Posted by: Brad Nixon | May 8, 2018

Earworm! Doc Marx and the Amazing Cure

I’d had enough. I couldn’t shake my affliction. As a last resort, I went to see Dr. Marx, who passes as my doctor. That he passes as anyone’s doctor is a marvel, because he’s neither marvelous nor a real doctor. He has a certificate, and is certainly certifiable. A visit to his office may not cure anything, but it’s a distraction, which is at least a form of relief — albeit comic, were there anything funny about incompetence. He’s cheap and doesn’t ask questions about insurance, so long as you have cash and can walk into the office under your own power. How — or whether — you get out is your own concern.

I walked through the dusty waiting room — no receptionist — and found him in his office reading a celebrity gossip magazine with Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher’s wedding on the cover. On top of the latest trends, as always.

“Oh, it’s you again,” he said. “I’m surprised to see you walk in here.”

I asked him why.

“I didn’t think you’d be able to walk after that walletectomy I gave you last time. Do you have an appointment?”

“No. I tried to call but your phone had been disconnected.”

“Good now they’ll stop calling me about my overdue phone bill. Did you check with the receptionist to see if I’m available?”

“Um, no one there when I came in; the place was empty.”

“She kept insisting I should pay her. I didn’t think she meant it. I guess I have to put up with you, then. I don’t suppose you’re here to inquire about my health?”

“Not really. I thought that’s what you’re supposed to ask me.”

“That’s the problem with the world today. Everyone wants to complain. I guess you’re not in the least concerned about the terrible case of earworm I have.”

“Have you tried the “Yellow Submarine” treatment?”

“No. What’s that?”

“A common urban myth. If you have a song playing over and over in your head, concentrate on ‘Yellow Submarine’.”

“Does that work?”

“Well, yes and no. Usually you stop hearing whatever song’s in your head, but then you’re stuck with ‘Yellow Submarine’.”

He thought about that one: a revelation. I didn’t think I’d ever seen him pause to think before — about anything. It was so unnerving I kept talking.

“I’ll give you a sample, Doc. Tell me what song you have in your head.”

“That’s the trouble. It’s a string of ’em. Started with a couple of the usual ones: ‘Sugar Sugar,’ ’99 Luftballoons’.”

“Hmm … that’s bad.”

“But then it got serious. Next it was ‘Sylvia’s Mother…’ for three days. Now, I’ve had ‘Honey’ for nearly a week.”

“Bobby Goldsboro?”

“Don’t even say that name!”

“Well, Doc, you’ve got a bad case, but as it happens, we’ve been doing some research at Under Western Skies Labs, and we think we have a successful treatment worked out.”

“Does this mean I have to read your blot?”

“It’s called a blog.”

“Maybe what you call it.”

“Okay. If you just want to insult me, I’m going to take my own complaint over to the clinic and see ….”

“No! I’ll try anything. I’ll … I’ll pay you!”

“Doctor, I didn’t think you knew that phrase.”

“Just get that little cloud passing overhead and crying down on the flower bed out of my brain!”

I quickly explained about the team of scientists, acoustic engineers and a ragtag bunch of interns from Los Angeles area universities — aspiring musicians and behavorial scientists — who’ve been at work in the Under Western Skies Research Labs. We haven’t eliminated the curse of earworm, but we’re able to tailor individual treatments based on a complex profile of the afflicted individual and the specific numbers locked on “repeat” in their consciousness.

“Okay, Doc,” I told him, “This is a lot like the old-fashioned ‘hair of the dog that bit you’ approach you probably learned in your college days.”

“Learned? I helped invent it.”

“Okay, we’re going to drive Bobby and Silvia’s mother away with a dose of powerful, compelling music.”

“Hit me.”

“Not so fast, Doc. Payment in advance. Same as your rule. Ten bucks, please.”

Not every doctor keeps their cash drawer in their shoe, but Dr. Marx extracted two Abes from his left loafer and handed them over. I went around the desk, punching some codes into the app on my cell phone.

“Okay, Doc; watch the screen closely and focus on the music.”

