Tunes That Run In Your Head

I hate it when I’ve been humming a tune for half an hour and I realize it’s one I wrote.

Where did my inner lieder composer/opera-scribe-wannabe/coffeehouse performer go?

I’ve got a nylon six-string in the corner of my living room, a spinet in the basement and an electronic keyboard that too-kind friends picked out for me last Christmas, the last hooked up to the computer, and my forearm muscles are too farblondjet from wringing out four and five bodies a day to enjoy playing them, that’s where.


Most often, I catch myself murmuring “The Night The Lights Went Out In College Hall,” which, with a nod to “The Ball of Ballynoor,” kept me from going crazy when I worked as an administrative assistant at the local college. This was, at the time, a Catholic institution of higher education for working teachers, nursing- and business-folk, and children of naive devout parents who didn’t realize that their cosseted daughters were setting a beeline course for the bars and abortion clinics of Washington D. C. as soon as they got well settled in their dormitories.

I used to clock four-milers on my lunch hour (we are casting our minds back to 1983 here, begorrah) and polish the limerick-metre verses as I speedwalked:

Some say it was liquor, the staff inclines to dope,
Some say Bill Brock’s encounter group had turned into a grope
(Bill* was a New Agey gestaltey touchey feeley guy on the Psychology faculty. I got some priceless reading recommendations from him, but he used to answer his phone in a smarmy dulcet uplilt that made him sound like a twat.)
The nuns all called it Original Sin
But all I know is there’s never been
An orgy like that night in College Hall.

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent, or guilty, from search engines.

Charles Cook was in his office, and I’m told he was asleep
Charles was the fellow who interviewed me for my job, and a decent chap.
And dreaming he was safely out at Airlie counting sheep
Airlie Plantation was where the college used to have retreats and conferences and things in a bucolic setting in the Virginny hills.
When they knocked on his door and said “Join in!”
He just called out for more lanolin
And never got it on in College Hall.

The nuns beheld the ribaldry exposed beneath their view
Mirella said “Forgive them, for they know not what they do!”
Sister Mirella was the college President, frequently mentioned as the longest tenured college President after the mook who headed up Notre Dame, for whatever that was worth.
But one of the sisters with keener sight
Said “It looks to me like they’re doing all right,
No amateurs down there in College Hall.”

It was one for all and all for one and sometimes two for three
In every combination you could ever wish to see
The College Infirmary filled by turns
With sprains and strains and friction burns
Sustained upon that night in College Hall.

Eric from Security went down to check the fuss
We had a zealous young-Turk head of Security who wanted to be on the cover of Time.
And the state in which we found him was too frightful to discuss
With a Denver Boot locked onto his knees
They were going at him in twos and threes
In the parking lot in front of College Hall.

Security was always zealous about parking enforcement.

Sam Levey came to rescue him — he thought it was a fight —
And he stood and issued tickets just as fast as he could write,
Saying “Pardon me boss, that girl’s in pain,
I think you’re parked in her exit lane,
You can’t do that in front of College Hall.”

Sam was a Security veteran and he looked like a Sam Levey — balding and hook-nosed, with a patriarchal paunch and eternally disapproving gaze.

John Hare was heard exclaiming as he nibbled at his nails,
Dr. Hare was the Chaucer professor in the neglected Arts department, and a timorous reedy thing.
“This must be what they were doing in the Canterbury Tales!
And they found him at last in the morning light
With his clothes in rags and his hair turned white
Beneath the Exit light in College Hall.

There were tons of other verses, ending up with:

The dawn revealed some students in a catatonic state,
John Landi with a profit of a dollar ninety-eight

John was one of our grad assistants and thought well of himself.
A camera van with the hubcaps gone,
A Dominican priest with no cassock on
And this writing on the wall,
“Good God, we had a ball
The night the lights went out in College Hall.”

One morning I parked in the north lot of the campus, scuffed up a pair of lacy panties from the asphalt on the way in to my office, and push-pinned them to the department bulletin board with a scrawled note: “Are these yours?”

