John Waters is coming to DC tomorrow to spend an evening with anyone with discerning bad taste @ Howard Theatre. We also used this occasion as an opportunity to talk to him. Because, lets face it-we’d use ANY opportunity to talk to John Waters.
But first, a little history here: Much like any (weird) kid, I have a very clear memory of my first John Waters moment because, well, it sort of changed my life. The year is 1990, and Hairspray is finally out on VHS in Serbia and my parents, bless their hearts, allow me to rent it from the local video store because if there is one thing my 10 year old, too-tall-for-proper-ballet-class-and-forever-broken-up-about-it self loves-it is DANCE MOVIES. And this one, on top of that, is an uplifting tale of how it is ok to be different so it must be a good one, and I am HOOKED from the amazing opening sequence on. I am already mentally practicing the mashed potatoes dance (give me gravy!) and everything else those crazy Corny Collins kids are doing and deciding whether to root for Ricky Lake’s Tracy Turnblad or Colleen Fitzpatrick’s Amber Von Tussle and then…
She is wearing this insane hairstyle, and the most unflattering pants ever and then… she POPS HER DAUGHTER’S ZIT. IN CLOSE UP. ALL OVER THE SCREEN. (watch from 1:30 on)
It was like nothing I had ever seen before (and I had to see it again and again) and while, obviously, Waters had made some DECIDEDLY more shocking moments happen on screen in the years before, Hairspray was a genius move, in the sense that 10 year olds across the world realized that even the prettiest girls on TV are ugly and everyone’s zits pop just as satisfyingly no matter what their size, weight, color or socio-economic status. Zits, like farts and shit, and all the other not-so-pretty things John Waters loves, are the great equalizers. One universe under grossness.
I needed more. And so did the world. Luckily CRY BABY and was everything you wanted the follow up to HAIRSPRAY to be and then our little outdoor summer cinema played PINK FLAMINGOS one midnight and I saw it, and trust me-you have NOT seen PINK FLAMINGOS until you’ve SEEN PINK FLAMINGOS ON THE BIG SCREEN. You think you know, but you have NO IDEA. And now, 24 years after that zit popping moment, Mr. Waters is expecting my call. True story.
And before anything we talked about is shared here, lets get ONE THING out of the way: John Waters is a goddamn dream conversationalist. He is the kind of person who you want to unceremoniously monopolize at a dinner party, the kind of person who could talk about paint peeling and make it sound charming, the kind of cocktail party guest you want to bring home to your Mother. And this is why:
On Celebrating his birthday and aging gracefully (We spoke about a week after his 67th-ed): Melanie Griffith once told me: If you’re going to lie about your age, you have to start early and never look back. I just turned 67 and maybe I should start walking around and telling everyone I am 75 so people start thinking I look really great for my age. But, no, I didn’t do anything special this year. I throw a big party for myself once a decade: a 30, it was at a punk rock club, at 40, an old people’s home… we’ll see what happens for the next big one.
On His Perfect Night Out: Well, it depends if it is a school night or not a school night. On a school night, I don’t do much because I am up at 6am writing Sunday-Thursday. But-Fridays are my night to go out. I go to all my favorite bars that have been my favorite bars forever (in Baltimore): Ottobar, Rockets and Venus, the Wind-Up Space, a biker bar here and there. The biker bars is where you hear the best stories. That’s my perfect night. That, and then, of course, going home with someone nice. That always helps.
On the State of the Film Industry: This is a great time to be a young filmmaker. All those movie studios out there-they’re all looking for the 20 year old me. I am a little too tired now to make movies the way I made them at 20 though.
What Is The Reason Why We Haven’t Seen A New Movie In ALMOST 10 YEARS NOW (and whether that means he’s done with making films (if not being in them)): Well, I’ve been trying to make Fruitcake (his Parker Posey/Johnny Knoxville Christmas comedy) since 2008. But New Line Cinema went out of business and … I still really do want to make that movie, and who knows… I probably eventually will.
