What can I say about the fast talking cat stalking the stage at ACL’s Fun Fun Fun Fest? Twirling me back through five decades of 20th century camp in 90 minutes, then plopping me SMH and LOL back into the 21st before I could even catch my breath? How could this dervish simultaneously weave the best and worst of film, culture, style and taste so deftly, not just from his own life but as a time capsule for all of us who lived those halcyon daze of sex, drugs and rock n roll? The Prince of Puke is no hero, he is a living incarnation of The Trickster, a wily outlaw who has managed to age well and live long enough to enjoy the success so many of his friends died too young to know. An outsider, he now decries his insider status, asking “What can I do to be bad at 70?” He claims to be no friend of irony, preferring the overt, and insists when anyone in the audience vomits at a show , it’s like a standing ovation.
Irony ruined everything. I wish my movies could have played at drive-ins, but they never did, because of irony. Even the best exploitation movies were never meant to be ‘so bad they were good’. They were not made for the intelligentsia. They were made to be violent for real, or to be sexy for real. But now everybody has irony. Even horror films now are ironic. Everybody’s in on the joke now. Everybody’s hip. Nobody takes anything at face value anymore.
My daughter and I went together, as she became a fan at an early age. Why did I watch Pecker and Cecil B. Demented with my then teenage daughter? So she would see the edgy, iconoclastic camp that paved the way for Pee Wee’s Playhouse and the Brady Bunch movies as middle America found a place for queers on TV. John Waters’ guest appearance on the Simpsons helped us face our fears of the gaying of America. So how did he become a beloved oddity?
The transformation from Pope of Trash to Cat in the Hat has been slow and steady. But there’s nothing slow about John Waters – he was pacing so fast every picture I tried to take was blurry. His fearlessness, honesty and playfulness sheds light into dark spaces, all puns intended.
Paper magazine featured a totally hilarious compilation of John Water’s greatest quotes, a must read. I think he has continued to gain in popularity by weaving together that which is ugly and beautiful, in good and very bad taste while insisting we laugh, and love without judging.