Music as Punishment

Current mood: contemplative
Category: News and Politics


We’ve all heard of the wondrous powers of music healing sick people. Former coma patients report being aware of their families playing their favorite songs…distressed children and animals are soothed by Mozart…so it was a huge shock for me to hear yesterday that the CIA is proud of the fact they are using music for torture. Literally.

Yesterday they released a list of songs they play over and over and over again for 16 hours a day at full blast followed by four hours of silence to break down prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.

Among the songs are the works of the band Rage Against The Machine, whose guitarist Tom Morello spoke out against the practice this week. It’s a little surprising to see who’s on the list and who’s not. I mean Britney spears I can understand. Bruce Springsteen singing Born in the USA I don’t get at all.

There’s also Massive Attack, AC/DC, Metallica, Christina Aguilera, Don McLean and….when they really want to drive their prisoners crazy, according to a British law group, Reprieve, they pull out songs from Sesame Street and Barney. 

I perused the list and frankly, although I am disturbed by the idea of torture, I think the Feds have missed some opportunities here to really send their detainees over the edge. There are songs that haunt my brain…and I am convinced have contributed to my general delinquency:

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1.       Bananas in Pajamas. This TV show is mercifully not available in the US but is a huge hit in Australia. A few years ago I went home for Christmas and somebody gave my nephew a Bananas in Pajamas doll. You squeeze the hand and the theme song of the same name chirps right into your cellular structure, torturing you for the rest of your freakin’ life. I had a few glasses of champagne at Christmas last year and apparently sang – and danced – the song…more than once.


2.       Nauseating novelty Christmas CDs such as cats meowing and dogs barking to Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer etc. I finally threw out the two CDs somebody gave me one year as a gag gift. I could not give those things away to anybody. And I can still remember the chilling, creepy sound of those songs.

3.       Alvin and the Chipmunks.

4.       Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry be Happy. This song was a major irritant to me when it was first released and I’m sorry, but when you’re in grim circumstances, what could be more insanity-inducing than some guy telling you, don’t worry, be happy!

I am not condoning violence or the violation of anyone’s human rights but according to Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, former U.S. military chief in Iraq, the aim is “to create fear, disorient . . . and prolong capture shock.”

Great…so music, the world’s oldest form of spiritual therapy has been turned on its…er…ear and songs that were intended to bring euphoria and peacefulness are sending men mad.

I felt particularly bad for singer/songwriter Bob Singleton who protested the use of his song I Love You from the Barney show. He pointed out that his song was intended to make children feel loved and safe…not to drive people crazy but every parent I know says its on the top of their “Never-want-to-hear-that-song-again-as-long-as I-live” list.

I polled all the kids I know and not one of them loves that song. My nephew complained that it’s burned in his brain…listen kid, I know how ya feel. I’m humming Bananas in Pajamas even as I write this.

Aloha oe,


Currently listening :
Once Upon a Summertime
By Blossom Dearie
Release date: 1992-11-17

One Response to “Music as Punishment”

  1. President-elect Obama has promised that he will close Guantanamo Prison as soon as he takes office. All of this will part of our very embarrassing history soon. Thank god!

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