Transcript

268:

My Experimental Phase
Transcript

Originally aired 06.25.2004

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/268

Prologue.

Ira Glass

How exactly is it that a person who is not gay comes to believe, really believe, that they are gay for two years? Well, one of the contributing editors to this very radio program, Nancy Updike, had that experience herself. And she says, she did not just turn itself into any kind of gay person, no, no no. In her case, it was total, complete, full-hearted unambiguous commitment.

Nancy Updike

Completely completely and utterly. I worked at a gay newspaper. I only hung out with gay people. In my spare time, I read about gay history. I dressed like a dyke. You know me now as kind of a femmy person.

Ira Glass

Yeah, kind of a very femmy person.

Nancy Updike

Yeah. I cut my hair short. And I didn't wear any makeup. And I sort of dressed to hide my body. I had male friends that I called Mary.

Ira Glass

And so was there any kind of limit to your gayness?

Nancy Updike

Yeah. The limit was that I really kind of couldn't bring myself to actually sleep with women.

Ira Glass

So that's seems like that would be kind of a problem.

Nancy Updike

It was. It was. I mean, at the time, it was sort of like, well, I'm in this difficult transition. And I'm sure I'm just about to do that. You know, it's like, yeah, yeah, I'll get to that. You know, it was like a loose end I hadn't tied up yet. It's like that squeaky door to the shed. You keep meaning to fix it. And every weekend it's like, I guess I forgot to fix the squeaky door. I mean, I just didn't want to. I just didn't want to.

Ira Glass

So how does somebody who feels that way come to think that they're gay in the first place? When Nancy had just gotten out of college, she moved into the city. Her parents were going through a bitter divorce. All her college relationships with boys had been disasters. That's how it felt at the time anyway.

Nancy Updike

I was really unhappy. And I felt that this must be the explanation. I can't make these relationships work. They seem so awful. Part of what was awful is that I never trusted them. All my close friends are women. And I love my women friends. And it just seemed like sort of a short leap to like well, maybe I'm in love. Maybe that's what's going on. Maybe that's the problem.

Ira Glass

Right, you had heard stories about people like you where their relationships hadn't worked out and they were unhappy all the time. And it turns out they were gay. That was the problem.

Nancy Updike

Yeah. Yeah. And it's like a snowball rolling downhill. Once you get the ball started you start to accumulate evidence in your mind that that's in fact the case. Remember that little friend you had in fourth grade, well maybe you loved her. You guys were so close. And maybe the fact that you like to wear pants, well that's part of it. You were a little butch. You liked to wear pants in high school when other girls liked to wear skirts.

You really start to-- or at least I did-- really start to sort of put everything together to make that the story. Because I really, really, really wanted to believe this story.

Ira Glass

Do you remember the first step you took?

Nancy Updike

Oh, well the very first step was probably breaking up with my boyfriend. But the step after that, I joined a lesbian feminist reading group. And it was just like history, herstory, and humanity, and huwomanity. I mean, I knew at the time this is not helping me.

Ira Glass

So for two years, this is how it went. Nancy was a reporter for the Philadelphia Gay News. She thought of herself as gay. Gay men and women would talk about how they grew up feeling like they were so different from their families, biding their time until they could leave home and be themselves. And Nancy felt like that was her story too. It had her story, except for the gay part.

Nancy had never wanted to marry or have kids. And she loved that now she was surrounded by people who didn't want to marry or have kids. After a while, she did start to go out with a woman. But it was awkward and it was terrible. And reality started to set in. Little things would happen that would make her question what she was doing.

One day one of her coworkers, a gay man, was heading out of the office for lunch.

Nancy Updike

He came up behind me and he started rubbing my back, giving me a shoulder rub. It was kind of like the plug in the socket. It was just electric. It was the first time I had been touched on my skin by a man in a couple of years. In my head, I was just like Nancy, you've got to give this up.

Ira Glass

Within a week, she started going around to people she knew. She'd already come out as a homosexual to family and to friends, which is a tough thing for anybody to do. And now, incredibly, she had to come out again as straight, which is even harder because she was so embarrassed. And it was hard not being part of a group anymore.

Nancy Updike

I felt so sad to leave that. I felt alone. I felt like, you know, I'm really on my own.

Ira Glass

From WBEZ Chicago, It's This American Life distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our program, My Experimental Phase, stories of people who are very unhappy who decide to become somebody different, and love being somebody different, and then have to choose whether to go back to being the person they once were.

Act One of our program, Funny, You Don't Look Jewish. In that act, a man who's living essentially like a very devout, 19th century Polish villager, jumps forward two centuries, starts watching TV, and changes very, very fast. Act Two, Miami Vices. In that act, a middle school students switches schools and tries out an entirely new personality. Stay with us.

Act One. That's Funny, You Don't Look Jewish.

