John Waters Will Always Be a Punk at Heart. A BUST Interview About Pop Culture, Drag and Buttholes.

by callie watts

Welcome to The Legends Corner! BUST’s Associate Editor Callie Watts got to sit down with the seminal riot grrrl band Bratmobile and the Prince of Puke, John Waters who will all be hitting the stage at Mosswood Meltdown in Oakland on July 1st and 2nd. Check out part 1 of our Legendary Legendary Legendary interview series here and keep an eye out for Bratmobile’s “What You Watching” list after the festival for all the pop culture they are consuming right now!

John Waters is one of the most iconic film makers and mustache wearers of all time. The man that brought us Divine eating dog shit in Pink Flamingos and gave us Ricki Lake doing The Roach in HairsprayI. He often cast the same actors, known as the Dreamlanders and has famously filmed all of his movies in his beloved Baltimore. He has been called “The Prince of Puke”, “The Sultan of Sleaze”, “The Baron of Bad Taste”, and “The Pope of Trash,” and he is a filthy lil punk lover at heart. He has been hosting the Mosswood Meltdown festival for 7 years and is at it again this year. We chatted with him to discuss punk shows, banning drag and reading buttholes.

Callie Watts: How are you doing!

John Waters: I’m alright! I’m alright, here in Provincetown.

CW: Oh! Is it smoggy there?

JW: You know, I haven’t even looked outside; I’ve been working so hard. I never notice the weather unless it stops me. Gore Vidal once said ‘No one ever asks me about the weather, I’m too smart.’ which really made me laugh, it was such a snobby thing to say. I always feel sorry for doormen in buildings because everytime every person they know that lives in that building walks out they say ‘nice day!’ or ‘it’s raining!’ or something about the weather. It must be torture to talk about the weather if you’re a doorman, but you have to act nice about it.

CW: But this is a weird weather though, it’s like, yellow out. [this was during the Canadian wildfires]

JW: Oh I saw! I’m in Provincetown, I’m not in New York, so it’s weird because I’m way further north than you are, it’s foggy out but there’s no— I saw what New York looks like; you know, the end of the world, the Red Death or something. I get why you asked now, it looks like a horror movie.

CW: It’s not surprising to me that you’re involved with the music festival, given your spectacular albums and taste in music.

JW: Punk rock! They’re my people. this is the seventh year I’ve done it. It’s a group of people that I really like because they hate everybody in the world except themselves, and I find that kind of endearing. People say ‘oh, what’s that like? Is it crazy?’ I say, ‘no it’s almost more of a loving festival than Woodstock but everyone just pretends they’re angry and crazy.’ But they get along. It’s from ages 12 to 90. I mean, I’ve seen 80-year old drag queens gogo dancing. It’s pretty good. Really ample people stage diving, but they got a little heavier as they got older, and people drop ‘em.”

Punk rock! It’s a group of people that I really like because they hate everybody in the world except themselves, and I find that kind of endearing.

CW: Oh, I’ve definitely been dropped and I’m not even heavy.

JW: I’ve always said, ‘one year, I’m gonna stage dive.” But I have to have it so planned; it would really be shocking if I just ran off and jumped in while I was introducing one of the groups so maybe one year I’ll do it. Maybe I’ll do it when I’m 80.

CW: I saw Grace Jones do that two years ago, and… shirt off. She hit her face with the microphone…

JW: I know right, she’s great. She’d definitely do that.

CW: Her mouth was bleeding and I was like ‘there she goes… Tits akimbo, floating past us, in the sea covered in blood.’ It was epic.

JW: Grace has always been punk in a way, even though she was crazy disco, she was everything, but she was always a punk at heart. She still does shows that are great, she didn’t even have to reinvent herself. A lot of the punk people who are headliners, they never have to reinvent themselves. But they’re not ‘oldies but goodies.’ It never seemed sad to me when I see the punk rock people that [Mosswood] gets, and some of them haven’t performed in 10, 15 years…

CW: Bratmobile!

CW: Is there anyone that you’re particularly excited about for this festival?

JW: I like that it’s all women, almost completely this year. I love angry women, you know. And angry women, nobody hits on them, but they’ll hit you! So I think it’s gonna be a good year. And I just watch the crowd the whole time I’m there, that’s what’s really interesting to me. But I’ve seen some great shows there, so I’m definitely looking forward to it.

CW: So are we ever gonna get another album? Because we would listen in the BUST office, every year on repeat on the holidays, A Date With John Waters and A John Waters Christmas.

