Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer The Ears Have It

I have survived "The Shrieking," and I am stronger for it.

By Dennis Dugan

SEPTEMBER 20, 1999:  It was the brain-piercing sound of 19,000 females, none of whom were old enough to drive themselves to The Pyramid, screaming their testament of primal love to the five baby-faced, hair-gelled young gentlemen slowly lowering themselves on ropes to the elaborate stage.

'N Sync is in the House, and it's freakin' loud in here!

The inhuman shrill blast generated by the contingent of primarily pre-pubescent pixies screaming -- including my 10-year-old daughter and her love-struck friends -- is like nothing I've experienced. And I'm no square. I went with my big sister to see the Monkees in the late '60s, and there were girls screaming. But I know in my heart it did not compare to this piercing blast of female adoration. Maybe it's the steroids in the chickens, but this generation is to shattering eardrums what Evel Knieval was to wrecking motorcycles.

Picture an extremely youthful Lilith Fair, with none of the attendees yet aware that males are insensitive beasts undeserving their devotion. Throw in enough orthodontia that you could melt it down and make an Airstream big enough to carry Rosanne Barr with two weeks groceries. Add a liberal sprinkling of zipper vests from the Gap and then make it really loud !

If it surprises you that (on a school night, mind you) The Pyramid is sold out by 'N Sync, a group with whom you are either totally unfamiliar or you believed to be some type of Olympic swim team exhibition, you fall into one of two classifications:

1. You are not, to your knowledge, the parent of a Caucasian female born between 1985 and 1991, or

2. You are such a parent, but are not cognizant of certain details of your daughter's life. Can you tell the color of her bedroom walls, or are they covered with posters of curly-haired boys with nice teeth and headlines like "Justin's Dreamin' About Love"? Do you know it's Tuesday night and your 9-year-old female child has just left in a limo with your American Express card on her way to the concert to be with every other 9-year-old girl in town, and plans to sleep in late tomorrow?

For the uninformed, 'N Sync (Pronounced "N Sync") is one of the hottest groups participating in the late '90s craze of forming groups of five kids who look like they're from Orlando, and who actually can sing. I know this, because on a recent car trip I listened to their CD for four hours without a break, complying with federal law mandating children have complete discretion over the operation of audio equipment in moving passenger vehicles.

I actually like their music, which makes me a lot cooler than my dad, who failed to see the subtle musical beauty and magical poetry of classics like ZZ Top's "Tush." There are historical comparisons, such as the Monkees didn't always play their own music and neither do these guys. The key difference is the Monkees wanted you to believe they were playing their own instruments, while this new generation doesn't even try. They have other guys that play, which makes it much easier to implement their exhaustive choreography, one that whips the young crowd into a souvenir-buying frenzy. And there was abundant value in that area, including the $5 individual photo of J.C., the $20 program containing action photos capturing Joey's tender hunk-osity, and the $14,000 (Visa and Mastercard accepted) nail clipping from Lance's adorable big toe.

These boys have pioneered new music theories that had not yet been invented during my formative years, like harmony and singing on-key. Yet they've dropped some of the more beloved traditions, such as biting the heads off of bats and smashing musical instruments. They're not the Osmonds, but I have a hard time picturing what horrible things we'll see about them in 20 years on the "We Were Rich and Famous but Got Drunk and Buzzed, and Our Manager Stole Our Money So We Held Up Liquor Stores" programs you can watch 24 hours a day on VH1.

'N Sync did some great special effects (like flying over the audience while singing "Sailing" by Christopher Cross, which my daughter refuses to believe was a song before 1999) and a tribute to the '70s, which I'm convinced was a thinly veiled character assassination specifically sporting fun of my disco years.

But it is "The Shrieking" that is seared permanently in my memory. And these ears have been places. The Yes concert, circa 1973, back when synthesizers were constructed of vacuum tubes and ball bearings and were truly dangerous. These eardrums were second row guests of Grand Funk Railroad in 1975, when lead singer Mark Farner screamed so loud it, I'm convinced, shattered a half-pint bottle of cherry vodka, which had accidentally been placed in the back pocket of my Big Bell Levis prior to the show.

But even those years of rigorous auditory conditioning didn't prepare me.

In addition to the squall of love-crazed femalettes, 'N Sync had a stack of speakers that would have made Lynyrd Skynyrd look like the Partridge Family. If Deep Purple had played "Smoke on the Water" through those babies, the Mississippi River would have once again flowed backwards. Throw in remarkably deafening on-stage fireworks. Add flame throwers (yes flame throwers!) that were not only loud but that singed my rapidly blooming collection of protective ear hair, the eventual evolutionary response to listening to Alice Cooper's "School's Out" on 8-track at full-blast, and I emerged with a remembrance not experienced in some time total (and hopefully temporary) deafness.

So, the more things change and all that. I guess. It's been a couple of weeks, and as my hearing returns to normal, "The Shrieking" haunts me. Frightens me. Beckons me. And I know what I must do.

The Back Street Boys are coming in November.

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