all photos: Mike Danko
If the director John Hughes’ movies were a sunny street in the suburbs, then the director John Waters’ movies would be the seedy back alley a few miles into downtown, around the corner from the 24-hour adult video store at 3AM on a Sunday morning. John’s movies are fantastical journeys through the lives of the freaks and geeks and weirdos who he might or might not have come across over the past decades in Baltimore. But John himself is, well, surprisingly normal. Obviously not the type of normal where he wouldn’t film a tranny eating a piece of shit, it’s just that he’s a pretty easy going, swell dude.
He’s basically a good ol’ Baltimore cat with a sick sense of humor, an impeccable sense of style and probably the best damned stories you’ll ever find told. He seems as if he’d be equally comfortable headbanging at a G.W.A.R. concert or sharing a beer with G.W. Bush. We caught up with him last week via telephone and then had a make-up date to shoot some photos after his Christmas Show at the Birchmere in Alexandria.
BYT: So you are touring with the Christmas show right now?
John Waters: Yes, it’s just six dates.
BYT: So, lets start out with some basics… what shocks John Waters?
John Waters: Nothing shocks me. Stupid things shock me. I’m not really trying to shock people, I just try to make people laugh. I am surprised at people’s ability to see things in a different way maybe? What does shock me is stupid, bad Hollywood movies and dumb people. You see, I’m not looking for somebody to shock me, I like when people use wit to surprise me. It’s easy to shock, it’s much harder to surprise.
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...
BYT: So, you have this whole Christmas thing going on, do you have a favorite Christmas memory from growing up?
John Waters: I guess my favorite Christmas memory was when I heard that baby Jesus was stolen from the [manger] outside the church nearby. Not that I wanted that to happen, but I remember the excitement and the horror that went along with it. The phone was ringing and the neighbors’ and my parents’ hushed tones. And I kinda thought: “Who did that? I wish I was with them.” Even though I’m not for that, I would never do that, but the excitement and the scandal were appealing to me as an eight year old…
BYT: Cool! Did you guys have Christmas traditions in your household?
John Waters: Oh yes, it was very traditional. Christmas was nice at my house. I had a very functional family. I always asked for the wrong things, though. When I was eight or nine I asked for a hand puppet on one hand which should be a normal thing a child should ask for, and on the other hand I asked for The genius of Ray Charles, the album, which I promise you my parents couldn’t think of to give to me. I asked for it! They were amazed I even knew who he was, and this was early in his jazz days. How did I know who he was? I asked for him.
BYT: I don’t know, maybe you saw him on television?
John Waters: I listened to a black radio program in Baltimore.
BYT: Oh, so what does a romantic date in Baltimore consist of?
John Waters: The most romantic date, well I know this straight guy, he used to be my FedEx man, he used to leave me pictures of his penis. He used to go out after Christmas and strap a video camera to the hood of his car and we would drive around and he would look for the Christmas trees out in the alley and he would slow down and we would light them on fire and we would drive straight through them. That was a romantic date.
BYT: That is a romantic date and that’s a Christmas tradition as well! I think you covered them both.
John Waters: Yes, that is a romantic holiday date.
BYT: (laughs) Okay, do you golf?
John Waters: (laughs) No! Do I look like a lesbian?
BYT: (laughs) I don’t know, I haven’t seen you without the mustache.
John Waters: I guess I look like a lesbian. When I go to colleges sometimes they’ll have John Waters look-a-like contests and the lesbians usually win! And I’m happy to further confuse things on campus.
BYT: So, no organized sports growing up?
John Waters: No, I always hated them. I remember this one commercial in Baltimore, it had a sportscaster and I think it was channel 13, I forget. He asked me if I would say something to show I loved sports and I was like: ‘no, I hate sports’ and it became such a popular ad that they paid me to come down and tape another one that said ‘I still hate sports’. And I became the spokesman for hating sports. People would come up to me in the supermarket and say: ‘I hate ’em too’.
BYT: Can you say that REALLY loudly for us?
John Waters: I HATE SPORTS! I don’t hate people that like them, but I remember my father would try to bond with me by taking me to sporting events at the stadiums here and I remember fantasizing the stands collapsing or the screen falling. What I hated the most is this thing called ‘time out’ because than it would just make it last longer. I really hated time out and every time they said it I would just say GRRRR (ed. note: yes, John Waters said GRRRR).
