Talking to John Waters is a dream. Nothing is taboo, everything is edifying and entertaining, and the respectable act of conversation becomes a potential gateway into a realm of delirious perversities. A raconteur, cinematic treasure, cultural curator and testament to the enduring and nurturing power of filth, Waters has been a speaker all over the world with his memoir/stand-up act This Filthy World.
But now he's bringing his new show, a no-holes-barred dive into his sincere and captivating love for Christmas, right to the middle of Music City 8 p.m. Wednesday at War Memorial Auditorium. That was just the jumping-off point for a talk that encompassed the latest drugs, hirsute hipsters, the Joseph Losey filmography, the insult of gift cards, and the Nashville director whose film he placed atop his hotly awaited Artforum list of 2013's best movies.
Would you say Christmas is an inherently capitalist or a communist concept?
I'd say neither. I can see how you could have it representing both ideologies, but I would hate Christmas coming from either of those perspectives. What I think is that it's anarchy; that Christmas makes everyone crazy. Rich or poor, there's pressure and insanity, there's fake sentimentality, and there's real happiness. So I like it as a time of true anarchy — leading up to it. And then Christmas Day can be very relaxing and traditional.
What's the best gift you've ever been given?
That's a tough one. Probably just some book that I'd never heard of that I really liked, or an art piece that I liked. One thing, it's never about money — it's about finding that perfect example, like a book with a title that just makes you laugh. ... It's just about finding the exact right possible thing, not about spending a lot of money. Sometimes if you spend a lot of money it makes you look like you don't have any imagination and that you don't even really like the person that much.
It's all about showing that you understand your friends' aesthetics.
Exactly. I always think that if someone gives you a gift card, what they're really saying is, "You're stupid and you don't have any interests."
As you're one of the pre-eminent poppers enthusiasts in modern culture, what's your take on the chaos at PWD [Pac-West Distribution]?
The man that ran it [Joseph Miller] killed himself, you know ... I talked to him, he sent me a lifetime supply of poppers, and then he killed himself. And I felt terrible. I felt so bad, because he was so nice. But I never called to ask why, and I never read anything further about it.
There's a lot of conflicting information, and some ongoing drama about recipes and twins and locations.
It was in some weird place in the Midwest, I think ... Does that mean there's not going to be any Rush? If so, I'm embarrassed, because my lifetime supply is almost gone ... because I give them for Christmas presents and for party favors. And whenever people would tell me about a new rap group that they liked, I'd give them a bottle to thank them.
The gift that keeps on giving.
It's very polite — it's just good manners to pay off people with popper kickbacks. ...
What do you think about the current hipster look, or as I like to think of it, the inverse of rough trade?
The hipster look I know and like is where really cute guys purposely wear "I Just Kidnapped Elizabeth Smart" beards. I like that look a lot. I'm also still a fan of wearing the pants sagging down and showing the boxer shorts — especially if you're white, because that confuses everybody. But that's a look that started in prison — because you can't have belts — and I'm amazed by it when I see it on the streets because these guys make it look so effortless; it's like when you would look in National Geographic and see photos of thousands of people walking with baskets on their heads, walking perfectly, and it's the same.
Have you seen Boy George lately? I just saw him in London, and he looks like that. He looks like a blue-collar guy in Baltimore, and it really works. He's in good shape, too, and I'm happy for him.
Cinematically: Frank Perry or Joseph Losey?
Oh, Joseph Losey, by far. One time, I got a really mean review from Frank Rich, who said I wasn't the underground Russ Meyer but that I was the underground Frank Perry. And I think he meant that as the meanest thing he could say about me.
Because of Mommie Dearest?
I don't dislike Frank Perry. But I love Joseph Losey — I love Eva, and I just had a master class in Liverpool on Boom! for 300 people — it was sold out, and it was great. If I was one of the Sprocket Holes like in Cecil B. Demented, that's the director who I would get tattooed on me. What was Perry's biggest one?
There was Last Summer and Doc, but the one I treasure most is Play It As It Lays.
Oh, I love that one. And Tuesday Weld is still alive, and I know Tab Hunter knows her — I wish she'd make a comeback.
Absolutely. But there's something to be said for taking control over your legacy and your body of work. ...
Oh, I get it. You want people to remember you how you were in Pretty Poison, not how you would be in a film that came out today that maybe didn't work.
But I bet she could still tear it up.
Yeah, she could; I'm a huge fan of Lord Love a Duck — I've seen them all.
Have you seen the Krokodil photos?[Note: Do NOT look up "Krokodil photos" online because it will ruin your life and you'll never be happy again.] All those poor Russian kids resorting to a synthetic heroin substitute that rots you away from the inside.
