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O'Brien, Richard

Richard O'Brien has had an amazing theatrical career of course surrounding his famous Rocky Horror Picture show, but his live performances and albums certainly challenge that cult classic.

DM) Of course the first question I have is the one you had to expect, about Rocky Horror.

RO) Of course. (Laughs)

DM) Rocky Horror has become a cult legend, but you've done other things. Is it ever upsetting having your work overshadowed by Rocky?

RO) Well, when you do something like Rocky which is indefinable somehow, it always becomes difficult to lose that. Not that I have any interest in saying goodbye to Rocky. I absolutely adore being involved and a part of something that is really a phenomenon.
With the film around for 25 years and the show being around even longer -- still running and continuing to fill house all around the word -- it's really an exciting and wonderful thing to be part of that. And I have no problems with that at all.
If it all overshadows anything else, I can understand completely why and again it doesn't worry me.

DM) Whenever they write your life story they'll undoubtedly put Rocky Horror first. Which of your works would you want to put first?

RO) If I was in that editorial position, I would agree with that. A news editor takes the hot story of the day. People take the salient moments of ones life -- Those defining moments -- and Rocky's got to be there.
I would have thought that to have actually gotten to the age I am is a lot more stupefying - being is the thing I would want to be remembered for.
That means more to me, truthfully, than commercial success. To be a loved human being is much more important to me then any of those other things. If you ain't got love in your life, you got f----all!

DM) So I assume now you have love in your life.

RO) I'm surrounded by it. I have so many lovely people around me who are supportive, gentle, kind and considerate. I'm so grateful for every day that I'm on the planet and that continues to be so.
So all the rest is O.K., but fame is a hollow ground, isn't it? It's an empty kind of thing. You can have all of the money in the world, you can have the power, and you can have all of these things. But if you ain't got stability of the people around you that cheer you up and you can cheer them up, it's all a completed wasted journey.

DM) Of all of your works, what do you feel that you artistically "hit the nail on the head" with?

RO) Of late, I've to teeth away the drama and the ego in any artistic endeavor that I'm presently working on is and try and be as simplistic as I possibly can -- and be accessible with what I do. So if writing a song that has a purity to it, that's driven by any idea of effect upon, potential kind of audience that just to be ego-free.
On this new Absolute O'Brien I've done, I've tried desperately to make the voices as free of ego as I possibly can.
A lot of my friends that know me, know me to sing out and be a little bit more flamboyant when I'm (performing) live. They're slightly disappointed by the album. I don't care about that because there are an awful lot of people who've never seen me on stage or live, and so I was approaching a different kind of art form a different medium. I'm a great, great fan of Chet Baker. I just love his voice, which is so free of an kind of show-off quality.
Lately, I'm just getting so fed up with show-off voices. There are a lot of wonderful voices out there that sing their heart out of a song, but at the end of they day, I feel almost as if it's been kind of a technical exercise and what they've been doing is showing us how well they can perform. And it gets in the way of the message of the lyrics and the message of the emotion. Actually, at the end of the day it becomes a phony emotion. That's the area I'm working on (in regards to that comment).

DM) I was reading a review of one of the shows you've done recently and it said, "You were dressed like the devil."

RO) I was dressed as a demon, yes. As a rather sexy demon, yes. The demon Mestostopholes … horns and a tail.

DM) Why?

RO) Well, I was playing Mestostopholes as a demon from a new and vastly improved hell. And offering hell as an alternative afterlife experience to the audience. What I did was an evangelistic kind of sell of hell. Instead of saying, "you've got to be a nasty person to come down here." I was saying "you've got to be a groovy person." I said that hell didn't want any more of heaven's left overs.
We didn't want the rejects and we are in a position to say, we're getting rid of all of the losers, the mess-ups, the psychopaths and all that. We've released them back in the community and we just hung onto the party people. So, if you wanted the nice kind of Bohemian party kind of afterlife. There are lots of drugs down there and booze, and we're allowing all of the physical pleasures to continue, as an extra kind of plus.

DM) How much of that is your really opinion and how much is satirical?

RO) I just thought it was up for grabs, isn't it?
When we pass through the door, we don't know whether it's going to be the Big Sleep. We don't know whether it's going to be the judgement seat. Whether we stand there and our lives are shown to us and we can see how abysmally we've done with what we could have done with each day, and how we've wasted a lot of it. And I just thought it's time to have a look at it again.
At the end of the day, we're saying that if the prodigal son can return to the fold, then why can't Lucifer return to God's bosom. Why does it have to be polarized in that sense? That was what I was talking about really. Why can't we just get rid of that idea that you have to live this one life to be O.K. and everything else falls by the wayside.
I'm a pantheist by the way. I bow down before all of the gods … I take blessings wherever they come from.

DM) Take what you can get.

