Life: Summer Loving, Teenage Culture and Growing Up

Life: Summer Loving, Teenage Culture and Growing Up

Grease is 40 and that makes me feel a little bit old. I was a cute eight year old in 1978 when the film was first released. It was given an A rating by the film censors which meant that no matter how desperate I was to see it, tragically I was half the legal age required to go to the cinema. The billboard posters taunted me, they were everywhere advertising the huge box office success.  It was impossible to escape the images of Olivia Newton-John with her blonde curls and John Travolta with his gravity-defying quiff. The big kids that had seen the film started to recite lines from it verbatim and verbal Americanism’s started to seep into my little world. A film was now a movie, handsome boys were Studs, and girls were Chicks. It would take me years to understand the true meaning of a “hickey from Kenickie” and that the verb to barf was the American for being sick.

    Jump forward to the beginning of the 80’s. I am now in my early teens and joy of joys, Grease gets released onto VHS.  Myself and the rest of Generation X finally got the chance to experience the antics of the pupils of Rydell High in the comfort of our own homes.  We already knew the words to all the songs, our older siblings had been playing the soundtrack on vinyl for years. But to finally get to watch the whole film? I can draw only from my personal experience, it was emotional.  A significant point in social history, when American teenage culture having teased us for so many years, finally came and slapped us around the face.

    I knew it was a movie, I knew it wasn’t real life, it was America in the 1950’s, but I still couldn’t help comparing their teenage way of life to my own. I was at a Catholic comprehensive, dressed most of the time in the compulsory grey and burgundy school uniform. It looked so unbelievably drab compared to the American girls squeezed into their skin-tight pencil skirts and satin bomber jackets. Nobody drove themselves to school, and if they did it most certainly wasn’t in an open top car that got used for drag racing at the weekends. 

    At the end of the school year, we had what could loosely be described as a disco in the school gym. Still in our dreary uniforms, the Head of History would get out a cassette player and attempt to entertain us with his self-indulgent music collection. The dinner ladies begrudgingly catered for our dismal departure by putting out bowls of crisps and at around 5pm we were booted out to enjoy our summer. 

    At Rydell High, however, it was a very different story. The end of the school year was celebrated with an all singing, all dancing Prom. A lavish event, black tie for the boys, big dresses for the girls and a live band. Today, the teenagers of Great Britain have fully embraced the prom culture. No more lacklustre disco’s and bowls of stale Wotsits for our Little Darling’s. They now wear cocktail dresses and employ hair and makeup artists. They arrive at the prom in the back of limousines swigging cheap Prosecco. For every glass of fizz they drink – and no doubt barf up later – they should raise one to the kids of Rydell High.  For they have Grease to thank for the death of the school disco and the rise of the Prom.    

    Aside from shining a light on the intimate details of American high school life, Grease is fundamentally, the love story of Sandy and Danny. Two teenagers who despite their differences, fall in love. Wholesome Australian Sandy meets who she believes to be wholesome American Danny during their summer vacation [deliberate Americanism]. Upon starting a new year at Rydell High, Sandy is as shocked to see Danny in his leathers sporting a greasy quiff, as he is to see her in her white bobby socks and pale lemon twin set. 

    Jump forward once again to 2018 and the story of Sandy and Danny is significant to me once again. I too have just had some summer loving. Like Sandy, I met a boy who was very different from me. We both happened to be in a busy pub one Saturday afternoon, and when a book that I had recently read, This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell, fell out of his bag, it sparked a conversation. For a bookworm such as myself, I couldn’t have imagined a more romantic way to meet a boy.

    We went on to enjoy the summer together. Serendipitously it was the hottest one for years, and we spent it mainly on the beach, he showed off, splashing around. It was idyllic, the perfect staycation. We shared a love of books, food and music, and managed to indulge ourselves in all three whilst basking in the sun and each others company.

    But it turned colder, and that’s where it ends. The romantic fuzz of meeting over a book started to fade and the differences between us began to show up. At the end of Grease wholesome young Sandy transforms into a sassy, (some would say slutty) chick, to keep her man. Teenage Jo would also have willingly ditched her cardi’s, pretty dresses and sensible pumps for leather trousers, a perm and a packet of fags to get her man. However, adult Jo knows that this is not the answer. Being true to myself was the only answer. My days of hard partying are well and truly over, but for my Summer Lover they are not, and so the cracks began to show. 

    We decided we’d still be friends, so I packed up my books, my yoga mat and my earplugs. In response, he cranked up his decks, invited his friends over and partied till the early hours. Summer dreams ripped at the seams, but brimming with fond memories. I shall forever remember 2018 as the summer that made me realise just how much I have grown up.

“Sandy: He was sort of special

Rizzo: There ain’t no such thing.”


This post also appeared in the Brighton and Hove Independent


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