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April 2016



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david bowie realism _ truepenny

Divine is dead! (and better looking)

I need cmpriest's Time Warp icon for this.

So a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (I think it was earlier this year on twitter, but you know the internet) I promised Wil Wheaton that I would write up my Rocky Horror Picture Show experiences, as he had done.

Well, it turns out yesterday was the film's 35th anniversary. And since I just finished a draft, and given (the great) Tim Curry's recent fairly outstanding turn as a villain on Criminal Minds (where Mr. Wheaton has also appeared as a baseball-bat wielding psychopath) and the forthcoming tribute episode of Glee (I have been resisting the siren call of Jane Lynch (see also, Criminal Minds (and in the nested brackets are starting to look like a "Connections" column)) but yes, I will watch the hell out of that episode) now seems like the most opportune of opportune times.

I lost my Rocky virginity in the summer of my 17th year, June 1989, between high school and college, when a couple of guys from my gaming group (one of whom I was, through a signal failure of judgment, desperately in love with) called me up and said, "You wanna go to a midnight movie?"

Reveling in my newly adult, curfew-less status, I said, "Sure."

They were kind enough not to out me as a virgin (I probably would have cried. Lingering "Farmer in the Dell" trauma. Don't ask.) and I, being a somewhat socially isolated teen, had no idea what I was getting into. I remember mostly a gorgeous redhead kitted out as Frankie, an amazing crew of SCAdians and weirdos and freaks wearing barely anything and carrying rolls of toilet paper.

And a lot of screaming and hysterical laughter. And sticky, sticky floors.

The genderfuck wasn't much of a revelation to me--I grew up in the radical separatist dyke culture of the 80's*, which was not anything like the academic lesbian culture I've encountered elsewhere. But what was a revelation was how much fun it was. And that there were guys doing it, too. I knew drag queens--but this was somehow different in its performativeness.**

In the midst of all that performance, for the first time in my life I kind of felt like I didn't have to perform. Like I could be my kind of badly socialized self and nobody would care.

It was really nice to fit in, for a change. And it was nice to be part of a gang of people shouting (very, very funny) (very, very filthy) catchphrases at a very silly movie, where (in the movie and the gang) nobody cared if you were gay or straight or undecided, male or female or straddling that imaginary line. It was pretty much my first experience in being part of an in-group****, even if I was the new kid, and I liked it.

I wound up repeating the experience probably the majority of weekends of my college career. I wasn't the most hardcore of Rocky sluts, but I did play every female role (except Frankie)--badly, I hasten to add. I am not an actor.

I still kind of miss it, since there's no local show anymore. I'd probably still be going, for the catharsis and the camaraderie and the chance to surround myself with people just as weird as I am.

Oh, and I kind of fell in love with Richard O'Brien. Because damn, that man has skills.

I always felt bad for Frankie. He just wanted to make something beautiful.*****

I don't know for sure that that movie saved my life. But on all the nights when I sat in the Vernon, Connecticut Denny's at 3 am with a bunch of other people hoarse from shouting, eating things that were only loosely derived from food, I think I was soaking in some kind of acceptance that got me through the rest of the week.

*this may have contributed to the social isolation. just a little. that, and being a horrible nerd and a complete active PTSD case. I mean, I was such a horrible maladapt that the other nerds and goths hated me, and the gamers only put up with me because I was a girl. By senior year, I was starting to figure out how to fake it well enough to fit in as the "weird one" in the theatre crowd and with some of the gothy gay boys. Though the term "Gothic" was still an adjective then, applied mostly to music, so we didn't really have a label for our black-turtleneck-wearing-selves. But we listened to a lot of Queensryche, and the Smiths.

**shortly thereafter I would discover early David Bowie******, and realize that gender is in fact mostly role-play***

***I realize that this is not true for everyone, but it is true for me. I'm speaking in specifics, not generalities, and I recognize that it might be different for others.

****There was the theatre crowd, where I liked an awful lot of people but always felt like I stood out; and the gamers, where I was a girl gamer (rare in those days); and the women's music festival crowd, where I loved a hell of a lot of people, but it was a grownup group and I was not a grownup)

*****And why doesn't the damned soundtrack have "Planet, Schmanet, Janet?" on it?

******It was the Eighties. Lots of people did regrettable things in the 80's. Like "China Girl."


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"And why doesn't the damned soundtrack have "Planet, Schmanet, Janet?" on it? "

Always wondered this myself. "Don't get hot and flu-hu-stered! Use a bit of mustard!" should be an awful line, but it's not. I'm partial to "Sword of Damocles," too, esp since it's this weird moment of multisyllabic expression for Rocky that's unmatched in the rest of the film...