When's that hitting America? I never liked heroin — of all the drugs, I always liked ups. I tried heroin once when I was young, but the idea of sitting around puking and itching isn't what I call fun. Although I understand if you're a jazz musician you have to be a heroin addict. Heroin is the sound of jazz. When my mother was very ill in the hospital, they gave her morphine, and I said, "Finally; you can hear Coltrane."
So I understand heroin's great tradition in jazz. But the only addiction I ever had was cigarettes, and I would imagine that heroin is easier to quit than cigarettes. I talk in my show about Christmas drugs, about giving them as gifts. It must be so embarrassing to say "Got any mephedrone?" and old junkies will say, "It's 'methadone,' stupid!" And to have to respond, "No, meow-meow, gimme some mephedrone." The new ones are just not appealing to me. Anything that makes you act like Miley Cyrus — and I saw her video on salvia, and I don't wanna act like her. That's not my idea of high.
So Serial Mom is out on Blu-ray in Europe. Is there any chance we'll start getting HD transfers of your films here in the U.S.?
Cry-Baby is out there too, and Hairspray is coming out in America on Blu-ray next year; I just found that out. As far as a box set or anything, it depends. Warner Bros. distributes most of them now — who'd've thought? — but they've been great. So I hope so.
Also, Chuck [Stephens] from [Baltimore's] Recordmasters says hello.
Does he live in Nashville now?
Yes. Teaching the youth. [Film critic Stephens, now a Watkins film instructor, performed in a group with a song on the soundtrack of Waters' Desperate Living.]
Tell him I miss Recordmasters, it was my favorite record store. You can tell him that in the shopping center it was in, there's not one store left except for a Rite-Aid. And I love that Rite-Aid; it's like Dawn of the Dead.
What's the most upsetting thing you've read lately?
Definitely the destruction in the Philippines after the typhoon. It's just horrifying — everyone is holding their nose in the pictures you see because of the smell of death. I can't even imagine how horrible that is.
It's horrifying, but the media seems to treat it almost as an abstraction.
People want to look away ... and to be honest, you think, "What can you do to help? Does it really help? Does it do any good if you send in a hundred dollars?" I don't know, but I really hope it does. It's hard to know where that hundred dollars goes, but it's got to be worth that risk, to do what you can.
On the opposite end of that spectrum, how did you react to the NSA revelations?
Were you surprised about that? I'm not. I think that every government spies on their people, and that every time one of these revelations comes out, whether it's Julian Assange or Edward Snowden, I don't think it hurts anyone — I think it embarrasses them. It embarrasses them, and I think we need to know this stuff that's being done. ... I'm terrified of the billboards, the new ones that change every second, that can recognize your license plate or your computer. I'm afraid I'll be with my mother and porn ads will come up.
It's the next step in social unease.
I was just in London and I was obsessed by Rebekah Brooks and her fashion every day of the hacking trial, and I have to wonder if they're going to make her cut her hair in prison. ... I do understand that if you're a juvenile delinquent today, it's not about fashion; it's about sitting in your parents' house, they haven't seen you for three weeks, they leave food outside your door, and you're shutting down the governments of foreign countries on your computer — that's how you're a juvenile delinquent today.
It's a constantly shifting frame of reference. Maybe the NSA will take all their surveillance and start making porn with it.
Well, in the porn business now, nobody makes any money. All porn is now free; I read Adult Video News and it's such a dilemma for pornographers all over the world.
Do you think there's hope for new and transgressive voices to break through, or for underseen classic trash to make a midnight-movie comeback?
I don't know that any movie can make a comeback at midnight. ... People barely go to the movies at midnight anymore; the last one that really made its name as a midnight movie was The Human Centipede. And I liked that movie — I'd heard a lot about it, and I thought it would be campy, but it was a good movie, I thought.
But the next big underground thing is going to come from some kid making a movie on his cellphone like I used to make mine on 8mm. The next thing — they're looking for it, that's the good thing about young people. Everybody can make a movie now, so there's so many bad ones. But the studios are looking for that next kid, which they certainly weren't back then. I've always said I wanted to see a film that gets an NC-17 with no sex and no violence in it. I don't know what it would be, but that's what I hope is being made right now.
We're trying to nurture the right balance of visionaries and perverts.
And you've got Harmony [Korine] there in Nashville — and I think Spring Breakers is just the funniest movie of the year. And James Intveld, the singing voice of Cry-Baby, lives there too — the most handsome, best rockabilly star in the world.
Spring Breakers is such a joy. And it was in the Top 10 movies in the country for two weeks. That's a glorious feat.
It's like Harmony brought back sexploitation movies! What more could you ask for? And have you seen James Franco's Oscar ad campaign? "Consider this shit." Hilarious ...
Would have liked to have known about the show and channel and time and day.....
Look for Lisa Simpson!
The word "SEX" is in between the last four flowers.
why is the forth flower from the right all whacky looking?
The fact of the matter is, the mass public doesn't give two shits about the…