What's the difference between the bad taste of say the Jersey Shore variety and the bad taste of John Waters? "You have to have good taste to have bad taste. You have to know which rules to break," Waters explained last night at his Miami Book Fair appearance. The legendary Baltimore filmmaker and writer answered questions from Brett Sokol, arts editor at Ocean Drive. Waters discussed his memoir Role Models, where he tells his own story through the lives of those he's admired. The collection starts off with Johnny Mathis, and includes Zorro and one of the Manson girls who's a personal friend of his, among others.
Waters, who describes his look in Role Models as "disaster at the dry cleaners," donned camo pants, a pink shirt with a skinny tie to match his thin mustache, and a white-trimmed black blazer. He's aware that he looks like a child molester, especially on New Year's Eve when he sees Alvin alone at the movies every year. That's OK. When he was little, he overheard his parents call him an "odd duck" and he knew what he wanted to do with his life.
Although Waters said one of his greatest joys is that as he gets older,
his audience gets younger, the crowd at last night's event was
generationally mixed. He spoke for an hour about his book, career, and
motivations. The takeaway? Waters is basically an astute collector and
re-teller of stories. He goes out of his way to meet interesting people
with extreme pasts.
That's why he taught in prison for many years. After a screening of Pink
Flamingos, a class of murders and rapists told him "You're fucked up."
Inmates would tell him about their awful incest-ridden childhoods and
vicious crimes. Waters recognized the brutality of such
events, but these same stories also start something
churning in his creative mind.
For instance, as he relayed last night, one of his friends slept with
Versace killer Andrew Cunanan while he was on the loose after the
murder. He said he realized how scary a situation that was and how
fucked up (both were drug addicts). But he mentioned riding past the
Versace mansion just yesterday, and there was a gleam of thoughtfulness and
intrigue in his retelling.
It's also clear that his early movies and books were a big F U to
hippies. In the '60s, he used to raid communes and throw sugar and meat on
hippies' front steps. He tried to make Divine, star of Pink Flamingos
and Hairspray, into some sort of Jane Mansfield/Godzilla hybrid to scare
away the granola sect. But when describing Divine, his friend and not
the character, he relied on literary reference, comparing him to
Ignatius in The Confederacy of Dunces.
Books are hugely important to Waters whose only job was in a
bookstore. One of his role models is Tennessee Williams, who he believes
saved his life. Early on in the night, he implored parents and
librarians to give the kids what they want - give them Dennis Cooper
books! He also mentioned the last great book he read was Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian.
What's next for Waters, a man who says he loves high and low culture but
is scared OF shopping malls? Well, it's not Fruitcakes, a children's Christmas
movie he wrote about a posse of meat thieves. It got canned (like Spam, get it?). The "Prince of Puke" writes every weekday morning from 8 until noon, calling himself a one-night alcoholic because he only drinks on Friday nights. He is
working on another script, but it's still hush-hush. As he seemed a
little exasperated with today's tech kids ("All the bad kids are home
hacking when they should be out there thinking up fashions that annoy
me"), perhaps his camp lens will turn to life online. That would be LOL.