You Said It

There Is a Light That Never Goes Out

What The Rocky Horror Picture Show meant to me (a lot).

I started getting ready around 9:30. I was wearing my Transylvanian party attire and spiking my hair with some glittery hairspray left over from Halloween. I thought some of the glitter might look nice on my eyes, and proceeded to mace my own self like an idiot. I had my face under the faucet until the doorbell rang at 11.

Tiffany and Lisa came in to meet my dad. He told us all to “have fun and be safe.” That’s when I realized that I was scared. I’d never been out so late before nor been given so much freedom, and now I didn’t know quite what to do with it. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to know what went on in the streets after midnight. I am probably the only person whom the D.A.R.E. program actually worked on.

I will never forget my first night sitting in that giant old movie theater. It had a balcony and seated about 500 people, though there were probably only 40 of us in the audience. Lisa, dressed as Columbia, looked stunning with her bobbed hair and sparkling clothes. Tiffany’s big, curly hair was teased into a nervous breakdown and topped with a tiny doily (she was Magenta). People were milling about in the aisles, laughing loudly, hugging one another, and passing Ziploc baggies full of toast and rice around. Some of the boys were dressed in tighty whities and robes like the character Brad, some wore tiny gold underpants like Rocky Horror, and the really brave ones dressed in full lingerie like Frank-N-Furter. There were other girls dressed as Columbia with their tap shoes and gold sequined top hats, Magentas in maid costumes, and some Janets in white bras and slips.

Left to right: Columbia, Magenta, Rocky Horror, Frank-N-Furter, Janet.

Most everyone seemed to be in high school or college; I was definitely the youngest one there. Everyone was really friendly to me.

“Is this your first time here?” one Magenta asked.

“Yes,” I said, blushing.

Oooh! A vir-gin!” she squealed. “Hey, Joey, I got a virgin over here!”

“VIRGIN! VIRGIN! VIRGIN! VIRGIN!” the crown chanted. It was all happening just as I’d imagined, except I wasn’t wearing a white gown. Magenta took my hand and brought me up onstage along with six or eight other people. The rest is kind of a blur. I remember a heavyset man with a tiny megaphone shouting at us, “On your knees, virgins!” I got on my knees, and then a girl in a nurse’s uniform came around with a jar of maraschino cherries. She went down the line placing a single cherry between everyone’s teeth.

“Do not eat the cherries, you greedy little piglets!” the man with the megaphone said. “You are our sacrificial virgins, and we are going to pop all of your cherries! MUAHAHAHAHA!”

A cute guy, probably a freshman at the University of Colorado, with long brown hair, wearing just a vest and shorts, came up to me. He knelt down to face me and could probably see the animal panic in my eyes. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I won’t bite you.” He leaned in, caught the cherry out of my teeth with his, our lips barely grazing, and ate it. I had never been so close to another human being before in my whole life and I would never even know who he was. “Nice lips,” he said. My heart felt like it was going to blast off out of my chest and take off into orbit.

I was ushered back to my seat, no longer a virgin. The lights went down, the curtain rose on the screen and the famous 20th Century Fox logo appeared to its jangly piano accompaniment. Then everything went black, and in that dark void a red slash appeared. As it came closer and closer it became clear that the slash was a pair of lips, and Richard O’Brien, the writer of the movie, began to sing the song “Science Fiction/Double Feature,” and I don’t think I’d ever seen anything so beautiful.

The rest of the night was fun, but I remember kind of wishing people would stop shouting the audience-participation lines. I wanted to hear the movie on its own. The colors, the music, the actors—they were all gorgeous and strange and seemed like friends that I didn’t want everyone laughing at.

And that, as they say, was that. My first real teen obsession (after Marilyn Monroe—that’s another story) was born. My dad, thrilled that I was starting to come into myself more, encouraged my new mania. He sent away for a lot of cool memorabilia and I had a Very Rocky Horror Christmas.

Not long after this, Tiffany, Lisa, and I got the idea to reshoot the entire movie ourselves, scene by scene. I was put in charge of costumes, so I started calling local lingerie stores to get price quotes on teddies, feather boas, and garter belts. I was a little nervous to call about something so adult, so I started the phone calls by saying, “Hello. I am a filmmaker making a film, and I would like to know what you charge for satin corsets.” What kind of film they thought I was making I can only guess; I just didn’t want the decent, hardworking salespeople at Frederick’s of Hollywood to think I was some creepster. This didn’t end up being an issue, as most of the people I spoke to on the phone called me “ma’am.”

I was so excited about this new project I even told my mom. She was lying in bed with my little brother, Sean, one morning and I came in like a jumping bean, telling her about our costumes.

