You’ve probably pondered this question: “If you were about to be stranded on a deserted island and could only carry along one music album, which one would you take?” (Just for the irony, I would take Déjà Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.) At least in this game you’re given a choice. What if the music was picked for you? Worse still, what if the music was implanted in your head so you were unable to smash the CD and player to bits when you couldn’t stand it anymore? What song would drive you nuts?
Meet Ron Goldspink, the man who hears ‘God Save the Queen’ sung by a male choir in his head about 10 times an hour, 240 times a day, 1700 times a week. If there’s a bright side to Goldspink’s affliction, at least it’s his own national anthem – he lives in Bilton in the UK. The 87-year-old says he started hearing the song four months ago and thought it was his annoying neighbor. Goldspink called the police who told him what everyone hates to hear … it was all in his head.
That patriotic tune sung by a male choir (and very well – Goldspink has no complaints about the quality, just the quantity) runs for 49 seconds and then leaves him alone for about ten minutes before starting again … and again and again. He quickly grew tired of standing with his hand over his heart 240 times a day (taking a knee probably didn’t help) so he sought medical aid and found out he’s suffering from a rare affliction known as musical ear syndrome.
Really! Don’t laugh … while MES is rare, it’s on the rise as more people age, lose their hearing or suffer from tinnitus. The musical hallucinations are not a sign of mental illness but of sensory deprivation caused by hearing loss. The auditory cortex tries to fill in the hole – usually with music but there can be singing or just voices speaking … that can be unsettling. The songs can actually be quite long – the German Romantic-era composer Robert Schumann claimed he heard entire symphonies in his head, but eventually they were replaced by a single endless note from which he drew as inspiration for his music, but later in his life this phenomenon had diminished to just a single A note that played ceaselessly within his head. Poor guy died in an insane asylum, although medical experts think he suffered from a brain tumor and may have had syphilis.
Let’s hope Ron Goldspink just has a patriotic case of musical ear syndrome. While it can’t be removed, it can be treated with hearing aids and higher levels of auditory and sensory experiences (he turns up the TV) to distract the brain from making its own hallucinations. For the anxiety it causes, anti-depressants can help.
Goldspink’s MES may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. The Hull Daily Mail reports that he hopes to meet the queen herself when she visits Hull in a few weeks. He’s hoping it will let other suffers know they’re not alone and the condition can be helped.
“I just want people to know that I am not mad, and don’t just have something wrong with my head. I am telling the truth, and I hear the national anthem continuously.”
The queen probably feels the same way.