Could John Waters Be Your Role Model?
By Richard Crouse
John Waters listens to Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett’s Monster Mash every day. He claims dancing to the song keeps him happy.
“It’s even more fun to do with Kleenex boxes on your feet,” he says. “Howard Hughes used to do that. I was fascinated by that. I thought, ‘Why did he do that?’ until I put them on one day. Do the Monster Mash in Kleenex boxes and you will not need Prozac or any kind of drug. It will put you in a good mood even if you have chemical depression.”
The 64-year-old Waters, a provocateur once labeled “The Pope of Trash” by William Burroughs, is best known as the twisted mind behind Pink Flamingos and Hairspray, but he’s also a journalist with writing credits that range from pieces for Rolling Stone to Vogue.
On the surface his latest work, a book titled Role Models, is a compendium of pieces on people he admires—that’s everyone from Johnny Mathis, who Waters says is ”beyond fame, beyond race, beyond trying too hard” to Esther Martin, a foulmouthed Baltimore bartender—but what emerges from the pages is something different.
“It is really my memoir,” he says, “it is about me but it is told through other people. They had to relate to my life in some way. They had to lead extreme lives in a way I could relate to mine. Perhaps something awful happened or something good happened, or [they had] great success or great failure or notoriety.”
The spotlight he shines on his subjects also illuminates the man behind the words. The one-time “Pope of Trash” is revealed as a sharp-tongued, but loyal and compassionate friend.
Take, for instance, his 14, 000 word defense of Leslie Van Houten. As a nineteen year old Van Houten, under the spell of Charles Manson, stabbed Rosemary LaBianca sixteen times. Waters befriended her twenty seven years ago. “I told her, ‘I’ve known you for a long time and you are a role model to me, to [be able] to get through this terrible thing that happened,” he says. “Can she ever get better? Can she ever survive the terrible crime she was involved in? And I think she has and I think she deserves a second chance. This is my letter to the parole board.”
We also learn of his taste for people on the fringe, whether they be pornographers like Bobby Garcia, who shot hundreds of videos of himself having sex with Marines or Zorro, a legendarily drug addled Baltimore stripper. Waters treats them all respectfully and notes that he would be hurt if they took offence to anything he had written about them.
“I find people’s personalities fascinating,” he says. “I do try and understand everybody and that’s what this book is about. These people have had it worse or better than me and they’ve had to be brave and bravery is a complicated word, but they somehow have survived. Each one of those people taught me a lesson in a weird way.”
– Richard Crouse
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