November , 2010
By David Huff
Dr. Frank-N-Furter, Warped in Time and Singing the Blues
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is an iconic cult classic that recently was revisited by the hit TV show, Glee. The film is the longest, continuously running movie in motion picture history. It has never been pulled by 20th Century Fox from its original 1975 release. To date, the $1.2 million film has grossed almost $140 million as it continues to play in cinemas 35 years later.
As I was watching the Halloween program honoring the show, it took me back to the infant days of Jam Magazine when I was unceremoniously told to fuck off during an interview by none other than Dr. Frank-N-Furter himself, Tim Curry, who then promptly kicked me off his tour bus. Seems as though Tim was a little fed up with the Rocky Horror connection, and for some reason decided to unload all his frustrations on me.
For many years, Curry was reluctant to talk about his Rocky Horror experience feeling that it was a trend that had gone too far and had distracted attention away from his later roles. He just couldn't face the fact he was more interesting as a campy mad scientist wearing garters and a corset than he was as William Shakespeare, or any other stage or screen character he'd later play. The fact he was pursuing a career in rock and roll was irrelevant. Curry's music career lasted all but five minutes, and featured a very minor hit called "I Do the Rock" from his second solo album Fearless. Unfortunately for him, people wanted to do the "Time Warp" at his shows, and Tim would have nothing to do with it.
Interestingly enough, outside of the one time Curry unloaded on me about his Rocky Horror experience, over the last three decades, the actor rarely, if ever, revealed his true feelings about the enduring role that still makes him infamous to this day. The following story appeared in the October 1979 issue of Jam. Over the course of my journalism career, I'd be kicked out of a lot more concerts, and tour busses, by artists who disagreed with my line of questioning. But let's face it – you always remember your first – and who better to give you the boot than the 'sweet Transvestite from Transsexual Transylvania.'
Sometimes the past can come back to haunt you. Tim Curry has found that out the hard way. His portrayal of Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show created an enduring image of the musician he just can't seem to shake no matter where he goes or what he does.
The film caught on in midnight movie circuit around the country turning it into a sensation and making Curry a star. The soundtrack from the movie contained the hit single "Time Warp" and has sold over a million copies since the picture's release. After Rocky Horror brought him to the public attention, Curry would go on to play the title role in the acclaimed six-hour BBC mini-series, Will Shakespeare. He would also land a plum role in the Tony Award winning Broadway production of Travesties. Now Curry is concentrating all his efforts into making a career for himself as a rock musician.
Since catapulting to fame thanks to midnight movie madness, Curry's music career continues to take a back seat to his corset bearing, gender bending character. In the following interview with Jam editor David Huff, Curry not only sounds off about the media, but his least favorite topic of all, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
JAM: Do you feel your music career has been overshadowed by your performance in the Rocky Horror Picture Show?
Tim Curry - No! I think people shouted out more for the songs from my other records than they did for The Rocky Horror Picture Show tonight. That is really one of the most boring journalistic openings I have ever heard because I don't think that it's true. However, to answer your question, I don't know what the audience anticipated. Whatever they get out of my performance they get. I don't think they were disappointed, do you?
JAM: The crowd was in to you the moment you stepped on stage. Do you mind if we talk about the Rocky Horror Picture Show for a minute?
JAM: How did your role in the film come about?
It was a play. I was doing this one particular role in London for about a year, and Rocky Horror was the next one that came up for the theater I was in. They asked me to do the title role. I was performing in a 60-seat experimental playhouse called the Royal Court Theater. This particular building held two theaters – one held about 800 people, the other 60. They were always looking for writers, and this play came in the door.
Jam: The motion picture ...
The play was a big success in London and then it moved to Los Angeles. It drew big crowds there as well. Then the powers that be decided to make it into a motion picture. They made the Broadway show into a movie and it turned out to be a flop. Twentieth Century didn't like the film very much, didn't put any promotion behind it, and just let it slip into midnight movie rotation on the weekends. Suddenly, the film started to work and it literally took on a life of its own from that point on.
JAM: Do you see the film as more of a cult classic?
I look at it as something I did in 1974. That's exactly how I look at the movie. It's a piece of work I did five years ago. It's the basis for the audience I have in America today.
JAM: Would you just as soon forget the movie then?
Listen, I came to America from England because of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. It was the first success in American I ever had. It was a long time ago when I did the movie. It is still a success. People still editorialize about it. That actually is not very interesting to me, because everybody who goes to see the movie knows what they are getting from it. I know what I got from it four or five years ago, and I am really glad that people still like it. I can't, you know, I'm sort of fond of it and there it is. What do you think? Did you ever see any of it?
JAM: Yes I did, twice. Was the feed back from the audience intentional?
Yes it was intended. We wanted to break down the barrier between the screen and the audience. That hadn't happened for a long time, except in kid shows – since the Cisco Kid really. It was a rock n' roll movie first brought to life in an experimental theater. There you have it.