Ira Glass

Act One, That's Funny, You Don't Look Jewish. This story takes place in Williamsburg, a neighborhood in Brooklyn where different worlds collide, or at least wearily orbit around each other. There's hipster Williamsburg, which is filled with galleries, and studios, and restaurants, and night spots, and lots of aspiring artists and musicians. And then there's Hasidic Williamsburg, which is pretty much stuck in the 19th century.

You've probably at least seen pictures of the Hasids at one point or another. These are the religious Jews who shun just about everything modern. The women all wear long dresses, most of them wear wigs. All the men wear identical black suits, white shirts, black hats, and they have that hair thing, you may have noticed, something called payes, the long curls that fall near their sideburns down their face in front of the ears.

These two Williamsburgs don't interact much. They hardly even acknowledge each other except on very rare occasions. David Segal is a staff writer and the former rock critic at the Washington Post. And he tells the story of one of those occasions.

David Segal

It's hard to imagine this about a group of people living one subway stop from Manhattan. But the Hasids of Williamsburg know next to nothing about the world outside their enclave. And that's the way they want it. The bible, they say, tells them to keep separate from everyone else, to build boundaries that are as thick as possible. Their outfits are meant to set them apart. And then there's the language barrier. Though nearly all of these people are born and raised here in the US, Yiddish is the only language most of them truly know.

Chaim

None of us know English. We don't talk English at home. We study English class one hour a day.

David Segal

This is Chaim. He didn't want us to mention his last name, for good reasons as you'll find out later.

Chaim

Boys and girls are completely divided. There's no movies. We don't know anything about the world. We don't know any celebrities.

David Segal

Had you heard of MTV?

Chaim

Not even close. We didn't even know radio. We never heard radio, not even AM. You know what I mean?

David Segal

So if someone had mentioned the Rolling Stones, or U2, or other rock bands, you would not have recognized those names?

Chaim

Rolling Stones, I would think it's something that injured somebody. I wouldn't know what Rolling Stones mean.

David Segal

At the time this story begins, one night, years ago, Chaim is 20 and single, which in the Hasidic community, is a problem. The problem though, has a highly ritualized solution. Through matchmakers, the groom-to-be is sent on what sounds more like a job interview than a date. The guy meets the father of the potential bride and he peppers the young man with questions. If the father likes the answers, the guy meets the daughter. And after a brief meeting or two, the pair decide whether to marry.

Well, Chaim has been on a few these outings. And he kept flunking the father interview. On the night in quesiton, his would have been father-in-law asked Chaim if he would stay in school, in yeshiva and study full time. It would be prestigious having a scholar in the family. But Chaim had told him the truth, that yeshiva didn't interest him much. When he was rejected, not for the first time, his family thought he'd screwed up again.

Chaim

When I got home, everybody was telling me, why didn't you tell them at least that you would? Then you don't have to do it. Everybody was on me. And I was not very happy because most of us go at the age of 18, 19, 20, 21. Most of my friends were married already. Some of them had kids. I felt like the blame was on me why I am not married or something like that.

David Segal

Now to understand what happens next, you have to know that Chaim was the Hasidic version of a rebellious teen. He snuck away to watch an American movie or two, and had recently become a baseball fan. And on a few occasions when he felt especially hassled by his family, he headed to a bar for a beer, which is what he did this evening. A local bar, called the Right Bank where a man named Billy Campion happened to be performing.

Billy was jumping up and down on the bar like a gorilla in a cage bellowing at the top of his lungs playing a guitar. Chaim watched and he was amazed.

Chaim

It was just loose. It was just, you know, fly. Everything was rocking. He was performing while he was jumping on chairs and throwing all kinds of stuff. It was cool to see how somebody was so free. And that's exactly what I wanted. I was so tight at that time. I wanted to get loose a little bit.

Billy Campion

So during the break, I see this very tall, Hasidic guy sitting at the bar, smoking a cigarette, drinking a beer, and watching the baseball game.

David Segal

This is Billy Campion, known to the world and indie music fans as Vic Thrill. On the night that he was pogoing on the bar, Billy lived a few blocks and several centuries away from Chaim in the other Williamsburg. Billy wears space glasses and secondhand tuxedos, and his hair is spot dyed a different color every couple weeks. But he's one of these guys who greets everyone on his block by name, from other scenesters, to cashiers who worked for bodegas. So it's bugged him for years that there's this huge population in his neighborhood, the Hasids, whom he knew nothing about and never spoke to. And a few weeks prior to the show at the Right Bank, he decided to do something about it.

Billy Campion

I actually asked God if he would introduce me to a Hasidic Jew that wouldn't mind showing me about the culture. I wanted to relate, you know what I mean, to people who seemed so different.

David Segal

You actually prayed to God about this?

Billy Campion

Yeah. I was standing in my place looking out my window. It faces south towards the Hasidic community. And I thought to myself, well, I need to bounce it off a satellite, you know what I mean, to get it over the top of the neighborhood. I figured I had to come in from above to get in there.

