, but as a rule of thumb, using someone else’s Substitutions would be like borrowing a stranger’s underwear. Sure, you could put them on, and they might even fit, but it just wouldn’t feel right. My own first-stringers are certain sections of ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” and “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder, but not even the jaunty, brassy run of the later can displace the Gibb boys’ hook.

Substitution abandoned, I attempted Overdose by playing “Nights On Broadway” over and over again in the hope that it would satisfy whatever misguided craving led my mind to it in the first place. Not only did it fail, but I came to realize that the song is about a man stalking his ex, and it’s left open to interpretation as to exactly what blame the nights on Broadway should shoulder. The breakup of the singer’s relationship? His apparent melancholic state? Or did he buy a windowless white cargo van and have one more encounter with his estranged lover, which takes place in a verse that didn’t make it into the final version of the song? More troublesome still is the idea that by extension, does my mind’s musical fixation indicate that I’m being slowly reformatted into an obsessive predator? How much do cargo vans go for these days?

Totally kidding, probably! I was blissfully unaware of the lyrics until I attempted to dislodge their host melody from my head, and am confident that the music alone is acting on my psyche. Still, despite my skeptical sensibilities I find myself wondering if somehow the specific frequencies and rhythms of that fifteen-second song snippet are keying me into something larger, even cosmic, in scale. Not that I’m expecting to feel compelled to sculpt Devil’s Tower out of mashed potatoes at dinner tonight, but it’s beyond dispute (or at least as much as anything can be these days) that music has the ability to tap into primal parts of our brains, alien-related or no.

But more than likely the entire episode is a byproduct of a longer-than-normal lull in my travel schedule. Perhaps the parts of my mind that usually feed off the chaos generated by missed flights, hunting for decent food, and engaging live audiences simply don’t know what to do with themselves. So can I fault them for taking shelter inside a Bee Gees song that, frankly, I enjoy?

No. No, I can’t. Deep down I don’t think I want the loop to end, lest those useful patterns of electro-chemical brainstuff dissolve into nothingness, like a T-1000 Terminator in a vat of molten steel. And I’m confident that once my life returns to its usual disordered state, “Nights On Broadway” will fade back and become part of my regular stucksong rotation.

All the same, for the time being I’ll probably avoid mashed potatoes and white cargo vans.


  1. Hemisphire
    Posted March 4, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always had success using Substitution via the Hawaii 5-0 theme.

  2. Origamislayer
    Posted March 4, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    So maybe your malady was like River’s in Serenity. Once you had isolated the real problem (innocuous song is actually about a creepy stalker) you were free of it. So you probably won’t turn into a Reaver now, right?

  3. Posted March 4, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Origamislayer – no, I’m still having the Reaver dreams. But that’s another story…

  4. Evil Little Gnome
    Posted March 4, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    I use Gregorian Chant. It pretty much can’t get really stuck, but focusing on it smokes out the parasite. It dislike fighting a wave with a wave of the opposite wavitude.

  5. Posted March 4, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    I really expected a visual representation of The Persistence of the Brothers Gibb to have more melting clocks. Or Bee Gees that look like they just looked at the Ark of the Covenant. Any melting motif, actually.

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