holler: [v] bawl, call, cheer, complain, cry, hoot, howl, roar, scream, screech, shriek, shrill, squawk, squeal, ululate, vociferate, wail, whoop, yap, yelp . . . Roget’s Thesaurus
Last month’s column brought you the Pantego Mud Run, one community’s answer to fund raising for their volunteer fire department. Driving through a mud pit might be lucrative fun, but Spivey’s Corner, North Carolina, [population 49] sponsors the self-proclaimed National Hollerin’ Contest, a fire department fund raising tradition since 1969. Held every summer on the third Saturday in June, the National Hollerin’ Contest is one slam-damn good time. It’s so fun, it’s listed in the book 100 Things to Do Before You Die, Travel Events You Just Can’t Miss, right along with Mardi Gras and the running of the bulls.
The residents of Sampson County, North Carolina don’t want you to confuse hollerin’ with yodeling. While similar in its vocal intentions, the two differ in technique and sound. The roots of hollerin’ in Sampson County can be traced back to the 1700s when men rafting logs down the waterways to Wilmington would holler’ back and forth to each other to request aid or to notify other rafters of their presence.
Hollerin’ historians have come up with four categories: distress, pleasure, functional, and communicative hollers. (To hear a sample of hollerin’, check out National Geographic’s Pulse of the Planet.) Now that we’ve got cell phones, beepers, e-mail, and such, hollerin’ for any reason other than pleasure has just gone right out of fashion. Farmers and rural folk just don’t need to call each other that way any more. Farmer Frank has a cell phone in his tractor and Little John Ed’s got a beeper when he goes to the neighbor’s house to play Nintendo.
Years ago, I remember watching the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and the winner of the Hollering Contest was a featured guest. (Don’t make me explain who Johnny Carson is.) A large woman, not fat, she was, as my father-in-law used to say, “a big ol’ gal.” It’s been 30 years and I still remember her telling Carson that when she went to the store, she bought her clothes in “junior plenty” size.
Which brings around the purpose of this column. No, not big ol’ gals. Hollerin’.
Current modes of telecommunication require users to speak in normal and occasionally hushed tones, if speech is even required at all. Digital communication devices eliminate the need for sounds other than beeps and boops. The technological advances of the past century have rendered the need to holler obsolete. You can get someone’s attention without hollerin’ and it’s a damn shame. We’re swallowing our sounds, keeping them pent up and trying to negate their existence. While civilizing ourselves, we forgot to leave room for a basic human need. To holler.
Somewhere in our genetic basement where the strangeness lurks there’s a predisposition in humans to yell. Maybe it’s primordial, maybe it’s evolved as our stress-levels have risen in response to cultural and sociological input. The need exists and we ignore it. We don’t holler any more like we should. We raise our voices in anger, and all that does is make matters worse. Hollering is different, it’s therapeutic. In this age of self-prescribed, book-learned spirituality, I suggest a new form of psychological relief and I call it “Hollering Therapy.”
On the way to adulthood, we all have to learn the counter-productive results of shrieking at a nearby fellow human in an attempt to achieve some type of positive activity. But hollering, in its purest form, is not a face-to-face exercise. It’s a singular activity and listeners should be removed from the immediate area of the holleree. Sort of like cheerleaders, successful hollerers know how to use their voice box to project maximum volume. In 2002, my proposed Hollering Therapy utilizes basic hollering techniques and applies them to another purpose. Stress reduction. Hollering Therapy helps to raise those endorphin levels, it produces those happiness rushes by relieving stress.
Confederate soldiers utilized the Rebel Yell to put fear into the hearts and souls of the Union Army. It also made them happy, I suspect, to holler in the woods. According to the website of the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 27th, and 33rd Virginia Infantry Regiment, Confederate Colonel Keller Anderson of Kentucky’s Orphan Brigade described the Yell: “Then arose that do-or-die expression, that maniacal maelstrom of sound; that penetrating, rasping, shrieking, blood-curling noise that could be heard for miles and whose volume reached the heavens such an expression as never yet came from the throats of sane men, but from men whom the seething blast of an imaginary hell would not check while the sound lasted.” Now, this kind of hollering might come in handy in the city. I’m thinking a good Rebel Yell might just stop a mugger in his tracks. If nothing else, it made Billy Idol a lot of money.
Tarzan had a hell of a jungle holler. Admit it, nothing feels as good as a Tarzan yell. I double dog dare you to give out one of those Ahhhh-ayyyyyyiiiiiiiiyyyyiiiiieeee-ahhhhh’s right now. Talk about relieving stress. Carol Burnett, denizen of comedy, taught many a TV viewer the relevance of the Tarzan yell. She hollered for pleasure and, I dare say, countless millions enjoyed it, waited for it each week as her television show came on.
Don Quixote hollered at windmills. I holler at hurricanes.
Hollering during a hurricane, at the wind, is an awesome stress reliever. And it’s a reality play, the first of many acts. Standing on the shoreline, just before the National Guard makes everyone evacuate the area, and hollering at the sea while the winds start whipping in around you at 45 mph and the surf pounds the beach, filling it with foam that flecks up into the air and catches you in the face. The gusts of wind suck your voice right out of your throat and a person standing two feet away can’t hear you, they can only see your open mouth. And the release, the physical and emotional release, is incredible. As you holler at that storm, you begin to laugh at it because you realize you can’t fight this force, you’re powerless, and then, only then, can you get into your car and point it toward the 200 mile long line of folks trying to get inland before the storm hits. And you’re there, in that small box of steel, rubber, and glass, helpless again, with your pets and your family, and your CB radio, and, if you’re lucky, four cubic feet of belongings, but you couldn’t grab anything sacred because you’ve got to evacuate with blankets and food, so you can’t take your framed photos of your great-grandparents or your wedding album, or the kitchen table your Papaw made in 1937.
And you roll down the windows, turn to the kids in the back seat, and tell them to yell. To holler loud as they can to get it out of their system because they’re going to be in that car for hours and hours, moving at ten miles an hour or less. The dog howls in unison, lips in the air, pursed. The cat closes her eyes, disdainful of the whole process.
It catches on. You can see it in your rear view mirror. Open mouths in the car behind you. Another family commences to hollering. And everyone smiles, for a moment. Then the kids hunker down and try to sleep.
Hollerin’. Do it in the privacy of your own home, in an open field, at the Grand Canyon, in your car. But not on the subway or while boarding an airplane. I will not waste your time by listing Hollering Rules. Use your common sense. Never let it be said I advocated hollerin’ in inappropriate locations. But holler you must.