David Segal

The night at the bar, though, Billy wasn't really thinking about any of that. He just spotted Chaim and introduced himself.

Billy Campion

So I started talking to him. And I didn't realize this is a godsend yet, you know. And I was like, how's it going? He's like hey, nice music. And I was like, thanks a lot man. I was like, you really liked it? I was surprised, you know?

Chaim

I used to also make music, so you know, Hasidic songs. So when I saw Billy that night, I felt like OK, now I have a connection. There was never a Hasid that ever became a rocker.

Billy Campion

I was like, I have a recording studio up the street. I would love to have you by some time, you know, if you really want to get these recordings down in a quality way. And he's like, oh, maybe I'll take you up on it. So I gave him my phone number and I forgot about it.

Chaim

My fans didn't really show, I didn't feel, appreciation from my songs. My father never gives me a compliment. He doesn't even know how to take one. He's a very nice guy, my father. But he just doesn't know how to give a compliment. So when I had somebody that I was able to talk to, you know, I was totally for it, for him. And the first chance that I had to come to the studio, I snuck in here I was here.

Billy Campion

I got a phone call one day. He said yeah, hello. And I was like, hi. He was like, this is Chaim. We met down at the bar the other night. I wanted to come check out your studio. So I was like, I would love that. You know what I mean? And he came here and next thing you know, he didn't leave for a year and a half.

David Segal

The here that Billy's talking about is a converted industrial garage, which served as the apartment, recording studio, prop warehouse, and party headquarters for Billy and a group of his friends. They called it the Vic Thrill Salon. It's here that Vic Thrill's musical debut, CE-5 was recorded. And if I can editorialize for a moment, it's really superb, one of the best albums of 2003. Sci-fi pop with lots of hooks, deadpan humor. Like Devo, but a little more raw.

[VIC THRILL MUSIC PLAYING]

The Vic Thrill's Salon is sort of a thrift store version of Andy Warhol's factory. In any given moment, musicians with names like Trance Pop Loops or Saturn Missile could be jamming on the couch. People's with video cameras came and went. Rock and roll manager named Mary Mayhem who dealt cocaine from her purse was a regular. Into this chaos walked Chaim wearing a buttoned up black suit and a rabbinical beard. If he'd been searching for the polar opposite of his Hasidic life, he couldn't have done better. But what intrigued him the most, was something found in about just any den in the US. It was the television.

Billy Campion

He watched everything, everything from like cheesy Aaron Spelling shows to like five straight hours of MTV.

Chaim

I would be able stay there about five hours or more. I would sit here. I was a heavy smoker. I was there for hours just watching, soaking in television.

David Segal

His favorite channel, of all the channels he watched, was MTV because of the years he'd spent writing songs in his spare time. His stuff was mostly biblical prayers set to melodies he made up, sort of like this, his rendering, in Hebrew, of the 23rd Psalm.

[CHAIM SINGING]

MTV caused Chaim to give up the Old Testament as a muse and starting writing pop in English. But the guy was the cultural equivalent of an unfrozen caveman. Everything was new. Nothing had context. You take someone like that and expose him to daily and lethal doses of music television, something strange is bound to happen.

Billy Campion

He would not differentiate between Britney Spears and Eminem. He just thought music. Like that's good. That's not good. I like that. I don't like that. He didn't yet know anything about genres or what kind of demographic is into that. He just didn't care. So he was writing music that went from like very sensitive love songs about the show Pacific Blue.

[SINGING] Midnight blue, you're so sweet when you come true. Pacific Blue.

Chaim

I had this one song. It goes like this. [SINGING] When I wrap my arms around you I feel your heartbeat. It's a time bomb to explode. Love is the ammunition. Sparkle, sparkle, beautiful eyes. Twinkle, twinkle beautiful lips. Warm me, warm me, beautiful body. Oh you're such a hottie. The meal is being served, but you know what's being observed. A little touching under the table, whoa, who needs cable?

Billy Campion

And a lot of the stuff doesn't make sense like Welcome to the Millennium. [SINGING] And heals our wounds. A happiness, I never pretend.

Like, stuff wouldn't make sense.

Chaim

The problem was that my lyrics, usually when I did write, because my vocabulary was so small and my English was so poor, it was funny.

Billy Campion

Like any kid who discovers music for the first time, this guy was blossoming at such an incredible rate of creativity, the most prolific being you've ever seen your life. And he's saying to me, he's like, you know, I'm on my way to Yeshiva and I'm singing these melodies on the sidewalk. And I have these melodies. And I have these good verbal ideas. But I go into Yeshiva and I start the class and I forget them And I just need a way to remember these things.

So I said, well, it would be good if you had like a portable cassette player or something like that. But he wasn't going to have one anytime soon. And his allowance is small. So I was like, you know what I do in a jam, I call my answering machine. And he heard that, man, and that was the solution right there. And he was like, oh, that's a good idea.

Well I find that he doesn't have an answering machine. But, of course, I do.

