Changing John McWhorter's tune

John McWhorter is a pundit who gets his word out a fair amount — at times perhaps more because he’s a well-spoken black guy speaking outside of the commonly believed black common stance than because he’s actually speaking within his specialty; he’s a linguistic guy by background. (And please note that I’m not holding anything against John; he seems to be speaking earnestly, and even though I often disagree with him or find his logic less than complete and compelling, he’s certainly not one of today’s shrill and unreasonable voices.)
Anyway, that’s all context. He was on public radio tonight talking about how folks shouldn’t react so much to the recent use of nooses, and when one caller made the ridiculous suggestion that McWhorter might feel the same way if black folks were actually found hanging from them, McWhorter noted that in the face of a changing situation, he’s quite capable of changing his tune and frequently has.
And that made me grin. Because, you see, I used to change his tune.
And I mean that literally. Mr. McWhorter and I attended college together. And one day, in the college library, I discovered something. He was doing some work in a room that I was passing through whilst I was humming a tune… and when I passed back through that room, he was whistling that tune. So I hummed a different tune, came back through a few minutes later, and he had picked up that one as well. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t aware of it, and it just seemed to me an interesting case of the way things run below the consciousness, and the way music hits us internally.
I think I did that to him one more time that day, and a few more times after. Cheap amusement, I know.

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Published in: on October 24, 2007 at 12:26 am  Comments (2)  

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  1. Nat —

    I remember you well, even though we did not exactly “hang out” at The Rock. If I’m not mistaken, we share not only Simon’s Rock, but an interest in vintage comic strips. Do I recall reading you credited for helping out the people doing those wonderful Fantagraphics books collecting the Peanuts strip, of which I, probably like you, have every volume?

    In any case I do not recall, maybe predictably, this musical incident. If I may, do you remember what you were humming? I suspect that I was somewhat conscious of what I was doing, as even now, I sometimes “pick up” songs people passing me are humming or whistling, just for the private fun of it.

  2. I must admit, at this late date I recall the phenomenon but not the songs involved. Obviously, they would have to be things reasonably recognizable to you or horribly simple for them to be picked up, as I’m not a great musical talent.

    And yes, I’m listed in the Complete Peanuts volumes for assisting in various ways. I’m a bit of a Peanuts freak, and run a website and a blog for Peanuts book fans, among other things.


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