Since my ears stopped working about six months ago, I’ve heard a ton of music. But I don’t mean that I’ve been summoning up old favorite recordings from memory, although I am fortunate enough to be able to do that.  I’m talking about music that my brain and my sickly inner ears generate entirely on their own. Electro-chemically. Spontaneously. Unstoppably. For the past couple of weeks, pretty much every minute I was awake, I heard a tune strongly reminiscent of “Telstar,” the instrumental by the Tornados that became a chart-topper in 1962 thanks to its “weird” space-age sound.

Now, you may be thinking, “Poor, pitiful peckerwood —  it’s a wonder he hasn’t drowned  himself yet.” But the thing is, I’m a glass half -full kind of a guy. If I have to have a moldy-oldie instrumental looping through my head, I would prefer something that sounds more like the Chantays’ “Pipeline” or maybe Santo and Johnny’s “Sleep Walk.”  But I am very grateful  I’m not stuck with, oh, the Champs’ “Tequila” or Paul Muriat’s “Love Is Blue.”  Well, not yet anyway.

The riffs running through my head have a tendency to change unpredictably. For a while, it was an unfamiliar progression of bass notes. For another while,  it was something that sounded kind of like Nancy Wilson’s roaring, power-chord intro to Heart’s “Crazy on You.” And yet another while, in a rare classical interlude, it was like “March of the Wooden Soldiers” from “The Nutcracker.” More than once I caught myself in mid-strut with a garden rake or a broom over my shoulder as the family cat, Cadbury, observed me with more than his usual disdain.

According to my research, I have been experiencing “musical hallucinations,” a variation of tinnitus, the phantom noises often sometimes heard by people whose hearing is going, going or gone. The Mayo Clinic website lists half a dozen common tinnitus “sounds”: ringing, buzzing, roaring, clicking, whistling, hissing.

Each of these is an old friend now, but the single-word designations don’t do my experience justice. There are times when I wonder if I have a phantom Phil Spector in my head, overproducing my tinnitus variations in his famous “Wall of Sound” style.

At various times, I hear:

Torrents of Spring –Raging, rushing water, occasionally punctuated by what sounds like a frightened animal being swept away.

Red River – Not to be confused with Torrents of Spring, this is sound of a stampede, like the thundering, climactic cow-panic in the classic John Wayne Western.

747 – Not like you hear inside the big jet; like what the ground crew would hear if they took off their ear mufflers.

Hearts of Space – Reminiscent of what you’d hear on the long-running, late-night radio series devoted to New Age, ambient and electronic “space” music, it’s sweeping, free-form sound, interrupted by gurgles, beeps and the arcing sonic equivalent of shooting stars.

Factory Floor – An industrial cacophony.

These variations of tinnitus do not necessarily take turns manifesting themselves. I may “hear,” for instance, Torrents of Spring in one ear and Factory Floor in the other while that “Telstar”-like riff or the “Wooden Soldiers” theme is also audible. And while this is all going on, entirely beyond my control, I can consciously make myself hear an entirely different song or a harmony.

Once again, you may be wondering how it is that I haven’t drowned myself yet. Well, as I said, I’m a glass half-full kind of guy. I’m optimistic about the laws of probability. If, as they say, a monkey could hunt-and-peck Hamlet given enough time and typing paper, then one of these days all the sounds in my head might come together and I will have auto-composed another 1812 Overture.

Noel Holston

Noel Holston

Noel Holston, originally from Laurel, Miss., is a freelance journalist, songwriter, storyteller and actor who lives in Athens, Ga., with his wife, singer-songwriter Marty Winkler. In a previous life, he was the TV critic at Newsday in New York and, before that, a critic and feature writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and The Orlando Sentinel.