Catching Up with…John Waters

John Waters

(Reposted From Feb. 17, 2007)
“Think I invited you over here to discuss the future of independent film?” asks John Waters in the liner notes. “Hell no, I’m lookin’ for a little action!” Handpicked by the legendary filmmaker himself, the songs on this subversive follow-up to A John Waters Christmas are sure to seduce, including Elton Motello’s racy “Jet Boy Jet Girl,” a homicidal track by actress Mink Stole and Patience and Prudence’s “Tonight You Belong to Me,” the first record Waters ever shoplifted. I caught up with John just before he was to jet off to the Berlin Film Festival where there will be a screening of his performance film This Filthy World. We talked about the new CD, putting out on the first date and more….

First of all, what’s the story behind the sexy picture of you on the cover of A Date with John Waters?
That’s me last weekend! [Laughs] No, that picture was taken in about 1975 at the Deauville Film Festival in France. Gloria Swanson was there, and the one thing I remember is watching her in action. Marcia Resnick, a great photographer who followed the punk movement in America, took the picture. I’ve been waiting to use it for 30 years and I’m glad I saved it.

Am I a slut if I put out on the first date?
John Waters: No. Well, what do you mean by a date? I never say the word “date.” Only a hooker says that word now. “Want a date?” means $80 for a half and half. I don’t go on “dates.” Usually I just invite someone over to my house and play music—like my album! This album jokes about what would I play if I wanted to invite you over to seduce you. But in real life I’d probably play rap music because I never date people my own age.

You go for younger men?
It depends, but I don’t date lots of 90-year-olds! [Laughs] I’m all for gerontophilia, the sexual attraction to older people—which is an ugly word for a lovely thought.

From looking at your song selection, one might assume that you aren’t a fan of contemporary music.
I do listen to contemporary music all the time. I don’t want people to think that I think the old days were better, because I don’t. I have all my XM stations in the car—the punk rock station, the ’50s station, the old redneck country station. I like extreme music. I don’t like too much in the middle.

Have you always made mixtapes to impose your musical tastes on others?
I used to make them for myself on a reel-to-reel tape recorder when I was 11 years old and tape songs off the radio. And the soundtracks for my movies have always been like that, so I’ve been doing this forever. It’s all about my obsession with obscure music and my desire to make other people like it. 

I’d never heard Josie Cotton’s “Johnny Are You Queer.”
Well, that one seemed liked like a fair question on a date with me! I’d never heard of Mildred Bailey. My friend John Bell, who’s a painter in Provincetown, was obsessed with her and told me about her. She was an overweight white woman who passed for black because she sounded soulful like Billie Holiday, and the one album I have of hers even says that she was a fag hag. So the song on my album, “I’d Love to Take Orders From You,” was Mildred topping from the bottom!

Is there a centerpiece track on A Date With John Waters?
To me, it’s “All I Can Do Is Cry” by Ike and Tina Turner. This is the angriest song I’ve ever heard. Tina has her nose wide open, as she used to say, as she sings this. It’s about Ike marrying another girl and how fucking furious she is about it. And at the end she literally explodes in rage. So this song is my favorite. Tina Turner was a big influence on me and the character of Divine. And there’s a shot in Female Trouble of Edith Massey sitting in the back of the church when Dawn marries a heterosexual that is probably very influenced by this song.

But the liner notes say that this song almost makes you consider marriage.
Well, just to see how insane it makes people! I wouldn’t go to Ike’s wedding, personally, but if you’re Tina Turner you have no choice because their relationship, as we know, was about torture. Tina Turner is happy today living in Zurich—about as far away from Ike’s life as she could ever get—but I liked her better when she was with Ike. There was nobody more soulful than Tina. Although I’d like to see a battle—which is what they called it when the girls would sing against each other—between Tina Turner and Margie Hendricks, who sings on the Ray Charles song, “(Night Time Is) The Right Time.” To me, that’s the most sexual song on the album. It would be ultimate battle of the black divas.

Do you buy into the whole Valentine’s Day thing?
Yeah, I do. But Fran Lebowitz, my friend Pat Moran and my mother are usually the only people who send me a Valentine. I used to always send boys a little chicken heart or a little hen heart that I’d get at the butcher. I thought that was a nice way of telling them that I had a crush—in a very John Waters, ironic, punk rock way.

How will you be spending Valentine’s Day this year?
I’m going to be at the Berlin Film Festival with The Filthy World, my movie that Netflix put out. I don’t think they have Valentine’s Day in Germany. Doesn’t sound like a very German holiday.

What’s your idea of the perfect date?
Robbing a 7-Eleven, getting away with it and then coming home, counting the money, having sex and then eating bacon in the morning. 

Have you ever dated an ex-con?
Oh, I’ve absolutely dated an ex-con. Nothing I like better than a parole guard! Reformed is nice, though. But I don’t trust anyone who hasn’t been arrested at least once.

You did an album for Christmas and now Valentine’s Day. Which holiday’s next?
A lot of people have suggested Halloween, but that’s too easy. I want Easter—it’s all about guilt. With some weird religious songs about being reborn—or, better yet, being hammered to a cross. Talk about S&M music!

A date with John Waters is a must have for any Waters fan. You haven’t really lived until you hear the late great Edith Massey perform “Big Girls Don’t Cry!” Any Drag Queen worth her pumps should have that one in their repertoire. Since receiving this CD it has not left my changer. Other don’t miss tracks include: Mink Stole’s “Sometimes I Wish I Had a Gun”, Ray Charles’ “Night Time is the Right Time”, and “In Spite of Ourselves” by Iris DeMent, John Prine. Check out John reading the thrilling and provocative liner notes of his new release on Youtube. A Date With John Waters (New Line Records) is out NOW. Netflix has Waters’ performance film This Filthy World as an exclusive DVD rental. So if you weren’t able to catch it in a local cinema, here’s your chance! A new Hairspray movie with John Travolta in the Divine role comes to theaters this Summer.