I first saw Rocky on beta video somewhere roundabouts first grade (c. 1981). My dad and his pals were watching it, and he let me watch, which gives an idea how atypical an Arab/Muslim father he is... All the tranny/sex stuff was allowable. The only scene he fast forwarded past was Meatloaf getting hacked up. Sex was cool, but no bloody violence. Up until junior high, I thought 'Frankenfurter' was in fact the proper term for a transvestite, and I thought it was just a thing one could be.

I'm a RHPS fanatic, but -- perhaps because my first viewings were on video, and I listened to the soundtrack on my own from grade school on -- I have a very different relationship to it than most fans. I actually think it's a completely brilliant fucking movie with a completely brilliant fucking soundtrack. I never got the 'let's make fun of a bad movie' vibe of the midnight movie stuff. And I really wish one could go see it on the big screen without having people shouting stuff and blocking the screen and throwing stuff (yes, I realize how uptight this sounds).

And yes, O'Brien can not only write a song but can sing his ass off.
I think it's a brilliant movie as a movie--as a parody and a satire, and my god, everybody in it is singing (and acting) their asses off, albeit in a very broad, stage-play fashion. Which suits the script.

I also love the audience engagement. My crowd was not so much "make fun of the bad movie" as "perform it along with the movie." And the callbacks were mostly clever.
By any chance was that midnight showing in Manchester?

That's where I lost my "Rocky" virginity, slightly earlier than you -- it was sometime during my frosh year so it was sometime in the fall or winter of '88-'89, I can't remember exactly when. It was the Saturday midnight showing in Manchester, it seemed like half the Wesleyan campus drained into that cinema. (We also filled that particular location for Dollar Movie Night on Tuesdays, which explains why I saw "Mystic Pizza" before it opened in the rest of the nation. But that's another story.)
Yup. The only five-dollar movie at the 99-cent theatre.

I wonder if I knew you. *g*
And your current music is one of my own personal mondegreens: for the first two or three years I went to Rocky, I was sure Meat Loaf was singing, "Opportunity, bless my soul".
Du wha oh dear.

Janet, until Just This Very Minute, where I went off to search for what it could possibly be instead, I didn't know.

Thank you. I think.
The gorgeous redhead Frankie was Nancy, wasn't she?

Perhaps I'll write up my own experiences.
I saw it for the first time in 1975, well before there was any audience participation, but those were crazy days in California anyways, and the film was, in some ways, just another facet of what we were doing with the performative gender stuff. We recently re-watched it as a backyard movie, complete with singing and costumes and throwing things... it is still a thing of beauty, clunky bits and all.
RHPS is another move SF fandom brought me (along with Monty Python; I was first introduced through seeing And Now For Something Completely Different, probably at Torcon II in 1973). I saw RHPS first at a convention, before audience participation became common. And, actually, I've never seen it at an audience participation showing, because I really don't like the idea. So I've only seen it a couple of times on screen and a few times on video. (I understand some of the audience participation in most places is very clever, and that it is clearly what's expected at late-night showings these days, and I'm glad people like it. I just don't want to go.)
I was born in the same month that you were, and I lost my RHPS virginity in the same month that you did. Still all-time best movie and Tim Curry still all-time pin-up. Great post, thank you.
No, really great post. Really great. I've just reread it and I'm getting so much identification it's a bit scary. Thank you.
Glad to be of service. Thank you!
Thank you for that (hi)story. :)

My first time with Rocky wasn't as cool, so I'll spare you. But it's a pretty important film, even though I have never been to the 'live' showings. The theater that used to do those has been shut down for over a decade now, and no one else will touch it (though there WAS a theater group that did a run of the Rocky Horror Show recently in town... and sadly, we've been broke most of the year, so there was no way we could go to that, either *sigh*).
I was *very* into RHPS for quite a while in the '80s when I was in graduate school. Never actually played Magenta on stage, but dressed as her a lot of the time. And got the nickname. And knew all the lines and responses. Took all the props. It was a big part of my life. Even after I graduated, once or twice a year, I'd get a bunch of people and we'd go; it was still playing at the same theater for many years.

