William Burroughs once called filmmaker, writer, and purely funny man John Waters "the pope of trash," and the title stuck. He gave to the world his regular crew of miscreants (read: geniuses) the Dreamlanders, a singing asshole on the big screen, and the most Divine drag queen of all. He taught us not to wear white after Labor Day. He made us want to be one of the outsiders.
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 this interview, the charismatic and casual (he was wearing basically only boxer shorts!) Waters spoke with New Times about a hitchhiking trip across America, his favorite hustler bar in Fort Lauderdale, and his musical preferences. Spoiler alert: Justin Bieber is on that list!
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 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.
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 "Mockingbird." [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. The actors aren't there. Only I would have known. [laughs]
When it comes to music, you have really eclectic tastes. 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.
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]
Do you think A Dirty Shame will be your last film?
It may well be. And that wouldn't be the end of the world for me. I have a meeting tomorrow about Fruitcake. But you know, I'm writing another book. My last one was a bestseller. My career is going better than it's ever been, except for making movies. That's a good question. But if it is, you know, I've spoken. It's not like I've left any stones unturned in the battle of the tyranny of good taste. But I still hope I get to make this film [Fruitcake]; it's a children's movie, and I've never parodied that genre before.
So, you'll be making your way down to Fort Lauderdale soon, and you've been here before. Do you have any fun stories about visiting in the past?
My very favorite hustler bar in the whole wide world was in Fort Lauderdale. It hasn't been there in over 25 years, and I wish I remembered the name. I accidentally stumbled into it, and it was shocking and great. And other people always tell me the name of it, and I wish it was still around. But it's long, long gone. It was truly something out of [Jean] Genet meets John Reggie. This was like "straight" guys who were hustlers. Well, they certainly were not straight. Whatever they were. They were like gay for pay. It was just amazing. You know that time has come and gone. It was very old-school Genet, and older gay men always know what bar I'm talking about. I wish someone would give me a picture of that bar.
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
That a "no" is free. Don't be afraid of rejection.
And if you could choose your last words, what would they be?
"Thank you for letting me get away with this." It's really true, you know. The first movie I made was in 1964; that's getting close to 50 years. And I still don't have to get a "real" job. I work longer hours than a real job. [laughs] But I don't ever wake up and think, "Oh God. Ugh. I have to go to work." That's the ultimate freedom.
To read the full interview, visit CountyGrind.com.