The winter issue of The Gila River Review features one of my essays: “Frankie Forever,” an homage to Rocky Horror Picture Show and how it possibly saved my life as a troubled junior high kid in Perrysburg, Ohio. No, it’s not Christmas-related, but consider it my Christmas present to you anyway.
***Beware: includes explicit language.***
by Sara Dobie Bauer
There’s something about a big pair of red lips—something like salvation. I didn’t know it as a seventh grader at Perrysburg Junior High School, but I was about to find out, following the death of my Grandma Dobie. Grandma and I were close, maybe best friends. She was my babysitter and a constant fixture at Sunday dinners and weekend picnics. Then one day, I came home from school and my dad’s car was in the garage. I knew damn well he should have been at work, and I remember thinking, “Grandma Dobie is dead.” I hated being right.
Before the start of eighth grade, I demanded to dye my hair black. I stole black eyeliner and nail polish and wore huge t-shirts with Kurt Cobain’s mug on the back. He’d killed himself the year before, and I associated with the guy. So did plenty of people, but I didn’t know it. I was too busy raging to Nine Inch Nails. Writing notes to myself that said “I hate you” and “You are ugly.” Using little pocket knives to scrape my skin.
They call it “teen depression.” How was I supposed to know? I lived in Perrysburg, Ohio. The yards were perfect. The clothes were perfect. Everyone was perfect. Except me. I was messed up, but no one in Perfect-ville talked about depression, suicide, or sex.
It’s estimated that one out of every eight American teens experiences depression. It’s considered a national epidemic, and I was the poster child, wallowing in death fantasies, hopelessness, and fear. There were ways to treat my condition, of course: medicines like Prozac, Zoloft, Effexor … the list was endless, but in teens, certain antidepressants had been shown to actually increase suicidal tendencies, so that option was out.
I did see a therapist the summer after Grandma died. He wanted to talk about my dreams and what they meant. I remember how much I hated him. He was fat with a big beard, and he never laughed. He made me angry and nervous, and after sessions, I would bury myself under my bed like some skinny corpse in a tomb. Asshole, I would think. Conventional treatments weren’t working; my parents were running out of choices.
Then, I met Jannelle through church. Our moms were friends, and we shared a bond of introverted misery. It was like she knew, just looking at me, that I wasn’t right. She wore big, white bandages up her arms and around her wrists. She was even bonier than me, and none of her clothes fit, so she always appeared to be drowning. I loved her. I loved her even more when she gave me my first cigarette and said, “You should come over this weekend. We’re going to watch Rocky Horror,” to which I replied, “You’re doing what?”
When asked about the film Rocky Horror Picture Show, actor Barry Bostwick said, “I just thought we were making a musical.” Well, he was right and he was wrong. Rocky Horror was a musical, released in 1975 to horrible reviews. The film was a total bomb, until one advertising exec in Hollywood suggested the Waverly Theater make it the midnight show. It’s been shown continually in movie theaters ever since, making it the longest theatrical run in history. How did this happen, when the movie was originally such a flop?
In 2005, it was selected by the Library of Congress to be preserved in the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.” I don’t know about the aesthetic part, but culturally, I get it. Rocky Horror was one of the first films to openly portray a transgender lead male who just wanted to screw. And it’s easy to root for the guy, because who doesn’t want to screw Tim Curry in a corset and high heels? I know I did, sitting on the carpet at Jannelle’s mom’s house that weekend for the popping of my RHPS cherry. As soon as Magenta’s big red lips started singing “Science Fiction Double Feature,” I was hooked, done for, obsessed. I have been ever since.
The plot is simple … in that science fiction, alien porn kind of way. Janet and Brad are college kids who just got engaged. Out for a night on the town, they get lost and end up at the mansion of Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry, better known as “Frankie”). Frankie is a bi-sexual transvestite from another planet. He’s having a party with all his transsexual alien friends and celebrating the creation of his “monster”—a hunky dude with blond hair who was born to become the doctor’s sex slave. As you might imagine, the innocent virtue of Janet and Brad is soon compromised by Frank’s servants: Riff Raff, Magenta, and Columbia. Of course, they get some sexin’ from Frankie, too, and well, that’s the movie, with some outstanding song and dance numbers and finally, a mansion that takes off and disappears into space.
I recently asked a fellow Rocky Horror fanatic why the film was so important. His response? “The movie itself is not important. It’s the people who are attracted to it.” ….
(Read the essay’s conclusion at the Gila River Review website!)