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Changing the song

Jessica Suarez
Jessica Suarez
3 min read
Changing the song

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About six months ago someone asked a question on Metafilter that made me feel 200% closer to a normal person. The question was basically of the “So, does this happen to anyone else?” variety, but it was so random and so precise that it got tons of responses:

When I think of / remember something embarrassing from my life, I compulsively make some kind of noise. It seems to happen unconsciously, before my censor can catch it and stop myself (it even happens when I am in a quiet or inappropriate place).

It’s not especially loud, in fact it’s often under my breath. The sound is usually just a quiet grunt, or a word/syllable or two. If I remember an embarrassing conversation, I tend to blurt out a random word of the conversation (as in, I’m replaying the dialogue in my head but then all the sudden one of the words pops out of my mouth). If it happens while I’m reading, I tend to blurt out one or two of the words that happen to be under my eyes at the moment.

It usually only happens when I’m remembering something palpably embarrassing or humiliating from my life — not for mild everyday kind of stuff. (Again, I had a fairly happy childhood and have nothing particularly traumatic in my past — I don’t think my embarrassing memories are any worse than the average joe’s)

I’m one of those people who does this and thought they were the only one. My usual utterance takes the form of a short, pointed laugh—literally a ‘ha!’ or a noise close to ‘ack!’ Basically, when I remember something embarrassing I turn into a comic strip.

But someone else revealed another habit that I happen to share (and thought no one else did):

If an embarrassing memory comes up (along with some sort of “oofy” noise or clutching my body like I’ve just been covered in slime) if I’m in the car I have to change the radio station or the track playing on my iPod. I don’t know what that has to do with it but the song must go, right now…
posted by Brainy at 12:25 PM on July 23, 2008

This is something I do even more than the embarrassment utterance. If I start to think of a bad memory, I have to change the song I’m listening to right away. It doesn’t matter what the song is or what’s up next. I just need something, a new thought really, to distract me, even if it’s “This Pink Mountaintops songs is terrible.”

But sometimes it’s the song itself that triggers a bad memory that I have to change. Like, when I’m unhappy with how the Pinkerton thing’s going, I cannot listen to Pinkerton, which makes writing a book about it much harder.1

I thought about that again when Nick wrote about Merriweather Post Pavilion and mentioned the hard-to-describe feeling certain music can give you:

There is this cold and dizzy feeling that overtakes me sometimes, when a song or a passage of a song happens to gun it to my heart.

I know that feeling. But what happens when the song triggers the wrong cold and dizzy, like the feeling/memory of the worst thing you did or said, the declaration you should have kept to yourself, the third drink past the one you should have left the bar on? I can name songs I can’t listen to anymore because of this. And they’re not “THIS WAS OUR SONG”-type jams that I’ve shared with a boyfriend. Nor does it have much to do with the lyrical content. They’re usually songs I was listening to when I did something regrettable. The songs have nothing to do with me, they don’t remind me of myself or hold any memories on their own, but they act like containers. They’re like looking at bad photographs of myself. And just to be clear–these aren’t songs that remind me of bad memories, just embarrassing situations that I had control over.

One of the worst songs for me is the New Pornographers’ “Testament to Youth In Verse.” I’m not going to tell you why. But, if you do this (either the noise or the song-changing thing), please come forward. You’re in okay company. I’d love to hear what your trigger / utterance / song is.

  1. I’ve gotten over this.↩




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