Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Monty Python's Flying Groupies

This weekend I had a reunion with my high school buddies, Linda, Marlene and Bette. We spent a good amount of time reminiscing about our exploits as Monty Python fanatics, plugging the gaps in each other's memories.

"Were you there the day we sneaked backstage during rehearsals of their Broadway show?"

"No! Where the hell was I?"

"Her parents sent her to stay with an aunt in Pennsylvania that summer, remember?"

"Oh, right."

That particular memory was the highlight of our little group's fandom (and poor Linda missed it). We were suburban girls, and had bridge and tunneled our way into Manhattan during the rehearsals of the Pythons' Broadway show (can somebody please remind me what it was called?). We stood in front of the locked doors of the theater (Winter Garden?) trying to devise a way to sneak in, when we saw a delivery boy try the doors and then head for the side entrance. We followed him right in.

Ballsy little chicks that we were, we parked ourselves right behind Terry Jones and Terry Gillian, who were shouting directions to the folks on stage setting up the scenery. We struck up a conversation, and eventually they asked if we wanted to go across the street for a beer. We cleared our schedules and joined them. Of course, we were underage, so we had to have sodas instead of beers, but we felt terribly grownup.

Several years later, I wound up spending a college semester in London. Somehow, I got Terry Jones's home telephone number (how did I manage that?), and called him on some pretense that escapes me. I know that it resulted in an invitation to a pre-release private screening of "Life of Brian," and later to a dinner invitation at his home, where I joined him and his wife (Allison?) and a friend who, as I recall, was "an American writer chap" who had once interviewed John Lennon for Rolling Stone.

More interesting than all these memories--and a topic we didn't get around to discussing at our reunion brunch--was why we seized on the Monty Python troupe with such devotion. I know that teenagers latch onto celebrities--usually rock stars--with a kind of idolization you just don't see in adults. Not healthy adults, anyway. I have to believe that hormones play a role in this, as teenagers feel things with an almost pathological intensity. They don't like and dislike, they LOVE and HATE. So I understand that there's no line between a fan and being a rabid fanatic, especially if your friends share the passion. Then it just crescendoes.

But. Why Monty Python? Why not The Grateful Dead or The Doobie Brothers or the Eagles or Bruce Springsteen? What was it about this oddball British comedy show that inspired our worship? They were funny, sure, but there had to be more to it than that. Maybe it was because they weren't a rock group. Perhaps idolizing musicians seemed too normal, too much like something other kids did. We felt so fringe, the four of us. There was no place for us to fit in, except with each other. So maybe we were drawn to Terry, Terry, John, Michael, Graham and Eric because they created a world where you didn't have to fit in. They made oddness king. That was important to us back then. I hope it still is.


Katie said...

Wow. WOW! That is so cool Ellen.

Stephanie said...

People seem obsessed with these guys! Ahem. I mean, I don't know any of these obsessed fans, but, ahem, they might just randomly call one of them.

Truthfully, they're hilarious.

SusanD said...

They're hilarious, and so are you, Ellen. Great story.

BTW, I went to 105 Grateful Dead shows.

Ellen said...

Hi Katie and Steph. It's such a long, odd saga that I almost never talk about it. But it was an interesting few years there in super fandom.

Susan ... 105??? Good gravy. Did you follow them around the country? How old were you?