Reunion: My mentor / filth elder John Waters and I at the book launch for the paperback edition of Role Models in May 2011
Brutal close-up of John Waters and I in December 2010, at the book launch party for the hardback edition of Role Models. Both photos by Damon Wise
I was at the launch party for the UK paperback edition of John Waters’ book Role Models last Thursday (26 May) and figured I’d better blog about it now while the details were still fresh in my mind. (Well, fresh-ish: it was a boozy night).
The venue was a tiny East End hipster art gallery called The Last Tuesday Society. The Sultan of Sleaze himself was in attendance (the publishers flew him into London for one day only). As per usual Waters was looking soignée in a Comme Des Garçons ensemble (the jacket was incredible, a pattern alternating daisies with skulls). Waters signed books in the art gallery and then went next door to a former Victorian pub renovated into an astonishing private home to give brief readings from Role Models. I’d interviewed him for the alternative arts and culture website Nude when he was last in town in December 2010 to promote the release of Role Models in hardback (that launch party was at the Comme Des Garçons store on Dover Street). I didn’t honestly expect him to, but Waters did recognise me (be still my fan boy heart!): he recalled the Nude interview and said, “That came out nice!” Even if he was simply being gracious and pretending to remember, it still made my toes curl in ecstasy. While he signed my book and we had our photo taken, I was quickly able to tell him I’d recently seen Boom! on his recommendation (Waters has enthused that Boom! is his all-time favourite film and has even toured and given lectures about it). He was curious about the audience’s reaction to it. I admitted the theatre was pretty deserted and that some people walked out during the film. Waters didn't look surprised.
Afterwards next door there wasn’t much in the way of seating, so people mainly sat on the floor in front of the podium where Waters gave his reading. Surveying the crowd he remarked he felt like he was at a Beatnik coffee house circa 1958 and proceeded to read the intro to the chapter on outsider porn. Afterwards there was a short Q&A session. Asked about his reaction to the death of Bin Laden, Waters said he loved The New York Post’s headline about discovering a stash of pornography in Bin Laden’s bunker: “Osama Bin Wankin’!” (He said his all-time favourite New York Post headline remained the one announcing the death of Ike Turner: “Ike Beats Tina To Death!”). He was also asked about his response to extreme performance artist Leigh Bowery using the name “John Waters” as an alias when he checked into the hospital just before dying of an AIDS-related illness in 1994 (he heartily approved). Finally he was asked about Lady GaGa. Waters complimented GaGa and her PR team for being so incredibly hard working (like me, Waters is a Jayne Mansfield fanatic – he presumably recognises and appreciates a tenacious publicity-seeking starlet when he sees one) and remarked admiringly that all the little twelve year old kids who think they might be gay listen to Lady GaGa and then they are gay!
I went to the party with my old friend, the ace film journalist Damon Wise who’s known Waters for years and is a something of a confidant for him. Afterwards I wound up taking Damon (who’s straight as an arrow, by the way, but hip) on a bit of a bar crawl of Shoreditch’s most bleeding-edge gay drinking establishments, starting off at The Joiners Arms and ending up at The George and Dragon (fittingly, a poster of Divine in Pink Flamingos takes pride of place on the wall there, garlanded with Christmas lights). At the latter, alternative club royalty Princess Julia was DJ’ing. With her shaved-off eyebrows, punk-y eye make-up and Sean Young-in-Blade Runner / Joan Crawford-in-Mildred Pearce 1940s pompadour hairstyle, she looked simultaneously retro and futuristic -- like a beautiful alien. By then we’d polished off several pints of lager, gin and tonics served in vintage tea cups at the launch party, whiskey and then more lager. When Princess Julia played Bobby Vinton crooning “Blue Velvet”, it was a dizzyingly weird but appropriate end to the night.