I heard about this book on an episode of A Good Read my favorite book related podcast from BBC 4. The host and both of her guests loved it, went on and on about how good it was, with a few caveats, it is the BBC after all. I’ve been a fan of Mr. Waters’ work since I first saw Pink Flamingoes, with my hands over my eyes much of the time, in a San Francisco theater that homestly was halfway down an alley in the not so fashionable part of the Polk Gulch neighborhood.
So I gave it a go and enjoyed most of it.
Mr. Waters writes about the people, places and things that have been his role models throughout the years. In the process he presents a good size slice of his own autobiography and oddly creates a history of late 20th century America that no other text would dare cover.
In one chapter he talks about the Baltimore bars of his youth, the 1970’s. Many of them, most of them, now closed. They were the type of bar respectable people stayed away from, even respectable gay people who were still largely outsiders in 1970’s Baltimore. I was struck by two things in this section. One that this book is probably the only history of these places that exists. I doubt any local historian let alone national has taken or will ever take the time to assemble an account of these very scary bars. Only John Waters will preserve their memory for posterity.
The second thing that struck me was Mr. Waters unconditional love for his parents and their unconditional love for him. We writes about his mother who drove him to one particular bar knowing full well that since he was too young to enter he would spend the night in the alley behind the bar waiting for people to come out for air who might talk to him. He told her she hoped he would find people like him. If you’ve seen any of his early movies you know what a challenge that must have been and just how generous Mrs. Waters’ love for her son was. For the record, the young Mr. Waters did find people like him, some of whom became long time friends.
Mr. Waters writes about movie stars, singers, burlesque dancers, pornographers and convicted killers all of whom he has managed to meet in person, some of whom became life-long friends. They are nearly all just the sort of people you would expect John Waters to be interested in. He treats them all with love, maybe a bit too fawning at times to be truly objective about them, but this reader didn’t mind.
He also talks about books. He loves books. He knows exactly how many he has at any given moment, something I can’t say even with the aid of an iPhone app I’ve been using for years just to prevent myself from buying the same book twice.
I’ll end with a long passage from his chapter on the books he loves.
I’ve jitterbugged with Richard Serra, eaten Thanksgiving dinner with Lana Turner, had tea with Princess Yaszmin Aga Khan, gone out drinking with Clint Eastwood, and spent several New Year’s Eve parties in Valentino’s chalet in Gstaad, but what I like best is staying home and reading. Being rich is not about how much money you have or how many homes you own; it’s about the freedom to buy any book you want without looking at the price and wondering if you can afford it. Of course you have to read the books, too. Nothing is more impotent than an unread library.