I remember, it was the first time I’d ever eaten Bugles. I thought they were both great and gross, and had been shoveling them into my face ever since Mom called my friend N and me up to the living room. “I want to show you this movie,” she said. It was a musical.
N thought it would be like Cats and was reticent. This was after I wrote a “script” for Cats 2: the Memory Lives Again and forced N to perform it with me while Mom taped us. Thus, out of sympathy for N, I made a great show of reluctance and tried to get us out of watching the new movie.
But Mom wouldn’t take no for an answer. This was nothing like Cats, she said – this was rock n’ roll. “It’s called The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
I frowned. “Is it scary?”
Mom made a face. “Nooo?”
“Is it scary?” She was not going to trick me into watching a horror movie just by saying it was a musical. I had been terrorized beyond repair as a child when she used to blast The Moody Blues’ interpretation of War of the Worlds. I could hear that album starting up through the walls and floorboards, even at lowest volume, and used to jam my hands over my ears, charge downstairs, and beg her to stop it before it gave me nightmares.
More decidedly now, she said: “No. No, it’s just strange.”
“It’s not a scary movie.”
“No, it’s… funny.” I stared. A movie is either scary or it’s not. Why was she being so evasive? Reading my doubt, she said: “Just watch it.”
So we all sat down. I ate Bugles. I was bored. There was a pair of lips singing about movies I’d never seen. Then these two Sandy n’ Danny types mooned all over each other. I like Grease okay, but it’s not my favorite and it’s definitely not my idea of rock n’ roll. During “There’s a Light,” I got up to leave with N. We had monsters to ranch on the Playstation; this was a waste of a Friday night sleep-over.
“Wait!” Mom cried. “I know they’re dorks, they’re supposed to be dorks. Wait five more minutes.”
Begrudgingly, we sat back down. We were ready to bolt, though. We’d give Mom her five minutes, remain unmoved, and get out of there. Then “The Time Warp” started. I didn’t know about N, but I could see Mom’s point. This was more like rock n’ roll. The dorks were uncomfortable — that cheered me up some, too.
Everybody at the party in the old castle passed out but the straight-laced couple. I can hear Susan Sarandon saying, “Brad… let’s get out of here,” and I can feel the twist in my stomach that I felt the very first time I watched it. The bass line told me something bad was going to happen. The Horror in this Picture Show was coming.
Dr. Frank N. Furter came down, started to speak-sing, and I whipped my head around to my mother. “Is that a man or a woman?!” I asked her.
“Just watch,” she said, and nodded back to the TV. So I did.
The keystrokes are easy and familiar. John Partridge was like a crush. Yes, that’s true. But Tim Curry was so much more. He was… He was an imaginary friend to me. I fell so very hard for him, the ways that teen girls do… yet not. I owe a lot, if not to him, then to his work in that it reached out and spoke to me.
If you had told me then that I would meet him in about four years’ time – and how I would meet him…
But now I’m getting ahead of myself.
Tim Curry’s song ended. He shot back up the elevator, and I turned and asked again:
“Was that a man or a woman?!”
My mom tried so, so, so hard not to laugh. I could see it in her smile. She had me and she knew it. There could be no question of my leaving now. But I was conscious of N. I down-played my interest, and we went calmly enough back to our game when the film was over.
Once N had gone home, and everyone else was off grocery shopping or something, I put in the VHS again. I watched by myself. Frank had gotten to me. I feared him a little, but the fear was part of it. The regal face, the silky words, matched with such a ruthless, animal will… His composure, his carriage. That laugh.
Then there was the make-up, the fishnets, the whip, the feathers, the corsets. It was like a beautiful nightmare. I cried during “I’m Going Home,” and then, before Riff Raff could kill Frank, I shut off the VCR. I didn’t want him to die. I loved him.
Kids were not often mean to me. I was bullied a little, but much more frequently it was me that beat me up. I knew I was different and I hated it. I was frustrated when I couldn’t do things, and very self-conscious about how I looked when I was at school. I thought of myself as less than other people. I often tripped over my own feet in the hallways and, even if no one laughed, I laughed in my own head for them. I called myself the names they wanted to call me (or so I imagined). School wasn’t the most terrible thing in the world, but it was stressful. I got my feelings hurt there, even if mostly I was doing it to myself.
Tim Curry fixed some of that for me. I got into this habit of watching Rocky Horror in the morning before school, while I had my breakfast. Then, when I got off the bus, I ran as best I could all the way to the living room because I had something to look forward to: him.
Why this movie? Because, don’t dream it, be it. Because, “Screw everybody, this is who I am and I’m having fun.” Because different doesn’t have to mean bad or wrong. And I guess the person I really owe, technically, is Richard O’Brien. I know he’s angry about how much attention Tim Curry got for his show, his movie, his script, his baby. And I’m sorry for that. My hat’s off to him, too. But it was Tim who was living the dream I needed. Or wanted. He coaxed me with velvet voice to come out of my shell, to see myself as… worthy of positive attention. Affection. Whatever I wanted.
And I wanted him. I liked his figure, his voice, his face. I liked that he wore make-up, and that he liked boys as well as girls. I liked that he was just himself, and that you couldn’t predict how he would behave just because he was a man. I liked that he was beguiling. I started dreaming of kisses in the dark. Sometimes I played the bedroom scenes on the little TV in my room, the volume low, for a lost girl’s lullaby.
One afternoon, I had to stop midway through my usual showing of Rocky to focus on homework. It was the second bedroom scene. Frank had just said, “Cooooming!” and I shut off the VCR.
The TV was set to Nickelodeon. The Wild Thronberrys was on, a show on which I had no particular feelings. I was about to shut the TV off too when I heard Tim Curry, reaching across time, call out from the mouth of Nigel Thornberry: “Cooooming!”
“WHAT?!” I screamed at the TV. Then: “Mom! MOM!”
She came down, and listened, and shook her head. “No… No, I don’t think so, honey. I don’t think that’s him.”
“Yes, it is, I know it is!” I waited for the credits and, when it turned out I was right, I did victory laps around the house. For some reason, it had never occurred to me that Mr. Curry could have done more than this. This was the dark, sensuous bubble in which he existed. He was Frank.
But now he was a real person, not frozen in another time and place but sharing the world with me. I understood he was older, but it didn’t matter. I didn’t want Tim Curry in life the way I wanted Frank in dreams. I just wanted him to know me. I wanted to thank him for pushing me to love myself.
Coming up: unrequited everything, my growth into a Rocky Horror expert, and my time as a boy.