I wish my first fight against censorship was about something significant in the grand scheme of things, like my freedom to worship the unpopular deity of my choice, but it was about my right to sing “The Time Warp” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
I don’t even like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I’ve never gone to a midnight screening of the film and I don’t understand how it became a cult classic. Still, my wanting to perform “The Time Warp” almost cost me my job. I didn’t see the big deal with the song-I mean, it’s just a jump to the left.
Before college, I worked as a music teacher at essentially a day camp in Michigan that called itself a school and spelled “theater” with the ‘r’ before the ‘e’. Many of the attending students (campers) had a real interest in the arts, but some of them were only there because they didn’t want to go to sports camp, and their parents saw it as a relatively inexpensive babysitting service.
A week before the camp began, the staff got together for an overnight retreat. The state’s Teacher of the Year spoke to us about handling problem children. We played improv games. We watched Waiting For Guffman, quoting lines and laughing. The staff was essentially the real-life counterparts to the Waiting For Guffman characters, but it never occurred to us that in laughing at the movie, we were laughing at ourselves.
As a Junior Division Music Instructor, it was my job to teach small groups of eight to thirteen-year-olds new songs every week. The kids performed these songs at the Monday Night Parent Showcases. My groups sang, “Lean on Me,” the Ragtime “Prologue,” and “New York State of Mind.” I’ll put modesty aside for a moment and say that each number brought the house down. Before the performances, I made short speeches about how hard the kids worked and how proud of them I was. The parents ate it up. Many of them came up to me after the shows to give me hugs and business cards.
With all that praise coming my way, my ego grew to Mozartian proportions, so when Peter the Head Director told me that Christy the Junior Division Supervisor didn’t want me to perform the song of my choice, “The Time Warp,” in the following week’s Monday Night Parent Showcase, I was indignant.
I told my campers exactly what happened, and they didn’t take it well. They already disliked Christy because she yelled at them so much-and her yelling wasn’t constructive; it was a bitter, unrelenting powertrip. The kids could tell the difference.
Christy’s “Time Warp” censorship was her attempt to get back at me for an incident that occurred towards the beginning of camp. She got drunk at a staff party and told me about her first lesbian stage kiss. Christy was my superior-she was twice my age-and I let her know that onstage homosexual intimacy wasn’t the most appropriate topic for her to bring up around me, a then eighteen-year-old. After I said that, Christy got real quiet, and I could tell she was pissed; she didn’t like being told what was and wasn’t appropriate.
With that incident in mind, I wasn’t surprised when Peter called me into his office during lunch break one day to tell me about Christy’s decision to censor me. He said, “Christy brought some things to my attention regarding your song selection. ‘The Time Warp’ mentions ‘the pelvic thrust,’ and Christy feels that this dance is inappropriate for children. She also feels that the theme of The Rocky Horror Picture Show is inappropriate for children. I’m sorry, but we can’t allow you to perform the song.”
I spent the rest of that lunch break composing the following letter:
Which Rocky Horror Picture Show theme is Christy so concerned with? Homosexuality? Transgenderism? Crossdressing? If it’s one of these, why didn’t she speak up two weeks ago when the kids performed “Seasons of Love” from Rent, a musical that deals with identical issues? True, the song “Seasons of Love” doesn’t delve into said issues, but “The Time Warp” doesn’t either. In case you’re not familiar with “The Time Warp” lyrics, allow me to recount them for you:
It’s astounding; time is fleeting.
Madness takes its toll.
But listen closely, not for very much longer.
I’ve got to keep control.
I remember doing the time warp,
Drinking those moments when
The blackness would hit me and the voice would be calling,
“Let’s do the time warp again!”
It’s just a jump to the left, and then a step to the right.
With your hands on your hips, you bring your knees in tight.
But it’s the pelvic thrust that really drives you insane.
Let’s do the time warp again! Let’s do the time warp again!
I find only two arguably controversial lines in the song’s lyrics: 1) “Drinking those moments when,” and 2) “But it’s the pelvic thrust that really drives you insane.” But two important clarifications must be made regarding said lines. First, while the song mentions drinking, it does not promote the potentially addictive, potentially destructive behavior. In fact, “The Time Warp” suggests that drinking leads to “blackness” and “calling voices”-passing out at the least; paranoid schizophrenia at the most.
On a similar note, “The Time Warp” does not advocate dancing the pelvic thrust; much the opposite: it says that dancing the pelvic thrust “will drive you insane.” I submit that time warpers do not even dance the pelvic thrust out of their own volition; I believe they are possessed by the above mentioned “calling voice.”
Lastly, if Christy has such a problem with the kids actually dancing (as opposed to mentioning by name) the pelvic thrust, why did she allow her kids do so in last week’s Monday Night Parent Showcase? Let me remind you, Christy’s group performed the Grease “Megamix,” which features several pelvic thrusts during the “Summer Nights” section. “Well-a, well-a, well-a, uh!” On each “uh,” did Christy’s kids not thrust their pelvises?
Rick Lax, Junior Division Music Instructor
Returning from lunch, I gave the letter directly to Peter, but it made its way around the entire camp. Don the Junior Division Music Director said to me, “Christy found your letter, and she told me that she’s going to have you fired.”
Only that didn’t happen. On the other hand, I never convinced Peter to allow me to perform “The Time Warp.” I ended up going with “Any Dream Will Do” from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The song featured a two-part harmony, a cappella denouement that raised the bar on the camp’s Junior Division singing forevermore. And again, the parents showered me with praise.
Towards the end of the camp, Christy herself performed an overly sexual number for the kids (during camp hours; not for a Monday Night Parent Showcase). She began it with one of her tan, wrinkly legs hanging off the stage. She sauntered across the playhouse for three or four minutes as her low alto (which was really a tenor) battled to stay on top of the pitch.
There was no good reason for Christy’s performance, and no reason was fabricated. It wasn’t meant to be a lesson in stage presence, projection, or anything like that. The unstated premise of the performance was this: Christy wants to sing a song in front of a live audience, she’ll probably/hopefully never get the chance to do so again, and because she’s the Junior Division Supervisor, everybody’s got to suffer through it. As her song came to and end, I said to Peter, “I don’t think this performance is appropriate for the kids.” Peter nodded, and the following year, Christy didn’t return – and I got promoted.