Alan is screaming.
We’re practicing in his flat and he is really going for it. He’s sitting on his bed, smashing his guitar so hard I can’t hear what chord he’s playing. His face contorted like he is “ugly crying”. I’m sitting up against the wall desperately trying to think of something that could possibly accompany this. There is absolutely nothing musical about this scream. Don’t think of it like a Kurt Cobain angst ridden lament or a David Lee Roth showbiz howl. This is ugly, like a grown man losing all control and reverting to the wailing, blubbering mess of a new born baby. It’s not something that he’s just come up with on the spur of the moment either. He does vocal training exercises, breathing exercises and general fitness exercises in order to get the absolute devastating power into this terrible, terrible sound that he makes.
It’s not the first time he’s screamed like this. Every other time was in a practice room where everyone else was doing something similar. There just being two of us, we would make a fraction of the noise of the metal bands, wedding bands and worse - those who would be in the rooms around us. This time is different. We’re in the one liveable room of his tenement in a pretty grim street in the Southside. The window’s open so this awful goddam noise will be reverberating around the back courtyard, mentally disturbing 100 odd people innocently washing their Sunday dishes. In his front room (that has been abandoned to unopened boxes) we can hear the alcoholics, 2 floors up when they party, dance and inevitably fight every night. There is no way that this utterly, sanity-destroying noise that he’s making isn’t getting into the flats of at least 4 other people he is going to have to meet in his close every day.
He is still screaming and I’ve given up trying to play along. Not only can I hear no music in the thrashing of his acoustic or the ugly blast of the scream; he is so loud that I can’t hear what I’m playing anyway. I’m sitting with my hands by my side now, not even touching my guitar. I’m staring at the floor out of embarrassment, just waiting for the scream to finally end, fighting the urge to run out the door.
Alan is screaming and he’s told me why. He has a forensic knowledge of rock music and has done an intricate investigation into every pioneer. Beat Happening singing their childlike love songs, dead eyed and blood-soaked to a crowd of stunned punks who can’t believe that they are playing on even after they smashed an ashtray into Calvin’s face. The Velvet Underground who, upon being told that if they ever played Black Angel’s Death Song again they would lose their residency and face life bans, responded by playing the most evil, twisted, extended version of it the next night. The riots that the Jesus and Mary Chain would provoke by playing twenty minute sets containing only howling feedback, with their backs to the audience, completely out their faces.
He has studied and studied. Read the books, watched the films and he has discovered that the only thing that nobody has done yet is this … this horrible, horrible scream over an acoustic guitar played at 300 miles per hour, lyrics that simply seem to mock themselves and it is just … sonic mush. Ugliness for ugliness sake.
Alan is somehow still screaming but I am beginning to feel sorry for him as I watch him out the corner of my eye. He is rebelling according to tradition. He is rebelling according to rules that have been passed down the generations and all that are left are the rotten crumbs that nobody else wanted. I think about other stuff that he’s told me too. The jobs he gets on Gumtree that only sometimes pay and never provide breaks let alone holidays. The dodgy landlords that have left him homeless or sick almost every time he’s managed to get somewhere to stay. His entire generation seems to have inherited nothing but a set of rules for a game that was already won before they were born. Maybe that’s why his scream is really, really getting to me. The revolution of one generation becomes the empty, unthinking dogma of the next and I’m angry that he is so willing to accept a set of rules that are providing him with so little. I’m angry that rather than rebellion, this is more like a historical re-enactment.
The screaming stops. I’m brought back out of my own head. Back to that cold tenement flat with it’s one habitable room. Back to Alan looking over at me as he asks “So, what did you think?”
As I struggle to put into words everything that has been rushing through my head he realises that he has strayed from the scriptures and corrects himself “Actually, if you don’t like it you can do one”.