I probably shouldn’t think about my past if I can avoid it.


33 thoughts on “Tunes That Run In Your Head

  1. This post was such fun!
    The nuns (the in-famous Irish ones btw?), the music (you studied music I guess: it’d be nice to have info on that, but maybe it’s in your blog), plus some … themes that are naturally born captivating so to say, although I have some doubts about the limerick metres, though yours are possibly nicer.

    I cannot reason well at this moment. I might come back tomorrow and rant a bit or I might not. My research on the ancients is driving me crazy and tonite it is time for some serious Pythagoras reflection. A great sage (him).

    Btw, WETA has impressed me! High quality sound and splendid choice of music. Didn’t try the video area, only the audio. On my Linux box it is CD quality.

    I might try to play your tune tomorrow. So you don’t play any more? My annular right finger is faulty. I should it have it fixed with rays or whatever one does in these cases. wondering if it is you in the header picture – I’ve never wrestled with a woman and it might have nice aspects (altho I am out of practice: you’d beat me surely) I don’t want to think about now that I have to approach Wisdom.

    Ciao, celtic simpatica!!

    • They were actually Belgian nuns, dedicated to the education of women. I don’t know if they realized what an education those girls were getting.

      I haven’t said a lot about my music training here — a bit from time to time — my father was a professional French horn player so music was just the water I swam in; I used to make up little tunes and he would transcribe them, thus teaching me to turn a melody into manuscript. I have heaps of half finished stuff around here, and can play bad piano, acceptable folk guitar (when in practice), very very rusty oboe, and the human neck, in kind of a spinto tenor register.

      And yes, that’s me in the header though I have a tiny bit more muscle on my arms now.

      WETA is glorious, no? I came home and found the Mendelssohn violin concerto concluding in my living room,

      followed by a Romanze for horn that brought back my earliest memories, and tears to my eyes. I should cultivate the habit of humming these more often.

      • I knew it, here I am ranting.

        a Romanze for horn that brought back my earliest memories, and tears to my eyes. I should cultivate the habit of humming these more often.

        A professional French horn player, your father .. for a moment I thought he was French lol.

        Yes, the horn. Oh, I loved it (trumpet like or deep-voiced, so complex-textured and flexible) when I was orchestrating for background theatre music – thanks to my US Proteus gear of course, which had ‘amazing’ sound samples for the classical (not the strings tho that were good for sound layering only).

        It was frustrating (no real instrumental ‘feel’) yet terribly exciting, this computer-sampled music. Like having a Bach’s organ with 100 million registers. I got tapes I plan to retrieve – since 15 years but have … an emotional block on all that.

        For the real thing tho I am a guitarist (classical mostly or anything, with 60s-70s rock pop added) and a classical pianist.
        Well, I was.
        Until my f@xcx right finger broke down which would have made me totally (I’m just a bit now) neurotic hadn’t I discovered other forms of art, humanities and poetry basically.

        a Romanze for horn that brought back my earliest memories, and tears to my eyes. I

        Dear Sledpress, it does a lot of good, these memories, getting back to infancy and … wetting our eyes on it.

        I find solace as well this way, I’ll confess (just rhetoric, no problem in confessing, men – one woman taught me – are so silly not to)

        [sweet woman, when I rant, I do rant, ranting in English is … fatiguing to me]

        Solace I need sometimes since my sentiment is … split possibly forever [my father and my mother]- no MPD tho, you slepxxx, or whatever your weird nick is, mind.

        What I mean, in music & all humanities, I like:

        1. the complex mystical-dark (romantic, with a top of German baroque) AND

        2. the sunlit – grace, elegant taste that always prefers simplicity over complexity [classic(al), with a top of Italian, at times French, baroque).

        Something Like the two sides of the moon you see? I possessed, ‘made’ sounds with my ‘hands’. Now I have a bit of metaphors, so much less … corporeal.

