*Image above from the internet and likely subject to copyright.
According to the Urban Dictionary, the term “mental jukebox” refers to:
“the effect of a random song playing in your head for no reason, often followed by another song completely unrelated to the first, much like a jukebox on random. For example, “Why the hell was Rick Astley just playing in my head? I haven’t heard any of his music in ages! I had Slayer playing before that! Wtf!””
I’m not sure anybody has ever come up with a better encapsulation of the concept of the “mental jukebox” than the Urban Dictionary. I mean, when you describe a musical swing from Rick Astley to Slayer you’ve managed to capture the essence of the random, wild shifts the brain can take you through musically. I am no stranger to the mental jukebox. In fact, sleep or perhaps better described as my attempts to sleep, seems to be the trigger for my brain’s music center. I awake every day with a fresh, new song in my head. I don’t know if this is a common phenomenon, but I do know my friend Doug has the same thing happen to him. I can awake with the biggest hit from U2 or the Beatles to a deep album cut from the Black Crowes to a jingle from a commercial playing in my mind. I’ve awakened to the sound of show tunes ringing in my head and trust me, I despise musicals of any kind. I have to turn on music in the morning merely to cleanse my brain, much like mouthwash especially if I’m hearing “Oklahoma” in my mind. I never know what song I’ll wake up to in my head. I have no control over any of it. I seem to be at the mercy of my brain. As George Harrison once said, “It’s all in your mind.”
The mind or (if you will) man’s capacity for reason is what separates us from the other mammals. I’ve been reading, or rather trying to read, Marcus Aurelius’ Mediations. Marcus, if I’m reading him correctly, seemed to think that our reason was the godly part of us. He had a lot of thoughts about well, thinking. “You have the power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this and you will find strength.” I dig that, but I don’t think I have any power over the mental jukebox. Marcus also said, “The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.” Apparently we can all think ourselves happy according to Marcus… I think Oporah believes in this line of reasoning. Somehow I think it’s more complicated than that. I guess I’m less a Stoic like Marcus and more of a Hedonist. I certainly spend more than my fair share of time thinking about rock music. One quote I’ve always liked about the mind is Plutarch, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.”
I have a friend who is into reading books about the structure of the brain. He likes to explain a lot of human behavior as being a function of the different parts of your brain reacting to stimuli. Of course he was an early adherent to the whole “evolutionary psychology” thing. I have begun to suspect that my friend reads so many books about brain chemistry because he’s trying to explain and rationalize some of his own behavior. Sometimes we do things because we want to… not because our hypothalamus is driving us to. Although in these pages I have often joked that music has hit me in the lower brain stem. I get it, brain structure and especially the frontal lobes can affect the way we think and behave but there has to be more to the story. We’re not just human lab rats with automatic or learned reaction to stimuli.
All of that said, I don’t think the mental jukebox is of the rational, conscious mind. I certainly don’t think it has anything to do with brain structure. There’s not a tiny little bar hidden in my cerebellum with a great jukebox in the corner. I like to imagine that if there is a bar hidden in my brain it’s the coolest dive bar you can find, with dark wood and peanut shells on the floor and a cool but gruff barkeep…maybe a menu with only hot wings. My thoughts are cluttered, why shouldn’t my imaginary brain bar be as equally messy? I’m getting off topic here… Since the mental jukebox is not structural or of the rational mind the only answer is that it stems from the unconscious mind. While he didn’t coin the term “unconscious mind” Sigmund Freud certainly made the concept popular. I was once bored in an airport waiting for a delayed flight when I picked up Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams. I enjoyed the book, although it became a bit of a slow slog in the back half. It gave me my first real insights into the unconscious mind that I’d had since college psychology. Freud believed that things like verbal slips (aka Freudian slips) or dreams come from that uncontrolled, unconscious part of the mind where all of our hidden wishes and desires reside. Even Cinderella said “A dream is a wish your heart makes…” Oh God, I hope I don’t wake up with that song in my head tomorrow…
I will say, that reading Freud’s book on dreams has helped me interpret some of the wilder, more disturbing dreams my unconscious mind seems to conjure. I have a recurring nightmare where I’m visited from someone from my past. The nightmare always comes during times of great stress or loss. Freud’s book helped me realize that the person in the nightmare is merely a manifestation or symbol of pain and loss and has nothing to actually do with the person I’m seeing in the dream. It’s really helped me to shake off that particular nightmare. I wake up and realize my brain is trying to tell me I’m suffering and struggling and I just need to bear down. Even in the resolution of that nightmare, I’m not controlling the unconscious mind, I am merely using it as a tool to navigate obstacles in my life.
That all said, I wondered if the mental jukebox was trying to send me a similar message to ones that my dreams do? Is there some message or theme to the music that pops up in my head every morning? If so, what is my mind trying tell me? I decided to keep what I’m going to call a “Song Journal” during the month of January. Every morning when I woke up and some random tune assailed my brain I would stagger down the hall to my office – before even going for coffee – and I’d write down the song and any impressions of where it came from. Usually I had no idea but sometimes I’d merely heard the track the day before. While I hoped that this process would help me get to a deeper understanding of where my head is at, in the end I think it just tells me what I already know… I’m really into music. While I may not have discovered any fundamental truths about myself, it was an interesting process. I will say that I participated in my usual Dry January which may or may not have influenced how vivid the songs were and how varied the music selection was. I guess I’ll never know.