“Wait, you’re going to be wearing what?” she asked.

“A polyurethane vest, some stockings, and a low-heeled boot. Oh! And a ray gun.”

She looked at me blankly. “Yeah. I’m not so sure this movie is such a good idea,” she said.

I bet you thought I’d forgotten about Jesus, didn’t you?! Well, this was right around the time when he gate-crashed the party. My mom met a charismatic bible-beater at a local watering hole called the Outback Saloon. The most religious thing my mother had ever done to date was to drop Sean and me off once a month at Sunday School so she could have coffee and doughnuts with her friends who liked to go to a club called “A Course in Miracles.” But this was different. Ever since she had met Stan-Stan the Bible Man, as Sean and I called him, at the Outback, my mom had gone from zero to zealot in 60 seconds.

The first time my mom brought Stan over to my dad’s to meet us she said, “Can we show Stan your room?” My teenage bedroom was epic, and I enjoyed showing it off to people. Every inch of wall and ceiling space was covered in Christmas lights and posters, and all of the posters were covered in Saran Wrap for protection. There were movie posters, Marilyn Monroe posters, and Rocky Horror posters.

“Sure,” I said, eyeing him suspiciously. He was very tall with big teeth, a beard, an all-denim outfit, ringlets so tight it looked like he had pin-curled his hair, and a crucifix around his neck.

Stan looked around my room with its pink Christmasy glow. “Marilyn Monroe,” he said. “She’s hot.” I supposed that was true, though glamorous was the word that first came to my mind.

As he was about to leave I could feel his gaze get snagged like skin on a protruding nail. He was looking at a fold-out poster of Frank-N-Furter I’d gotten in a fanzine. “He–” Stan choked out. “He should be burned.”

My mother and I laughed nervously. “Yeah, Kevin,” she said. “You really don’t need to have that thing on your wall.” Traitor.

“He reminds me of the band Queen,” Stan continued. “I used to love them. Then I realized what kind of queen they were talking about. Now I only listen to Rush.”

They left, and I was shaking with rage and shame. Was Frank-N-Furter a queen? Was Tim Curry? Was I? What the hell was a queen aside from an antiquated figurehead of a monarchy? And, more important, what was this band Queen and how could I get all of their albums immediately?

I turned off all the lights in my room except for a strand of red Christmas lights. I put on “Science Fiction/Double Feature,” stood in my window looking out at the snowy parking lot outside my apartment building, and put one of the tiny red bulbs between my lips. In the darkness all I could see was my mouth, reflected back to me in the windowpane, electric red, as I lip-synced to Richard O’Brien’s voice.

I was radioactive with yearning, but I didn’t know what I was yearning for. It frightened me, because people can be defined by the things that they desire and even trapped by them. And yet maybe this yearning I felt wasn’t for anything a person could actually hold on to—maybe it was just the desire to belong to the world.

When I was 13, I knew some of the hard (tee-hee) facts about sex, but I had no idea what the sex-ed stuff had to do with all of the symphonic, loud, technicolor hormonal energy and emotion I was feeling 24 hours a day. How could you even begin to depict that? Oh! I know! Get a bunch of fabulous, beautiful people, dress them up in hilarious, sexy, feathery costumes, paint their faces the colors of the rainbow, and have them sing and dance to a bitchin’ rock score. And then blast them off into space.

I took the lightbulb from my lips and drew my curtains closed. I sat on the end of my bed and looked at the Rocky Horror CD insert with the pictures of its bizarre cast of characters: Magenta, Columbia, Riff Raff, Frank-N-Furter.

If there was a place in this crazy world for a man named Meat Loaf, then maybe, just maybe, there was a place for me, too. ♦

Kevin Townley is a New York-based writer and performer who still basically does all of the same silly stuff he did as a teenager, only on a slightly larger scale.

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38 Comments

  • vintage nerd October 3rd, 2011 11:05 PM

    i love this so much. i feel like i can relate to this like crazy!<3

  • Ksyce October 3rd, 2011 11:14 PM

    The Rocky Horror Picture Show is and always will be my favorite movie. Growing up, I didn’t know anyone outside of my family that even knew what it was. I’m so glad to see that it affected someone else the way it affected me :)

  • Anna F. October 3rd, 2011 11:15 PM

    oh gosh, this was wonderful. I laughed so hard!
    Confession: for the longest time as a tween, I thought “oral sex” referred to making out. As in, “Ugh, I saw these two teenagers oral sexing each other in front of EVERYBODY at the movie theatre.”

