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I first became interested in recording music when a friend of mine had a mutual friend and me over to demonstrate his reel-to-reel tape deck on which he had created some of his own multi-track recordings. I wanted one. I couldn’t afford one. At least for a few years.


Eventually I saved enough for such a machine and have had access to home recording ever since. I’ve made surprisingly little use of it, but I’ve had my moments. One of these moments occurred in 1990, when a song I’d had rambling around in my otherwise empty head came together. It started percolating back in 1988, when I’d felt overwhelmed by a computer class I was taking. It eventually coalesced into “My Brain Is Too Small.”


For a song with only three chords, it was somewhat complex. By the time I was done, I’d put in three guitars, bass, drums (more specifically a programmed drum machine because I didn’t know how to play drums – to all my drummer friends, sorry about that!) and six vocal parts!


Most songs I’ve ever recorded tend to take on a life of their own, a self-destructive life that makes them worse than I envision them, but this song was different. It came together very well, and when I heard the six-part a cappella choral ending played back, I was thrilled, nay, ecstatic with the result. So thrilled that I committed the opus to cassette (CD’s were not yet in vogue) and mailed it to radio show host, Dr. Demento.


If you don’t know of Dr. Demento (real name Barret Eugene “Barry” Hansen) he started his radio show in 1970, and later (1974) syndicated his showcasing of comedy-novelty recordings. Generally in a weekly two-hour format, the Dr. Demento Show grew in popularity, and was easily found in virtually all major U.S. markets as well as being heard on many international stations. I had picked up on it when I still lived in Michigan and became an instant fan. I had no pretentions about the likelihood of him playing my song, but what did I have to lose by sending it in? I’d even copyrighted it (along with all the other songs I’d written to date) so I’d be covered if the song about my mental shortcomings became popular.


Some time later, I was surprised to find a package on my doorstep. I opened it to find a playlist and two LP records from Dr. Demento. As part of sending my song to him, I figured I’d join his club, the Dr. Demento Society, and I figured this package was a gift for joining, though it would be an elaborate freebie. 


I scanned the playlist. It was for the week of January 28, 1991, still a couple of weeks away. About half way down there was a segment of the show featuring three well-known Demento staples: “The Simpsons are Resistable” by Crow Carroll & The Heat, “You’re Nothin’ But A Nothin’” by Raymond Paige, and “Dare To Be Stupid” by my hero “Weird Al” Yankovic. But sandwiched between Page and Yankovic was another song, unknown to the world, but with which I was intimately familiar: “My Brain Is Too Small” by John Shinnick.

My Brain Is Too Small

If, after reading the amazing story of the writing and airing of my one hit blunder "My Brain Is Too Small", click on the above link. It's the full-length version. Hope you like it. If you don't, well, you get what you pay for. 

I called the Los Angeles phone number at the top of the playlist and asked what was up. It turned out that my name had gotten mixed in with the many radio stations that played his show and they’d sent me the show. The albums were the shows complete with many of the advertisements and blank space for local ads. Damn, he was going to play my song!


I listened to the albums, smug in the knowledge that I was hearing the show before most anyone else. I listened to my song, finding that he’d cut two of the verses, I think because it was too long, just under four minutes, but he’d managed a virtually seamless transition to the a cappella ending of which I was so proud. And when the show aired, I was riveted to the radio. It was only by clerical error that I’d learned he was going to play the song at all. That he’d cut it down mattered not one bit to me. The popular saying was that everyone would get fifteen minutes of fame, so after the editing, I still had twelve left.


The iron was hot, time to strike. I needed to do a follow-up song and I had just the perfect one, a parody of Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” that I’d written and recorded for a friend’s thirtieth birthday party. It was called “The Big 3-0”, I’d only have to change a few words to make it completely generic. Now, I had (and have) great respect for Bob Dylan and wouldn’t want to cross him. I figured I’d have my people talk to his people. Okay, I didn’t have any people. He obviously did. It took some sleuthing, but managed to contact them to ask permission to parody his song.


“Mr. Dylan does not appreciate people making light of his work.” I remember those words to this day. End of story. I didn’t know at the time that song parodies are generally fine and in this case I could have gone ahead, but I never researched it. And there the dream of following in Weird Al’s footsteps came to an end.


Over the years, two people found a reference to my song on the Internet and tracked me down to see how they could get a copy. In addition to having it played in the first place, these requests have been among my most treasured memories and I’ve supplied the unabridged version with no charge. 


For years I thought the song was played just that one time, but in researching this story, I just found that Doctor Demento played the song a second time in 2010, the last year of his syndicated show. I found this on a site called I just wrote to the guy who’s run the site for many years, one Captain Wayne. Perhaps I’m not done after all.

The story of my "hit" song

My Brain Is Too Small

Words and music by John Shinnick, © John Shinnick, 1990

(Note - this is the unabridged version

Once we were monkeys, we lived in the trees

We at bananas and hung by our knees

I’m just a throwback, Darwin passed me by

I’m not really sure when or why


I got in my car and drove to the store

When I got there I forgot what I got there for

If I don’t respond to life’s every call

Must be ‘cause my brain is too small


My brain is too small, my brain is too small

There’s so many things I just can’t recall

No matter how hard I try I can’t remember it all

Must be ‘cause my brain is too small


When memory malfunctions it seems such a shame

I’ll remember a face but forget the name

If one fact goes in, another pops out

I live in such trouble and doubt


My brain is too small, my brain is too small

There’s so many things I just can’t recall

If IQ was height I’d be two feet tall

I know that my brain is too small

I can recite a poem I learned in sixth grade

But last month’s bills, they haven’t been paid

There’s plenty of money, it just slipped my mind

I get further and further behind

Ask me a question – I’ll say “I don’t know”

I feel so embarrassed letting ignorance show

But it’s not my fault I’m confused every day

It’s just that my brain works that way


My brain is too small, my brain is too small

There’s so much to know and no room for it all

If I could buy a bigger brain I’d drive straight to the mall

But I can’t so my brain is too small


Where is my wallet? It was here yesterday

It ain’t any fun living this way

But after all of these years I’m still alive

I guess I know what I need to survive


Time passes by and I see you less and less

Why I ain’t forgotten you is anyone’s guess

But I think of you with every breath that I breathe

And when did you last think of me?


My brain is too small, my brain is too small

There’s so many things I just can’t recall

No matter how hard I try I can’t forget you at all

Must be ‘cause my brain is too small

My Brain Is Too Small - John Shinnick

The inspiration: Gary Larson's Far Side cartoon.

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