John Waters is in town for a public conversation tomorrow night, presumably about his films and his new book, Role Models.
Which means the topics of Waters's conversation are likely to include, but not be limited to: wishing he were Johnny Mathis; having his life saved by Tennessee Williams; being really good friends with murderous brainwashed Manson girl Leslie Van Houten; wearing clothes by "genius fashion dictator" Rei Kawakubo with religious devotion; drinking with buddies in Baltimore dive bars; annotating his list of Five Books You Should Read to Live a Happy Life If Something Is Basically the Matter With You; having his grandmother frightened by Little Richard; getting to know rough-and-tumble homoerotic photographer and one-time Doggie Diner cruiser David Hurles; having his library defiled by weirdo assemblage artist Mike Kelley and fantasizing about being scribbled on by Cy Twombly; and wanting at last to accept his own responsibility as a cult leader. Should make for a pretty good evening, no?
Well, yes, unless you're just hearing about this for the first time. Waters's City Arts and Lectures event sold out last month. But his book will be in stores next month, and you can pre-order it now.
Waters's ruminations on his own eclectic and variously subversive role models are particularly satisfying, not least because he's such an eclectic and variously subversive role model himself. But the great charm of the book is its digressiveness. The Kawakubo piece, for instance, becomes a meandering tour of Waters's fashion sense -- from his appreciation of Baltimore thrift stores to the origin story of his iconic pencil moustache, "a ridiculous fashion joke that I still wear forty years later," whose maintenance alone has yielded several funny stories. Similarly, when Waters's deeply considered and perhaps surprisingly self-critical piece on Leslie Van Houten appeared in The Huffington Post last year, and one commenter asked, "What does the fact that the author's girlfriend caught him in bed with a man have to do with anything?" it is safe to say the point was missed.
A receptive skeptic, who can somehow be bitchy and nonjudgemental at once, Waters proves an astute and highly entertaining surveyor of his and our culture. Maybe it's because he's just always out there, in more ways than one.
"I'm obsessed with taking public transportation in San Francisco so I can feel like a real local," he writes. "When I get on a bus, people in the Bay Area start laughing. Not meanly....No, it's just because they don't expect to see me. ?What are you doing on a bus!?' they ask, as if they expect me to have my own personal filthmobile and driver."
So even if you didn't score a ticket to his talk tonight, perhaps fate will bless you with a public Waters spotting after all. If not, don't fret, but do follow his example. "What I like best," Waters writes, "is staying home and reading."
John Waters appears at City Arts and Lectures in conversation with Kevin Berger 8pm, Tuesday, May 25, 2010 at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco. For tickets and information visit cityarts.net. Waters appears at California Lectures in conversatin with Edward Ortiz 7:30pm, Wednesday, May 26, 2010 at the Crest Theatre in Sacramento. For tickets and information visit californialectures.com.