Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of the film “Rocky Horror Picture Show”. I will be going tonight to see a cast perform (That Type) and shout obscene things at the screen. I have to, because Rocky Horror saved my life.
If you’re not familiar with the phenomenon of Rocky Horror, my first question is ,how the hell did you find my site, and what rock have been under for the last forty years. If you’re not familiar, look it up. But how did it save my life? It didn’t do it like it did others, where it gave them a safe space to be who they were, or the freedom to embrace who they really were. It’s done that for hundreds, if not thousands of gay,lesbian,bisexual and transgender people across the globe. But that’s not my story.
My story begins with my former best friend Brian dragging me to see it one cold ass fall night in 1985. RIP to Lakehurst Mall and General Cinema, I miss you both.It was not the best experience. There were only two guys acting out in front of the stage, and they did not that great a job. Mainly because they were drunk as squids. But I did the Time Warp,and had my Rocky cherry broken. Afterwards,we were talking to the two guys.Both were standoffish,because we were both D & D playing nerds. The shorter one snorted at the mention of D & D, saying “You should meet my brother and sister. They’re always playing that shit”. That was my first introduction to my future brother-in-law, Larry Hund.
I could write volumes about Larry,but I’ll just narrow it down to the part where he became a Rocky legend. He was performing with our local cast (RIP Denton’s Revenge), and had gone grocery shopping beforehand. He was doing crowd participation, and was drunk again. When the time came to throw toilet paper(when Brad says “Great Scott!”) Larry reached for the toilet paper and threw. He didn’t throw that, instead he’d grabbed a Krakus canned ham and thrown it. Tore a six foot gash in the screen. Lakehurst didn’t let Rocky back for a year.
The Rocky part of the story takes a break now ,at least for high school. I ended up meeting my future wife,Lianna, and Brett,now my brother-in-law, at a pool party at the high school. Next came D & D, then proms. I got introduced to Larry Sr. and Jenny, the best in-laws in the world. I also got a Terri, and tried to return her immediately.(Just kidding, Terri!Still the best sister-in-law in the world!)They showed me what real family looked like,compared to the nightmare at home.Somewhere in there, I asked Lianna out, and she turned me down. I don’t blame her. I was a mix of “Waldo” from Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” video and Leonard from “Big Bang”. I had no money, no car, and no game.
After high school, I was a mess. Community college, parental divorce,a severe dry spell in the ladies department, and exposure to wider schools of thought had left me a nihilist with serious attitude. I was living with my dad in a two story house, and had gotten tot he point where a noose was always hanging off the stairs. Tried it once, ended up ripping out the lighting fixture. It was fun explaining that away.
It was about this time that Rocky walked back into my life. Brett and Brian had both gotten jobs at Lakehurst Cinema, and told me about the cast and show every Saturday and Friday.I went, and this time it was love.
Most people who wax nostalgic about Rocky are about playing in the cast. For me, it was always about crowd participation. The idea of shouting back at stupidity in movies was so much fun. Combining that with Rocky’s core ideas about pleasure, and “don’t dream it, be it”, sparked an angry “fuck the world” positivity in my skull.
Rocky was also opening my eyes to a bigger world of sexuality. Cast members were all across the spectrum, with the lead actor, Ace, being the first transvestite I’d ever really gotten to know. There were punks and freaks galore. People like Lon,Heath, and Katy, our regular cast. Joey, the gay Jewish racist skinhead.Angel, Ace’s wife, whose one remark”My god, Trevor, you have hips, use them”, may be the only reason I have any dancing ability at all.Chance, head of crowd participation ,and the biggest asshole in the world.
There’s so many memories related to that time. Covering sleeping sailors in toilet paper and popcorn. Our lighting guy having sex with his girl in the second row, which resulted in the best shadow show ever.Hiding Joey after he ran through a showing of “House Party” yelling “White Power” at the top of his lungs on a bet.And so many late nights at Lakehurst Denny’s,arguing and bullshitting until the sun came up.
I could do an entire thing on Brett injuries during that era. Headbutting an exit sign. Breaking the wall under the screen duckwalking as Dr. Scott when he didn’t have a wheelchair. Falling off the hood of a car riding it through the parking lot.
Rocky forced me out of my shell in so many ways. I was a total man ho, having more sex during that year than during the next three. It also forced me to rethink all my prejudices, and opened my eyes to so much.
Much like Rocky, my time there ended in tragedy and death. I’d already slowed down going when I got the call. Larry, my not yet brother-in-law, had drowned at a lake in Wisconsin. I went to the funeral. It was first time seeing Lianna since she’d gotten married right out of high school. I hadn’t seen Larry since her wedding, when he’d led us all in the “Time Warp” at the reception. My last memory of Larry alive is of him dancing.
The funeral was surreal. Lon,Heath and Chance were there with some of the cast. Lon had gotten married that morning, so he wins for having a stranger day than me. I saw Lianna for the first time in a year that day, along with Jennifer, my future stepdaughter. The service is a blur,all I can really remember is feeling numb. My biggest memory of the day was getting Brett drunk and watching him dance on the roof of a car at Bowen Park. We all process grief in our own ways.
I left Rocky after that. Chance and Heath’s attitude problems had gone nuclear, and the cast was falling apart. There were brief runs to other casts and locations.I went to Terri I had fun watching Edwin and Gene at Mundelein, and ran into Lon and Katy at Mt. Prospect. But I was older, and had new worlds to conquer.
Flash forward to 2000. I’d returned back to the Waukegan area(Kenowhere), after stays in Minnesota and St. Louis. I’d followed a girl back, but found something else instead: real love.
Lianna was divorced by this time, a single mom with three daughters. To say that this was a boss level in dating would be an understatement. Dating a single mother is not for the weak of heart, and you have to get your act together.There were fights,breakups, and then a proposal in front of a thousand people onstage at First Avenue.She said yes, and we’re still here eleven years later.
Rocky influenced me as a stepdad. My years of doing crowd participation have left me with what I call “Rocky’s tourettes” because I can’t see scenes from the movie without talking back. My stepdaughters refuse to put it on unless I leave the room.Though I do stop now if little kids are around.
Rocky changed my family life as well. Terri met her husband Andy at Rocky Horror, and I’m sure both of them owe it more than even I do. And they’re both awesome, though I’m glad they don’t have pictures of Andy in lingerie.
Rocky saved my life,because without it, I don’t know if I’d ever had met my wife. Without her and the Hunds, I’d have no idea of what family really is.I’d still be in some dive apartment in Kenosha, alone and not really living.Rocky allowed me to become the open minded person that could admit that I was broken and try to fix myself enough to try to be a good husband and stepfather. It allowed me to DJ at gay bars in Minneapolis and have friends across the entire spectrum of humanity,all while wearing a skirt in downtown Atlanta.And its mantra of “Don’t Dream It. Be It.” has kept me up during so many low times. So thank you, Rocky. I’ll be in the Zen room if you need me.