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Some of you will get the title reference. You are my people. Thank you for existing.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show turns 40 this year. I’m not sure if this is old or young, because it’s always been an old movie for me. Even though I’ve seen it hundreds (literally) of times, it’s always seemed like something from the past, brought into the present for lonely souls like me. It was a holy relic, and we were the cult that formed around it.
For better or worse, Rocky Horror made me who I am.
I was always different, quiet, weird. I suppose the term is “socially awkward.” I was more comfortable playing alone or reading than with hanging out with friends. I had some success with sports (particularly baseball), but it never won me any friends. I was bullied in school, and no matter how many times I fought back, it never stopped (Every time someone says that if you stand up to a bully, they’ll stop, I want to laugh at them. It doesn’t stop, it escalates). I hid behind my long, greasy hair and didn’t speak to anyone. Eventually I stopped going to school and just lived my life as far from people as possible.
The doctors diagnosed me with Bipolar Syndrome. I got loaded up with Lithium (the only drug available at the time) and sent to a special school. It was the best thing that ever happened to me, but that’s a different story.
I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but that school was the link to Rocky. Like I said, it was Rocky that transformed me from a shy, awkward kid to a semi-outgoing, but even more awkward, adult.
I was 16, and I went with a friend from the special school and some of his friends. Suddenly I was surrounded by people in half-naked costumes and makeup, yelling, joking, and…hugging! I don’t think I had ever been hugged by a stranger until that first night, definitely the first time I was ever hugged by a man in fishnets. People were actually friendly to me. I was confused, titillated, and entranced. When the movie started and people started yelling awful things in unison, it was all over for me. It became an addiction. I ended up going every Saturday night, getting home at 3 or 4 in the morning (because you have to take over the local diner afterwards, order one plate of disco fries between 10 people, and drink coffee until you vibrate).
I think it was the anonymity of it all. In the dark, no one could judge you. You shed your outer self–the mask you wear for acceptance–and just let go. The thing was, I never had a mask, so I never had acceptance. Suddenly I was in a place where everyone was like me. For two hours a week, we were all equals.
I memorized every line and every call back. I made friends with other socially awkward people, so we could be awkward together. Yelling terrible things at a movie screen brought us together (like how Cards Against Humanity is such a great party game). Rocky was a vehicle that allowed me to be social in a judgment-free area.
As I got older, I got bolder. In college, me and my friend (I had friends now) staged a bi-weekly Rocky in our dorm lounge. I played Riff Raff and sometimes Eddie (and I was freaking good at it). It empowered me. In a few short years I went from hiding in corners to dancing in a spotlight.
I really wish I had pics of me performing.
So what did going to hundreds of Rocky Horror performances teach me? It taught me to get over it. I was so busy worrying about what people thought of me that I couldn’t be myself. There will always be people that judge, and those that will never accept you. Fuck them. Be yourself, be weird, and the people you want to be around will find you.
I’m proud of my weirdness now. I used to be afraid to say that I love D&D and cartoons. Now I shout it out. I’ll sing and dance in public. I’ll wear facepaint at a football game. I’ll embarrass myself, and I don’t care what people think.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Rocky in the theater, yet it’s still latched firmly in my heart. It makes me sad that there are only a few places to see it live now. Every generation needs something like Rocky, a place where the weird can be weird without fear of judgment.
The one near me closed down a good 15 years ago. There’s one within an hour of me, but I can never get up the will to go. I have no idea why. Maybe I don’t need Rocky anymore. Maybe I used to go as social therapy, and now I’m confident enough that I don’t need it. No. It’s because I can’t stay up till 3 or 4 in the morning anymore.
I’m old, Rocky is immortal.
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