[ANSWERING MACHINE VOICE] Message one.

Chaim

[SINGING] Got no time, got no time to do it. Got no time, got no time, got no time to do it.

Billy Campion

It got to the point where I couldn't even check my own messages anymore because he was filling my answering machine with new song ideas from pay phones all over the city. Here's trucks whizzing by in the background. This guy is like [UNINTELLIGIBLE]. That's the keyboard line for the second verse of Midnight Blue. And then he hangs up the phone.

[ANSWERING MACHINE VOICE] Message six.

Chaim

[SINGING] She comes from nowhere. [UNINTELLIGIBLE PHRASE].

Billy Campion

I had become aggravated by him. Because he was coming around every day for no less than six hours a day and watching TV. I said, if I didn't have a TV, would you be coming over here? Is it my friendship that you're totally looking for or are you looking to watch some tube here. All right, all right, I've got to admit it. A TV, I'm addicted. I'm definitely addicted to the television and I need to do something about it.

And he had been pestering me to write music with him. And I kept putting him off and putting him off. This guy's a pain in the ass, whatever. And then it dawned on me. That's when I said, I was like, this is the moment. Yes, I'll definitely write some music with you. And I wanted to make it as easy as I could on myself. I just grabbed my guitar. I said, sing some of those lines to me there.

Welcome to the Millennium was the first song that we ever wrote together. And I said, sing the first verse to me. So he's like, OK, here's the first verse. The verse is: [SINGING] Here comes the night. There is no lights. It's so dark it looks like the end. A cold wind blows. A scary noise. A situation I'd never pretend.

So I was like, OK, that's the first verse. So is that, [SINGING WITH GUITAR] Here comes the night. There is no light. It looks like the sun came down to earth.

So I just like put chords like directly to the vocal line. And this is like how I proceeded from that point on. [SINGING WITH GUITAR] A cold wind blows. A scary noise. A situation, I'd never pretend. Welcome to the Millennium. [UNINTELLIGIBLE PHRASE] for the Millennium. [UNINTELLIGIBLE PHRASE]

Billy Campion

So that's what was happening. And then finally I had to start booking shows.

Billy Campion

The first gig that I got him, the first gig was at this place Joe's Pub, which is like a high profile joint. It's like what I would consider to be like a double velvet rope affair. I mean, you have to be somebody to get into the place.

I mean there's like James Iha, the guitarist from Smashing Pumpkins, standing on line with some kind of supermodel. These are the kind of people that are standing on line to get in.

David Segal

On the night the performance, Vic and the band headed onstage in their regular, outlandish gear. Chaim is dressed in traditional Hasid clothes, black pants, white shirt, yarmulke. He was introduced at the craziest Jew since Goldberg, the professional wrestling star.

Billy Campion

I felt like that scene in Young Frankenstein. Ladies and gentlemen, the monster. And then this guy comes out on stage. That's what it was like. He came out on stage. People were just like, what the hell is this?

His performance was like a mixture between Eminem or Snoop Dogg, you know like pointing in people's faces, just the most demonstrative hand gestures you've ever seen in your life. And then throwing kicks up in the air like a Hasidic wedding. He's mixing like this Jewish dancing with what he's seen on MTV.

And it was so over the top. At first people were like a dog that had just been shown a card trick. Like people were baffled. And then all of a sudden, I was like, ladies and gentlemen, this is a real Hasidic man. And then the place just out of their seats hit the dance floor and went ballistic. They loved it. They flipped. And he became like an instant star. He was like this underground star.

Ira Glass

Coming up, putting the Sabbath back into Black Sabbath. The life of an underground Hasidic glam rock star, that's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International when our program continues.

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose some theme, bring you a variety of different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's program, My Experimental Phase, stories of people who take on a new identity as a lark and then start to face some serious choices.

David Segal's story about Chaim continues. A warning that they mentioned the existence of sex in a general way in what's about to follow. The story at this point, by day, Chaim was a typical young Hasid living with his parents. By night, he was on the rock scene, the underground rock scene. Here's David

David Segal

A typical day went like this. He'd get up in the morning, tell his mom and dad he was going to yeshiva, cut class, and head to Billy's. He'd watch TV, eat, talk, hang out, watch more TV, go home for dinner. Then on nights when he was performing, he'd head out again, this time with his concert outfit tucked into a bag.

Billy Campion

He was really getting into the costumery of what we were doing. So the only costumery he had was Purim clothes, which is, you know, the Jewish Halloween basically. They get all dressed up. And so he had all of his Purim clothes. So that became his gig outfits, like this gold sequined cape with gold tinsel. This big almost like Hebrew Flavor Flav style necklace. It was like superman style. He would show up Hasidic with a little bag or something like that. And then he would go into the bathroom and just transform.