  • boyhood October 3rd, 2011 11:25 PM

    “and was fully committed to being the opposite of whatever anyone said I was, so there!” that’s so great! haha

    I am having my first rocky horror theater experience in a few weeks. The rocky horror kit list is so cool and I’m pretty sure I’m going as a Transylvanian as well. this entire article is so helpful! Thanks for posting it sooner rather than later in the month. Knowing about the de-virginizing stuff is nice so I don’t completely freak out if that goes down.

  • Jamie October 3rd, 2011 11:27 PM

    for the longest time i resisted rocky horror because my mom likes it. now i’m so into it

    also, i thought oral was phone sex for a looooong time

  • Anna F. October 3rd, 2011 11:35 PM

    Oral Sex is the new Milk With Ice is the new Not a Tomato

  • Laia October 3rd, 2011 11:44 PM

    “He reminds me of the band Queen,” Stan continued. “I used to love them. Then I realized what kind of queen they were talking about. Now I only listen to Rush.”

    O.M.G.
    this is my favorite thing i’ve read all week.

  • Chimdi October 3rd, 2011 11:52 PM

    was that a Smiths reference or not…?

    • Anaheed October 6th, 2011 2:08 AM

      Yes, I think like half of our headlines are probably safely assumed to be Smiths references.

  • WordyDoodles October 3rd, 2011 11:59 PM

    This. was. FABULOUS!!! I loved your descriptions/memories of what your sexual knowledge was like as a young teen. It totally reminds me of me at that age too– kind of knew, but really didn’t. What a beautiful description of the edge of knowing.

  • puffytoad October 4th, 2011 12:16 AM

    woah

  • fullmetalguitar October 4th, 2011 12:53 AM

    Somehow that description of the cute college freshman taking the cherry from you was way more touching than it probably had any right to be ahaha ~

  • atrevidinha October 4th, 2011 12:58 AM

    “He reminds me of the band Queen,” Stan continued. “I used to love them. Then I realized what kind of queen they were talking about. Now I only listen to Rush.”

    so many ways this quote is hilarious, mainly the rush reference though LOLOLOLOL

  • ironsides October 4th, 2011 1:20 AM

    beautifully written. rocky horror gives you permission to be loud and beautiful and horrifying and lovely and though my initial fervor for it has faded, it is still something i can truly say i love.

  • littleDani October 4th, 2011 1:40 AM

    i saw Rocky Horror for the first time when i was 13. it pretty much influenced most of my adolescence. i haven’t been devirginized unfortunately :[ hopefully soon, i’ve been dying to see it

  • Bren October 4th, 2011 1:41 AM

    I used to think oral sex was like, two people meditating together and thinking about sex.

    My best friend is playing Janet in RHPS and I won’t be there to see it, I don’t think. I’m so upset.

  • CariStereo October 4th, 2011 2:05 AM

    “PLEEEEEEEEEEASE DON’T MAKE ME BE A MIIIIIME!”

    Oh god I laughed so hard. WONDERFUL reminiscences about *that one thing* that changes your whole world when you’re growing up. Big smiles.

  • TwirlingChef October 4th, 2011 2:18 AM

    Great article! I can still remember how excited I was to go to your murder mystery parties. How I wish I could have had the chance to go to Rocky Horror in Boulder with you!
    It’s great to see you going after your dreams!

  • emilyrose October 4th, 2011 4:25 AM

    this is so great! love the story and the humor, kevin is such a great writer, i lol’ed quite a few times by myself here.

  • elies October 4th, 2011 5:55 AM

    Oh! This article is so great in so many ways..
    also reminds me I should finally watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show

  • teenagewastebag October 4th, 2011 10:00 AM

    Rocky Horror Picture Show is one of my all time favortie movies, I saw it around the same age as you and my cousin showed it to me on dvd. I wish I could’ve seen it in a theater with the whole play along thing going on. My mom didn’t even know what RHPS was, meaning I obviously have always been the black sheep of the family. I love Rookie and it gives me hope to become something more than what I am today, Im graduating this year and still don’t know what I wanna do with myself.

  • flowerpunk October 4th, 2011 10:04 AM

    This made me smile! But then I got all sad because I realized that I don’t really have the chance to go to a screening in my country… I guess I’ll just have to wait till I go to college!

  • t-bird October 4th, 2011 11:34 AM

    A favorite bumper sticker of mine reads, “Jesus, save me from your followers.” It’s a favorite I think because it’s sadly so true…and convicting. You see, I am one of those followers, and I pretty consistently fail to live out the most important things about who Jesus really is…that he’s someone who LOVES us, really KNOWS us, and STICKS by us as we stumble and fumble through this crazy world and the life we’ve been given.

  • Anny October 4th, 2011 1:23 PM

    After reading in the dark shadows quietly, I have finally decided to leave a comment on one of the stories you have featured. It is stories like these that make Rookie so incredible and something I wish I had when I was younger but I am happy it’s around now!

