Screaming in Soulard: My quest to find Mr. Brightside
The humble Facebook Event has undergone a great evolution—it’s gone from a simple way to invite friends to a party to a meme with an intentionally ridiculous name. This latter type of event, which no one physically attends, is created for the sake of the meme itself as an art form. For example, I recently clicked “Interested” on an event titled “Everybody Points Their Fans At The Hurricane To Blow It Away.” The purpose of this event is to elicit a chuckle from the average newsfeed-scrolling Facebook user and, maybe, if we’re being generous, to bring awareness to hurricane-related issues. Now, Events have come full circle, with absurdly named gatherings that actually happen in real life: I present to you, “Scream every word to Mr. Brightside in the streets of Soulard.”
The Killers’ 2004 song “Mr. Brightside” is a nearly perfect piece of music. I believe that no other song evokes a nostalgia as intense and wide-ranging among my fellow millennials, and even NPR has recently proclaimed that “’Mr. Brightside’ will never die.” It’s angsty without being too “emo;” it rocks hard while still being easy to sing along to, and it is immensely relatable, without sacrificing some bizarrely specific lyrics like “coming out of my cage, and I’ve been doing just fine” (a line which itself is the source of a great meme).
So, because I am among the large cohort of people who love “Mr. Brightside” (or at least have a very strong emotional reaction whenever it comes on), I clicked “Going” with a vague sense of amusement when this Facebook event first came to my attention sometime in August.
I didn’t expect “Scream every word to Mr. Brightside in the streets of Soulard” to be anything more than a bit of throwaway internet humor, but, as the weeks went by, the event organizer posted regularly on the page: mostly Mr. Brightside memes, but also semi-cryptic messages that hinted at concrete plans. A time was set, then changed when the St. Louis Cardinals game was rescheduled. A second event was created in the evening for latecomers, titled “Whisper Quietly Mr. Brightside in the streets of Soulard.” A week ago, a group called “Underground St. Louis” produced a video interviewing the event’s creator, Ryan Russell. As the date approached, I gave up my search for cheap resale LouFest tickets and marked my calendar for 3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9.
While my peers sang along (well, maybe) to Hippo Campus in Forest Park or recovered from Friday night’s debauchery, I exited I-64 and began the drive downtown to Soulard. Once I was officially in the neighborhood, I slowed my pace and rolled down my windows, searching for an audible cue that this wasn’t just an elaborate internet prank. Each time I heard a snippet of music, my heart leapt, but the first few false alarms turned out to be passing cars, tuned to Top 40 radio stations.
After a few minutes, I heard a glimmer—just a second, perhaps—of a song that really did sound like The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside.” Unfortunately, I had no idea where it was coming from. I finally conceded, pulling over and checking the Facebook event for a concrete location. Then, I parked and approached my new target intersection. The snippet of familiar song I’d heard a few minutes ago was long gone, but I noticed a small group that included one man, decked out in Cardinals red and holding a large stack of papers—presumably the 200 copies of “Mr. Brightside” lyrics that Russell, the event’s organizer, said he would bring. These were my people.
I made my approach. “Are you guys here to sing Mr. Brightside?” I asked awkwardly. Indeed, they were. Over the course of a few rousing verses of the song with approximately five people (including me) participating, I learned that the first go-round had included 20 or so singers/screamers, most of whom had departed right after. Clocking in at 3:04 p.m., I had just missed this initial gathering. Nevertheless, I joined in for a few minutes of song, but we did not reach the critical mass of people needed to neutralize the awkwardness of our public display of angst. To their credit, though, my compatriots soldiered on for a few more minutes, laying down at one point and continuing to sing to the amusement of the onlookers who had surprisingly remained in the square.
Kriss, one of my fellow “Soulard Screamers” (as I had internally begun to call us), was there in part to simply experience this unique event. “Memes have literally become real life, and we wanted to be a part of it,” Kriss said.
Although the in-person turnout was much smaller than the online one (over 700 people had RSVP’d “Going” to the Facebook event), the fact that this screaming occurred at all is a testament to the power of the internet—and to early 2000s nostalgia. Russell, who created the event when he read a Tweet about a guy who couldn’t sleep because someone across the street was drunkenly singing “Mr. Brightside,” did not expect it to take off in the way it did.
“When [the event] hit a hundred [people], it started turning into, ‘What’s going on? Now I really have to do this,’” said Russell. “So, total accident.”
The man who birthed this idea also had a theory about the enduring nature of “Mr. Brightside.”
“Everybody has the same pain and angst,” Russell posited. “This is basically therapy.”
Behind him, the screaming continued, at