Fast forward to 2005. One of my college roommates that I'm still close to has a teen-age son, who is REALLY into RHPS, and she is very tired of trying to stay up that late. I offer to take him, especially since the theater it's now playing at is closer to my house. It's the first time I've been to it at a theater in years. The responses are different, and far more are just yelling "f**k you" at the screen. I manage to get us to our respective homes afterwards, and even go once or twice more. But I realize 2:30am just doesn't work for me anymore, and thank goodness, friend's son has moved on to a different phase, in the fashion of teens everywhere. My days of the late night double feature picture show are, alas, over.
I think that RHPS was one of the things that started breaking down the idea of gender for me (having grown up in a hetero-normative, non-denominational Christian/Catholic home there was a lot of gender stereotypes). I watched the 20th anniversary show they had on Fox at the time and they were doing a several hour long feature on RHPS with interviews of the cast and a history of the stage performance. One of the first well known Frank stage performers was a woman who dressed as a man dressing as a woman and it kind of blew my mind just how twisty gender could get. I'm very thankful for the experience.
As a girl gamer in only the last quarter of the decade I can tell you we are still pretty rare. We had 2 women in my group (until I moved away) and the guys (still) brag about it to other gamers. "Our group has chicks! Plural! And one of them isn't anybody's girlfriend! And the one that is, is totally hardcore!" etc.
Since college, most of the groups I've been involved in around here have been around 50/50. Out west, the ratio was a lot lower.
I remember going to the show in the late seventies, while I was living in Hollywood. What an experience! I was so tickled when my daughter, as a teen, got into the Rocky show experience for a couple of years, there.
OOo. I have envy.
I miss Rocky. I haven't been in a year and I really need it. There is something deeply cathartic about screaming obscenities at the screen with a hundred of your newest closest friends.

Also, due to once a semester performances at Bryn Mawr, I know some *really* obscure callbacks.
I too was a PTSD nerd girl gamer Goth loner wierdo in 1980's high school and eventually college. I finally got diagnosed as high functioning Asbergers a few years back and I think that's just a fancy word for the same thing. :) Ren Faire, the SCA, Rocky, these were the things that gave me an illusion of being vaguely cool and somewhat socialized oh so long ago. Even if I never did fit in anywhere (and still don't) I had a common lingo that allowed me to communicate with people. The illusion of community that was just real enough to keep me sane. I still talk to the few people from that time that "got" me sufficiently to decide that I was sort of interesting.

What would we social outcasts have done without Rocky? I shudder to think.
My first Rocky was a very different sort of fitting-in experience. I was in grad school, and had long since discovered the weird community, and knew that I wasn't a completely unique freak.

So this was in 2001. Specifically, it was the weekend after 9/11. S had spent the whole week moving people out of hospitals to make room for non-existent rescuees, and I'd spent it holding my professors together, and we desperately needed company.

We drovefrom Long Island to visit friends in New Jersey, passing by the lights of Ground Zero, and by the time we got there everyone was even more subdued and shaken up than before. And our friend decided that this would be a good night for some heavily ritualized fun. We got a bunch of people together, and everyone gothed or fabbed up out of the available closets, and we realized--horrors!--we were entirely out of eyeshadow.

So there we were, cross-dressing at K-Mart at 10 PM and surrounded by frazzled housewives. And everyone was so nice to us! One woman let us cut in line when she saw we only had one item; people stood close, made small talk. I remember thinking that this must be what it was like to be normal. I liked the feeling and suspected that it wasn't actually good for me.

The Rocky itself was a touch less rowdy than I've seen since--no de-virgining, and the floor show raised money for the red Cross. The call-backs provided much the same function as any set of rituals at such a time. For a few hours, everyone knew what they needed to say and do, and everyone could relax into their prescribed roles.
At a worldcon in Brighton with Richard O'Brien in the audience. I was sitting in a window architrave about 5 foot of the floor on a radiator. Way to go. Audience participation muted, but present. When asked, in tones of great awe, why he wrote it, O'Brien said, "I needed the money." I nearly fell off the radiator laughing.

Ran into him years later in the Philbeach, a very famous (now sadly closed) gay/transvestite bar in London (UK) (I am not gay but it was a great place to hang out). I think he tried to pick me up. I was too busy gushing to notice!
I'm not sure when I first saw the RHPS. I'm guessing around 1987. It was at the Neptune, in Seattle, before the Neptune was cleaned up. I went with my two closest friends at the time - one of whom was one of the people who took me climbing when I was last in town. She was the one who explained all the rituals two me and the other virgins, including the smuggling in of various banned goods. I was wearing a really sweet black cocktail dress that had belonged to my grandmother, and suggested that I hide a few bags of rice in my bra.

We got in and found parking early, so we stopped by a local record shop to pass the time.

*click click*

What was that? It was a pretty grimy record shop...

*click click click*

No, that's really close by...

*click click clickety click*

Oh, crap.

I should be glad that this was well before the age of the phone cam, as I was spared having pictures of me, pulling bags of rice, one of which had sprung a leak, out of my bra in from of a trash can in front of the music shop, cursing, onto Facebook.

I remember at the time being kind of befuddled by what an eye opener RHPS was supposed to be. Okay, part of this was growing up on Cap Hill in the seventies. And I'd read a lot. But I think most of it was my nerdy cluelessness - the societal norms always struck me as weird and arbitrary. Breaking them and playing with them made at least as much sense as anything else.

