I don’t think my hometown of Radcliffe, North Manchester has ever recovered from Rocky 4 (released in 1985). From the down-at-heel boxing gym to the down-at-heel pubs, it made a lasting and deep-rooted impression on the men and boys – of all ages.
It seemed to solidify certain unhinged personalities – that toxic timeless mix of the brutal and sentimental. It seemed also to engender and legitimise their aggression, and their fiercely fashionable taste in tracksuits and trashy music.
My older brother told me he followed a mate of his to the local barbers, picture of Dolph Lundgren with his flattop hair-do ripped from the well-thumbed pages of his Rocky 4 film magazine clasped in his teenage hand, and asked for the same. He didn’t quite get the same. In the same way that most of the male population of Radcliffe didn’t quite get the same Stallone look. But they all tried.
He also told me that one of the senior boxers at the gym he went to came in one summer afternoon, carrying a ghetto blaster. Within minutes, the Rocky 4 soundtrack was seeping into the damp walls of the knackered gym, tattooing it’s simple sentiments into the open minds of the keen – and not-so-keen - few who chose to skip and spar in ragged unison every Tuesday and Thursday evening, after school or work.
Most of the male population of Radcliffe didn’t quite get the same Stallone look. But they all tried.
Anybody lucky enough to be walking to the train station would have heard it, blasting out, invading the slow summer night: the sound of Rocky 4 fever. Each male body in the gym buoyed by it’s magical presence. Some kind of holy racket, imbuing their souls with a much-needed leg-up.
Shortly afterwards, word got round that free tickets were being given away in the Daily Star newspaper. My brother and his fellow flattop mate collected and trousered the necessary tokens in their (sausage) skin-tight Farah’s, then duly swanned off to Manchester after school, on the train, to go and pick the (golden) tickets up from the Odeon Cinema. Not a prayer. Fellow (fictionalised) fight fans had snapped them all up; locals who didn’t have to endure the pissy whiff of the old train to get their Rocky 4 fix.
They eventually got to see it at The Mayfair in Whitefield: our local cinema. It was jam-packed. They went again a couple of weeks later. Rocky was written in their veins at this stage.
His immense influence was beginning to spread far and wide throughout the old industrial town of Radcliffe; out and away, beyond the stagnant waves of the mossy canal, where pram skeletons and stray (single) shoes gathered and settled, behind the septic fields, past the luckless shops that seemed to slump with their own disaffection, through the bent railings painted corporation green, into the workplaces and bedrooms of all the male inhabitants of this fucked-up place.
In the pubs men dressed like Rocky (in bright white BOSS sweat shirts), swaggered like Rocky. The girlfriends and wives of each these individual Rocky’s seemed enraptured with the transformation. The menfolk seemed more possessed than obsessed with the Italian Stallion. Here was hero-worship – celebrity idolatry - in all it’s warped and indelible incarnations. The town – my town, my shitty hometown – was being taken over by Stallone clones.
I wonder how they’ll ever move on - how their eyes will stop seeing 1985; how certain bodies – certain families - will ever rid their bodies of the spirit of Stallone.
Then came the day I got to see it, years after the event, on VHS. My mum and sister had absconded to Blackpool after another row with my dad had gone-off in all manner of directions. My dad chose Rocky 4 as an emotional plaster. But would we get a copy? This is all I could think of as my brother’s traipsed to the video shop. Would there be a copy left for us?
I needn’t have worried so much. They had plenty. And so we all sat round – all four males of the family – and watched Rocky do his dogged bit for the Cold War.
Watching it again, the other night on ITV4, for the umpteenth time, I realised that a small significant part of me remains suspended in that position, that time almost; locked in awe and excitement as I finally clapped eyes on this phenomena.
I also think parts of Radcliffe – large emotionally incurable gulfs of Radcliffe in fact – have receded there too, only for all the wrong reasons. I wonder how they’ll ever move on - how their eyes will stop seeing 1985; how certain bodies – certain families - will ever rid their bodies of the spirit of Stallone.
I may have wisely fled the place at the age of 19, but the peculiar unease it has instilled in me is uncanny – in all the MR James and Hammer Horror sense of the word. I can only guess, and hope, that’s the story of most hometowns that linger in the system like the ghosts of tomorrow.
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