Once when I was freelancing at a large marketing agency, a couple of designers spent an afternoon wandering about, disconsolate, singing a motif they couldn’t identify: “Da-duh! DUH! DUH! Do you know what that song is?” Somehow no one did.* (This is perhaps not surprising, as it’s the same office where I once heard an intern confidently define ska as “rock, but with like a blues feel.”)
The ways we remember music—or almost remember it—both fascinate and scare me. Sometimes when you’re writing a song it comes so fast that it feels more like recall than creation. Sometimes it does turn out to be recall, accidental or not, and then you lose a court case. Which makes the songs that come fast more than a little terrifying. You feel as though you’re dealing with music as an elemental force—unless you’re just regurgitating something you heard once in a Walgreens—and for a while you genuinely don’t know which is true. That frantic not-knowing is part of what “Cryptomnesia” is getting at (though that song began as a dream, and to be honest I still don’t know what every last part of it means).
A song I’m almost done with is still in that state, which means I’ve been carrying it around for a week or two while my brain pings between things it might be and pops random melodies into the ol’ mental algorithm. I’ve practiced it for the sake of putting together a demo, and now I can’t tell whether the chord progression feels inevitable because I’m used to it, or because it’s a song that already exists out in the wild. I am probably not going to know until I play it for the band. This too is trust, huh?
*They didn’t ask me—no one ever asks the freelancer—but it was the theme from Carmen.