He said to me, I need a name. You guys got a name. You're Vic Thrill, you got Saturn Missile. Everybody needs a name. So I was thinking about maybe I should have one. I said, that's cool. Have you thought of anything. I thought of a couple. I got this one. I got this one that sounds kind of cool. I was like, what's that? He says, Curly Oxide.

Chaim

Curly Oxide. It came in to me. You know I have payes, curls, curly. And then I wanted something like edgy. From what I've seen, the culture of music has to be some sort of a little edgy. Oxide came into me. I don't know why. So, Curly Oxide.

Billy Campion

And I go, that's great. I played down my reaction. That's great, man. That's great. Why is it great? He was like already suspicious. Hasids are suspicious, man. They look right through you. Why is that great? He said, what does it mean? Well curly, you know. Yeah, I know what curly means. I got the payes. What about oxide? Oxide, oxide is rust. It's like on metal. If you leave it out in the rain, it turns orange. I don't know if I like that.

Oxide is oxidation. It's about something undergoing change, a transformation from one thing into another thing. I like that. I like the sound of that. Because I'm undergoing a transformation. I am undergoing a transformation into Curly Oxide.

Rock Club Announcer

Ladies and gentlemen, Curly Oxide.

[CURLY OXIDE MUSIC PLAYING]

David Segal

So then you began performing pretty regularly with him? Did he get a reputation? Did people find out about him?

Billy Campion

Oh yeah, yeah. He would perform then regularly down at the Right Bank. And then we would have him come up and play for the bigger Vic Thrill shows, Mercury Lounge, Bowery Ballroom, the WestBeth Theater when that was still around. And people loved it.

[CURLY OXIDE MUSIC PLAYING]

David Segal

This is Curly Oxide on a typical night at the Right Bank in a video recorded for the Vic Thrill Salon. The Right Bank is a cramped little club without a stage. The crowd gawks and dances. And Curly holds the microphone with both hands like someone's going to try to steal it from him.

On nights like this, women occasionally threw their underwear at him. He had a song at a club jukebox. He'd become a local phenomenon. He stood out and at the same time began to fit in.

Billy Campion

I witnessed an accelerated adolescence with this guy. In the course of a year and a half, I watched the guy go from 13 to 20 years old.

Chaim

Deep inside a lot of people have, I would call, the beast of within. When you see sometimes people get drunk [UNINTELLIGIBLE], there's a moment that now they can be what they really want to be and nobody will accuse them of being that image. They would just do it. They would just be like crazy and throwing stuff. I would be insane. I would like doing certain sounds and stuff and dancing. I felt like doing whatever I intend on doing and nobody can stop me, and being appreciated for it.

David Segal

Was it satisfying?

Chaim

Absolutely. Hell yeah.

Billy Campion

He inspired everybody. He lit a fire under everybody's ass in this place. He was so unafraid. And I think you envied that. He hadn't been told yet that he was going too far in any way. And I think that a lot of people over the course of their lives, if you started at 13 years old, you may have been burned by some extremes here and there. And he hadn't been. And these are all little horses that we fail to get back on when we've been hurt. And he hadn't experienced that yet. And it definitely caused me to get back on some horses and not be so embarrassed and self conscious about the way I performed.

David Segal

But the life of a Hasidic rocker has some built-in complications. Chaim dreamed about singing Welcome to the Millennium for a crowd of millions in Times Square on New Year's Eve of 2000. But he dropped that plan when he realized the date fell on the Sabbath when work was out of the question.

For a while, for more than a year in fact, he nurtured Curly Oxide. But he was a Hasid too. And he knew he couldn't be both people for very long. He began dropping hints to his parents about his secret life. And he got sloppy about concealing the evidence of his alter ego. His mother found lyrics in English that he left lying around. His father found a fan letter in the pocket of his pants. Plus he was coming home later and later, 3:00, 4:00, 5:00 in the morning. Sometimes his parents would be up waiting for him, distraught.

Chaim

My parents were like, you're killing me. You make me have a heart attack. It's not good for you. You're going to regret it. They tried to talk because they knew they couldn't go on in a strict way. Because they knew that any strict thing then do, I'm out. My dad wouldn't say anything. I would just dump myself into the bed. It would bother me. What am I doing. I would try to turn them off against those feelings. [UNINTELLIGIBLE PHRASE].

Billy Campion

I started to actually get phone calls here. I had caller ID and I saw his last name on it. And he was here. And I was like, wow. I guess it's just started. Because I've seen Hasids go down to the Right Bank and pull Hasids out of there saying, you shouldn't be in there. And then argue with the people in there, non-Hasidic people arguing on behalf of the guy who was in there. And they say, you stay out of this. Stay out of this. This is none of your business. And I felt like, uh oh, this is about to happen with me.

David Segal

Chaim's parents never confronted Vic. But they weren't about to lose their son without a fight. They began a massive hunt to find Chaim a wife as quickly as possible. They called everyone they knew, took recommendations from relatives. They networked with matchmakers.

