| It's always amusing to witness
reactions The Screamers evoke from a virgin audience but to envision their
effect upon Camarillo State Mental Hospital's inmates was exceptionally
curious as the ideal situation. The affinity was obvious-anxiety level
music played for anxiety-wrought minds. These were recipients of "Peer
Pressure" to the extent of Thorazine-laced isolation.
Accompanied by a small entourage, The Screamers infiltrated Camarillo's contained community to provide entertainment for the residents' Easter dance. Mild-mannered producer with the discriminate ear drawled his discontent as a mobile recording unit sat idly outside. Last minute notice was given that a taping of the show would be an infringement on the privacy of the patients. Ironically, the very same institution was scandalized not all that long ago by a number of murders attributed to the brutal disciplinary tactics of its attendants.
Privacy intact, the patients filtered into the recreational building, introducing themselves to the Screamer-affiliated ranks with much zealous hand-shaking. An amiable bunch, they mingled and exchanged smalltalk as Screamer Fan Club applications were distributed. Man were quizzical as to how to fill out the form, particularly the spaces designated for "shoe size" and "ambition in life." After giving proper instructions to several such persons,, I was handed back a blank application with four neat columns of the numbers 1 to 99 written on the reverse side.
As the crowd thickened, the sparse Screamers party became scattered, much to the uneasiness of your devoted scribe. A noticeable influx of less congenial, brooding Camarillo customers skulked about the dance floor, muttering to themselves. One rather large and moody individual studied me intently for about ten minutes when I realized that the attendants were indistinguishable from the patients.
All attention was focused on The Screamers, however, as they ascended the stage. Some were repulsed and others fascinated by Tommy and Tomata's Woody Woodpecker hairdos. Everyone thought they were strange.
Because it was a dance, The Screamers leaned primarily on their more upbeat, frenetic material. A rapid rendition of "The Beat Goes On" was met with juvenile catcalls rolling off the tie-dyed tongues of hairy hippie heck- lers. "What unit are you from?" was the first response, earning a smirk from Tomata. Another shouted, "Led Zeppelin," obviously committed for an acute lack of musical insight.
The audience was restless and the lull before the next song was lengthy. A young kid tugged on my sleeve and asked, "Do you really like them?"-then walked away, shaking his head. For once it seemed like The Screamers were confronted with opposition and their allies were far outnumbered.
Undaunted, they persevered, and by the infectious strains of "Vertigo," had captured the crowd's enthusiasm. This was a rather expressive lot and the dance floor was rampant with bizarre, free-form techniques. A girl in the front followed Tomata back and forth across the stage while massaging her breasts. There was the semi-horizontal pogo, an old-timer went into a soft-shoe routine, another couple did a sort of rounded-out box-step (all at different tempos) and, alas, the futile Siamese-twin pogo.
"Twiggy" was the well-received encore and after the set some giggling girls received Screamer autographs to clutch to their budding bosoms. Of course, how well they danced or if they stayed in synch with the music isn't significant so much as that they were caught up in the energy and enjoyed themselves.
The fact that the Screamers' charity performance was a welcome deterrent to the confined, regimented existence of those less fortunate than us (even though we have to buy our own sedatives) casts a humanitarian light on the event. Overall, the Screamers emerged triumphant in the face of adversity. Whether or not the impact of their manic delivery has caused a mass therapy setback is still pending.