The Richard O'Brien Crusade



The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Sanity for Today

Cosmos Factory

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Interview from

(Taken from the adhoc Bristol website:

I hear you’ve been appearing in Birmingham, on the stage, no less…

Yes, I have actually. They asked me to travel around a bit and make some appearances. I tried to lock it into local charitable kinds of ends, to make the whole thing worthwhile for me, give me some really solid reason for being here, and it kind of works out. We’re raising funds — they’re putting the buckets out all week in the Theatre, which is very good of them — for the Downs Syndrome Association, and tonight after the show I go along to the University. The students are having a charitable kind of knees-up for local charities. I’ll judge a fancy-dress competition for them and then I’ll get in the car and go home.

My first thought was that you were appearing as Riff-Raff, but you’re not, are you?

No, The truth of the matter is I just have to be here really, make an appearance on stage, chat to the audience, sing a song and
then get out of their hair. Truthfully, it’s almost as if the audience own the show in many ways. They believe they own the show — you get in the way. I was made aware of that many years ago when I was invited out to Florida to go to a local cinema in Miami, at a special night. We were going to be the guest stars — we popped up in front of the audience, and they were cheering for us. And yet we became very aware very quickly that it was fine that we were there, but don’t linger too long, or interfere with our party… We’d hardly said anything — we were only in front of the audience for about three minutes — and it became very obvious that we were kind of on the verge of outstaying our welcome, which was very weird.

How did that come about originally, all the audience involvement and dressing up. Did it just happen?

Probably it happened with people shouting lines at the screen first, which is odd because my misspent youth was spent going to the late-night double feature all those years ago in New Zealand. Rocky celebrates the movies of that period in many ways, and that was something that used to happen in a very gauche and oafish kind of way. You know, the lads would shout something smutty at the screen to elicit a laugh from whoever else was there at the time, and it was odd because it started to happen with Rocky. It became almost scripted. In the United States they actually put out a book including the lines the audience were supposed to shout at the screen… It became a kind of art form of sorts, and that was the start. The next step on from that was the dressing, and then kind of performing, miming in front of the screen and running round the Theatre, and the whole thing grew as a mixed media event with live performances and screen performances going on in tandem.

Have you ever been tempted to change the film in subtle ways?

No, no! I wouldn’t have the right to touch the film anyway, that’s 20th Century Fox’s territory.

Do you get fed up of being constantly drawn back to Rocky Horror Show, or is it something you’re glad to be drawn back to?

I have no problems with it at all. It’s never been a millstone, never been a cross to bear. No, I’ve no problems with it whatsoever. Because it’s such a cheerful kind of journey, it’s always enjoyable, truthfully.

I was talking to Christopher Biggins, he certainly has happy memories of it.

Yes, he was one of our Transylvanians…

He said everyone was stoned all the time, I don’t know if that’s true…

Well, I don’t know what was happening amongst his lot, but I led a very sheltered life — a life of austerity and self-denial. I wouldn’t know anything about that…

Before Rocky Horror existed, how did the very germ of it begin in your brain?

First of all I was out of work, and I was sitting at home and wondering what to do with my life, wondering whether I’d ever be
employed again. I was sitting with my friend, and I said, ‘What I’d really like to be in is a really rock ‘n’ roll show, which has real rock ‘n’ roll’ as opposed to theatrical rock ‘n’ roll.’ Because I never understood why the people in Oklahoma weren’t singing country and western — why they were singing show songs. I never understood that. I was thinking of the B-movie kind of area, and I thought a kind of rock ‘n’ roll horror show would be good. And he said, ‘Well, let’s write it,’ and I said, ‘OK, let’s do that.’ He went off and opened up a recording studio, and by the time he got around to it, he said, ‘OK, lets start on the show,’ and I’d already written it and it was going to start at the Royal Court in a month’s time. So that’s how it began. How it actually got on is a strange story. There was no pressure, I didn’t put it on any producer’s table — I never thought anyone would take it, really — it happened very organically and very easily, almost like a parody of Frankenstein’s monster. You give birth to this thing and the monster takes on a life of it’s own. The show did much the same kind of thing.

Well, I hope it doesn’t end the same way.

People coming up to my house with torches, you mean..?

Had you always been writing music?

Yes. I wrote my first song when I was fifteen. Guitar, three chords, called Thunder Rock. It was about a Red Indian who had ‘given up the war dance and gone in for the jive’, I believe that was one of the lines. Ever since then I’ve always sat down and written little songs, put them in the drawer. When Rocky came along I had quite a few songs already in the drawer, which I was able to slot into the narrative. I suppose they’re related — it’s part of my own journey, is Rocky Horror, truthfully, I guess to do with the teenage rites of passage. The cross-dressing, gender confusion, an attraction and understanding of the 50s and the changes in the 50s. The 50s were a watershed for humanity, really. For modern society, 1958 was a time when the American Dream actually became a reality, for ten seconds, and from then on it was all downhill. If you look at American magazines from, say, 1957, around that period, you’re looking at a very successful Western culture, where the dreams and aspirations that they were hoping for and working towards were actually there. An urban sprawl of big long cars, Madison Avenue, barbecues, and big dresses, high school prom balls — it had reached fruition, really, and from then on it was a nose-dive into the ‘60s and the drug culture and punk of the ‘70s. There was a shift of power-base from the middle —aged, middle-class to a young working class driven scenario. It’s fascinating. I remember one of the critics saying that Brad and Janet were Ike’s children. To some extent that was kind of true. To some extent it is a kind of parody of that social shift. I never thought about that until talking to you right now!

