Content warning: this song and article contains descriptions of sexual violence.
Why are people fascinated by horror? Every year it seems like there’s a new pantheon of horror movies released to scare us senseless—it really feels like we have a bizarre obsession with terror. But the stories that are most terrifying to us are the ones that we believe could happen to us. With shows like Criminal Minds, Law and Order, and True Crime, sometimes I wonder how anyone can watch them without never being able to leave their bedroom ever again.
But there’s an aspect of humanity’s strange attachment to violence that is even more unsettling. When real footage of a violent assault is released, do you watch it? When there’s a recording of a 911 phone call, do you listen to it? It may be one of the hardest and most gut-wrenching things to do, yet so much of the time we seem unable to resist the urge to sneak a peek because it is just that terrifying, and frankly, real.
That’s what makes Lisa Germano’s 1994 song “… A Psychopath” such a daunting ordeal to get through. By this era it wasn’t uncommon to hear sampled tracks in most songs, but Germano upped the ante by choosing to sample an actual recording of a 911 call. A woman named Karen reports a break-in in her home, and by the end of the song, her chilling screams give way to hauntingly deafening silence.
The serene beauty of the song stands in stark contrast to the horrific lyrical content. “A baseball bat, a baseball bat beside my bed … I hear a noise, I hear a noise,” Germano sings with soft ease over an elegiac violin tune. “I am alone, you win again / I’m paralyzed.” There’s a level of cognitive dissonance that is set off at the crux of this track. One on hand, you’re almost encouraged to close your eyes and drift to sleep listening to the soft lullaby of Germano’s voice. On the other, the screams of the woman on the phone and the wobbling studio effects mimic a scene straight out of your worst nightmare. “A psychopath, a psychopath / He says he loves me.”
At times, “… A Psychopath” is straight up petrifying. After the final verse, the call and synths are shrouded in a murky cloud of screams until the call clicks off and we’re greeted by harrowing silence. There’s no relief offered in this song, no words of comfort or affirmation. If anything, the point of song is to point out just how powerless it feels to be in situations like that. It’s a truly terrifying experience, but inseparable from the beauty of Germano’s vocals and arrangement.
Reconciling the horror from the beauty is not an easy task, but it’s one that Germano doesn’t necessarily feel you have to undertake. The woman in the call ended up being raped and murdered by the intruder. Sometimes, there is no hope to be offered, just a message worth saying, no matter how alarming it is. Late at night, curled up in bed, something like this might be the last thing you want to listen to, but the impression is indelible. After all, “…A Psychopath” even kept Lisa Germano up at night.