JAM: Was the movie aimed at a particular audience?
It was aimed at whatever audience was drawn to it. That same thing could be said about my concert tonight; the same as your writing; the same as any magazine, though they tend to target their demographics. The movie wasn't aimed at any particular age market. We thought of it as the first rock n' roll movie.
JAM: The soundtrack was a superb piece of work. Is it the most successful recording you've had so far?
In terms of what?
JAM: Record sales!
JAM: You said you don't feel Rocky Horror typecast, or painted you in a particular way as an artist. Has the rock and roll movie hurt your rock and roll career?
You tell me, you saw the show tonight.
JAM: I think the crowd was waiting for you to sing "Sweet Transvestite" and "I Can Make You a Man" which you didn't do.
And I will never do those songs.
JAM: Why? Your first album was nothing but cover tunes. What's the difference in singing two songs from a platinum album you participated on?
The difference is I could give a fuck about the Rocky Horror Picture Show, especially when I'm on stage singing with my band.
JAM: Do you try to come across in any particular fashion?
Well, what did I come across to you as?
JAM: You want an honest answer?
I already know the answer. Journalists come to my show with preconceived notions of who I am. They know they can get column space in their papers because of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. They can always say, "Well, he wasn't as good as the movie." They can write six inches of copy alongside of a guy wearing a corset and stockings then get into a heavy metaphysical speculation about the image. I never gave a shit about my image.
JAM: Don't you think you are looking at this the wrong way?
I never allow my picture to be taken in concert (Jam photographer Vernon Gowdy snuck his camera into the venue). I just go out there and sing. What I do on stage is absolutely up to the audience. Tonight, the audience didn't seem to have a bad time. I didn't see any signs of the Rocky Horror Picture Show in the crowd. Did you?
JAM: Yes, I saw a lot of people dressed up as Frank-N-Furter.
Okay, I'm not naïve enough to think people aren't coming out to see my show strictly because of the Rocky Horror connection. But again, that was a rock and roll movie and tonight they came out to see a rock and roll performer. You know, that is boring old journalistic shit your pulling on me. Come on, it really is! Let me tell you one more time. That movie happened a long time ago.
JAM: It may have happened a long time ago for you, but it's very real to people today. Look beyond your own arrogance for a moment. Rocky Horror has been playing the weekend midnight movie circuit, around the country, to sell out crowds for years. Fan clubs have sprung up all over the place because of the show. If you had played any of the music from the movie soundtrack tonight, the crowd would have gone crazy.
Yes, in a way you are right. There is no reason why people shouldn't look to me for what they think might be left from the character I once portrayed. But I think, if you will forgive me in the arrogance of having done a good show tonight, and spending 18 months of my life turning down better pictures, that what we did tonight is as interesting and as arresting, as anything that I may have done before. And, I think that you are clinging to some kind of misconception of the way that people see somebody.
JAM: I'm not confused. I was in the crowd and listened to people talk about Rocky Horror. That's the way they see you. You think you're a rock star, the audience I believe, sees you as something totally different.
If someone is in love with you, and they fall in love with you because of the way you look, or something smart you said over dinner, or you shaved that day, terrific. They will fall out of love with you for the same reason. When people come out to see me with this band that a lot of people in New York, and certainly in America, would shoot for, kill for, if they have a good time on a musical level and find something else in me, then I am wasting my time. But you see, I am happy to waste my time on something I believe in, and I believe in my music. I am happy to waste my time talking to you about icons and images and what people expect.
JAM: You just aren't getting it.
No YOU aren't getting it. I sing and perform in a room that has four walls and sound. I control what the people hear and what the people see. I don't however control their imagination, which is something you are trying to manipulate right now. I am bored shitless by the comparisons you are making.
JAM: There are a lot of bands out there trying to make it.
I don't give a shit about making it. You know, make it, shmake it! I have got time, forever. I wanted to sing. I am out here singing. If anybody wants to listen, that is great. If they go out the next day and tell their friends they should go out and buy my record that is great. It's not for magazines, it's not for ... it is because I wanted to sing my whole life that I'm doing this. I think that people liked it. Did you?
Did you think it had anything to do with Frank-N-Furter?
So what are we talking about? Why don't we talk about my new record and the music we played tonight?
JAM: I was just looking ...
You were looking for a journalistic hook, man! You are just looking for a journalistic hook to your story.
JAM: I am looking at why you run away from a character that inspires people to go to movie theaters where they dress in character, memorize lines and physically participate in the show, because they enjoy pretending to be a part of something you obviously care little or nothing about.
You are assuming the people that go to these midnight shows are dumb. You are assuming they aren't intelligent to realize that a guy can put on a ridiculous costume, go out and make it work on the screen, has got to be some kind of jerk when he comes out with a rock and roll band and ignores his past.
JAM: I feel you have a cult following.
