In 1992 my parents had gone away for the weekend leaving me alone in the house. I had, by this point, been travelling to NYC on my own and staying out late, etc. So, out of boredom and not wanting to spend the night sitting there playing Sega Genesis, I called a friend of mine up who’d mentioned that she went to midnight screenings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show which I had recently been introduced to. At the time, it was not available on home video in the U.S. I had seen clips on a late-night variety program called Night Flight. I managed to acquire a 5th or so generation VHS bootleg that had originated somewhere in Europe I was told via fellow convention goers that were my lifeline to the weird cult movies that would grow to be such a major part of my life. Still, I knew nothing about the experience of seeing it “live”. All that was about to change.
Soon, very soon, afterwards, I found myself a part of the shadowcast at Cinema 35 in Paramus, NJ. I made a LOT of great friends there. Some of which I still hold on to, very dearly, today. These people would end up being a family outside of the one I didn’t necessarily have at home.
Allow me to clarify. Put on your feels helmet, shit’s about to get deep.
My mother remarried when I was 7. She and my biological father had split when I was just a baby. She moved north, he stayed south. I never knew him growing up (mind you, we’ve since connected and now share a very strong and wonderful bond which I’m highly thankful for). My step-father was not a good person. By 7, I’d already been through some “stuff” that I’m not going to get into here. But nothing would be as bad as what I would go through over the next 10 years. School was no better. Children can be cruel, especially if you’re “different”, and BOY was I different. I just didn’t fit in with the kids in my small town. I mean, I had friends, yes. But I was just into a lot of things that they weren’t. I, very early on, became a big cinephile, going from the odd, weird 1950’s sci-fi and horror, to the weirder cult films of the 60’s, then the crazy exploitation epics of the 70’s and on and on. I was “that” kid in school. I was also into punk and “alternative” or at the time they called it “college rock”. I would listen to the local college radio stations every night. The only things my friends knew was what everyone else was listening too. I would have been a HELL of a hipster in the late 80s/Early 90s, but then, people like me were just outcasts and misfits.
Don’t worry, there’s a point to this story.
So that night, when I went out to go experience the Rocky Horror Picture Show live and in person. BOOM. A cultural atom bomb went off in my face. I was surrounded by people wearing Eraserhead t-shirts, quoting John Water’s movies, listening and singing along with They Might Be Giants, and just being so fucking friendly. I got along with every person I spoke to. This was before I even walked into the theater. But once that happened, it was over. My life was changed, I had found “my people”. The attention I never got at home or school was suddenly available to me as a performer. I just had to try out. I wanted to be Riff Raff but instead because of my height, long hair and (at the time) lanky skinny frame, was cast as Frank N Furter for the Friday night cast (incidentally, I have still never performed as Riff) and my fellow cast members and the audience regulars quickly became the friends, confidants, support system, and family that I had so badly wanted. But….things at home got worse.
In February 1993, after a Saturday night show, I went out with some friends and we just did what teens do. We had an all nighter. I didn’t go home, I was living and having fun. I had intended to go home and told my mother where we would be hanging, by the cliffs in Ridgewood. So when I wasn’t there in the morning she assumed I had fallen off of said cliff and freaked out. My step-father just made things worse. He finally had a real reason to go off on me and those seemed like his favorite times. I got word through another cast member that my mom and step-father were out searching for me and called everyone in my phone book. I was in deep trouble. One of the guys that had been hanging out that night gave me a ride home. When I got there, there was just a note on the door that read, “GO TO YOUR ROOM. DO NOT LEAVE”. As I walked through the kitchen I saw the bottle of whiskey on the counter. My heart dropped. He was pissed and drunk.