"I try to make them beautiful, but they always turn out WRONG!"

I lost my RHPS virginity... last spring. Never mind that up to that point I'd seen the film on TV umpty-ump times, owned the DVD, had the soundtrack, and not only met Patricia Quinn and got her autograph, but I took a picture of her holding a plush Cthulhu. Apparently you are still a Rocky Horror virgin if you haven't seen the movie in the theater.

But anyway... a friend of mine was in the local troupe which performed out of the University Mall theater, so I went one night... slipped into my lab coat and armed myself with my iguana puppet. And it looked like they had gathered up enough virgins (there were quite a lot that night) when my friend came up to me...

My friend: Get up there.

Me: They look like they have enough. Is there a "V" on my forehead? No.

My friend: GET UP THERE.

So I got up there, and was the first to be deflowered. As deflowerings go, it wasn't very brutal (I found out later my friend asked the head guy to be gentle... so, yeah) and wasn't as crazy as what happened after. I remember having fun, and that the print of the film had a huge green streak down one side (and included "Super Heroes") but it seemed the troupe had to do a lot of the heavy lifting (being REALLY LOUD during the callbacks). I've thought about going back since, but my friend doesn't work there anymore, and besides... midnight?
I saw it in a movie theater in 1977 in San Diego, before it became the cult activity, and it was amazing to see on the big screen, without the screaming and the throwing of things. I do miss being able to hear the tap of Franks high heel as he decends in the elevator, it does send the shivers...
In the 70s when San Jose was down to it's last pair of original theaters. Having no clue why people were talking so much to me in line and commenting on the black-leather jacket, jeans, and cycle boots. It was confusing, usually people avoided me in line because of those exact same clothes, especially guys in drag.
I'm confused - I know that by '87, at least in the SoCal circles I was running around in, Goth wasn't just a musical preference, it was an identity. Black eyeliner, funky-colored hair, velvet and leather and pirate shirts and long black trenchcoats. Adam Ant, David Bowie, Peter Gabriel (but not Phil Collins), the Smiths, the Cure uber alles. Queensryche was verboten in that crowd - that was for the metal heads, the "heshers". (SoCal social cliques were *very* much about the music you listened to. Rap over there, Heavy metal over there, goth/techno/folk/worldmusic/punk was a strange mixed ball of progressive politics and privilege. You had to be a real hick to listen to country music... - terribly segregated, terribly classist.

I saw RHPS first on video, and refused to go up on stage with the virgins at my first big screen showing. Which was probably the Laemmle in Santa Monica, although it could have been one of a number of other L.A. area Rocky nights. My friends were all bigger in the scene than I was. MTv taught me more about genderbending than RHPS did - thank you Annie Lennox and Boy George. What did RHPS teach me? That geekspace was just as cliquey and politics ridden as the promqueen ranks. That the white kids were going to bogart all the spotlight bits. (This is, in retrospect, an exaggeration. Magenta was half-Navajo.) I think I should have gone up on stage. I'd probably have a completely different relationship to RHPS if I had.
SoCal trends take a while to reach the East Coast, you know. We were Pretentious Art Fags. At least, that's what the other kids called us.

And most of the metalheads in my school wouldn't have been caught dead listening to Queensryche. They were more Ratt and Zeppelin and Metallica and Living Color and Cinderella.

Stage? You had a STAGE? 0.0 We had a sticky little movie theatre with the same thirty people in it every Friday night....

Edited at 2010-09-28 01:10 am (UTC)
I saw RHPS first during its original theatrical release at a theater close to a university in my home town. It was released in Sept. 1975 so I probably saw it while I was home during my Thanksgiving break (or possibly earlier as it was pulled from theaters after low numbers). Not impressed.

Then the SF club on campus where I did go to school started bringing it to campus. First for our on-campus con, then regularly. Over time, the crowd responses and theatrics grew. I even worked as House Manager at the (on campus) theater for a while.

Followed it for a few years, and finally fell away when the call-and-response became a continuous screaming of F* U and Slut!, regardless of where we were in the film, and people started throwing full soft drink cups from the balcony.

However, I do own it on both VHS and DVD, and will be picking up the Blue-Ray this Fall.

Edited at 2010-09-28 02:11 am (UTC)
Wow. Similar story, only I'm a guy. I was only about 15 when I started going to Rocky, though. With my gaming group. (:
It hit my university campus not long after it's release, about 1977. Long before the replies got codified and expanded. And yes, I always had sympathy for poor Frankie, sociopath that he was. He was always true to himself, and that was rare back then.
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