JW: Not that kind of album, but I had two grammy nominations! Make Trouble, which was my commencement speech. And then I did one last year called Prayer to Pasolini where I recorded at the murder site where Pasolini was murdered, and I pray and speak in tongues. That’s out and this year I had a record too, it was called It’s In The Book. I covered a novelty song that’s on Sub Pop records, it sold out right away and they just finally got it back in print. So I have records! 45s! I have a brown 45. And a gold one.

CW: How did I miss these? I love this.

JW: Yeah, so I have records out still! Now, the other ones I did were either soundtrack albums or they were, you know, my picks where I curated music.

CW: How did you develop your taste for music? Who were yoru influences?

JW: Well I grew up in Baltimore, which was the South. So it was country music, and rockabilly. It was mostly black music; rhythm and blues. I saw James Brown at the Royal when I was in high school, and I met him 40 years later in Bloomingdales of all places. And I said ‘I got beat up when I went to see you the first time, but it was worth it!’

CW: We like to ask people what kind of pop culture they’re into, what they’re watching.

JW: Well, I guess the way that this generation is rebelling more than anything than even my generation has a handle on is the trans/non-binary thing. It seems like every person’s child that I know is trapped in the wrong body, which I find delightful. It’s weird because now all the liberals are saying ‘just be gay,’ which is the opposite of when I was growing up. So I think now, that’s probably the new rebellion that is the most different for this generation. That is definitely the signature rebellion.

CW: I wanted to ask you about how you felt about all these drag bans.

JW: Well that’s the thing, just people being against drag, like that helps. Remember Anita Bryant? She made the whole gay movement start! So whenever somebody tries to ban something that’s already been accepted, like gay marriage or drag queens (made totally acceptable to Middle America by RuPaul, which, great work he did for that.) You can’t go backwards. It just strengthens them because people can make fun of you, you look like an idiot. To me, if you ban my book I’d be happy. Because then it’s in the front of the bookstore in a special ‘banned books’ section.

CW: And that’s how you’ve always felt about your movies too.

JW: Yeah it helps! It helps. If you hate something, shut up about it because then nobody will notice it.

CW: I was trying to show someone Pink Flamingos, they had never seen it, which I was appalled by. You can’t find that streaming online anywhere.

JW: Pink Flamingos got picked this year by the National Film Registry as a great American film by the Library of Congress. Even I think that’s crazy. And Pink Flamingos is worse if you watch it today than it was when it came out because of political correctness. But you know what? It’s joyous. I make fun of things I love, not of what I hate. And I’m not mean spirited. Unless it’s about Trump. You can find them all on the Criterion channel. They have Pink Flamingos, they have Polyester; I think you can find them pretty easy through Criterion. They have beautiful versions of Multiple Maniacs, Pink Flamingos, Polyester, and Female Trouble. They did beautifully restored versions of them. Serial Mom came out with another company, a beautiful 4K version of it. Cry Baby’s coming out again soon in another beautiful version. So they keep coming out in different prints and making them look better and better.

CW: Speaking of television and drag, have you watched Dragula?

JW: No, I haven’t seen that. I think the drag queens today, they’re all cool, they’re all hip. And I think that is Divine’s influence. When we were young, drag queens were so square. But today, they all have an attitude. I still think my favorite drag name is Urethra Franklin. It’s really a good one. I’m more obsessed with drag kings, and lots of drag kings ask me to sign their mastectomy scars. I have not signed bottom surgery yet, and I’m hoping that happens this year at Mosswood Meltdown.

CW: I started doing ball readings, where I read peoples balls like palm readings.

JW: Oh god, That’s different than, like, the cock book that Brigid Berlin did in the 60s. Or the Plaster Caster where they made casts of everyone’s penis, but that’s like teabagging leaves!

CW: I have a little box, and I make them sit it in the box.

JW: Well that’s good! How did you learn how to read balls?

CW: Well I knew how to read palms, and I figured ‘if i can read the palms, i can read those too.’

JW: Well it is a little more intimate; maybe you’ll find a little more secrets down there.

JW: How do you do it for women?

CW: I read their areolas. Otherwise, I’d have to get way up in there.

JW: Oh, okay. Well you can read everybody’s asshole.

CW: What I’d need for that is like a jewelers eye.

JW: Yeah, like a proctology kit.

CW: Well I will see you at Mosswood and maybe I will be reading balls.

JW: Alright. I’ll say hi, I’ll see ya. I’m walking around there.

We absolutely can not wait to hit Mosswood Meltdown this weekend. Head on over to their site to check out the whole line up!

Photo Credit For Both Images: Greg Gorman

Check out our previous interview with John Waters from 2016 here and 2000 here.

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