This is an entertaining, insightful and often thought-provoking series of journalistic essays by John Waters on his role models.
Waters is arguably America's most wonderful, funny, quirky and cult film director (who can forget, once seen, the marvels of 'Pink Flamingos' and 'Female Trouble') and, for those who aren't already fans of his journalism as well, John Waters is a natural writer. You can hear his voice as he reflects, shares, meditates and wryly comments on a wide range of topics. He's also widely read and his cultural interests are equally wide-ranging and, unsurprisingly, reflective of his quirky, distinctive - and, I hasten to add, utterly charming - personality.
While this latest collection is accomplished and well worth the price - the UK edition, this review refers to, by the way, is by Beautiful Books, and is truly beautiful in format, dust jacket and design - and this review will highlight a bunch of evidence to justify such claims - it doesn't have the many hysterically funny, laugh-out-loud moments that run through two of his previous collections of journalism (I'm thinking here of 'Crackpot' and 'Shock Value', both of which I adore).
But there's no harm or foul in this fact, as there's a greater maturity and depth to be found in these essays. (Still, if you want incredibly funny, there is one article in particular, 'Baltimore Heroes', in which he tells you stories about some of his beloved local heroes, and, one especially had me laughing out loud time and time again: Esther Martin, who ran a bar whose only clients were bums and misfits, alcoholics and troubled, with Esther as 'keeper of the asylum', but all of whom were welcome in The Wigwam, or Club Charles as it was later renamed. Esther was clearly an amazing, remarkable woman, who took **** from no one, and swore like a motherf**ker. It's the stories her grown-up kids share with John Waters about Esther's swearing - including the fact that she swore on yellow post-it notes left around her house for her kids (all of whom loved Esther to bits, and for whom Esther was clearly a responsible parent), that leave you gasping for breath.)
In 'Bookworm', he tells you about some of his many favourite reads (in his Baltimore house, he had as of the time he wrote the article, 8,425 books). He shares his love for the very quirky, brilliant fiction of Ivy Compton-Burnett, and focuses on 'Darkness and Day', one of 'her strangest novels' - which is saying something, because only her first one was ordinary (she disowned it), the rest are all uniquely original and disturbing; he evokes the wonder of Jane Bowles' 'Two Serious Ladies', and the little-known English novelist, Denton Welch's 'In Youth Is Pleasure', and others, besides. It's fascinating, and demonstrates his real love for great fiction.
Interestingly, in 'Leslie', he maturely reflects on the Manson murders - as well as his obsession about them as an interest ever since they occurred in 1969 - in terms of the real implications and impact on the lives of the victims as well as on the life of - and his long-term friendship with - one of the murderers in particular - Leslie being, of course, Leslie Van Houten, one of the original Manson 'family', who was involved in the LaBianca murders ('the night after the Tate massacre'), and still in prison.
He acknowledges how at first he was gratuitous and thoughtless in the way he drew upon the murders as fodder for entertainment, directly inspiring and leading him to write and direct the an homage movie to the murders, 'Multiple Maniacs'; besides dedicating 'Pink Flamingos' to the 'Manson girls, "Sadie, Katie and Les"'. The article shares his thoughts and feelings about the history and experience of being a long-term friend to Leslie. It is fascinating, troubling, moving and intelligent; deeply researched, compelling, and he also pulls no punches with himself or the reader. One of the most insightful interpretations of true crime that I have ever read.
I also want to single out his great article on his collection of modern art, 'Roommates' (the roommates in question being the art itself, inhabiting his house and two apartments). And it sounds like a fantastic collection, including pieces by Cy Twombly (probably the best appreciation I've ever read on this artist), besides Mike Kelley, Peter Fischli and David Weiss, and Richard Tuttle, and others.
I have read a lot of art appreciation over the years, but none has come close to conveying as well as 'Roommates' a collector's passion, and personal taste, and likewise consistently insightful observations about the art works themselves.
Fans, of course, will also be delighted that his mainstay obsessions continue in his latest collection, including a piece singing the praises of the fashion designer, Rei Kawakubo; besides great articles on the rock and roll singer, Little Richard (about an interview Waters did with him); on 'Outsider Porn', where he shares his passion for two of his favourite 'genius', groundbreaking outsider gay porn directors, Bobby Garcia and David Hurles - both sadly now absolutely broke; and on cult leadership, in 'Cult Leader' - that is a singular, funny fantasy about him being a great and charismatic cult leader and what he expects of us if we are to be his devoted disciplines.
He also writes beautifully, in a deeply personal and touching way, of his love, respect and appreciation for Tennessee Williams; 'he saved my life', Waters writes in his opening sentence to the essay, called 'The Kindness of Strangers'; and the equally lovely and charming, always thoughtful and learned essay appreciation on Johnny Mathis, his life and accomplishments, and whose opening sentence reads 'I wish I were Johnny Mathis'. Of course.
I wish I were John Waters, if only for a day. He's a true star, in the 1940s/50s Hollywood sense of the word, when it meant something; he is Little Richard, Johnny Mathis, Rei Kawakubo, yes, sometimes even a Cy Twombly drawing, but he is always, uniquely, irrepressibly John Waters. I love you, Mr Waters. May you write and direct much, much more, you beautiful, lovely, wicked, funny, clever, perfectly self-described 'Master of Filth'.