        • You realize that, six time zones away, I’m itching to get a look at that finger and have you tell me what is wrong with it. It’s what I do. A joint problem or a nerve problem or a muscle-tendon problem? I see people once in a while with the fibrosed tendon in the palm connected to the ring finger (Dupuytren’s contracture). The pianist Leon Fleisher regained use of a malfunctioning hand through bodywork.

          You’ve made me look up Proteus. I know nothing about computer music software, and the program that came with my keyboard is hard to understand and lacks true orchestral tones, so I’ve been trying to find someone who knew what would be worth acquiring.

          • Six time zones away mean nothing.

            My finger? I had problems with too much Brahms piano exercises. After that I couldn’t play fluently any more with my RH the sequence do-re-mi-fa-sol .. oops C-D-E-F-G-F-E-D-C-D-E-F-G-F-E-D. It basically killed my scales and all, on piano and guitar.

            Thanks for your interest. I have tho to reflect a bit on WTH do I feel there.

            As for computer music, you first have to tell me what kind of music & sounds you’d love to have on a keyboard.

            Forget the Proteus tho, it is (well was) excellent and highly pro for recording and layering only (at that time, absolutely the best).

            My knowledge of computer music going back to 1992-1993, I tho I think the dilemma today is possibly still: Roland or Korg gears? (tho cannot swear).

            1. ROLAND
            I’d advice for u you something like the Roland JV-1080 (or a more up-to-date version if it), now choice vintage still part of the equipment of any pro.

            “no wonder – they in fact say at the web site I link to above – it is still now in the hands of almost every Film Score Composers set-up as well as many more artists and hobbyists!”

            I remember the sheer excellence of any keyboard or brass sounds, or any sound.

            2. KORG
            I was SO MUCH in love with the Korg strings, much better than any Roland ever, and so many of them. Brass were excellent too, but Roland was more … real in that.

            On the whole more flashy sound than Roland, Korg and much bigger overall impact, yet … Roland more … textured maybe? So hard to say after 17 years.

            Maybe it is still true what I felt at that time, ie this:

            A. Korg like a GOOD Japanese classic nylon guitar. The sound is ready and there for you.
            B. Roland like an equally GOOD Spanish nylon guitar. The sound you have to make it, but after you figure out how to do it – not difficult – it is much better (tho in any case the Korgs strings cannot be beaten, and even some pianos as well: BUT any other brass or piano (real, artificial, ANYTHING) is BETTER so much better in Roland.

            See up-to-date korgs here.

            Thus being said, I so wish I were out there with you right now, in a secluded place of your gym or anywhere we can have quiet, concentration.

            You’d slowly cure my finger and teach me gym drills (not difficult ones pls) so that me having attained more muscle tone we’d start wrestling, why not, & innocently fooling around over craters of strong Canonau from Sardinia (but I feel more inclined to Nebbiolo delle Langhe or, better, Count’s Borghini Baldovinetti de’ Bacci red, equally strong & refined – Canonau less refined but coming from stone age that is not bad once in a while – Etruscan ambrosia.

            Then, the real session – ça va sans dire.

            WHICH IS MUSIC…

            We together play and – gosh don’t’ know what’s happening to me now – explore ALL possible hues sound sentiments, ALL possible styles rhythms variations, which, being truly demanding – oh so demanding – we cannot but need frequent breaks spent vigorously in the classic hulo hulo hulo hulo hulo hulo hulo hulo hulo hulo ancient – tho ever popular game – of which, Sleppress or whatever your nick -, while I’m writing, I GOT NO IDEA WT% does it mean ’cause I’ve invented it just now! For silly fun, moronity or just its evoking power, so evocative, of which I cannot tell because I’m getting compulsive in my writing to distraction?

            And – true – I am so fatigued by my darn continuously writing in this hyperborean language – 29 months today!!! – I’ll repeat I swear I have forgotten why I darn said hulo hulo hulo hulo hulo hulo hulo hulo hulo and why the hell I’d like continuing saying it again, hulo hulo hulo.

            Hulo? … *feeling and reflecting*



            😛 😛 😛

    • When I think of my own college years my first sensory memory is actually of the feel of the electric typewriter I owned at the time.

