The Hit Parade from Hell

In Franz Kafka's "Metamorphosis," Gregor Samsa wakes up to find that he has been transformed into a gigantic insect. I recently woke up with "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" in my head. My morning was worse.

"The Devil Went Down to Georgia" was a country hit for the Charlie Daniels Band in 1979. It's a song about Satan, who, in one of his less ambitious moments, challenges a Georgia boy named Johnny to a fiddle contest. If the Devil wins, he gets Johnny’s soul. If Johnny wins, he gets the Devil's shiny gold fiddle. Naturally, good triumphs; Johnny wins and dares the Devil to "come on back" for a rematch.

The Devil came back all right, but it wasn't in Georgia. I had barely hit the snooze bar on my alarm when "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" began playing in my head. And playing. And playing some more. From breakfast to lunch, afternoon to evening, over and over and over, I heard "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." By the end of the day, Johnny had won the Devil's gold fiddle more than 14 billion times.

Hearing a song repeatedly — even a song you like — is irritating. Hearing a song you don't like, repeatedly, is madness. It's like an endless attack of mental hiccups. And these hiccups, unfortunately, aren't limited to "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." My brain is a cerebral jukebox of moldy oldies. I know all the words to "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Ol' Oak Tree." And "Copacabana." And the theme from The Love Boat. I once spent an entire morning singing Alka-Seltzer's "Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz" jingle.

Remembering antacid jingles is not a talent. It's a curse. My brain, I've decided, should be a file cabinet. Then I could pull out the drawers filled with trivial information — songs performed by the Brady Bunch — and replace them with something substantive, like an understanding of quantum physics. It's no wonder I never learned the state capitals — "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" is wasting 50 states' brain space.

Of course, songs like "Lucille" are supposed to get stuck in your head. Hit songs have catchy melodies called hooks. Record companies like hooks because they sell records. Consumers hear a song, get it stuck in their heads, then feel they’ll go insane unless they buy the record IMMEDIATELY. The problem is, those hooks latch on to the subconscious like ticks. Then, suddenly, after many years, they spring to life. One reference — a casual comment, an innocent dream — can trigger a long-buried melody. I probably dreamed I was looking for a john in Georgia while fiddling with the radio and having a devil of a time getting a soul station.

I suppose it's all my fault. If the mind is truly a file cabinet, I’m the one who filled it with trash. Jingles and rock songs are junk food for the mind. They're greasy and gooey and easy to consume. (The reason no one has Tchaikovsky in their heads is because Tchaikovsky used more than three chords.) For 30 years, I've maintained a steady diet of cultural Ring Dings. My mental arteries are clogged with "Sugar, Sugar."

The only way I knew to dispose of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" was to think of another song. So what was the first song that came to mind? "Jingle Bells." And no, it was not Christmas.

Next time, if I'm lucky, I'll be transformed into a gigantic insect.

Get the latest Travel & Culture stories in your inbox.