Is There ANY Shock Value Left In Cinema? An Average Reality TV Show Episode These Days Packs a Wallop of a Bad Taste Punch Already: I think there are a LOT of amazing, thought provoking, shocking filmmakers out there right now. Francois Ozon, Lars Von Trier obviously, Todd Solondz- I think they all may movies that are as shocking or even more shocking that anything I’ve ever made.
On What Is Next For Him Then: Well, I have just been very fortunate to be able to tell stories in different ways. I’ve been working on my hitchhiking book-CARSICK for a little while now.
About That Hitchhiking Tour: I probably spent more money than flying would have cost because I gave everyone gas money, and I was nice. But it was a real trip, for research. Most people thought I was just homeless. Last time I hitchhiked I was maybe 17, so it was time to give it another go. It was pretty tiring.
Hitchhiking Has A Bad Rap. In “GUILT TRIP” Barbra Streisend Has This Whole Bit About How They Shouldn’t Pick Up Hitchhikers, Because They Rape: OH, I was never (too) worried I’d get raped.
Oh, Not a Hitchhiker GETTING Raped, But a Hitchhiker RAPING: I’d venture to say, with all respect to Barbra Streisend, that hitchhikers are much more likely to kill than rape.
Now That Hitchhiking Is Out Of The Way, Is There Anything Else He Hasn’t Experienced Yet: Well, I haven’t tried necrophilia. But I think I’ll hold off on that one for now.
About The One Piece of Art Of His No One Will See (Yet): Yes, I take a polaroid of EVERYONE who walks into my house. But no one will see those until I die. Wesleyan University has the access to my estate, and after I am gone… maybe. (ed note: There is a selection of some choice polaroids, all approved by subjects that can be seen here. If there was ever a reason to want John Waters dead, maybe even just a little, seeing the rest of these would be a semi-ok one)
Has Anyone Ever Refused To Have Their Polaroid Taken In Your House: Only one person. A telephone repair guy. He thought it was a weird, sexual thing. But he let me take a photo of his shoes. I don’t think he realized that THAT could have been actually sexual.
On How Drag Queens Are Not What They Used to Be Back In The Day: Divine and I used to go to DC when we were kids and get into (underground) drag shows around Howard theatre, and, man, those ladies were scary. Knives. And they used to get really upset at Divine, because they thought he was making fun of them. I just remember knives.
On Whether Maybe He Should Bring A Knife To The Wednesday Show, Just for Old Time’s Sake: I already sleep with a rubber knife under my pillow, so I’m all set.
SPECIAL MUSTACHE ADDENDUM FROM A 2010 INTERVIEW WE DID WITH JOHN, SINCE WE RAN OUT OF TIME AND I DIDN’T GET A CHANCE TO ASK ANY MUSTACHE QUESTIONS:
BYT: I see. The element of surprise. Which leads me to my second question. Have you ever thought about shaving the mustache and growing one of those Puerto Rican chin strap beards? Like that guy in The Backstreet Boys?
John Waters: If I shaved it I would shave it completely, and that would be if I ever got sent to prison, or if I was going to go underground and become a criminal.
BYT: I mean you’ve got probably one of the top five most memorable m0ustaches of, well, maybe of all time.
John Waters: Well, I have had it forever, maybe like forty years or maybe more than forty years. I mean, I didn’t even know I had it, and now it is part of my career, this mustache. But if you ask me if I had a mustache, I would say no I don’t have a mustache, and I would never consider any other facial hair. If I shaved it off then nobody would ever recognize me. I never have had a beard so I am not quite sure what I would look like with one.
BYT: There is always time…
John Waters: Well, I think not. No, no thanks. I think I will keep it. I will stick with it. I certainly have stuck with it.
BYT: I would say Charlie Chaplain, Hitler and Sam Elliott are the only other ones more famous than yours (ed. note: apologies to Salvador Dali, we forgot him).
John Waters: (laughs) Well, I guess that is a compliment. Did you see the whole Justin Beiber thing? Just google Justin Bieber’s and my name…
OK-we know you want more. And for more- you have to show up tomorrow to Howard Theatre. No Regrets.
header photo: Walker Galleries