      However, I tried not to be boring: just check in with Man Of Roma’s Decameron.

  2. PS

    Belgian Nuns? It can be different whether Flemish or French speaking, but maybe not too much. My friend’s sister with Irish nuns here in Rome she had to kneel on corn grains all time.

    • Not that I blame the Irish nuns. Rough weather is the cause. From my father’s side, they are from the alps. – 10 Celsius during winter. They are kinda ruthless compared to Romans. Dura vita more than dolce.

      • We had an Irish aspiring seminarian in the audio-visual lab. Terribly rigid boy and when I told him I was more Albigensian than anything, he became quite agitated. He once said he didn’t like people to touch him except for his mother.

        Even a nun from Belgium probably has more eirenic a disposition than that.

    • I am as confused as before. 🙂

      How does Nebbiolo del Langhe compare with Nebbiolo d’Alba, of which I once profligately bought a case?

      I am reserving the recommendations about software for the next couple of days as we are meant to have two feet of snow. Alps!

      • Why confused, just one silly man they are all alike. Esclamorde is fascinating – I like men in arms, can you imagine women.

        Langhe is Piedmont area 1 outa 20 Italian regions). Alba (white truffles!!) = Bassa Langa, but you got Alta Langa too. No real Alp thing, nah, just hills but wine heaven: Nebbiolo (alba non alba, almost same) Dolcetto Barbera Barolo. Dialect in whole Piemonte closer to French. Celtic people, bits of Liguri too. Ancient Piemonte part of Gallia Cisalpina. Father’s folk: much more real Alps, culturally Waldensians. Father studied in Rome and lived there all life except first 17 years of life. Mother side: Roma, real thing since centuries.

        I prefer dolce vita to dura vita.

        But can be durus quando necessitas.


        [More about your origins appreciated, me being intercultural maniac.]

        • Mmmm, Barbera, when I have drunk that it was like blackberries that died and went to heaven.

          Americans have no origins, or at least that is my cynical perspective, but you should look up the post on this blog called “Ancestors.”

          So are you saying you love a man in a uniform?

          • Thanks. I’ll have a look at your origins, I am pretty curious. Men in uniform? Women are better lol. What I meant is that in every man there is a bit of a warrior. This can be expressed in non apparent ways. Was your father – or is your husband, are are you – a military btw? Now we have women military also here.

          • My father played horn in a military band. I would never have the temperament for military life — I tend to yell “f&^$ you” at people who try to order me around. My late and ex husband, though, served for two years — a company clerk in Japan during the Korean war — spent all his nights off listening to the Tokyo Symphony. I wasn’t born at the time.

          • Fantastic. Inspiring. Once this period of partial reinvention has passed, I may blog again (I love family history, don’t really care whose). So Vacuums-With-Snakes was 20-ish when she married your old man? Reminds me of my old high school biology teacher, who was living with a blonde seventeen year old named Heidi when last I saw him. He was fifty at the time.

          • I like memoirs, anything relating the past of people, like Don seems too. I read the posts u link to. Amazing, and the BIG picture of your AVI I adored. Fantasizing about it but cannot comment now, I’m into orphism.

            1. My father played horn in a military band … 2. I would never have the temperament for military life I tend to yell “f&^$ you” at people who try to order me around

            I kind of perceived the former, while the latter, that’s me too.

  3. Reading all that plum wore me out. My remains are enthralled that that’s you in the picture. I missed gym-time today AND yesterday thanks to a surfeit of work. Yet I am still slightly under weight, which at 51 is far more a blessing than not, and no pains that a dosage of glucosamine doesn’t address.

    Far greater, though, is my chagrin that I still haven’t restarted the music, which also was my life, until other life forms intervened. I wrote (terrible) quintets for brass in high school, but today merely sing in the choir when at Burning Man. A very far distance down indeed.

    Your college memories kick mine’s ass. All I did was work, attend class, and hike the oversized parking lot in between.

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