“Why, this car is Auto-matic. Its System-matic. Its Hyyyyydro-matic. Why, its Greased Lightning!” That’s right, last nights Throwback Thursday… Er… Throwback Tuesday? Well, Throwback movie at Essex Cinema was 1978’s mega musical spectacular Grease. I could lie right now and tell you that I was dragged there kicking and screaming by my wife as a Valentine’s Day date, but that’s what I’d be doing, lying. Believe it or not, the fact is that I, Travis J. Kehoe, was excited to see Grease on the T-Rex’s big screen. Shocking? Well, probably not if you really knew me. You see, it all happened back in middle school…
“Summer lovin’ having a blast… Summer lovin’ happened so fast…” I don’t remember the exact date or even who performed the lip-sync, but I do remember falling in love with the image of the tough guys in motorcycle jackets and girls in poodle skirts before I even understood that the song being performed was called “Sumer Nights” and was from a movie version of a musical called Grease. I was in middle school and unfortunately at that awkward age where you decided that you must suppress everything that makes you unique in order to be “cool.” One of the things I loved at the time was lip-syncing. My younger brother and I (he might kill me for this) used to lip-sync together all the time to the Soundtrack of Stand by Me. And the previous summer I almost won a lip-sync contest hosted by the Summer Program I attended with my rendition of Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” (to this day I still have most of the lyrics memorized). But things were different now. I mean, this was middle school and lip-syncing was for babies. So I sat there with a group of my friends heckling the kids that were brave enough to still have fun. That is until the first beats of “Summer Nights” played and the guys came out dressed in the greaser gear and the girls came twirling out in their poodle skirts. My eyes were transfixed as a sea of 50’s retro style crashed down on our school’s tiny cafeteria stage transforming it into Rydell High School. Everything else went quiet as I first learned of Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsen’s unfinished summer romance; I was speechless. The music stopped and before I could control myself I, to the horror of my peer group, was clapping ecstatically. As I slowly came to my senses I’m sure I tried to play off my new infatuation as sarcastic revelry, but the seed had been planted.
Fast-Forward to a few years later and I had cast off the awkwardness of middle school and embraced the complexities of High School. My younger brother, being six years younger than me, was still at an age when none of the social pressures had really bothered him yet and also at an age when he discovered Grease for the first time. To my secret delight, my brother being into Grease meant I for the first time had access to the Grease Soundtrack, something at the time I would’ve denied listening to even at the threat of torture (I know, why did I care some much?). But listen to it I did, further cementing the crooning of John Travolta and the siren song of Olivia Newton-John in my brain. My mother actually brought my brother to see Grease live at the Flynn Theater but I couldn’t go to that - that would’ve admitted my secret shame, that I liked musicals, and I was way too cool for that (dumb!).
Fast-forward to several years later and several unrequited summer romances and I was sitting on the couch of one of my biggest high school crushes. We were still in the awkward stage of dating; where we were still learning little bits and pieces about each other but still didn’t have the whole story. You know, the magical time before one of you actually farts? Ah, the innocence of a young love. Flipping through the channels I stopped on TBS to see what movie they were playing. We made small talk during the commercial break and when the movie came back on it was Grease. Instinctually I raised my hand with the remote to change the channel. I mean, this girl didn’t really know me yet, she only knew the facts that surrounded me: I was in the military, I had been in a band in high school and I was attending Film School now. She had no idea that under this tough guy exterior (so I’ve been told, I don’t see it) was the heart of a musical theater geek. I guess I must’ve hesitated just long enough before switching the channel because before I knew it, she was asking me what movie this was. I had two choices: retreat into my usually “cool” guy mode and feign ignorance or tell her the truth - it was an awesome musical about high school love in a fictional 50’s California landscape. I chose the latter of the two and this became the first time I got to enjoy Grease with my wife.
And one last time, fast-forward almost ten years later and we were looking to make Valentine’s Day plans. I wouldn’t ever say that my wife and I are not romantic, but I would say that that our romance isn’t a traditional one. Our movie, if I had to name one, would be True Romance, which if you haven’t seen first of all please go watch it now, but then understand despite its misleading title it’s not exactly your traditional sweetheart movie. It’s actually a Tony Scott film and one of Quentin Tarantino’s earliest scripts and if that doesn’t tell you enough it’s full of blood, guns and drugs; not your typical romance story. Our idea of a romantic evening involves Taco Bell not Filet Mignon, and maybe splitting a six-pack of beer instead of a bottle of wine (although lately it’s been more Martini’s than beer, thanks for classing us up sweetie). But when I heard that Grease was playing at Essex Cinema as a special Throwback Thursday presentation, it was time to finally let my guard down and to ask my special someone if she’d accompany me on a retro movie date.
Watching Grease on the big screen hand and hand with my Valentine was a treat. You could hear the laughter of the rest of the audience reverberating off the walls but even cooler was the audience participation as their favorite songs played. I can’t say it broke into full sing-a-long mode, but I can say it was a hell of a lot of fun. Watching Grease with my wife and friends (it was like a double date just bigger, okay) was awesome but I felt a little of that middle school self-censorship creeping back in as I sat next to my partner in crime, Covino. His wife, like me, or most likely even more than me, loves Grease; Covino was a hostage being dragged along for the ride. He and I don’t seem to like a lot of the same things, but we do agree on the things that matter most and I think that’s what makes us great friends. I will mention in a sidebar that his wife Jenn and I were friends before he and I were, even though we attended Burlington College together. But that is a whole other story, and a whole other movie. My point being, watching Jenn enjoy Grease was more than enough to once again quiet the awkward middle schooler inside of me and allow me to enjoy the movie hand in hand with my sweetheart, who by the way is much more comfortable in her skin. I guess even at 31 I’m still fighting to suppress the demons that tell me not to celebrate being me, and just have fun. But that’s why it’s nice to have a Valentines date that really gets me, and reminds me that: “We go together like ramma lamma lamma ka dinga da dinga dong. Remember forever as shoo-bop sha whada whadda yippidy boom da boom. Chang chang changity chang shoo bop that’s the way it should be… Waooo! Yeah!”