BY JOE MENDONCA
Rhythmic shrieks rattled through my ears and continued to pierce the room’s silence as a woman stood screaming.
Spectators nursed half-empty vodka mixes and stood in a semicircle on the upper floor of a downtown Portland row house. My roommate’s latest photo series was hung up in a makeshift art show around stacks of vinyl records, couches, and dimly lit crevices. In the middle of these hipsters, punk rockers, and high school kids the woman screamed. As she released a constant stream of guttural fury, she slowly slid to the floor. She sprawled herself across the ground, limbs spastically twitching under waves of her screams.
As the room reached a silence, listeners glanced and nodded at each other approvingly. People clapped. It was a musical expression of sorts. To an appreciator of noise or experimental performances, her aesthetic approach was quite appealing.
The thing is, this was not a noise show. This was not an experimental night. Having known a majority of those in attendance, few of them were connoisseurs of having their ears blasted by nothing but a naked voice screaming for a good ten minutes straight. Yet, as we all stood there, people were reveling in the supposed brilliance of her performance.
Do we define these moments, or do we allow them to define us? The lady artist was in every way genuine and true to her aesthetic expression. But as for the rest of us, it is possible that no one had a deep love for the sound of someone screaming to silence. Not one person could have not been moved in some way. For most of us, however, we were not faced with something deeply moving or creatively challenging.
When I was younger I took a lot of interest in music and visual art being used to “offend the truth” into people. Mainly, I wanted to make others uncomfortable for the sake of being offensive. Had I been in the screaming performer’s shoes at a young age, I would have only been doing it out of contempt or the desire to be strangely offensive. Nothing about me would have invested such an experimental outlet into anything truly artistic. During those times, was I defining what I portrayed? Or perhaps what I portrayed was defining my image.
I have lost count as to the many younger friends that I’ve had over the years whom I’ve played a new sound for. An album that they were not familiar with in their young age, that was so impressive to their fresh ears that they literally went out and purchased the record for themselves as quickly as possible. Within a few months I would encounter them again, and they would be completely immersed in the culture that their new musical interest defined. As they spoke to me, they would refer knowingly to the new love that they had discovered as though being a long-running authority on the subject. I was all for their excitement. But in those moments, I had to wonder if their overnight expertise made them completely genuine. Perhaps the music was defining them.
By all means, if you see something new and love it, you should wrap your head around what it is and enjoy it. However, there is a fine line between a new interest and immediately adapting to the culture around us.
There is nothing genuine about making yourself seem authentic for the sake of reputation. On the opposite side of this, there was me in my younger years. I let abrasive sounds and art define what I projected to others. Sure, angst can be reflected through art. I am all for that. But I was allowing for a certain aesthetic to determine how others interpreted me. Instead, I could have communicated the honest parts of myself in whatever ugly, beautiful, or other manner that may have been.
If you want to be the screaming woman, be the screaming woman. But don’t do it in front of a silent room to position yourself in culture. Don’t pull out the melodramatics for the sake of shock. Do it with a genuine approach not defined by what it is. Don’t play the part as an all-knowing listener, though experiencing something for the first time. Make that scream authentic by who you are and what you are doing with it.