Norman Blake – You Are My Sunshine

O Brother, Where Art Thou? [Original Soundtrack]
Year :
Soggy Bottom Boys / The Stanley Brothers / Alison Krauss & Union Station

One of the strangest things about being a music fan has got to be the phenomenon of waking up with a seemingly random song stuck in your head. It’s so weird, in fact, that a fair amount of scientific research has gone into trying to figure out exactly why we music fans catch an “earworm.”

In March, 2012, the UK Daily Mail interviewed Dr. Vicky Williamson, a music psychologist at Goldsmith’s College in London. Williamson had be collecting stories of “earworm experiences,” compiling a database of thousands of songs. She noted “When I had 1,000 earworm songs in my database, there were only about half a dozen or so that had been named more than once—that’s how heterogeneous the response was. It’s a very individual phenomenon.”

I’m not surprised by this at all. I wouldn’t assume, after all, that too many people arbitrarily wake up in the morning with a variation of “You Are My Sunshine” stuck in their head. But that’s exactly what happened to me yesterday. It was one of strongest earworms that I can recall in recent memory, so much so that I found myself humming along in the shower and whistling through the evening. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why the song had suddenly popped into my brain. I had heard a song or two from the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack about a month ago, but I remember it being “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” not Norman Blake’s rendition of “You Are My Sunshine.” Where did it come from? I had to know.

In the Daily Mail interview, Williamson described earworms as a kind of “involuntary memory” and explains that music is a “multi-sensory stimulus” that literally gets encoded into our brains in all sorts of strange and interesting ways. The volunteers in her study would often describe how seeing certain objects would trigger a memory of a particular song.

“You Are My Sunshine” is a song that I remember from when I was a small child. I vaguely remember some kind of stuffed animal (the kind with a metal turnkey in its back) that would play the song’s melody. I remember someone singing it to me. Never before, though, had the song come back to me so suddenly. I didn’t have the kind of trigger that some of Williamson’s subjects described, though. It was more like the song came to me in dream. Just one of those weird little mysteries in life, I guess.

* * *

I work for a family-owned company, run by some truly wonderful and generous people. Their father, the company’s founder, is a beloved figure to much of the staff, the majority of whom have been with the company for a decade or more (and some since it’s first days). We were told in a meeting not long ago that the company’s founder had entered hospice. He passed away peacefully yesterday.

Later that day, a close colleague of mine would tell me that his mother had sudden fallen seriously ill.

* * *

Norman Blake’s version of “You Are My Sunshine” is simply a beautiful song. It never tries to be clever or do anything other that bring the warmth and sadness of the lyrics to life. That I would suddenly start my day with this song while other around me were coping with loss (or the possibility of loss) seems at once totally random and yet strangely connected. I was aware that the passing of someone dear to many people that I know was imminent (was that my trigger?) but the news I received that day was completely unexpected. I still haven’t shaken “You Are My Sunshine.” Strangely, this seems right. I’m feeling blue today, but I’m reminded of all the “sunshine” in my life.

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(@YahSureMan) is the Founder of The Daily Soundtrack and Bark Attack Media. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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