Well there you go! Mark this moment. Frank N Furter, although he’s very cheery, is a kind of sad figure. He’s doomed to be disappointed, even though he’s going to give it a bloody good go.

He doesn’t get his comeuppance really because of his behaviour, he gets his comeuppance because of hubris to some extent, and it all has to end anyway. The only reality for all of us is a death. In death there is some salvation I guess. I see the deaths on-stage at the end of Rocky as a theatrical device more than anything else. I’ve never thought of them in narrative terms, or social documentation terms, or any lofty terms. It’s just like the end of Hamlet where there’s all those bodies all over the stage. It was that kind of enjoyment — adolescent, again, a puerile kind of enjoyment — of having the bodies on the stage and a swan-song for Frank.

I was thinking of someone creating the perfect man, and then they become their own person — you can’t control them.

Well, again, that’s always true. We give birth to our children, and we think we can educate them in our own ways, and then they join some religious cult. I was watching that wonderful American comedian, Chris Rock — he’s almost Lenny Bruce in his satirical journeys — he was saying whatever you hate, you can bet it’s going to wind up in your family eventually. Like all those people who’re homophobic — I don’t know why, he says, because we all know we’ve got a gay uncle! If you hate Mexicans, for instance, you can bet your boots one day your daughter’s going to come home with one. That’s the way it is. I suppose that’s true with Frank’s creation — he’s got to have a life of his own, we can’t control anybody or anything, we can only kind of suggest, with loving kindness. Lead by example, not with the whip.

It’s not easy having a good time.

It’s not easy having a good time, as Frank says. You have to work at it.

Moving on. How did the Crystal Maze come about? It’s jumping on a bit, I know.

It’s a good question, because I never quite understood that either. It wasn’t a road I ever thought I’d wander down, I never saw myself as a TV game show host. My name was obviously put into the hat. I had a conversation with the producers, and I suggested that my name had been put forward because when they came up with the formula for the Crystal Maze they said it was kind of like Dungeons and Dragons to some extent — what we need is a dungeon-master. My name was thrown into the hat at that point. Now they said no, but I think even when they say no, subconsciously that must have been part of the journey. I went along and met them, and we seemed to hit it off, and then I did a pilot. I was supposed to do The Keys to Fort Boyard, that was the show I was supposed to do. I did a pilot for the French and English of the Keys to Fort Boyard, and Channel Four went, yes, we’ll take it, here’s the slot, prime time, Thursday nights in Autumn. The producers in Britain went to the French and said they were ready to go, and the French said that the fort wouldn’t be ready. They went away, sat down for two days and came up with an alternative version, which was Crystal Maze. I actually think it’s a better show. That happens very often, doesn’t it — you can be in the kitchen, get all the ingredients together and spend an awful lot of time, and finally when it’s cooked you come up with something heavy and suet-y. And another time you’ll go in there without any sort of preparation and you’ll whip up a soufflé. That can always happen, and I think that’s what happened with the Crystal Maze, I think it was the better programme.

What’s the next big thing for you?

I’m not quite sure what the next big thing for me is — I made an album which I put out last year, and I’ve got a couple of movies released this year that I had very small parts in, and I’m writing at the moment. I just keep fiddling around really, enjoying myself and doing what I want to do. I’m not really career-driven, you see — that’s the truth of it. I’ve never been that eager to convince the world I’m the best thing since sliced bread. I’ve never been money-oriented, although I love it very much. We all like money. If people are prepared to give it to me I’m prepared to take it, but I’ve never seen it as a god, never chased it. Never really chased a career in that sense either.

Your biography mentions a screenplay for a modern and dark fairy-tale, which is under wraps.

Well, that’s on the back burner, what I’m doing now is attempting to write a sequel for Rocky. I’ve written seven, maybe eight songs for that, so far, and I’m going to keep going until it gets to a point where it’s not viable, or it is, or when it gets to the point where I go, actually, truthfully, this is not going to do me any favours, because the expectations for a Rocky sequel are going to be exceptionally high. I’m going to have to fulfill an awful lot of people’s ideas of it, even though I’m writing it for myself again, I do realise that I’ve got to be very, very clever about my approach to it, and I have to approach it in perhaps a slightly more mature manner, actually, which scares me. The saving grace is that if it gets to a point where I go, actually, it’s not going to work, I can just pull the plug on it, and get on with the one you’ve just spoken about, which is called Alive on Arrival. It’s about a woman who goes to the land of the dead while she’s still alive, and they’re all dead. It’s a learning curve for her. A kind of dark fairy tale, or a trip to the underworld. So that’s there on the back burner, and in the meantime I’m getting on with Rocky Two, whatever it’s going to be called. It won’t be Rocky Two, but…

Well, thank-you very much.

The Richard O'Brien Crusade est. 1996