Cult following? Listen, it was a real good show tonight. Everybody that came here had a real good time. I don't think that anybody thought their money was wasted. I am bored with the word cult. I am just bored with the idea of people that, you know, I think that everybody wants to be surprised. The movie surprised people. It had good performers, good singers and good music. Good rock and roll bands surprise people. Good interviews surprise journalists. You are sitting here talking about a five-year old surprise and here you have a new one sitting in front of you, yet we're still talking about the old one. You know, enough!
JAM: Any plans for the future?
Oh sing, sing and sit through another ridiculous interview.
JAM: Don't get mad at me.
I usually don't get mad, but this is the reason I'm going to stop doing interviews where anyone starts asking me about that film. I am usually really arrogant about the Rocky Horror questions. "Do you think the film was different?" Yes! "What was it like doing it?" Very long! You know, to me, that movie was a lifetime ago. Ask a Bee Gee what it is like to be in front of a camera when nobody bothers to come and see them in their fucking movie? Go ask them your questions. Nobody is surprised to hear the Bee Gees' music in a $40 million movie. Don't ask me what it is like to perform rock and roll. You haven't you know. You haven't asked me if I had a good time singing songs from my album tonight. Yes I did. I thought the band was terrific and I sang well. I am getting arrogant now because we had a good time and schmocky Horror this and schmocky Horror that. I don't care any more about that damn character I played. It was a fucking movie. Lots of people have done them.
JAM: You should give your audience some credit Tim.
I love these people for coming out to see me. I love them for loving the movie. I love the fact Rocky Horror paved the way for an audience to interact with films. But you know, when people come to see me in concert, they are here for the music, not the character I played in a film. I'm not going to sit here and give you a Fonz interview about how much I loved the character I played. They are boring because all you do is sit there and say how important the figure has been to American culture, blah, blah, blah. That's Henry Winkler, he loves being a star. I fucking hate being a movie star, especially that one. I like singing, fuck you very much. I don't want to get angry, but this has been building up inside me for a long time. What else is on your list of questions? I want to see them.
(Tim Curry grabs note pad and reads list of questions.)
You know, I don't think about the difficulties of crossing over from acting to singing. I don't think there's any difference. When I get out there on stage and perform, and people like it, then I'm satisfied they got their money's worth. Let's see, "Do you think your photographs from your acting past do you any justice when it comes to your music career?" No they do not! You know, I will tell you this. Whether I'm performing on a stage with a microphone, in front of a movie camera, or in a theatre doing a play before people, I don't give a shit what you or anyone else thinks!
JAM: What are you talking about?
Talking to you has got me so frustrated, especially this Schlocky Horror crap, I want you to focus on my music. I want to know that everyone had a good time. I know that I had a good time. I know my performance with the band had nothing to do with anything you've been referring to in this interview. Whatever I can give to a camera, or give to you, or in this case shout at you, because I have never shouted at a journalist before, but I've had enough. I had such a good time tonight on that stage this line of questioning from you is hurting me.
JAM: All I'm doing is referencing what you've called the first interactive rock and roll movie. What's the harm in that? You've already admitted you wouldn't have an audience tonight without it.
Everybody thinks they know me because they saw the movie. Journalists, like in People – is that recorder turned on?
People Magazine and Interview Magazine, publications like that are all bullshit because they give people false ideas about individuals they cover. They all have pretty photographs with pretty people taken the way they want to be photographed. These magazines offer up images of individuals the way they see them, and portray them in stories as something they are not. It's all done to fool people, entice them, to purchase their publications from the news stands. You have been trying to rile me up from your very first question.
JAM: That is not fair.
And neither is your line of questioning. Let me make this clear to you. I am a musician first and foremost right now. I am not pretending to be something I'm not when I go out on that stage to sing my music. If people like the music and show, they'll buy the record. If people stop coming to my shows and my records don't sell, it's not a problem for me. I'll go back to England and become Richard II on stage. Did you know over in Great Britain, they don't even know me from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. The stage production is still running in the London theaters. But here's the thing. England knows Tim Curry as William Shakespeare. In this country, the media knows me as a lip-stick wearing, stocking clad transgender character in a movie. If you had a good time tonight, then let it be reflected in your story. Don't pull the stocking bullshit on me and tell everyone I'm quite different in person.
JAM: Is there pressure from A&M Records on you?
There is pressure from A&M to produce a hit. It would be real nice if my current single, "I Do the Rock" was a hit. That depends on all the people that read JAM to call their radio stations and request the song. Personally, I don't give a shit. I'll play for anybody that wants to hear me and the band. If the record company isn't going to put up the bread for me to sing, I'll go home to England and perform with Sir Alec Guinness.
JAM: Again, I think you're taking my line of questioning the wrong way.
What I am taking the wrong way is your approach to talking to me! This interview is over. I've had it with you, the Rocky Horror Picture Show, you name it. Fuck it, fuck you and fuck your magazine. You know, it doesn't make any difference to me now. I wanted to sing my whole life and I've gotten to sing. Now get off my bus!