RO) Of course, I ain't going to mess with a god. Whether it's a god of the woods or a god of thieves. As it was in primeval times, we have all of these manifold gods.

DM) So overall do you believe in an afterlife then?

RO) Yes, I think I do. When I say I think I do, of course I do. Absolutely. I mean it doesn't make any difference, does it?

DM) I think what struck me were two stories written about you -- both regarding an analysis of Rocky Horror. One was describing Rocky Horror as a great sci-fi spoof, while the other was talking about this as a ground breaking film that was channeling human sexuality and relationships that makes one question oneself. One story seemed like you were just happy and poppy and the other described you as the philosopher of the `70s.

RO) What I think happened there was: yes, I set out to write amusing entertainment, so I think what I did was touch buttons that were deeper rooted. I think Mr. Carl Jung might have had something to say about Rocky and get into the scenario of that, and pull it apart, and deconstruct it and look at the symbolism and look at the psychological motives that were within the piece.
Of course, none of that was intended. So I think what happened was that my subconscious wrote a starchy show and I invested in it so that it's also other peoples' (collective) subconscious. I locked into the kind of bigger consciousness somehow and touched areas that people have thought about and kept hidden and hadn't really expressed. Rocky somehow or other releases that. But any good fairy tale of sorts of does that, truthfully.

DM) A lot of psychologists talk about how the fairy tales and psychology are intertwined.

RO) Well, there's no reason that fairy tales have been around for so long unless they're invested with something that we can't see. Because if you look at the narratives of many of them and the simple story of many of them, you go and find out what we have learned from the journey. And yet we want to hear the story again.
And, in fact, in England we have a very strong tradition in the theater called pantomime, which you in America you're not aware of really. But every Christmastime they do a pantomime, which is generally based on one of those fairy tales. On Cinderella. On Jack and the Beanstalk. On Goldilocks and The Three Bears, Mother Goose and that kind of stuff. Very weirdly -- and this traditionally English -- the person who plays Mother Goose is always a man in drag. The mother of Aladdin, for instance, is always played by a man. The price is generally played by a woman. She's always dressed in some 18th century jerkin and a pair of fish net tights. And she slaps her thighs quite heartily during the proceeding sayings. "Ten more miles to Dick Whittington. Ten more miles to London and still no sign of Dick."
It's the kind of line that comes across. It's a bit like those medieval mystery plays. I think what you are doing is pricing up a story that is in the public consciousness since day one. But these stories are so deeply woven into our backgrounds that they are satisfying.

DM) So I guess Rocky would be a modern-day fable really?

RO) It's kind of … it's almost a pantomime. It is a modern day kind of fables. It's babes in the woods really. Hansel and Gretel.

DM) But I thought Hansel and Gretel's point was not to talk to strangers.

RO) No, Hansel and Gretel's point is that they live with their father who is a week man and their stepmother who wants to get rid of them because they can't afford to keep them and they get dumped in the forest. And again it's about rites of passage isn't it. Their journey begins when they're thrown out of the family home. They have the skill of Hansel, who leaves the pebbles behind the first time and then he leaves the bread behind and the birds eat it. And then he leaves the bread behind and the birds eat it. And then they're locked up and they go to the gingerbread house and then they meet the Wicked Witch, Brad and Janet meet Frankenfurter. And Janet saves Brad, and Gretel saves Hansel by pushing the witch into the fire. It's a similar kind of journey.
But that original journey is as going back to genesis. And we have Hansel and Gretel as Adam and Eve and the Wicked Witch as the serpent. It's a rite of passage. It's growing up, leaving home and going back and saying I'm on my own two feet now dad and you f---ed us up and pushed us out into the woods, and we're back here. And at the end of that story, he says the wife's gone and they give them some of the riches and wealth. The generosity of spirit for looking after the old parent. It's a very smaller kind of journey.

DM) Did you have any of that in mind when you were writing it?

RO) No, no, no.

DM) So does this explain (Rocky's) success in hindsight?

RO) I think perhaps because I didn't know what I was doing explains some of the success. I've seen and met so many people who want to write and whatnot to do this kind of manipulative work.
Ahead of time, (they'll say) "Oh they're going to love this."
Who are they?
"No, do you like it? Does it work for you?"
It's not about them. I think whatever came out of Rocky was because of it's expression of freedom, it's adolescent kind of drive gave its edge really and the longevity in the end of the day.

DM) Most people, when they write a story say they're similar to certain characters in certain aspects. What characters were you similar to?

RO) All of them, actually. Each and every one of those characters is a little bit of me. That's what I would think.

DM) At times, I kept thinking, "I would never imagine running into people lie this in a million years." Like Tim Curry's character, Dr. Frankenfurter.

RO) Well, we've all met the flamboyant manipulative charismatic person that is amoral at the end of the day and is quite prepared to use their charm to get whatever they want. History is full of these people.
They're very appealing. Especially the charming charismatic villain is always an appealing character. You can't deny that. There's something very sexy with somebody who's got that dangerous edge to them. At the same time, they're very charming and charismatic. It's a wonderful, wonderful role.