    When I was 14 a friend of mine came up to me at my locker saying that someone was saying I gave them “head” I remember laughing awkwardly and finally admitting to them that I had no idea what that was. My friend laughed and inched in closer to divulge the dirty little definition.

    Obviously this story is so much more than that but I am happy it’s here and existing and I am thankful for Rookie and all its witchiness and bad assery it is offering.

  • Tessa October 4th, 2011 2:23 PM

    Hilarious. I suffer with the same introvert/extrovert problem. It’s part of being born on a cusp! I’m glad you ended up being a part of it all!

    http://teafortessa.blogspot.com

  • Pashupati October 4th, 2011 3:30 PM

    You made me learn something (awesome) about Queen.
    That text was really funny, and one of my favorites on the site as for now.
    It reminded me a tad of Simon Doonan’s writings.
    I wish I could see Rocky Horror /and/ get to participate, but I think even if a movie theater show it in France people would get mad at me for throwing rice.
    I guess when I’ll get friends, I’ll do that with them in some dark room. (what? no, not that!)

  • Britte October 4th, 2011 4:42 PM

    I credit Rocky Horror with helping me come out of my shell too, back in sophomore year of high school.
    Thanks so much for this! Love it.

  • rhymeswithorange October 4th, 2011 7:17 PM

    Fabulous! love love love

  • AineFey October 4th, 2011 7:52 PM

    I’ve never been to a Rocky Horror midnight show. I love the movie and would love to go to one. It’s definitely worthy of obsessing over. It’s in my top 5 favorite movies. I think I discovered it when it was released for its 25th anniversary.

  • PoisonIvy October 4th, 2011 10:29 PM

    i am a transylvainian at heart, forever. <3

  • nicolem October 4th, 2011 10:40 PM

    I also saw Rocky Horror when I was 13, snuck at a friends house, after I grew up with a strictly hetero-normative mormon childhood. Rocky Horror as intro to sex was about the best remedy I could imagine for introducing sex as diverse, exciting, and based on personal and mutual gratification.

  • Jenny October 4th, 2011 11:56 PM

    I love love love this! There are so many many gems.

    “I am probably the only person whom the D.A.R.E. program actually worked on,” made me giggle all day.

    Unstoppable love for Kevin Townley! <3

  • RAE-209 October 5th, 2011 3:08 AM

    Over the years I’ve performed Rocky Horror, I keep hearing things like, “Why do you insist on dressing in those ridiculous, pornographic costumes and parading around like a spaz month after month? You don’t even get paid!”
    This.
    This is why.

  • kellykareen October 5th, 2011 9:10 PM

    i love this! but. i have a comment.

    in the beginning you said jesus came into your life. but i didn’t see jesus anywhere in this story. i just saw a bigot using the name of jesus to justify his bigotry.

    i know, i know, you probably don’t want to hear from a christian. i just wanted to put it out there that i used to be against the idea of christianity, too, because it’s unsettling to me that so much hatred is backed up by misinterpretations of the bible. but looking at the character of jesus, he has no problem with anyone being gay. he hung out with prostitutes for god’s sake.

    sorry for the rant. i just wanted to let you know that there are christians who aren’t all that bad and that the god i believe to be real loves you just the way you are.

  • RachelTri October 6th, 2011 2:26 AM

    This is fantastic! So hilarious, too. X)

    When I first saw RHPS I was 12 years old. My best friend Olivia showed it to me in her basement at a sleepover once, and it became a tradition that still lasts to watch it whenever we get together. By then, I knew enough about sex to know my parents probably wouldn’t have approved of me watching it at that point in my life. We used to walk around school listening to it on her CD player and would do a weird little walk to the “Let’s do the time warp again!” lyrics. My sixth grade music teacher did not enjoy listening when we suggested the Time Warp for Halloween music. :)

    I haven’t been to a midnight showing yet, but I really want to! It sounds like it would be a blast! Thanks so much for sharing this!

  • ReneeRevolution October 7th, 2011 1:42 AM

    I got chills reading about the opening of the film. Reminds me of my first time!

    “And God said, let there be lips!”

  • Lena October 9th, 2011 12:20 PM

    This is the first time I’ve commented on Rookie . I just wanted to say that this was a great article on teenage life, and the scene of you putting your bulb into your mouth and then laying alone in your bed felt like this time of my life. Thanks for telling an honest story

  • pansycakes April 9th, 2013 1:58 AM

    I love Rocky Horror ! My friend even dressed up as dr.frank n furter on my birthday once <3
    amazing article !

    http://youareawallflower.wordpress.com/