“We can be heroes, just for one day.”-David Bowie
It is with a great sense of honor that I write this column today to celebrate the life of great entertainer, family man, and all around good guy. George Tombs aka “Rowdy” Roddy Piper’s life was taken away two weeks ago by a heart attack, he was 61. Departing the world too soon, is always hard to understand, especially for his beloved family. However, God knows this answer, and we should not dwell on the loss of a stellar friend, husband, mentor, and citizen. Today let’s celebrate Roddy’s life, his heart, and remember some of the wonderful theatrics that he shared with the world. His verbal skills and antics outside the squared circle were entertaining and beyond reproach just as they were inside of the ring, when he starred in the fun cult classic, They Live (1988).
John Nada (get it? Zero-plays into the theme), Roddy Piper of Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988), arrives in Los Angeles ala John Rambo or Clint Eastwood style—whatever your take is, looking for work. Nada lands a construction gig seeking security and normalcy to his nomadic lifestyle, when he befriends Frank, Keith David of Platoon (1986). Frank and Nada head to a shantytown soup kitchen for some down home cooking. Before you know it, Nada notices peculiar activity at the church across the street from the soup kitchen. A boisterous blind preacher is heard spreading the word blaring from speakers, Raymond St. Jacques of The Green Berets (1968), while helicopters fly over, and complaints of TV signals being jammed are discussed by locals. An odd scene for Nada, he ventures over to investigate finding the church is a in fact a front for some suspicious operation, stocked with audio recordings, high tech equipment, and a ton of cardboard boxes.
Nada discovers a weird box concealed in a wall and abandons it when the preacher finds him trespassing. Nada, determined to discover the secret inside the box, returns the next morning to the church finding shantytown in mounds of rubble after a forceful police intervention on the inhabitants the night before. Luckily the mysterious box was left unscathed, and Nada finds dozens of sunglasses before lifting one, as his future is so bright that he has to wear shades, before hiding the box.
Nada puts on the sunglasses, ready to start to his sunny L.A. day, seeing the world in black and white, with his surrounding reality to be a lot different than when he takes them off. Totalitarian commands stemmed from capitalistic ideals, such as “Obey,” “Consume,” and “Conform,” are just some of the frightening messages Nada sees throughout the city on billboards, newspapers, and any other spaces advertisers usually pimp their product at.
Individuals who are in positions of authority, establishment, or flaunt signs of affluence appear as blend of skeleton aliens with bad toupees. Before you know it, Nada realizes that he is surrounded by monsters (the right), makes his awareness known, and becomes Public Enemy No. 1 (he’s the left) to the system, because he KNOWS. On the run, Nada kills alien cops as they try to apprehend him, goes on a shooting spree to ward off the threat, is tracked by alien drones (sound familiar?), and takes a hostage, Holly, Meg Foster of The Lords of Salem (2012). Side note: Meg Foster’s piercing blue eyes have always scared me a bit, I believe she may indeed be an alien.
Nada and Holly are holed up at her hill-top home away from the law, when he begins to suffer bad headaches due to prolonged use of the sunglasses. Nada tries to convince Holly of the truth, but it falls on deaf ears, and he falls hard as Holly pushes our hero out the window sending him down the steep decline sans his glasses. Luckily, Nada stashed the rest of the sunglasses, returning to get some backup shades to aid in his quest for the truth as he grapples with reality.
Nada meets up with Frank to convince him of the TRUTH only to be followed by a memorable, long street fight (over 5 minutes) that is more exciting than John Wayne’s brouhaha in The Quiet Man (1952). This fight (which was in fact real, minus the blows to the face and groin), has gone on to inspire South Park: Cripple Fight (2001), various dedicated websites and blogs just for the bare-knuckled beat down, and a slew of other film/TV productions. Frank finally has the TRUTH beat into him, and our tag team of totalitarian terror, take action by joining forces with a small group of activists armed with awareness and ammo to revolt against the system.
They Live was directed by John Carpenter of Christine (1983), with a script penned by Carpenter under the pseudonym, “Frank Armitage”, as a nod to H.P. Lovecraft’s, The Dunwich Horror. They Live was inspired by Ray Nelson’s short story, “Eight O’Clock in the Morning,” which appeared in November 1963 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Filmed on a meager budget of 4 million in 2 months, released that same year, They Live has gone on to become a popular cult classic flick since its initial release accumulating a loyal fanbase in the past 27 years.
They Live is the perfect mashup of comedy, action, sci-fi/horror, social satire, and western. The dialogue is memorable and the 80s action one liners are a blast to hear. There are serious themes addressed throughout, primarily the evils that lurk in our society to include mass consumerism, blind faith in our government, greed associated with capitalism, and the loss of free thought. If you are an aware individual, you can feel how personal this film was to Carpenter as he was now in his 40s during production, and dealing with the frustration, angst, and hopelessness of 80s America and Reganomics.
These social issues have always been cussed & discussed, and they always will be until we depart this floating rock. The grim reality of it all in our journey towards achieving the promised “American Dream,” is that it stays the same, only the names have changed. If you haven’t seen They Live yet, STOP what you’re doing and WATCH it now. You won’t be disappointed. If you are disappointed, maybe the message hits too close to home for you as you may be one of the “aliens.”
Even though “Rowdy” Roddy Piper may be gone, his memory will live on in all of us forever. If death is hard for you to chew on, just tell yourself that Piper will be back soon, he just ran out of the store because he… “was all out of bubblegum.”
Check out the They Live Trailer
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- Rick Baldwin is a writer, filmmaker, film/music historian, and can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rick.baldwin.568
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