Monday, May 03, 2004


Let There Be Lips

Part 1: The Neptune Affair

I would like—if I may—to take you on a strange journey.

Not to get too Dawson’s Creek on you, but I made some of the most influential discoveries of my life when I was eighteen. I had long known that Tacoma was the ass end of nowhere, but I knew that I was lucky not to live in one of the outlying towns, like Puyallup or Eatonville. I spent most of my weekends hanging out in Seattle’s University District, taken with the (to me) exotic mix of cultures that spoke to my still-forming desire to rebel against conformity, if I could only find the right nonconformists to copy.

Much as I admired the hippies and punks I found in the U-District, I knew that, with my soft suburban upbringing, that wasn’t my scene. I was drawn more to the weekend sci-fi conventions held around the Puget Sound area. To me, there were few things more enjoyable than sitting in the hospitality room at some hotel in Everett, taking advantage of the free bagels, debating with other young geeks whether Colin Baker or Peter Davison was the better Doctor Who.

During the week, I was working at Toys ‘R’ Us, where, modesty be damned, I had declared myself the “Action Figure God,” the resident expert on GI Joe, the Transformers, and to a lesser extent, He-Man. Not surprisingly, a lot of my fellow geeks were drawn to jobs at TRU, including a guy a couple years older than me named Jesse. Jesse and I hung out off and on, attended a few cons together, and one night, after an animation festival at the University of Washington, he decided it was time for me to lose my virginity. Yes, he took me to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

I understand that I missed out on Rocky Horror’s late ‘70s-early ‘80 heyday. In fact, when I was younger, it had played for years at the semi-legendary Parkland Theater, less than a mile from my house. But at that age, I was such a clueless little dweeb that, when I read a newspaper article about the audience-participation phenomenon, I thought it was an expose about some horrible ne’er-do-wells rousing rabble, causing trouble for innocent theater-owners.

More recently, it had played for a few weeks at one of the chain theaters in Tacoma. Jesse went with some of his high-school friends from Eatonville, who walked out, complaining that “you didn’t tell us it was a fag movie!”

But my first Rocky Horror experience was at what I will always consider to be the show’s true home, the Neptune Theater. Back then, the Neptune was an old-fashioned movie palace, with a nautical theme that included busts of King Neptune, complete with creepy-ass glowing green eyes. It was perfect.

My one regret about that first showing is that we arrived late, so I didn’t get the “virgin” experience. It’s true: I didn’t get a dirty name, I didn’t get auctioned off, I was not “Tom.” But apart from that, it was everything you hope a first showing will be; the cast was right on, the audience were having a blast. I even got the basics of the audience participation, yelling “asshole!” and “slut” at the proper moments. I was hooked.

A redheaded goth in a french maid uniform.  Now you know.

I spent most of that summer out of town, riding along with my truck-driving brother-in-law. By then I had three viewings under my belt, and when we hit the road I brought along my walkman and both the original soundtrack and the Audience Par-tici-(SAY IT!)-pation Album, a recording of a live performance, complete with audience calls and a typically flaming introduction by fan club president Sal Piro.

I managed to get in a couple of viewings on the road; we spent a few days in Fort Wayne, Indiana while the truck was having some work done, and went to a showing there. The show was sparsely attended, though I did manage to spend most of my time flirting with a very cute goth girl. We made plans to meet up again BIL and me passed back through Fort Wayne, in about three weeks. That turned out not to happen, though; the theater had dropped the movie by then, and I had spaced on getting goth girl’s phone number—not the first or last time I made that blunder.

The other one was on my 19th birthday, in Sacramento. That was much better attended, at a theater that also had midnight showings of Heavy Metal, Evil Dead, and Pink Floyd: The Wall. That was also the first time I performed with the cast, when I got recruited to fill in as Dr. Scott.

But those were cheap road quickies; my heart still belonged to the Neptune, where, before the movie, they showed the trailer for the pseudo-sequel Shock Treatment, and afterwards they spliced in Ferris Bueller telling us, "it's over. Go Home." By that fall, I was a semi-regular (basically, a hanger-on) at the Neptune, driving up to Seattle most Saturday nights for my “fix.” This caused a fair amount of consternation for my Dad—to him, anyone who dresses in black and goes to movies at midnight MUST be a satanist. It’s hard to explain to someone who wasn’t there, but it was the perfect social hub for people like us—still basically suburban whitebreads, but trying to break out of social (and sexual) conformity. It was both entertainment, and a catalyst for something resembling a social life. Just not much of one, being so far away. Either I needed to head north, or Rocky Horror needed to head south.

Copyright 2004 Rich Bowen

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