Maybe it’s twist of fate or blessing from the divine — pun intended — but by all accounts, the culture has caught up with John Waters.
“When I was young I got arrested for doing the exact same work,” muses the prolific writer, author, artist and filmmaker of such 1970s and ’80s envelope-pushers as Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, Hairspray, Polyester, and Cry Baby, to note but a few. “It’s a wonderful feeling to know that the public has been there, somehow, and has let me get away with it all these years, and enabled me never to get a ‘real job.’”
Waters’ job, actually, has been, in part, to illuminate human behavior. He’s mastered that craft for 50 years now and the provocateur’s prolific canon of work has fueled a pop culture success story that now inspires the masses. (Look for his memoir “Mr. Know-It-All” to drop next fall.) His most recent stage endeavor, “This Filthy World,” is a savage one-man romp focusing on Waters’ early artistic influences and his fascination with true crime, exploitation films, fashion lunacy, and the extremes of sexual politics. His talk opens Outlandish, a festive program of ongoing events generated by the Palm Springs Cultural Center.
Here, the man William Burroughs once referred to as “The Pope of Trash,” chats up culture, life lessons — and filth — with Palm Springs Life.
You read six papers each morning and continually update or rewrite your monologue. You will be performing here just before the election. Should be juicy.
“This Filthy World” is always up-to-date on what’s going on politically. The news is my soap opera. It’s more insane than anything I could think up in my movies.
In some ways, your show is about risk and failure.
I certainly have risked everything. Sometimes in a good way, a failure, turns into a great success. I think what risk and failure is about is taking a chance in believing in some lunatic vision and having fun with it, and trying to get the word out to other people who will probably agree with you. You just have to find your audience. And my audience takes “niche audience” to a new realm.
I try to think: What are they thinking? Even with Trump I wonder that. How can you really expect, when the world laughs at you … how can you spin that around in your own head and believe it?
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY PALM SPRINGS CULTURAL CENTER
So take me there. You’re up on stage. How do you feel when you are performing?
It’s like being a politician. I get to meet my audience. And they are really smart. And they always get their roots done before I come.
Well, it’s the polite thing to do.
And they always have a good attitude and sense of humor about themselves. Because of the Internet, everywhere is cool now. I can go to Omaha or Palm Springs. I can go to Paris. And the kids that come see me, too. It’s all ages, all sexual persuasions. It’s a really mixed audience, but my main message is anti-separatism.
Tell me about your writer’s room.
Well, there’s one long, big table filled with books I use for reference. It has whatever it is I am reading. There’s a picture of Grace Metalious on it — she wrote Peyton Place. There’s a bottle of Justin Bieber’s pimple medicine he put out—only once—and autographed for me. And I have a bottle of Tylenol that was recalled [Oct. 5 1982].
Do you really?
Just little mementos that inspire me. And clear scotch tape, a legal pad, and scissors. All of my first drafts are done by hand before somebody types it all up.
So, you were really taken by ‘Peyton Place.’
Of course. It was the first dirty scandal book I ever read. I love Grace. I went to her house. I went to her grave. I have a piece of her wallpaper from her writing room framed in my writing room.
What was going through your mind when you read Peyton Place?[Laughs] Masturbation. I was 10.
Your works showcase a broad range of peoples’ unique behaviors.
I try to think: What are they thinking? Even with Trump I wonder that. How can you really expect, when the world laughs at you … how can you spin that around in your own head and believe it? I try to understand all sorts of people—villains or people I love. I never understand how anybody could say they could be bored. Just go outside and watch people.
You’re private about your boyfriend.
I don’t ever talk about that, because if you talk about everything you don’t have a private life.
And if you don’t have a private life, you don’t have anything. I love that I have friends I can have dinner with and they are not tax deductible.
Well, what are a few things you may have learned from your more intimate relationships, whether it be your boyfriend or …?
To be less of a director. That would be the top one.
Pulling back a little bit?
Well, all directors are control freaks, aren’t they? But who wants to be involved with a control freak? Let’s allow for extra takes. [Laughs]
Are you surprised by your success?
Sometimes. It’s exciting. I’ve been doing this for 50 years. It would be another thing if I’d been doing this for 50 years and no success—I’d go insane.
Biggest personal challenge you’ve had to overcome?
I don’t know. I had a bad hair life.
I had bad hair as a baby. But I’m well adjusted so …
Best advice to impart about living well.
Well, the worst is to flaunt it—the rich are the only ones who act rich correctly. They are embarrassed by it. They try not to show it.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve been learning about yourself lately?
I had a psychiatrist once who told me, “Later on in life, we don’t care why you did all the things you did. Once you get into your seventies, let’s just get through life and have the happiest life you can.” So, I agree with that. Accept the good and the bad. And move on!
John Waters presents “This Filthy World” at 8 p.m. Oct. 26, at Camelot Theatre, 2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs. For tickets and more information, visit palmspringsculturalcenter.com.