He got home and literally punched a hole in my bedroom door to open it instead of just using the doorknob. That was the beginning of one of the worst nights of my life. Over the next 20 minutes things escalated to me deciding that I just couldn’t live with it anymore. Literally. I wanted to hurt my mother for not stopping him and I wanted to hurt him for being the way he was and I wanted to stop the fear, pain, and depression that I had lived with. When I was 8, my step-brother had shot himself. So, I told my step-father, “You killed your own boy, now you’re killing my mother’s.” I picked up a knife I had in my room, stuck it in and ran it down my arm. My mother, obviously, snapped to and jumped at me wrestling me down so I couldn’t do anymore damage. She sat on my legs held my arms so tight I couldn’t move anything but my head. I told her, “You can’t stop me. You can’t stop this.”, she insisted she could to which I replied, “We’ll sit here all night and I bet you fall asleep before I do.”. My step-father, at this point, was just silent. He told her to just put me away, and walked out. I called out to him and when he turned around I began beating my head against the concrete wall of my basement room until I was dizzy and covered in blood. Then the police and ambulance came. I would spend the next five or six weeks “committed” to the juvenile ward at the local loony bin.
Now, here’s where things get a little better and the point of telling you all this becomes clear.
It’s not uncommon knowledge that a lot of the Rocky Horror crowd was full of troubled kids who didn’t have the best home lives. That’s why they went there. They didn’t feel alone anymore. They could be themselves and as different as they were, they were surrounded by others that were different just like them.
Once I was cleaned up and calmed down, I sat at the desk in the hospital and did my paperwork and “interview” and had my first counseling session. Another kid ran by whooping it up. I knew him. I’d met him at the show and he was a great artist for his age. His overly religious mother didn’t like his art, or his love of metal music, and thought he needed help so she sent him in. He gave me a huge hug and told me not to worry. That was better than any therapy session I had ever had.
There were windows to the big yard outside our ward. My delinquent, crazy buds from Rocky who’d found out what happened after Steve had been released, snuck over the fence and taped notes and pictures to the window to cheer me up. Yelling and making faces til security came and chased them away. They helped immensely.
When I got out, I wasn’t allowed to be home. My step-father didn’t want me back in the house, my mother snuck me in so I could shower and grab some clothes. Thanks to the other kids I’d met at Rocky Horror I had no shortage of support and this period made everything easier. Not better, but easier. I had rides, meals, and places to stay. But, as you could imagine. I was still very depressed. 17, not even out of high school yet, and my life was in shambles. Still afraid, still hurting. Still wanting to die.
When I went back to school, I was told not to talk about what happened or where I’d been as it would cause a distraction. A few of my classmates had been through the “telephone” rumor line and thought I was dead. That I’d succeeded. But nobody seemed that broken up about it.
That first weekend back at Rocky Horror however, was a different story. I walked up to the theater, one person saw me from afar and just shouted out, “MANNIX!!!!” (everyone calls me by my last name). Practically the entire crowd spun around and what happened next was wonderful. Hugs, tears, support, smacks in the head for being a dummy followed by more hugs and tears. Just what I needed. Later that night after the show a guy came up to me and said he wanted to get together during the week to talk. It ended up he had been through, was still going through, almost the exact same thing. He helped me a lot. Ironically, this young man was someone from my school. Someone who had noticed the change in me. Someone who also now had a “kindred spirit” that he could confide in when things got too much for him to handle.
Over the years, I’m not going to say I’ve had the easiest life, but thanks in a very large part to the friends and family I’ve made through Rocky, well, obviously, I’m still here.
Rocky Horror LITERALLY saved my life.
Now, Larry Viezel, a legend among the Rocky Horror community, and a practical historian of the show’s legacy, who also happens to be the director of the cast I used to belong to (the Home of Happiness in Montclair, NJ http://njrocky.com), is working on a documentary about this very subject. Not necessarily as literal as my story in parts, but in the general spirit of what the film and it’s community have meant to so many people.
He’s been running a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the creation of this film and it’s SO CLOSE to it’s goal. But it’s not there yet and there’s barely two weeks left to go.
So I’m asking you, please, take a moment and contribute to this great endeavor. Make this happen so that people around the world can see that the Rocky Horror Community means more than just dressing up in drag and greasepaint and prancing around in front of a bunch of deviants. Spread the word and use this article’s banner as your facebook header image as well. Let’s make this happen.
FACEBOOK PAGE: https://www.facebook.com/RockyHorrorDocumentary