DM) Mentioning the charismatic villain, and knowing you had the recent show charismatic Satan, is there any similarity between the two?

RO) Maybe. I've never seen myself the same way that Frankenfurter is. Frankenfurter doesn't care whether he hurts or not. He has no opinion about other peoples' emotional feelings. He's a person that uses people to his own end. That's kind of good. It's not like we're having a good time from him. We don't care. And even if we were in his company we probably wouldn't care, he's one of those dangerous people.

DM) Considering the good and evil we were talking about, he would certainly sound evil then.

RO) (Pauses) Evil is… if amorality is evil, then yes.

DM) It doesn't sound like you agree with my statement.

RO) I'm not sure whether amorality is evil. I see it as rather sad.
What you do is never see anybody who is hanging out in your corner. All you see is somebody useful as a tool for your life and making your life easier and that's not very pleasant, but that's not necessary evil. I think some of these people who work in the city and these people who tell people that they can invest their savings with them quite successfully and they'll be guaranteed a return on their investment and all they're going to do is rip the person off -- I kind of see that as evil.
I see terrible people driven by their sexuality using other people and exploiting and exhorting other people to certain activities -- I see that as evil. Taking advantage people.

DM) Isn't that in a way what Dr. Frankenfurter is doing?

RO) Perversion and exploitation should be out of the equation. They must never be present in the equation. I think Frankenfurter is a coercer, and he is an exploiter. So in that sense, I guess yes.
Whether that's evil or not … well, the worst thing he does is leave them high and dry. It doesn't destroy them particularly. He wouldn't really care if they did. So he's amoral -- and I wonder if that's a kind of evil -- I don't know how far he'd go really. That's an interesting question. How far would Frankenfurter go to make sure he was satisfied to his own ends. I don't know the answer to that question. Maybe I should ask myself that.

DM) The next question is the one you're asking yourself. How far would he go?

RO) (Laughs) I think he'd make sure he'll look after number one. I don't think he has any power trip. I don't think he's interested ruling the world for anything like that. I think he's interested in his own kind of hedonistic kind of pleasures. To that extent, I think he'll be quite willing to go as far as he wanted and he would leave people behind.
If he had a fling with somebody one night and he saw somebody a little groovier the next, he'd have no bones about hitting on them and leaving the other person slightly bereft and feeling used. He does use people.

DM) So it sounds like he would go pretty far in that sense. I find it kind of interesting that you have such a range of characters running from the moral to the immoral, to the amoral.

RO) I have a great strain of morality that turns through myself. I don't have any problems in dealing with the amoral. I have a strong line in dealing with what I think is right and wrong. I know obscenity and it ain't necessary the dirty joke or somebody having a bit of dirty sex somewhere. That's not a problem. I think when we look at Nazi Germany, I see pure evil and pure obscenity there and what we have to do is put it all into perspective. And all the rest of it is kinda easy.

DM) So immoral to you is something like Nazi Germany?

RO) Nazi Germany was completely immoral, yes. I was invited to a Friday night dinner with a friend where the rather was a rabbi with the local synagogue here, and he lost his father and the brothers in the concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. And I turned up to this Friday night dinner which I knew was very special and I went and I was on my best behavior. And this man came up to me and said, "Richard tell me what is the height of self deception."
I said, "I have no idea."
He responded, "When somebody fakes an orgasm when they're masturbating." What he was saying was he didn't give a s--- about the dirty jokes. He knew what obscenity was about. And anything can happen around this table tonight when they're sitting around taking it. As long as there's no mean sprit and evil in your heart, we're fine here.
The generosity of the spirit, I took on board as great. It was f---ing great.

DM) Communication was the key that night.

RO) It's about getting a line on morality of what's right and what's wrong. We run on a course with the "Dumb and Dumber" and "South Park" and all of that kind of s---. If we're not careful, we're just going down a puerile road, which is just questionable.
At the end of the day, we're kind of brutalizing it and desensitizing it. If we're not careful, we're just damaging the young people. However there's nothing wrong with a little bit of lavatorial humor amongst children and adults. It's fine, it's just fine.
It's questionable as to whether prime time television should be feeding them that particular carrot.

DM) Do you think stuff like "South Park" is immoral?

RO) I think "South Park" is puerile. I hate the animation. I think the animation is such an abominable and tawdry, that it drives me to distraction, because I love good quality animation. And when you've got something as well written as the Simpsons happening and it's been happening for 15 years and the writing sublime and satirical. You know, along comes "South Park" and it's such an easy, cheap joke like "Dumb and Dumber" and "Beavis and Butthead" it's all just bloody. All you're doing is writing for f---ing 14-years-olds. What's the point?

 

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