The Doc had it bad, so I went drastic. I played this:

The radically simple and straightforward treatment using music — happy, positive enlivening music — to eliminate, snuff out … ERADICATE oppressive earworm worked its magic. Doc Marx gazed at me in wonder!

“Do you, um, have a patent on this, by any chance?”

“Don’t even think about it, Doc.”

“But what if I get tired of hearing ‘Woolly Bully’?”

“Normally, the song that blanks out the earworm doesn’t persist. That’s what’s so promising about our method, unlike the ‘Yellow Submarine’ approach. In a few problematic cases, we’ve had some residual effects. Since I haven’t had time to run the full diagnostic on you, it might happen.”

“What do I do then? I’m not going back to Bobby Goldsboro!”

“We believe that every person has some signature song that they find uplifting and restorative, and can be a touchstone not just in case of persistent earworm, but whenever life is getting you down.”

“What’s mine?”

“Well, Doc, that takes a long series of analytical tests, and costs a lot more than ten bucks. But I’ll show you the one that works for me.”

So, friends, if earworm strikes, save that link to Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs.

All music is sacred. It is one of the things we all share that make us human and lift us up. Sing out! The harder they come, the harder they fall.

© Brad Nixon 2018. “Woolly Bully” performed by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, ca. 1965. Written by Domingo Samudio (aka Sam the Sham); “I Can See Clearly Now” written by Johnny Nash. Performed by Jimmy Cliff, 1993.


  1. Thanks for Wooly Bully Brad, life is worth living again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Never fails. Thanks for that invaluable life-affirming resource!


  2. Ha! Brad,
    For many weeks I have had an earworm that is perfect torture! I don’t even know the entire song, just the hook. I won’t tell it to you for fear you may become infected.
    Even if I am unable to fully rid myself of the afflicting tune I feel armed with a remedy. I’ll substitute a quick Wooly-Bully. Unfortunately, I just scrolled past one of your submissions with the title, Down In the Boondocks, another catchy tune.
    Hoping for a cure,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dana, one of our findings, not yet proven empirically, is that an underlying cause of earworm is that you can’t FINISH the song … the brain is striving for completeness/closure, and keeps playing and playing it, trying to get past, for example, “I love her, she loves, me/But I don’t something – something – something” from “Down in the Boondocks.” It’s those HOOKS! If only we could get past them. Hope “Woolly Bully” gets you through the day. It’s a standard here whenever I need a lift! Thanks.


  3. What fun! As it happens, I posted “I Can See Clearly Now” on my blog after the sun came out following Hurricane Harvey. But that’s not what’s sticking. You just had to plunk “Sugar, Sugar” in there, didn’t you? After two hours, it’s still playing in my head. I won’t complain. That’s better than the month I lived with Boz Scaggs’s “Lido Shuffle.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I only hope that “Woolly Bully” will drive The Archies away. Sorry about that.


  4. Have you been to my EX-doctor’s office? Sounds eerily familiar.

    My last visit to him was 13 years ago. His med group was under my employer’s health insurance plan. I appeared promptly for my 9:00 appointment and paid in advance for my “visit.” For the next 45 minutes I sat in the waiting room and watched friends and family drift in and out as he carried on casual conversations.

    After being thus duly ignored by the entire staff, I got up, asked for my money back, walked out (and never went back).

    I then walked across the parking lot and into a Kaiser office. I told the desk clerk that I had no appointment but would like to see a doctor. Within five minutes I was in an exam room with my new doctor. Since then, I’ve never gone anywhere else.


    • Your ex-doctor may have been one of a number of Interns Dr. Max was training until someone on the AMA certification board noticed he wasn’t actually a teaching hospital.


  5. I didn’t come here to be insulted, I can get that anywhere. I’d leave in a huff, or a moment and a huff, or maybe in a trice, do you have a trice? Going once, going trice, ohhhh, can’t you see I’m trying to tell you I love you?
    Submarine, yellow, one each, works for me!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m going to join a club so I can hit you over the head with it. I owe the Yellow Submarine strategy to YOU, in fact, and probably should have acknowledged that in the copy, but couldn’t make it sound funny. Whatever became of me? I should’ve been here by now.


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