I awoke at three am with the first line of “The Gambler” in my brain. “On a warm summer evening, on a train bound for nowhere…” I have not heard that song in a decade or more, so I’m not sure what triggered it. Unable to go back to sleep, I sang the song in my brain.
The first thing that surprised me was that I remember nearly all the words. I could mentally fingerpick a guitar part and sing all the verses, but a couple of lines escaped me. That drove me crazy. Luckily, the song rhymes and a rhyme is a clue, so after another turn through it, I got them all.
Everyone wakes up in the middle of the night from time to time; we each come up with our own tactics for either getting back to sleep or spending the awake time. I’ve been playing guitar for so long, I often mentally play a song or two, all the way through, sometimes more than once. If it’s a song with words, I’ll sing along in my brain, or maybe imagine someone else singing while I invent a harmony. On several occasions, I’ve stumbled across new ways to accompany a song, or an interesting harmony, or even a new verse to one of my originals. The complexity occupies my brain to the point that I usually drift off to sleep somewhere in the middle of a chorus, much like the gambler who “broke even” in the song.
I never thought about this much, it’s just something I do. A few months ago I mentioned it during the daytime and realized that not everyone plays music in their brain. It should not have surprised me, but it did. If you don’t play music when you’re awake, it’s unreasonable to expect you to do so in your sleep. Duh! And there’s no real reason a musician would bother with imaginary music when he can play it in the real world. Yet it startled me to think I was doing something a little weird.
But it’s also kind of cool to think that each of us probably does things that are nearly unique without realizing it. LIke a meadowlark singing in the field or a spider spinning art against the fence, I bet everyone performs little dances that make them special. If someone else happens to spin the same shaped web, or trill the same melody, that’s cool too. It’s another way we’re connected.