But Chaim was inching further and further away. He'd saved up some money. He was taking bartending classes. He had an exit strategy. Basically, the race was under way. His parents were trying to find him a wife before he actually left into the secular world for good. Oddly enough, the secular world seemed to be rooting for his parents.

Billy Campion

The one point he was going to cut the curls. He told me, he wanted to move in with me and he wanted to cut the curls. Jokingly, but with serious undertones, I said, if you cut the curls you're out of the band. I was like, I'm telling you man, if you cut the curls, we have no act. That's what I'm saying to you. Do you know what I'm saying?

As the managerial type, as the music business type, the talent manager, I was mainly worried that the act was going to lose its luster if he became like us, and that it was going to turn to bad music. And the innocence, I think another big thing is that the innocence would be lost. And the innocence is where he was creating from. I just didn't want him to cross over entirely. I didn't want to be responsible for that.

I could have gotten him on Howard Stern. Stern would have eaten that up. Part of me, like a selfish part of me, would have liked to have seen that. Stardom, of being a character, he was a prime candidate for that. But I didn't want to. I've heard that if a Hasid decides to cut the curls and leave the sect, I think they sit shiva actually. I think the parents sit shiva as if he's dead. So I didn't want to be the arch enemy of his family.

David Segal

Chaim, as it happens, had reservations of his own about abandoning the Hasidic world.

Chaim

I was very torn. I was just torn. All along I knew that what I was doing was not in line with my upbringing, with the Hasidic way, with the Torah way of life. So I knew that I wasn't doing something right. But I liked it. And I felt that I was accepted. So I had these two paths. And I said, I can't choose. I don't know. I love both.

Billy Campion

As he said at one time, my parents are desperately trying to find me a wife. And I really want a record deal. But if they find me a wife first or if I get a record deal, it's God's will. And I'm going to do that.

David Segal

A record deal or a wife. If Chaim thought the choice was in the hand's of the Lord, he'd underestimated his mother, who called him one night while Chaim was in Manhattan getting ready for a show. A certain young lady would be at a certain wedding that evening, she told them. Maybe Chaim could swing by and take a look.

At first he said no, and begged offed with a few excuses. But his mother then sounded so sad. He felt a wave of guilt and reconsidered. Chaim changed back into his Hasidic clothes and went to the wedding, where he eventually got a quick glance at this young lady from a distance in a parking lot. Chaim was not impressed.

Chaim

I was like, for this they made me again come. OK, another bust. So I went home. I said, for this? Next time before you send me somewhere get information on what we're talking about. So I went back down to the basement. I got back dressed. And I went to perform that night until 4 o'clock in the morning.

David Segal

But the girl felt differently. It turned out that she liked him. And that softened him just a little, enough to get Chaim to agree to a date, a Hasidic date in her living room surrounded by family.

Chaim

My parents were sitting in the kitchen and there was no door. And I felt totally uncomfortable. They were talking about for maybe 45 minutes.

David Segal

This is the first you'd spoken to her?

Chaim

Right. There's not too much to converse. You went to the yeshiva. And when do you want the kids? And what do you want your kids to go to the yeshiva, and to which yeshiva? Because there's like all kinds of yeshivas and stuff. I wasn't crazy over it. Because I was in a totally different world at that time. Obviously I was Curly Oxide. And all of a sudden I'm put on back into this other personality. I was totally two different persons.

The matchmaker goes in and talks to my mother and says, they want to finish it, tell me the girl wants me. That was it. I'm married. I have two beautiful children.

David Segal

Now wait a second, wait a second. Let's back up. It was that quick?

Chaim

Yeah. We spoke Saturday night. And we became engaged. There was an engagement party the next day.

David Segal

They were indeed married three months later. This might sound incredibly fast, but in the Hasidic tradition no one marries for love. That comes later hopefully. And Chaim had spent far more energy dreaming about the Billboard Charts than about being a husband, even in the back of his mind that a day of surrender was probably inevitable. And that it meant returning fully to the fold. No more rock star, no more carousing, the end of the beast within.

David Segal

But you knew that you were killing Curly Oxide at that moment you agreed to get married?

Chaim

I knew that this character is going down, yeah. We knew that it was just like a show. We knew that the show is going to be up. And then there's going to be time to close it.

David Segal

Were you sad that that show's going to be over?

Chaim

I can put myself back in the moment, and I didn't think-- because my whole life can tumbling, because these two years, it was like so shaky. All of a sudden, OK, I came back. They're like, oh, you you are normal. You are getting married like everybody else. And I couldn't think. I didn't even realize what was happening.

David Segal

Were you relieved?

Chaim

To an extent.

David Segal

Billy, for his part, was kind of relieved too. And now having chaperoned Chaim through his world, he wanted at last to get a glimpse at Chaim's, which would be tricky.

Billy Campion

You know, the toughest part of the whole thing was that he wasn't going to be able to invite me to the wedding.

David Segal

Because non-Hasidics are not allowed at the wedding?