Here then, is my Song Journal from January 2021 chronicling every song I heard in my head every morning. I considered a playlist, but thought it was too disjointed, even for my disparate tastes. Most of these tracks came out of nowhere unless otherwise noted.
- Jan 1st – Robert Plant, “Angel Dance” – I had actually heard this track the day before, so no real mystery.
- Jan 2nd – Black Crowes, “Only A Fool” – I’ve been a little obsessed with the Crowes since I heard Shake Your Money Maker 30th Anniversary was coming out. This track is on a later LP, not sure where it came from.
- Jan 3rd – AC/DC, “Big Gun” – From the soundtrack of a Schwarzenegger movie, something I was working on a post for…Playlist: Missing Going To The Movies?: Our Favorite Soundtrack Songs.
- Jan 4th – The Police, “King of Pain”
- Jan 5th – Stills-Young Band, “Long May You Run”
- Jan 6th – Genesis, “I Can’t Dance” – I’m not crazy about this tune… I’d had a nightmare about a wedding I was being forced to attend. Could there be a connection?
- Jan 7th – Kenny Wayne Shepherd, “Blue On Black”
- Jan 8th – Eagles, “Too Busy Being Fabulous” – I’d read about this song online the day before. I think we can safely draw a straight-line between that and hearing it in my head.
- Jan 9th – Steve Winwood (with Joe Walsh on guitar), “Split Decision”
- Jan 10th – Foo Fighters, “My Hero” – I’m not a huge fan of the fighters of Foo and had to actually search to find the title of this track. Totally random stuff.
- Jan 11th – Lindsey Buckingham, “Holiday Road” – Despite the holidays being well past me, this one popped into my head. Lingering issues over Xmas?
- Jan 12th – Bruce Springsteen, “High Hopes”
- Jan 13th – Beatles, “Across the Universe” – This track pops up often. It seems to be on regular repeat.
- Jan 14th – U2, “Stuck In A Moment”
- Jan 15th, Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Roadtrippin'” – Great acoustic track about friends on a road trip… I’d had a dream about some friends of mine from the old days.
- Jan 16th – Elvis Costello, “Alison” – Was listening to LPs for my post on debut albums, Pleased To Meet You… The Epic List of Our 40 Favorite Debut Albums. This had to be a connection to that.
- Jan 17th – Bruce Springsteen, “Ghost of Tom Joad” – Dreamt I was a cop investigating a murder at the inauguration the night before… Strange connection if there is one?
- Jan 18th – Fiona Apple, “Extraordinary Machine” – I’d just repurchased this album, the title track seems to have lodged itself in my brain.
- Jan 19th – Avett Brothers? “There Was a Dream”? – There’s a song that sounds like the Avett Brothers used in an insurance commercial that I see a few hundred times each night. I woke up with it in my head. Not sure if its the Avett Bros or what the name is. Ironically, I have no idea which insurance company.
- Jan 20th – Pink Floyd “Not Now John” – The previous day I’d posted about “The Gunner’s Dream,” Roger Waters: New Recording/Video OF “The Gunner’s Dream” Originally From ‘The Final Cut’, and had listened to the whole album. This track stuck. Great riff, it came to me first.
- Jan 21st – Neil Young & Crazy Horse, “Come On Baby Lets Go Downtown” – Danny Whitten from Crazy Horse on vocals.
- Jan 22nd – Pink Floyd, “Gunner’s Dream” – This track stuck with me a few days. One of my all time favorites.
- Jan 23rd – Moody Blues, “Lucky Man” – I despise the Moody Blues and this song. How this ended up in my head is a mystery. I’m just glad it wasn’t “Knights In White Satin.”
- Jan 24th – U2, “Mysterious Ways” – Another common track I wake up with… I don’t know why but it may be Edge’s riff.
- Jan 25th – Van Halen, “Big Bad Bill Is Sweet William Now” – Been thinking a lot of Eddie Van Halen lately.
- Jan 26th – Black Crowes, “Welcome To the Good Times” – Same LP as Jan 2nd’s entry… no connection.
- Jan 27th – Rod Stewart, “Man of Constant Sorrow” – From his debut. It was our first snow of the year… which always make me feel well, sorrowful.
- Jan 28th – Blind Melon, “No Rain”
- Jan 29th – Sam Cooke, “Chain Gang” – I’d to tell you this stems from the movie One Night In Miami but I haven’t seen it yet.
- Jan 30th – Frank Sinatra, “New York, New York” – Perhaps feeling some little town blues since I can’t travel.
- Jan 31st – Led Zeppelin, “Candy Store Rock” – The music came to me first and while I was laying in bed the lyrics finally popped in.
That’s my Song Journal for January. No real patterns of thinking that I can discern. My mental jukebox doesn’t seem to want to tell me anything, I guess it just wants to rock. I had hoped perhaps for some existential insight but as always that seems to elude me. As we move into February I wish all of you pleasant dreams and great music when you wake up. I know this post was something a little different but it’s winter and I figured, why not?