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The Earworms Will Eat Us All

How many movie monologues can you quote from start to finish? How often are you compelled to pull up a picture of your favorite painting when you’re having a tough time? Because of both their brevity and emotional precision, our favorite songs play a uniquely prominent role in our everyday lives.

From weddings to waiting rooms, there’s music for every occasion. Ok, maybe no song comes to mind when you’re gearing up for a colonoscopy. But more often than not, we can turn to an audible elixir that will enhance each hardship and celebration that comes about. In this sense, songs are more than an art form—they’re an omnipresent companion sitting dormant between two ears until the play button becomes a pause.

Whether there’s an iPhone in their pocket or not, most people are walking around with a library as grand as Alexandria’s. There’s a ballad buzzing through an old man’s mind that serenaded his senior prom some 50 years ago. There’s an anthem inspiring angst in a teenager’s hormone-tainted heart somewhere. Like a snowball rolling down a Himalayan slope, each melody acquires a new meaning when it hits a new listener. Moments when a single sequence of notes flexes divine origins. Moments repeated play after play until that song becomes a part of the person who heard it once and developed a precious perception.

I’m making a playlist for my funeral. I haven’t set aside funds for a cemetery plot let alone found someone I’d like to lay beside for eternity. But I know with absolute certainty that my friends will be flailing along to Mike Posner’s “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” before the first worm burrows into the casket. I know because Mikey P was there when I was a groomsman. He was there when I was a drunken college hooligan and he’ll be there when I’m the dearly departed.

Not everyone curls up with an album, slides on some headphones, and grants their undivided attention to luminaries like Mike. Music is always being ignored, chatted over, lived alongside of. This “backgroundability” is what makes music sacred. It’s there when we’re heartbroken, getting hyped for gameday, and when we’re mourning—easing us along through necessity with a subtle sense of a magic.

This magic isn’t lost in the umpteenth repetition. It won’t be squandered on a sea of geriatric Rolling Stones fans as they sway through the encore of a holographic farewell tour. As long as there are notes thrumming through the air, there will be ears that perk up at the onset of a sound. Ears that make new meaning of the same old melodies. Melodies that collect memories while bookshelves collect dust. Each vibration just as vital as it was when the red light first flashed on and four clicks of two drumsticks set out to redefine time.

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