Standing in a movie theater urinal last month, life came full circle. In the reflection on the polished tile, I watched my own lips move in sync with the tunes emanating from the bathroom speakers above. Public restrooms have great acoustics. But it wasn’t the crisp sound that spawned my epiphany. It was the song.
“Help me if you can I’m feeling down And I do appreciate you being ’round Help me get my feet back on the ground Won’t you please, please help me?”
As I washed my hands, continuing to listen, I experienced a sudden wave of clarity. I made a discovery. A big discovery. We’re talking a life-on-Mars, Loch-Ness-monster, cure-for-the-common-cold type discovery. I could see myself on the cover of TIME, having dinner with the president and later receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. Columbus, Einstein and Darwin would take a backseat in the Britannica. Barbara Walters would be leaving me daily messages on my cell phone.
My theory, ahem, my discovery, became even more clear when I attended the Billy Joel and Elton John concert two weeks ago at the Ice Palace.
In the middle of John’s “Crocodile Rock,” he stopped singing and let the crowd of 15,000 plus take over: La, la la la la la, la la la la la, la la la la la. La, la la la la la, la la la la la, la la la la la.
Whoa. That’s powerful stuff. That song is 30 years old. Thirty years. Same thing happened with Joel’s “Piano Man”- another song prenatal to most college-aged students, but nonetheless its lyrics were carried word for word by the audience.
So what does all of this mean? With no further ado, here is what I have discovered:
Though “Piano Man” debuted in the early ’70s, people have loved that song since the very origin of man. That’s right. The combination of the musical notes and words that make up that song have existed for millions of millions of years, residing in the inner depths of our brains. Joel was just the first to articulate it.
So where’s the evidence? The evidence rests in the inter-generational music that people never seem to get tired of. You hear it on countless oldies stations, you see it at reunion concerts, you experience it when you watch your 13-year-old sister singing Elton John songs with your mom, knowing many of those songs reached their popularity when your mom was 13 herself.
I realized, standing at a movie theater urinal, that music is inborn. It’s programmed. Your brain is a jukebox that holds every possible combination of notes and words. It’s just a matter of conjuring them in the correct order. I know this because I’ve whistled at least three top-10 hits before they were ever recorded. I swear.
But while we are programmed to enjoy a specific type of music over another, having a playlist in our brain that contains every song we’ve ever heard and every song that we will ever hear gives us the capacity to enjoy a broad spectrum of different types of music.
I know this sounds eccentric, but if I had more time I could better explain my theory. Right now, though, I have to get back to picking Grammy winners … 50 years from now.
- Ryan Meehan is The Oracle managing firstname.lastname@example.org