A paragon of the weird and wonderful, John Waters is heading to Scotland for Glasgay! This veteran outsider tells Kaite Welsh why he yearns for those outlaw days of yore
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F or the past 50 years, John Waters has been shocking, horrifying and delighting audiences with his celebrated brand of bad taste. From defecating dogs, cult musicals and hitchhiking at 66 to sex addicts and a serial- killing Kathleen Turner, the ‘Pope of Trash’ has been pushing boundaries his whole life.
Now he’s looking back on his salacious career and looking forward to championing the next generation of weirdos, activists and artists in a one-night-only retrospective, This Filthy World Vol 2, as part of this year’s Glasgay! festival. ‘It’s for crazy people that feel good about themselves,’ he says of his event over the line from Baltimore. ‘I give you advice about fashion, about crime, about sex, about voodoo, and about how to have a career in whatever it is that you want.’
So what advice would he give to today’s emerging artists? Are there any taboos he hasn’t broken, and what exactly was drag queen Divine eating in that scene from Pink Flamingos? ‘I just do what’s funny,’ he says. ‘I think I’ve held back ever since I made Pink Flamingos because I’d done it and I didn’t need to prove myself any more. I’d made the i lthiest gesture in the world, and I didn’t have to do it again. I don’t want to keep upstaging myself.’
His partnership with Divine – People magazine’s Drag Queen of the Century and the inspiration for Ursula the Sea Witch in The Little Mermaid – resulted in some of the best i lms of his career, and it’s an artistic collaboration and personal friendship that has stayed with him. This didn’t stop Waters from writing that infamous scene for Divine, where his character had to eat freshly laid dog poo. ‘I’m not some kind of sadist: it was for anarchy, for art. We did it to startle people, to get their attention. It’s probably illegal now.’ For the record, getting the dog to perform on command was harder than it was for Waters to get the actor to eat it: ‘I had to follow him around all day with a camera!’
He started out on the fringes, but Waters is now undeniably part of the mainstream. His 1988 movie Hairspray was given new life on Broadway and in a 2007 remake, and he’s witnessed the commodii cation of weird and wonderful as subcultures co-opted by the media and fashion.
In fact, Waters isn’t sure that there is such a thing as an outsider anymore. ‘The outsiders now are people who try too hard to be different but aren’t, people who try to be eccentric when they’re really quite square. I think society has changed so much that everyone wants to be an outsider when it used to be a dirty word. It’s much more radical to say that you’re an insider.’
Aged 68, Waters Even the gay scene, once underground and taboo, has gone mainstream with gay marriage, corporate-sponsored Pride parades and yes, culture festivals. ‘Gay culture has more rules than my parents had growing up. It’s getting so strangled, so politically correct. I yearn for the outlaw days.’ He confesses, only half-joking, that he’d like to make it harder to be gay: ‘There should be auditions and a gay passport. There are some people that should just go back in the closet.’ and groundbreaking as he was as an enfant terrible. In 2012, he hitchhiked across America with only his credit cards, phone and a GPS stick. ‘I’m interested in extreme situations, that’s why I hitchhiked. I’d like to see a return to people taking chances, taking risks.’ He may not be ready to step away from the spotlight, but who does he see as his cultural successors? ‘I think my torch is being carried by all young people that are still fucking with people and trying to get a reaction. You can see my inl uence, and often it’s a bad inl uence because people try to be gross and it’s not funny. I was always trying to be witty.’
He’s looking forward to being the agony aunt of the avant garde for Glasgow’s artists, weirdos and punks, but when it comes down to it, his philosophy is simple. ‘Ask for what you want from life. Don’t be afraid to hear “no”. When I was hitchhiking, I stood there with my thumb out and hundreds of cars went past. The only thing that was important is the driver that said “yes”.’ It’s hard not to be envious of that driver. The Pope of Trash, the king of bad taste, the world’s worst inl uence is someone worth stopping for. He cackles, part-witch, part-roué. ‘Somehow I’ve gotten away with it and you can too!’
John Waters: This Filthy World Vol 2, O2 Academy, Glasgow, Fri 14 Nov.
THE HIGH LIFE Laura Maxwell takes her pick of the most exciting events at Glasgay! 2014
A cardinal has to prove his heterosexuality in this religious comedy. Writer Raymond Burke and director Grant Smeaton have created an awkward situation for those most esteemed of men. See preview, page 97. Tron Theatre, Wed 22 Oct–Sat 1 Nov.
SARA PASCOE VS HISTORY
In her Edinburgh Comedy Award- nominated show, Pascoe spins a deeply personal
tale of dating woes and sperm donation with a painful honesty many will relate to. See preview, page 60. The Stand, Sun 2 Nov.
VIKKI STONE: INSTRUMENTAL
After a career path that includes being a backing singer for Elton
John and performing in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s private theatre, musical comic Stone has collected instruments by various means to tell their, and her, stories. The Stand, Mon 10 Nov.
RON ATHEY: MESSIANIC
In this fourth instalment of his Incorruptible Flesh series, AIDS survivor Athey pushes his body hard to demonstrate just what the human physique can endure. A talk on the subject at Gilmorehill Centre (Thu 13 Nov) will also be available to book. See preview, page 97. The Arches, Tue 11 & Wed 12 Nov.
Starring radical physical
performer and erotic star, Mouse, Reservoir Ducks seeks to teach us of gender power. This edition of Everyday Courage’s queer club night is created by artist Anna Frisch, who is known for her London club nights. The Art School, Fri 14 Nov. 16 Oct–13 Nov 2014 THE LIST 13