THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO DEPRAVITY
IN HIS HILARIOUS NEW BOOK, CARSICK, JOHN WATERS, DIRECTOR OF CULT FILMS SUCH AS PINK FLAMINGOS, FEMALE TROUBLE AND HAIRSPRAY PUTS HIS LIFE ON THE LINE. PRIDE LIFE’S ULI LENART CAUGHT UP WITH THE POPE OF TRASH AND ASKED HIM ABOUT THE PERILS AND PLEASURES O
Cult film director John Waters cruises the highways of America
In Carsick, armed only with wit, a pencil-thin moustache and a cardboard sign that reads “I’m Not Psycho”, cult film director John Waters hitchhikes across America from Baltimore to San Francisco. His book details a real account of what happened as well as his fantasises of the very best - and the very worst - possible versions of the trip. In his unorthodox odyssey across the USA, we get to glimpse contemporary America through the unique prism of John Waters’ deliciously twisted mind.
PL: Mr Waters! How are you doing?
JW: I’m well. How are you? PL: I’m good. I’m over-the-moon to be talking with you. So, John Waters, has a gay man ever gone further just to get picked up?
JW: You mean as in hitchhiking? Um, well I didn’t get picked up. You know, in the fictitious part where I imagined the best and the worst I had all sorts of good and bad sex. But in real life I don’t think a gay person picked me up to be honest. So I didn’t get laid hitchhiking; I imagined it. There is hitchhiking sex in the book in the non-fiction part. But getting laid wasn’t the main reason. If I was gonna do that I would hitchhike in Baltimore. They would think I was the oldest hustler. I would go to Patterson, to Eastern Avenue which used to be where all the hustlers where and it was a world famous place. There were licence plates from every state in the country that would come there for that. But there is none of that left now. PL: The world has changed… So, we typically see people hitchhiking in movies when they are running away, like Dawn Davenport (played by Divine) in Female Trouble, or desperately trying to escape the clutches of perverts and psychopaths. We’re told not to get in a car with a stranger. Is that partly what attracted you to this project?
JW: Well, I hitchhiked a lot when I was young and it was not thought of so badly then. My parents expected me to hitchhike home from private school. It wasn’t thought a bad thing to do. But then there were perverts out and I was
looking for them. More so than now.
PL: And then you did get laid?
JW: Oh, when I was young, of course! That’s part of the benefits of hitchhiking home. Of getting blow jobs. You know, it was part of the… I mean, you could say yes or no. Everybody that’s ever hitchhiked, male or female, has had somebody coming on to them. You just say no, you know? Although I do know a man that was raped by a truck driver. Horror stories can happen and they do happen. I just didn’t think that many serial killers types were 68-year-old film directors. That why I wrote my death in the book where I imagined a serial killer who only killed cult movie directors. PL: Would it be fair to say that you are a pretty meticulous and well organised person and was the process of giving yourself over to the unpredictability of the road a particular challenge?
JW: Yeah, that’s the reason I wrote the book. My life is so scheduled and it is so organised and everything. Could I give all that up? Can you be a control freak and hitchhike? It’s impossible almost to be a control freak when you are hitchhiking because you have no control over what is going to happen. So that was the experiment for me. To see if I could give up all control and scheduling and to see how far does the shabby fame really go. PL: The book is structured with two novellas imagining your best and worst possible journeys, and then a third account of what really happened. Good Ride is laced with plenty of homo wanderlust: bums, outlaws and renegades. What’s the attraction?
JW: Well, what can I say? My type is the hitchhiker with the birthmark across his face in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I like somebody with a past and a little edge. Although in my book all the people I imagined having sex with, whether a demolition derby driver, a bank robber or a door-to-door knife salesman, they were all kind to me - and loving. They didn’t mistreat me in any way. They might be out of their mind but, as I say in the book and in one of my favourite lines, we experienced an “after-glow that few could understand.” PL: And then we are treated to the real journey. And it was real tough at times. But people were also incredibly kind, literally going out of their way to help. What did you learn about yourself and about people during this experience?
JW: Well, I don’t know that I learnt it ’cause I always believed in the basic goodness of people. I’m an optimist. But that was really confirmed. People were kind of great. Even if I didn’t agree with their politics, the people that pick up hitchhikers are kind people. They are people that are trying to help people. I was amazed that people would try and give me money. A lot of people didn’t believe that I was a film director; they thought I was a homeless man that was crazy. But they were still nice to me and I just think that the kindness of strangers that Tennessee Williams obviously made so famous was really, really proven by this trip. PL: People love to be outraged, and this was especially true when you were doing your early films and butting up against the repressiveness of 50s’ and 60s’ suburban attitudes. But now everything is so out there, artistically are there any taboos left to break?
JW: Well, there are taboos that no one should break. I mean, who wants to see a comedy about child molesters? Or racists, you know? I mean, to me it is not about breaking taboos. It is surprising people and I’ve always said if you want to really cause a sensation then make a movie that gets banned somewhere but that has no sex or violence. That will be the most brilliant new, most transgressive movie that a young person makes: a movie that has no sex or violence but that scandalises the world. PL: I wanted to ask about the construction of Divine’s iconic look – the make-up and costume by Van Smith. What were the influences behind the look?
JW: I think I remember I just said to Van, “do something weird with his hairline” and he just shaved it off to give more room to the eyebrows. We wanted a look that scared hippies. And that’s kind of what it was. That fishtail red dress. Definitely, I believe, The Girl Can’t Help It, with Jane Mansfield, that was an influence. We always like the one who comes in second-best. I like The Three Stooges better than Charlie Chaplin. I like Jane Mansfield better than Marilyn Monroe. I like The Chipmunks; they are my favourite singing group. So I kind of always root for the one that is exaggerated, that isn’t as original. PL: Is it true you’ve said that you don’t mind dying alone, just so long as you have your moustache drawn on straight?
JW: We’ve already bought my burial plot, where Divine is buried. Mink Stole bought one. Pat Moran did. We’re all going to be buried there. We call it Disgraceland. And I’ve already got it in my will: I want a closed coffin ’cause I don’t want people to be looking at me when I’m dead, especially with my moustache drawn on wrong. I’ve already got all that planned. PL: William Burroughs canonised you as the Pope of Trash. Did you ever meet him?
JW: Oh yes. I even did an opening show for him in DC. I met him and we were friends and I smoked pot with him. I went to his house when he lived in The Bunker. PL: Mr. Waters, it has been a total pleasure talking to you.
JW: Oh, thanks and goodbye.
John Waters’ book, Carsick, is published by Corsair
DIVINE BY GREG GORMAN COURTESY OF PECCADILLO PICTURES