Billy Campion

Absolutely not. But we found a solution to that. We found a loophole to that soon enough, which was he hired Cass, Chris Cassidy, who was our videographer at the Vic Thrill's Salon, to film his wedding with me as the assistant. At the time, I had a green mohawk which I had to stuff under a hat. A yarmulke would not have concealed this thing.

So we went in there and we shot the wedding. And the wedding, that was really like the third stage on the divine gift of his friendship was to witness a Hasidic wedding. It was like nothing I had ever seen in my life, the fact that we got to see them married under the tent. It just seemed like such an ancient ceremony too, the ritual of it with her walking around him and the constant prayer that was going on. I really felt like the love for these two, and how important it was that everybody gather around them and pray all together. And then going into the building to watch them run down the hallway. And he's smiling. And I'm like, this is my old buddy man, he's smiling at me. I didn't realize that this was the turning point.

They turned off into a room. And that's where they go to consummate the marriage. A small room, I think, with a bed in it. And everybody just eats out in the hall, out in the dining hall, which has a partition down the middle of it. And the men are on one side and the women are on the other side.

So we had to leave the hall at that point when they had gone to the room. And we were invited back in when they were being carried out on the chairs. And they placed down in their separate rooms there. And they have to dance with everybody in the room. He danced with hundreds of guys. I mean, it's incredible, the energy that you have to put out on your wedding night if you're Hasidic is just incredible.

Now his father had suspected something of me. Because a few of the Hasidic guys at the wedding had winked at me and come up and elbowed me. They knew me from the legend of Curly Oxide. Several of them had gone down to the Right Bank because his song was on the jukebox. They heard about that. And so this guy was like a legend in his neighborhood. And they were coming up to me. And I think the father saw some of this going on. And he would give me what I call the skunk eye every once in a while. He gave me like this hairy eyeball. And I zoomed in on him every time he'd do that. So I had this up close footage of the hairy eyeball from his father. It was incredible.

At the very end of the whole thing, I walked up to him. Because everybody was shaking his hand at that point. And Cass shook his hand. And I walk up and I shook his hand like a total stranger. And we had zero energy transferred between us in the old way. You know, we really blocked it off. Congratulations man, she seems like a beautiful bride. And that was it. And we had a big laugh boy, afterwards though when he showed up here. I mean we laughed for like half an hour over this whole thing.

David Segal

Years after that half hour laugh, Billy Campion is touring at Vic Thrill playing shows around New York and throughout Europe. If you ever catch his act, you'll witness a guy as antic as anyone you'll ever see on stage. Pager on vibrate is how one observer put it. The unembarrassable style owes a little something to Curly Oxide.

In the months after the wedding, every once in awhile, Billy and Chaim would get together just to catch up. But almost immediately, Chaim and his family moved an hour upstate. Now he doesn't see Billy much. In part he relocated to avoid the temptations of his old ways. Then again, he doesn't sound like a man on the verge of a back slide.

Chaim

I didn't even want to think of missing it, because I'm missing it. Meaning I'm not there, so why even go there to feel missing it. You blank out. You try. You blank yourself out. I mean, I know that I can't have. But you know what I would like over there. And I like my life now. And I would lose everything going back. There's too much to lose. And I know that I can't have it. So I wouldn't even touch that.

David Segal

Does your wife know that you had this other life as Curly Oxide. Yes, she actually does. I told him. I actually regret telling it. Because let me tell you, if don't know if you guys are married. But anybody that is married, do not tell you wife your past, especially your troubled past, I mean the stuff that you did, your mischief past.

I asked Chaim, would he tell his son if the boy announced one day if he wanted to sing in a rock band. Chaim almost frowned. I'd tell him to sing something traditional, he said, and songs that are Yiddish. As for Curly Oxide, there's hardly a trace of his career anywhere. He never released a CD. And last year the Right Bank closed. And that unplugged the only jukebox in the world where you could hear his music.

Ira Glass

David Segal is a staff writer for the Washington Post. He also has a website, www.jewsrock.org.

[MUSIC - "CE-5" BY VIC THRILL]

Act Two. Miami Vices.

Ira Glass

Act Two, Miami Vices. This next story was recorded as a live stage show in Los Angeles called Mortified, in which everyday people stand up on stage and read from their own teenage diaries. One person took the stage one night with Sascha Rothchild. A quick warning for sensitive listeners, that she mentions all kinds of fooling around with teenage boys in what follows.

Sascha Rothchild

Hi everybody. My name is Sascha. And to give you a little background, I grew up in a very upper class, Jewish household in Miami Beach. And I went to elementary school. For elementary school, I went to private school. And I hated it because the kids were really mean to me.

So I really wanted to go to public school for junior high, and my parents let me. And this is what happened when I went to public school. And I'm 13 here.

A lot happened today. I made out five times with Jose Pola. He said, I kiss like a rich girl. He had the longest tongue. I really like his best friend, Carlos. I think Carlos likes me. Jose and I are just good friends. But we fool around because we think each other is hot.

