John Waters on Comme des Garcons' Rei Kawakubo: "Most People Think We're Poor When We Have on Her Outfits"
On July 28, the cult icon brings his one-man show, This Filthy World, to the Parker Playhouse and was kind enough to chat with us from his summer home in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
In part one of the interview, the charismatic and very casual (he was wearing basically only boxer shorts!) Waters spoke to New Times about hitchhiking across America, his first concert experience, and what he has been listening to lately.
New Times: How are you?
John Waters: I'm well. I'm in Provincetown. But not on vacation. I write here. I have for many, many years. I'll go away to San Francisco for a little while in August. But I base myself here in the summers. But sometimes I have to go away for work. Like coming to see you!
I can't wait. I must congratulate you on your recent award at Outfest.
Oh thank you. It was kind of moving. There were so many people. They had this great clip reel. I said they should show this at my funeral. [laughs] It was like being at your funeral. But you get to enjoy it.
More importantly. What are you currently wearing right now?
[laughs] I am wearing a Gap T-shirt and Gap boxer shorts.
Wow. Really? So casual. I thought maybe you'd be wearing one of your famous suits.
I would be if it wasn't a phone interview. But I don't have to get dressed like me today. I just got back from swimming in the ocean. And there is nobody who lives around me. That's the greatest thing about being self-employed. People always say to me, "How do you have the motivation to work every day?" [laughs] Because I can go to work in my boxer shorts! However, I am going out to dinner tonight, so I am going to slip into something more fancy.
Which of your suits is your favorite?
Well, you know I love Comme des Garçons and Issey Miyake. I wore this insane suit when I did my show recently; I'll probably wear it when I come to Florida. I have to spell the name, it's so hard to pronounce; he's a Belgian designer that I really like. He's really radical. The suit is so ludicrous that if I wore it on the street and got beat up, the people would get off when the jury saw it. Walter Van Beirendonck. So he's a really good, new, radical fashion designer.
But clearly Comme des Garçons is my favorite. I wrote about Rei Kawakubo [the designer] a lot in Role Models. And I accepted the big fashion award that's like the Oscars this year for her in New York. She's like my leader.
I know you're working on a new book, Car Sick, and you can't really talk about it. Since we're on the topic of fashion, can you at least say what you wore while hitchhiking across the States?
Well, that's part of talking about the book! [laughs] Actually, I did wear one suit. I thought it was Comme des Garçons, but it was actually Issey Miyake. I travel light. People thought I was homeless. You know, wearing Japanese designers looks like you're homeless anyway, even when you're at elegant events. When I accepted the award for Rei Kawakubo, I said, "She lets us be stylish in secret." Because most people think we're poor when we have on her outfits.
You were at one point working on a Breaking Up With John Waters album, but it's never come to release. What is your favorite breakup song?
Yeah, that was years ago. There is no record business anymore. I would like it to happen, but I can't work on it right now. I'm working on the next book, my spoken-word shows, and an art show. Although I do have the perfect cover for it. When we did Cry-Baby, we did a shot of everyone with one single salty tear, and there's one of me that has never been printed. That would have been the cover. It would have been perfect.
I think one of the best [which is on A Date With John Waters] is Ike and Tina Turner's "All I Could Do Was Cry." I wish I could have done the video for that. She's sitting at the back of the church watching Ike marrying someone else, and she goes so insane. But of course Lorraine Ellison's "Stay With Me," and James Brown did some great ones like "I Lost Someone." So many great ones.
What was the first concert you ever went to?
That's a good one. Hmmm... Even with my parents? Well, they took me to the opera. The first one was probably when Peter, Paul, and Mary came to my high school, which was a Catholic high school. And I don't think they realized why everyone was snickering during "Puff the Magic Dragon."
I do remember one that I went to early on that really influenced me for the rest of my life. It was in a black nightclub in Baltimore. Inez and Charlie Foxx, who I absolutely love. They had a lot of great hits, like "Mocking Bird." [sings a few lyrics] We went to see them. I would say this place sat around 500 people. And me and my friend were the only ones who showed up. But they put on a show as if the place was sold out. Just for us. And we would clap, and it would echo. But I thought What pros! Nobody came; even the waiters were uptight. But they still gave a full show because there were two paying customers in this huge place. That was a real lesson to me about being a real professional; they really were. Not that it really has happened to me, not now at least. I mean, in my early career, I guess it did.
What? Really? I don't believe that.
Well, I did with having nobody come to see a movie. But that's different. That actors aren't there. Only I would have known. [laughs]
When it comes to music, you have really eclectic taste. What are you listening to now?
Let's see what I have here. Goldie, oh this jazz singer Susie Arioli who I didn't know existed, Dirty Projectors, Beth Ditto, all the Baltimore ones, Harper Simon, Beach House, of course, Justin Bieber, Zola Jesus.
Do you buy vinyl or CDs?
I'm really an old person. I buy CDs. I have a turntable at home; not at the beach, though. I have a turntable in Baltimore that even plays 45s. Because I use music, if I ever make movies, I always have to play old records. I am equipped, but I don't collect vinyl. I just get CDs. But then my assistant puts all the music onto my iPod. So I have like 4,000 songs, and I just hit shuffle, and it's like having this radio station that I don't know what's going to come on, but I own it. [laughs] All of a sudden, Snoop Dogg will come on; it's very varied.
What is the last great book you read? Or what are you currently reading?
I just finished the book on the Barefoot Bandit. The true story of Colton Harris-Moore. Remember him? And another one that I really liked, it's a really a smart book about the Warhol films. The Black Hole of the Camera by J.J. Murphy. Those are the last two books I read, and tonight I'm going to start reading, let's see, probably Butterfly in the Typewriter: The Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole and the Remarkable Story of a Confederacy of Dunces. It's sort of a biography of the tragedies in his life. [laughs]
What is your favorite biography or memoir that you've read?
Well, definitely Tennessee Williams, which I wrote the introduction for. And I also wrote the intro for the William Castle memoirs when they did the rerelease. I'm not at home in Baltimore, so I can't really go through that section in my library. But certainly rock 'n' roll ones. Nancy Spungen's mother wrote a really great one called And I Don't Want to Live This Life. It's one of the best books ever, written about having a daughter that's out of control. Jeffrey Dahmer's father wrote a really, seriously good book. I like reading memoirs about extreme lives. Obviously.
An Evening With John Waters and This Filthy World on Saturday, July 28. There will be a Q&A session after the performance and a screening of Polyester beforehand at Parker Playhouse, 707 NE Eighth St., Fort Lauderdale. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets cost $36.50, $46.50, $61.50, and VIP $125. Call 954-462-0222, or visit parkerplayhouse.com.
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