Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hopelessly Devoted

If my aversion to renting movies can be traced to one period in time, it was definitely the summer of '78. Going to the show, as Michiganders call it, has long been one of the greatest and most economical forms of escapism, and escape was just what I was needing that June I turned 11. While the history books tell us the late '60s were one of the country's most tumultuous times, being a child of the 1970s was hardly a walk in the park.

Like most of the nation, I spent those seven months in '74 transfixed by Patty Hearst -- only I wanted TO BE her. (She was newspaper heiress and she wore a beret!)

Watching Linda Blair have a torrid affair with her hunky abductor, Martin Sheen, the following year in the made-for-TV movie, "Sweet Hostage," only made my Patty obsession grow stronger. (And besides, with access to William Randolph there might be hope for the fledgling Hiller News.)

Most of '75 was dominated by news of the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, who was last seen in a restaurant parking lot in nearby Bloomfield Township. (I used to pretend a Sambo's we occasionally went to was the scene of the crime.) Son of Sam kept me on edge during most of '76 and '77. I can still remember being seated on an ottoman at our neighbor Karen Muthil's house that balmy Wednesday in August David Berkowitz was arrested. (His mugshot still gives me nightmares.)

Meanwhile, we were busy being terrorized by our area's own serial killer, the uncreatively named "Oakland County Child Killer," who had murdered four kids my age and was suspected of many others. (You try sleeping at night when there's psycho driving around your neighborhood in a blue AMC Gremlin abducting and killing kids your age.)

So by the time fifth grade let out in June of 1978, playing tennis and going to the movies were the only thing on this kid's exhausted mind. And in the course of about six weeks, my friends and I made three trips to the Abby Cinemas across the way from Oakland Mall in Troy, Mich., to see what turned out to be three life-altering movies:

"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (film number 3) may have starred Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees. And it may be considered one of the worst movies of all time. But I was 11, and I loved every second of it. While I had grown up listening to all sorts of music, my older brothers were more Simon and Garfunkel types, so "Sgt. Pepper" was -- for better or worse -- my first exposure to Beatles music. Need I say more? (After later buying a cassette at Green Acres drugstore of other non-Beatles performing these classic songs, you'll be happy to know I now own the album by the original recording artist.)

"Heaven Can Wait" (film number 2) was a wonderful picture (the Academy agreed). But it was the sight of dreamy Warren Beatty on the big screen as a Los Angeles Rams quarterback that sent my homosexual panic into overdrive. (Has there ever been a more handsome man?)

But it was the first of the three films I saw that summer that has provided me the most lasting escape. My Olivia Newton-John obsession was already out of control at this point. "Please Mister, Please" played on my family's basement stereo nearly nonstop, and it didn't take much for me to re-enact the balcony scene of "Evita" to ONJ's "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" off her "Making a Good Thing Better" album I picked up at Korvettes. So when the sun-kissed 30-year-old high school student beauty debuted "Hopelessly Devoted to You" up there on the silver screen, I knew my fate had been sealed.

Now I'm not so vain as to think my "Grease" obsession is any more profound than any other gay boy's. (I read "Band Fags." I get it.) I mean, who didn't sing into a hair brush and wish they were Sandy in that skin-tight black body suit? (Side note: John Travolta NEVER did anything for me. Not then. Not on "Welcome Back, Kotter." Not even in "Saturday Night Fever," although I might have given him a protective handjob in "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.") But I will say this. I'm 41 years old now living in a 12-square-foot small one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. And I STILL have my "Grease" trading cards. It's been over 30 years since that fateful summer. Yet every time I see or hear something from "Grease," it feels like -- however briefly -- I'm 11 years old again and all my cares get tucked away. And that's a kind of devotion that feels anything but hopeless.


Writer said...

ONJ did Don't Cry For Me?? OMG, I'm in love all over again!

Anonymous said...

I'm hopelessly devoted to this post. I bought the Grease foto-novel in the summer of '78, loaned it to Valerie Ross, and never got it back. Seeing Grease when I was 14 and noticing what was capturing my attention on screen (eg Lorenzo Lamas) started to clarify a lot of things in my mind. Very important movie in my life!

nojarama said...

It's funny how similar both our childhoods were: I was terrified of the Manson clan (even though they were already in prison by my childhood, but my parents story of the entire event scared the hell out of me). I was also terrified of JAWS & I just knew that everytime I swam in the ocean, I was asking for it!

I, too LOVED the BEe-Gee's/Peter Frampton Sgt. Pepper's (and Xanadu of course), much to the dismay of Beatle & Grease fans alike. I was in LOVE with Stevn Tyler in the film...the glam was just tooo delicious! Until, I saw what he really looked like!

I never actually got into the Beatles then, but I did love McCartney & Lennon's solos stuff...

David in Houston said...

I love ONJ. Listening to her music helped me so much when I was coming out. Those Grease trading cards are great.

...and 'yes', Warren Beatty is unbelievably handsome in that movie. said...

OK, this must either stop! I swear we have the same life, from the Blondie obsession, to the pre-Grease ON-J obsession (i belonged to the fan club in 1976 and still also have my Grease trading cards). But when you name checked "Heaven Can Wait" my heart stopped. If you post about Rex Smith/"Sooner or Later," my head will explode. So please don't do it. Or do!

JMK@98011 said...

Kenneth, your blog is a total drug to me....I'm 42, grew up in the Lake Orion/Clarkston area of MI and you could have easily been living down the street from me during elementary school. I suspect you must have. Anyway, your comments about ONJ, Oakland Mall, Summer '78. Good grief, who can resist? Back "in the day," the Oakland Mall was the "big time" as we had to suffer with the Pontiac Mall and Showcase Cinemas...Also, I swear my sister had those Grease trading cards [I have the original "Star Wars" cards btw] and I used to sneak into her pink-bedspread-Holly Hobbie-decorated room to snatch her Sgt. Pepper album off her turntable...oh yeah, and ONJ. :)

Anonymous said...

Ok....I never realized what kindred spirit we were till this....

I live for tennis and ONJ

I have an ONJ scrapbook that is a bout 6 inches thick including this grease cards