Thursday, July 01, 2004


Let There Be Lips

Part 11: The Sun Never Sets On Those Who Ride Into It

By late spring, between dealing with cast drama, and my total lack of a love life, I was feeling done in. Couldn't win. I was starting to consider following John into retirement.

I didn't quit cold turkey. First I stepped down as Brad, relinquishing the part--and by extension, the leadership of the cast--to Mike. I had planned to simply become part of the audience, occasionally dipping back into acting if they needed me to fill in for someone.

Well, as it turned out, Mike inheriting my part meant that we were without a Riff Raff. So the week immediately after my retirement, I was back, playing Riff Raff for the first time.

That helped shake me out of my funk a little bit. The pressure of leading the cast was off, and I was playing a new part. Riff Raff is fun to play, too--I spent an inordinate amount of time practicing that semi-drunk walk that Richard O'Brien does.

The rest of the cast was in fine form. Mike made a great Brad, applying his inborn smarm to Barry Bostwick's sincerity, to great comedic effect. Jeni had grown into a natural Columbia, and even Valerie, despite her mental instability (or perhaps because of it), made an excellent Frank.

By the middle of summer, though, the feeling of burnout was returning. Same lines, different week, cheaper audience. In retrospect, I probably should have just taken a temporary leave from playing Brad, rather than giving it up altogether; I was missing the preshow, not to mention that, apart from the "does she squeak?" scene with Magenta, Riff Raff doesn't get any monkeylovin'.

So, around my 22nd birthday, I made the decision to retire for real. I hadn't intended for it to be the end of an era, but I had been there longer than anyone else in the cast or audience--since the very first show, outlasting Pauline, John, Jack, and too many others to count. So the end of an era it was--Chris, Mike, Jeni and Katy all retired with me.

By the end of the summer, we were all still hanging out together, we had just removed Rocky Horror from the equation. The show was left in the capable hands of Alexis and her boyfriend Cajun, and a cast made up mostly of teenagers, most of whom I had personally devirginized.

I moved out of my parents house in early 1993. Mike moved in with me temporarily, and not long after he and Jeni broke up, he disappeared, stiffing me for eight weeks rent. Chris and Katy broke up, and she moved to Olympia with a self-styled wiccan named Dean. Pretty soon it was just me and Chris, as usual.

I was still young and deluded enough to think I had some acting talent, and began doing plays at local theaters--one, in fact, was directed by John. At least once, during every play I was in, I would end up taking some curious castmates to their first Rocky Horror showing, giving me a chance to check in and make sure that the kids were alright. I was always welcomed as a sort of Brad Emeritus, often being asked to do the preshow for old times sake.

Chris and I moved to Seattle in 1994. By then the Neptune had been remodeled (and stripped of its charm), and Rocky had moved around the corner to the multiscreen Varsity theater. We went a couple of times, but somehow it just didn't feel the same, and when we were in the mood for a midnight movie, we would usually opt for Reservoir Dogs.

I made one more return appearance at Lincoln Plaza, MCing Alexis and Cajun's final show. It was a great homecoming; I got to get my Rocky Horror ya-yas out one last time, to an audience who had mostly been there long enough to remember my glory days. And true to form, I met a great girl, hit it off with her, and totally whizzed it by the end of the night.

Sometime in the 90s, the video was rereleased at a sell-through (Rather than rental) price, along with a deluxe laserdisc set. While it was good that anyone who wanted to could own their own copy, and could even get extras like the deleted song "Once In A While," it also meant that there were even fewer reasons to go to the theater. And for people who didn't have twenty bucks for the video, Rocky became a Halloween TV staple. Its network premiere was on Fox, who cut between the movie and a live audience, as if to rub it in that such things were becoming increasingly meaningless.

In 1998, on impulse, I went to a showing at the Varsity. I got off a few good lines (most of which I had come up with during the Lincoln Plaza days), and afterwards I got to talking to a member of their cast, who invited me back for something called "Cast Support." So I tentatively got back in the thick of it.

By then, Rocky had been cut back to one night a week. "Cast Support" meant that me and another guy stood off to the sides, illuminating the cast with heavy-duty flashlights. Yes, I, the guy everyone in the Tacoma audience wanted to hang with, was now one of those pathetic hangers-on who is grateful to get to play a Transylvanian. To make matters worse, when I came in my old Eddie costume, their Eddie, an angry lesbian, felt threatened and threw a Valerie-like fit.

They had a big show coming up; together with the new iteration of the Tacoma cast, they had paid to have Sal Piro, the fan club president himself, flown out to MC a show. I talked to some of the Tacoma people beforehand, and while I didn't expect anyone to remember me, they didn't remember anyone. Not Alexis, not Cajun, not Steve, Craig, or Valerie. It was as if our gang had never existed.

My flashlights batteries died during the show, earning me a whole plethora of dirty looks from the Angry-lesbian-Eddie. After the show, I made the apparently grievous error of asking Sal if Shock Treatment would ever be released on DVD. The look he gave me made the Angry-lesbian-Eddie seem friendly by comparison.

I was not invited to the afterparty. I walked home at 2 in the morning and never went back.

Eventually, the Varsity cut Rocky back to one weekend a month. Not long after that they dropped it altogether, and Rocky moved to the Admiral, way out in West Seattle, and I'm not even sure if they show it anymore.

The last time I went to Rocky Horror was Halloween 2003, in Vancouver BC. It took some searching in alt.cult.movies.rocky-horror to find out where it was playing at all--they only show it that one night a year. At eight PM.

Not midnight. Eight. Prime time.

Still, it was at the Vogue, a cool old movie theater, and there was a huge crowd, most of them in costume. I remained optimistic, even after I learned that the cast had come up from--yes--Seattle. At least the Angry-lesbian-Eddie wasn't there.

My optimism dimmed when the MC asked the virgins to stand up--and two-thirds of the audience stood.

During the show, I did my best to keep the old school traditions alive. I had my toast, my toilet paper, and my rice. I omitted some of the more esoteric lines, sticking to the classics. Asshole, slut, castles don't have phones.

And for the most part, I got a good response. Though the group immediately around me were all Video Virgins, they were at least receptive, having come for the true experience. And the two strippers in nurse costumes sitting on either side of me helped.

Towards the end of the show, though, a teenage girl came over from another section and told me to be quiet--my yelling was ruining it for the people who were there to see the movie.

The entire problem, in microcosm.

Though the stage revival of the Rocky Horror Show has been a big success, that hasn't translated into renewed interest in the movie. In fact, Fox is working on a new TV movie version, to air this Halloween, with the depressingly predictable casting of Marilyn Manson as Frank.

Very few cities have regular showings anymore, since, now that it's on tape, laserdisc, DVD, and airs on TV damn near every other week, there just doesn't seem to be any reason to schlep down to the theater anymore.

But schlep you should, if you get the chance. Find a theater that still has Rocky playing, even if it's only once a month. Throw rice--during the wedding scene, of course--and yell and scream like a damn fool, ESPECIALLY if some little skank tells you to shut up. Don't dream it, yada yada yada.

Is Rocky's time over? Was it just a curious 70s-80s word-of-mouth phenomenon? I hope not. Now more than ever, with million-dollar penalties for showing a single nipple on TV, in a time when Avril Lavigne is considered "punk," we need an outlet. We need a way to say fuck you, we won't conform, we're going to dress like freaks and get silly and say and do inappropriate things.

Because if you can't ogle young girls in skimpy outfits, the terrorists have won.

Copyright 2004 Rich Bowen

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