John Waters Interviewed: Teabagging, C*** Eyes and Charles Manson

Exploring his diverse influences, from Johnny Mathis to Marine pornographers, John Waters’ new book Role Models reveals a great deal about the author himself, and stands as an object lesson in happy neurosis.
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Exploring his diverse influences, from Johnny Mathis to Marine pornographers, John Waters’ new book Role Models reveals a great deal about the author himself, and stands as an object lesson in happy neurosis.

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John Waters: Mad as can of hornets

Arriving in London to a backdrop of civil unrest and snowbound chaos, John Waters - not, you‘d hazard, a particularly shockable man - appears to be at least bemused by Britishness. A dapper figure with his Kohled-in mouthbrow, at 64 Waters retains his mischievous glint, and is almost quaintly well-mannered, adopting a considerate sotto voce every time a waitress comes within earshot during the earthier points in our conversation. While the auteur of such bad-taste epics as Pink Flamingos has long since forayed successfully into the mainstream, his abiding fascination with the more perverse aspects of human behaviour is clearly undimmed, as his new book Role Models testifies. Within its pages you’ll meet some of the livelier figures in the Waters demi-monde; all reassuring enough for the seasoned filth-hounds, but for long-term devotees familiar with previous published works such as Shock Value, this book may hold some surprises …

“Maybe…” Waters concedes. “Yeah, that (Shock Value) came out in 1980, and it never went out of print… I guess they’d be surprised, maybe that it’s not really about my movies, but it is about my life… I think if you buy a book from me, you’d want to be surprised… I think that’s what you’d hope for!”

What struck me was there’s an element of self-examination in it, which I didn’t pick up so much from Shock Value…

“No, and partially what I wrote in there, some of the self-examination, especially about the Manson case… Tex (Watson) was in this one (Shock Value), which was simply written in a very flippant way. What happened to all the teenagers who loved Manson, I can only talk for Leslie, I know Tex, but he’s the hardest one. He did it all, he says it, I’m not snitching, right? But I didn’t pay much attention to the victims when I wrote that. Manson was the boogey man then, he was a punk rock Freddie Kruger! And I did that later when I asked Leslie, ‘Did you ever feel cool?’, and she looked at me, like ‘Cool??? So far from our consciousness, we were so far gone, isolated in the desert, thinking the end of the world was happening’, they didn’t even know what cool was, it was beyond any of that. So I needed to address that… Leslie had said, when I said I was going to write about her, she didn’t want to, ‘I wish people would forget’, and little did we know, it gets worse, it doesn’t get better, about people forgetting."

Much of your work though seems to represent a human need to laugh at the inappropriate, to me that’s almost a necessary safety valve…

“It IS a safety valve, they talk about gallows humour, certainly there’s gallows humour, everything when you can’t change something that’s so terrible, there is humour in it, and I think that has to be shared, and sometimes there has to be an understanding … sometimes, things are said that aren’t meant to be public, like these things that have been wreaked today (WikiLeaks)… you know, everyone’s said shitty things, but don’t expect it to be in the paper!  All these diplomats, it ISN’T really that bad, because they’ve ALL said shit about everybody! I mean who didn’t think Russia was like the Mafia, my mother knows that! That’s not a big secret!”

When he calls her ‘Cunt Eyes’, that was her sexual organ, the eyes that she watched him with. But, I admit, the translation…!!! And I’d like to know in the subtitles how the hell they did that! But, of course, in America, that word is much, much worse than here! It’s a really anti-woman word in America, here it’s just ‘you silly fool’ or something

Aesthetically, you’ve mentioned that Baltimore is separated from what’s happening elsewhere, but your early films are uncannily in tune with certain other phenomena, like the New York Dolls or maybe the Tubes…

“Yeah, but that was before that, and they weren’t big influences. I just listened to black music, I couldn’t stand the Beatles… they ruined rock’n’roll for me! No, but I don’t dislike them, but to me they ended rhythm and blues, so from when the Beatles came out, to punk, I have no knowledge. And I started again with punk, and kept going with grunge and rap. When punk came along to me was the best because, I still like punk rock boys, I feel at home with them, even though it’s ludicrous, some kids with a Mohawk - it‘s not Halloween guys, it’s hardly cutting edge now, to look like that!”

The section in your book on outsider pornographers is a bit of an eye-opener…

“…it’s like gay men have wanted straight men, and are they straight? Yes, actually! People are horny, men will do a lot of things.  ‘Making out’ is not one of them. And that is more intimate, to a man! So Bobby (Garcia, Marine pornographer) and all those horny guys, I don’t believe he’s ever kissed one… but it’s amazing, you go and see these films, thousands of Marines, and a lot of them didn‘t even (get paid), they were taking beer for it. And it’s not what you would usually think about Marines, you’d think they’d beat the shit out of you. But the word spread, and what amazed me was, at the height of his career, you can hear it, ‘Hurry up!’, they’re outside, and they’re waiting, and outside of his house… there were so many Marines waiting that other pornographers came, there were traffic jams, trying to lure away the other Marines to go with them… and they all came to do straight porn, they never came to do gay, because he always pretended it was audition tapes to do straight porn! But some of them, one of them was lying on the floor and he’s licking pornography! It’s a magazine open on the floor, he’s licking the magazine… I guess that’s improv, with Bobby! Some of them just jerk off, a couple of them… which Bobby is repelled by, want him to fuck them! And Bobby hates that, but he knows he has to because of the viewer, because it’s so rare, in the order of what happens. And you just realise you don‘t know what anybody‘s sexuality is, you just really don’t know peoples’ secrets and what they do.

“These guys, it’s like anything, in Bobby’s early career, they’re really handsome but getting older, the marines get uglier! Unfortunately! But the early ones, you think, movie stars, these are like porn stars but better than any of the real porn stars, and you think, ‘They’re not going to… oh my GOD!’ And Bobby’s insane too, he drinks baby oil, then goes down them! I never heard of that!”

I’m still trying to take in teabagging!

“Well that got a lot of play in America, when this whole teabagging thing happened, and Rachel Maddow was the big newscaster on MNSBC, she showed the whole scene from Pecker, and the crew was laughing and explaining what teabagging is, and then the Republicans stopped calling it that, they called it ‘teabaggers’ and not the act of teabagging, newscasters would all say it and start laughing, because THEY knew what it meant!”

I have one last question, a friend would never forgive me if I didn’t ask this… ‘cunt eyes’, what were you thinking?

“I would say three times a year when I’m walking down the street, somebody whispers to me on the street ‘cunt eyes’! And every time it makes me laugh! Cotton (Pink Flamingos) was a voyeur, she just wanted to watch him (Crackers). So her eyes were the erotic thing, for him as an exhibitionist, so when he calls her ‘Cunt Eyes’, that was her sexual organ, the eyes that she watched him with. But, I admit, the translation…!!! And I’d like to know in the subtitles how the hell they did that! But, of course, in America, that word is much, much worse than here! It’s a really anti-woman word in America, here it’s just ‘you silly fool’ or something… in America, women get very offended by the word, and usually it’s used by a horrible man saying something terrible about a woman… but to just say ‘I love your cunt eyes’, is like, I don’t know what I was thinking… but it’s not a bad line! I guess I DO know what I was thinking… and, um, I just explained it! I think it may have confused the audience in the middle of their love scenes… ‘HUH???’”

Role Models by John Waters is published by Beautiful Books.

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