BYT: Your Dad didn’t catch on that you hated it?
John Waters: No, he wouldn’t accept the fact that the stupid bonding at the sporting events was a total failure.
BYT: My dad took me on a college trip once, and he was trying to show me all the places he went to growing up and I had my nose buried in a book. Finally he just pulled over and said: get out. He left me on the side of the road in Maine.
John Waters: I think he was correct, you could have at least looked.
BYT: (laughs) I looked occasionally.
John Waters: Well, at least I went to the sporting events! I just couldn’t get into them, but I could fake it.
BYT: I am a bad son.
John Waters: That’s called tough love, not child abuse.
BYT: He left me there for like two hours on the side of the road in rural Maine.
John Waters: (laughs) Oh, well THAT’s child abuse. It began with tough love and ended with child abuse. How old were you? I’m surprised they didn’t consider that child abuse.
BYT: Uh, I was seventeen.
John Waters: Oh, you were an adult, you could have hitchhiked.
BYT: Okay, I want you to close your eyes and imagine the world 100 years ago, 1910. Now imagine 2110 is like in comparison. What do you think the future has in store for human beings?
John Waters: Hopefully they will figure out the cures for many diseases so that the lifespan will increase by about twenty years. Computer technology will keep growing further and further, unless they put every single company out of business like they are doing now until there is nothing but computers. I hope the kids finally come up with a new style to scandalize people. They haven’t done since rappers (which has been a while now). That’s what I can hope, certainly. But, I always believe that the future is going to be better than the past. I am an eternal optimist. I always think tomorrow is going to be better. I am not spiritual. I don’t believe in any religion, but I do believe in the basic goodness of people and maybe it’s going to be better.
BYT: Yes, we can only hope. Another question I have for you, which metal bands are the biggest pussies?
John Waters: I don’t know much about metal but my favorite, maybe my favorite ever, it might have been an art band. I didn’t make this up but it was the best band name, their name was Pathetica.
John Waters: Yeah, sounds like a terrible metal band. I also heard a cover band one night in Baltimore that was a cover band for Whitesnake, which was pretty alarming, and the people that came [to the show] are even more alarming. I don’t even know if it actually was a cover band for Whitesnake, I don’t have any of their albums.
BYT: Isn’t Whitesnake the one where there was a fire and all the people died?
John Waters: No, that is another one.
BYT: That was Great White.
John Waters: Yes. Whitesnake was big, they were big. The people that cover them dress up with the big hair and everything and the people that come act as if they are actually seeing Whitesnake. There’s no irony it, that’s what was so great. I was the keynote speaker at the Fangoria horror convention in Las Vegas one Halloween and you can only imagine what that was like and the band is on the tip of my tongue. Maybe my assistant will remember the name of the band let me ask her hold on one second.
John Waters: She said she doesn’t remember it but she is looking it up.
BYT: So, where do you hang out in Baltimore?
John Waters: I am not going to tell you because you will get beat up if you go there.
BYT: Oh really?
John Waters: (laughs) I mean I like to go to the non-hipster bars, that are kind of alarming that are like in neighborhood ones with working class people and they know who I am their and they are nice to me but they don’t care. Some of the people that come to them are kind of alarming. I like it to be an adventure, that’s what I do every Friday night I like to go to random bars and that’s how I pass the time. I hear great stories and just relax.
BYT: I spoke with Johnny Knoxville; what is the deal about the Christmas movie (Fruitcake) you’re making?
John Waters: Well, unfortunately it hasn’t been made yet. Even Hollywood isn’t making Christmas movies right now. Oh and my assistant has the name of that band its Slipknot.
John Waters: Yes! And that’s the last heavy metal concert I went to, and I am a fan now of Slipknot and I would even go to a Slipknot cover band concert.
BYT: (laughs) Maybe you start your own Slipknot cover band.
John Waters: (laughs) Yeah, called Pathetica. It would just be me, alone.
BYT: I wanna play drums, John.
John Waters: I wish I could remember what Pathetica was so I could figure it all out.
BYT: I am going to look it up.
John Waters: Yes, Pathetica: a Whitesnake/Slipknot cover band with John Waters and you as the drummer.
BYT: Its a deal. Alright cool, I appreciate you taking the time out of your day, take care!
John Waters: Thanks!