I'm reading The Diary of Anne Frank. It really means a lot to me. First of all, I'm Jewish and that means a lot to me. Also, I recently got you and started writing in you. The Diary of Anne Frank has really inspired me. Anyway, Carlos and I finally made out.

Jessica is being a bitch. After I was with Carlos, I spent some time with Tyrone, Treyant and Tyrell. I love them. I like black boys much more than white boys. They're more fun. It gets worse.

So much has happened. I went to a big party at Gira's house. The party was awesome. I got completely drunk and started talking to these older guys who had beer. They gave me a lot. The older guys liked me and they wanted my phone number. I gave it to them.

I'm worried though. I'm turning into a bad girl. My grades are dropping, I'm drinking a lot, I'm lying, et cetera. I don't want to tell Diego and Shane I'm only 13, but I also don't want to get raped or anything. I don't know what to do. I think I'm going to lose my virginity very soon. The scary thing is is that I'm having so much fun. So many guys like me. I'm so [BLEEP] popular. My mind and body are 17, but I'm only 13. P.S. I have grown so much inside in the past few months.

Hey, what's up or down? I put the arrows up or down. Well, things are totally up with me. Helder and I are going out. I like him so much. He's so cool, nice, funny, caring, sensitive, and [BLEEP] fine. He has such a nice body. In the movie, Helder and I made out a lot and we went to second over the shirt. It wasn't a big deal. Later dude. I wrote later dude literally.

OK, a lot happened. First of all, Helder and I broke up yesterday. I dumped him, in parentheses. The day after we went out, and went to his house and we were in bed naked together. Don't ask me how that happened. I wouldn't sleep with him and I think he got mad.

Since then, it seemed all Helder wanted was to have sex with me. I broke up with him six days after we went out. Aye, literally aye-- because I'm hanging out with Cubans-- so I'm trying to understand how to speak Spanish. Well a lot of [BLEEP] [BLEEP] has happened. I have been getting drunk and stoned everyday. Also, Diego and I broke up. I didn't mind that he was a drug dealer, but it just wasn't working out anyway.

Anna and I aren't friends anymore. Cricket and I are very good friends. And last but not least I'm going out with Antonio. We have been together for nine days. I really like him. I'm planning on sleeping with him. Oh, and I tried cocaine.

It's the coolest [BLEEP] thing on earth. I think I'm addicted. Oh well.

And the downfall continues. Antonio and I got into our first big fight last night. What a temper! We made up though. I like the way he makes me feel. I'm the woman and should be kept in my place. Of course he is a Cuban. Well, I got to go change my tampon. At least I'm not pregnant yet.

What's up, yo-- literally in the diary, what's up yo? I have done flake five times today. For those of you who don't know, flake is a pseudonym for cocaine if you're not cool. I have done flake five times today. I loved all of them. I'm not doing any more, for now at least. I like it too much. The high is worth the low. I'm also trying to stop smoking pot. I'm getting really burnt. Instead I'm smoking cigarettes and shoplifting. I love it. I get such a head rush. Today I stole three pairs of underwear, one bra, and two shirts. It was too easy. We're nearing the end.

Oh my god. It has to stop. It all has to stop. I'm going to change my life around. I snorted two huge bumps and then I came down hard, real hard. The high isn't worth the low anymore. I have to stop hanging out with these people. I'm going to [BLEEP] up my life. I'm scared, really scared.

OK, this is a month later. Hi, I'm still alive and not pregnant yet. I broke up with Antonio and I'm going to NA. I've been off cocaine and pot since October 2. I'm doing really good. I'm still having fun without totally going crazy. I think I'm going to sleep with Jason. I really want to because he's so hot and he thinks I'm hot. so many people do.

I'm so popular and scandalous. I'm leaving out so many details that I hope I don't forget. But my hand would hurt if I wrote them all down. It's time for a new diary, but this one will always be most memorable. Later dude.

[APPLAUSE]

Ira Glass

Sascha Rothchild is still not pregnant. She graduated from high school drug free and with honors. She's now married, a writer living in Los Angeles. She was recorded at a show called Mortified. Thanks to David Nadelberg who runs the show. More info at www.getmortified.com.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Our program was produced today by Jane Feltes and myself with Alex Blumberg, Diane Cook, Sarah Koenig, and Lisa Pollak. Our senior producer is Julie Snyder. Elizabeth Meister runs our website. Production help from Todd Bachmann and Will [UNINTELLIGIBLE].

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight for our program by Mr. Torey Malatia who can be heard at bars all over Chicago walking up to young people and saying--

Billy Campion

I have a recording studio up the street. I would love to have you by some time if you really want to get these recordings down, you know what I mean, in a quality way?

Ira Glass

Hey, worked on me. Back next week with more quality recordings of This American Life.

[MUSIC]

Announcer

PRI, Public Radio International.