Earworm Alert: This post mentions a 1965 popular song which may resonate in the minds of some readers and repeat endlessly in your head, requiring anti-earworm measures. Take appropriate precautions.
I suspect it’s a common human trait. There you are, digging a ditch to drain your field, trying to fix dinner while the kids are wailing in the other room, looking for some papers you need for an appointment tomorrow. What is in your head? Some inspiring canon by Bach, or maybe the third movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony? Mel Torme singing “Too Darned Hot,” David Bowie in a big live version of “Heroes” or The Kinks killing it with “Waterloo Sunset?”
It’s some inane, irritating and utterly moronic thing: maybe “Sugar Sugar” by the Archies or “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” they made you sing in 3rd grade … over and over. Some song your roommate played incessantly until you simply decided you’d ask your girlfriend to marry you so you could go live somewhere else.
Our media-rich 21st Century has cluttered our brains and aural memories with this stuff. Stuck in traffic on a blistering August day, my internal disc jockey wouldn’t give me Bach or Beethoven or even Neil Young, when I needed them most. I’d get the theme song from “Maverick” or “The Mickey Mouse Club” (and I know them by heart: thank you, brain).
One song in particular resides in my personal Earworm Hall of Fame, and it’s the same for all 6 surviving members of my family. First, two bits of background.
First, the English word “boondocks” means back country or, by extension, a remote (and usually backwards) place: viz. nowheresville.
It came into English from Tagalog bundok, which means mountainous brush or back country. U.S. military personnel fighting in the Philippine–American War (1899-1902) picked it up and it entered the vernacular.
Secondly, when my four siblings and I were kids, our parents took us on a driving trip for a week or two (once three weeks) each summer. I’ve written about this lucky history of mine before. It made us all travelers and readers of maps. I saw 32 of the 50 U.S. states with my parents (although when they took me on the first trip, there were only 48 states).
In 1965, we drove south from Ohio, across the Mississippi River and into The Ozarks, a beautiful area of forested mountains. We camped in those days, partly because it was far less expensive than hotel space for 7 people.
One night we set up camp on the shores of Bull Shoals Lake, Arkansas (Bull Shoals-White River State Park). Bull Shoals is a large manmade lake, created by a dam that was the 5th largest in the world when it was completed. The lake covers 45,000 acres as deep as 210 feet, and it’s a mecca for water sports and fishing.
We were in a developed camping area, not far from the park headquarters, which included a small service area for campers with vending machines and restrooms.
It also had a jukebox. We didn’t know that, but we were about to find out.
As night fell over rural Arkansas and stars bloomed in the sky, far from city lights, that rustic park office became the hangout for some number of people. Whether they were locals or campers, I cannot say.
What I can tell you is that they shared an inordinate passion for two current popular songs. One was “Bread and Butter” by the Newbeats.
He likes bread and butter, He likes toast and jam.
That’s what his baby feeds him, ’cause he’s her lovin’ man.
Timeless. Pithy. Trenchant.
The other song was a poignant, soul-searing ballad about the pangs of frustrated, star-crossed love. Romeo and Juliet, but set not in Verona but in a place very like Bull Shoals, Arkansas itself: “Down in the Boondocks.”
Down in the boondocks
Down in the boondocks
People put me down ’cause
That’s the side of town I was born in.
I love her she loves me but I don’t fit in her society
Lord have mercy on the boy from down in the boondocks.
Billy Joe Royal, breaking hearts, climbing the charts.
Whether the jukebox volume was simply loud or actually piped into loudspeakers for the enjoyment of everyone within half a mile, it started some time after dark. There we were — Mom, Dad, my 3 brothers and sister and I — rolled in our sleeping bags in the big canvas tent.
First one song, then the other. Then the Newbeats again, then Billy Joe. On and on it went.
How long? I cannot say. It seemed like hours. Perhaps not, but human perception of time, particularly when exposed to pain, is subjective. “When will it stop?” one asks, but only the torturer knows, and the sufferer must endure.
Ever since, “Down in the Boondocks” has lurked in my brain, emerging sometimes when I wake up, persisting, haunting me through the day. Programmed into my aural DNA.
If you meet Dad or one of my siblings, you’ll like them. They’re smart, accomplished, witty people. Two are professional musicians, and we all enjoy music.
Just don’t mention “Down in the Boondocks.” Or, if you do, duck.
One fine day I’ll find a way to move from this old shack
I’ll hold my head up like a king and I never never will look back.
Until that morning I’ll work and slave
And I’ll save ev’ry dime
But tonight she’ll have to steal away
To see me one more time
Down in the Boondocks ….
What’s your killer earworm? I know you have one. Leave a comment.
© Brad Nixon 2017.
“Bread and Butter,” 1964 by Larry Parks & Jay Turnbow. It spent 2 weeks at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and was a hit around the world.
“Down in the Boondocks,” 1965, by Joe South. Number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100.