Something strange started happening to Carolyn Murphy soon after she began working at the New York City law firm of Kurklestern and Branz. Every day at 6p.m., the 25-year-old junior associate would begin her walk to the subway, and every day, midway through her journey, she would find herself humming a tune. The song was “It’s a Shame About Ray,” by the now-defunct band The Lemonheads, and Ms. Murphy, a petite brunette whose adolescent yen for grunge is evidenced only by the small lizard tattooed on her right ankle, was puzzled—she hadn’t heard that song since high school. ”I couldn’t figure it out,” she said, several months after the first incident occurred. “How did the song get in my head? It wasn’t playing anywhere I could think of. Certainly not at work.”
In the past, Ms. Murphy relayed, she’d only ever had a tune creep into her head after hearing it in passing—over the radio in the deli, perhaps, or from a car with a particularly boisterous sound system. But “It’s a Shame About Ray” seemed to come out of nowhere.
For several months, she remained mystified. Even tortured: “I would ask my roommate, ‘Did you play it while I was sleeping?’” she said, with bashful grin.
Then, on a recent Wednesday, Ms. Murphy had her “Aha!” moment. “I finally realized that I was passing Famous Original Ray’s Pizza every day on the way home,” she said. “It was only because this one day I skipped lunch—Kurklestern had unloaded the McCarsey file on me—and since I was hungry, I noticed the smell of melting cheese wafting down 8th avenue.” While waiting in line for a slice, she began idly singing the opening lines, (“I’ve never been too good with names”) That’s when it dawned on her. “I was like, ‘Doh!’” she said, using an expression familiar to watchers of the animated television series “The Simpsons.”
Since then, Ms. Murphy has opted to take a different route home. With it comes a clearer mind. “I never realized it, but that song is really kind of droney,” she said.
To be sure, The Ray Incident, as Ms. Murphy’s friends refer to it now, was not the only time in recent memory that a song has come, unbidden, into Ms. Murphy’s mind and caused her discomfort. Last week, when she passed by the desk of Julio Gonzalez, a paralegal at her firm, the percussive sounds that herald the opening of Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard,” started up inside her brain. However, she never told anyone, fearing she might seem racist. She has since altered her route.