Very strange ear worm earlier this week. I couldn’t imagine why, but when I woke up I had a few lines from the 1908 British music hall song “Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?” running through my head, nonstop.
I am certain I have never heard this song in my life, not all the way through, yet there were the same three lines running over and over. (Ear worms are almost never a song you know well, or like, at least in my experience.)
Now, my dad loved to sing, and as he moved through his day he often was singing some obscure old tune, but I’m sure I never heard him sing this one. So how did it get in my head?
It took several hours before I finally was able to track down the source. The movie “Catch Me If You Can,” which I’ve seen twice, the last time at least two years ago. Leonardo DiCaprio’s character is visiting the home of his fiancee’s parents, and there is a scene, maybe all of 15 or 20 seconds, where DiCaprio, Amy Adams, Martin Sheen and Nancy Lenehen are sitting on the sofa, a picture of 1960s middle American domesticity. They were watching “Sing Along with Mitch,” and sure enough, memory tells me they were following the bouncing ball and singing “Has anybody here seen Kelly? K – E – double L –Y? Has anybody here seen Kelly, have you seen him smile? Sure his hair is red, his eyes are blue, and He’s Irish thru and thru. Has anybody here seen Kelly? Kelly from the Emerald Isle.”
(Kids, “Sing Along with Mitch” was a real thing. You can probably find hours of it on youtube, Check it out. It will amaze you the kind of inane crap your grandparents used to find entertaining. And just for the record, no, my family did not watch the show, so that’s not the source of my ear worm.)
Except those lyrics are actually wrong. (I researched it, it was on my mind.) Like so many songs, it was turned into an Irish tune but was not so originally. “Danny Boy,” for another one, was written by a British barrister, not an Irishman. “Kelly” was originally a fellow from the Isle of Man. And after the spelling of the name, the lyrics were, “Has anybody here seen Kelly? Find him if you can! He’s as bad as old Antonio, Left me on my own-ee-o. Has anybody here seen Kelly? Kelly from the Isle of Man!”
In the song, the woman singing is looking for the boyfriend she has lost during a trip to London. She goes into various pubs asking if anyone has seen Kelly. The joke – if that’s the right word – is that in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Kelly was the commonest surname on the Isle of Man. Whew! That is one knee-slapper of a joke! (See my earlier remark about the inane crap people used to be entertained by.)
And I don’t really know who Antonio is, unless it’s a reference to the character from “The Merchant of Venice,” but why that would be apropos is beyond me. I really don’t care how he got in my brain. I just want him gone.
Anyway, figuring out where the song came from helped me get rid of that day’s earworm. But it still leaves me – puzzled? Troubled? How in the world did my brain grab that snippet of a tune from the black hole of my memory and decide to put it on the top priority loop of my conscious thought, blocking out or at least interfering with anything else I tried to think of that day?
The brain is a fascinating, amazing and sometimes downright scary thing.