In the summer time, we all scream for ice cream, as the childhood rhyme goes. But occasionally there are other reasons to scream, especially for those who front rock and roll bands.
The New York Times recently reported that a new album called “Favorite Recorded Scream” has become a quirky underground hit. “What is on this recording?” you ask. The Times states: “But anyone curious enough to buy it would find that the record is exactly what it says it is: an audio catalog of scream snippets—each a few seconds long—chosen by employees at various record stores in Manhattan.”
The creator of this cacophonous collection is 25-year-old LeRoy Stevens who labored over a six month period to bring this project to life. As I looked through the list of screams I found a couple of familiar, tasty yelps (from The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again) mixed in with some obscure entries that I have since investigated on YouTube (most are worthy). I noticed that one of my favorite rock and roll screams, however, did not make the cut—Ian Gillan’s high-pitched, siren-like screech at the beginning of Deep Purple’s “Highway Star” off of their 1972 release Machine Head. Still, this project begs the question, why would anyone want to listen to a bunch of screams?!
Many people know from experience that performing and listening to music can be a very emotional experience. No matter what genre of music, performers and listeners alike are at times overwhelmed by a sense of euphoria, fear, or even great sadness. Rock music, which has been a channel for rebellion and protest for over 5 decades, is a natural home for the scream. Screams of anguish, of desolation, of frustration, and of joy pepper the rock canon and signal a moment of needed release. It is no mistake that “Garden State” a popular young adult movie of a few years ago has both a critically acclaimed popular music soundtrack and a seminal scene in the film with 3 of the main characters screaming into the depths of a canyon. Rock music gives permission for fans to release their inner demons/spirits and engage the world with a facet of their personalities not often given free reign.
When I listen to a scream in a rock song I sometimes get chills because there is something so primal and yet familiar about it—as if the scream unlocks the part of my psyche that is also begging to be heard after months or years of suppression for the sake of civility. The Canadian rock trio Rush put it eloquently in their 1987 song “Lock and Key”: “I don’t want to face the killer instinct, face it in you or me—so we keep it under lock and key.” It is that “killer instinct” which, I believe, is expressed in the rock and roll scream, and is a possible source of creativity and immense passion.
In Luke 9:39, a father approaches Jesus and asks him to cure his son, who he reports as being possessed. The New American Bible translation reads, “For a spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams.” Perhaps the son had found the answer to his plight even before Jesus was asked to heal him—he screamed and spilled out his passion and anguish, and he knew that God approved.