It’s been a couple of year since Baltimore auteurJohn Waters has brought a new movie to the silver screen but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been as busy as ever. Whether it’s guest starring on TV shows or curating art exhibits, Waters puts his distinctive, off kilter imprint on anything he’s involved in, even the lowly mix tape. After adding oddity to your holiday soundtrack with his Christmas CD A John Waters Christmas, Waters now wants to make a romantic rendezvous with little ol’ you by collecting some of his favorite songs into a CD. A Date With John Waters is a chance to curl up on the director’s couch and let him touch you a little inappropriately, sonically that is. Gothamist chatted recently with Waters about this, and other eagerly anticipated upcoming projects.
With this CD of eclectic songs you’ve collected John, you’re becoming sort of like a kinky Nick Hornby. What was the impetus for putting this project together?
Yeah, I know what you mean. I think I’m like that certainly. I don’t really play vinyl, though I do collect all these records. But one of the reasons I like to put out these albums is because some of these things have never been available on CD, and once they are then disc jockeys can play them forever. They can’t fade away like the old 45 does that I’ve had in my drawer for 20 years, or 50 years. So basically that’s the main thing, trying to get these songs to a new audience. None of these songs would be played together at one time on the same CD. I’m sort of like curating an art show or something. Trying to show you different styles of music that are all extreme, but all unironic in real life and kind of beautiful. I don’t think any of them are so bad they’re good.
Where do you find these gems? They don’t seem like the kind of records you can find at your local Virgin Megastore.
I mean a couple of them were big hits when they came out. “Tonight You Belong To Me” [by Patience and Prudence] was the first song I ever shoplifted as a kid. “Jet Boy, Jet Girl” [by Elvis Motello] was a punk rock song, one of the first I ever heard in punk rock clubs. Some of them I heard on the radio. “All I Can Do Is Cry” by Tina Turner was a song that I had on an old album I loved for years. I was a huge fan of Tina when she was with Ike, her life wasn’t very good but boy her singing was. Edith Masey of course, I haven’t made a movie with her because she’s been dead for a long time but I love to hear her voice. I thought fans would like to hear her doing something new, if they haven’t heard this. Mink Stole's "Sometimes I Wish I Had A Gun," this is new. This is her new singing. I didn’t even know she’d done this. I was really excited to hear it. “Bewildered” by Shirley and Lee is just a great song that I don’t think many people have heard. Her nasal voice is enough to make dogs howl.
I recently saw that episode of My Name Is Earl where you played the funeral director. How did you end up on that show?
They just asked me to do it, and I’m a fan of him [Jason Lee], I like the show. I enjoyed doing it. And I didn’t write it or anything. I was playing an undertaker. I was the grim reaper on air, so I guess I’ve been type cast. I must be death-like. I’ve been doing a lot of TV. I also just did 13 episodes of a show called Til’ Death Do Us Part for Court TV which will premieres on Mar. 19th.
I thought it was just the perfect role for you. Another thing you’ve done recently that I enjoyed was your documentary, This Filthy World.
Thank you. I’m about to go to the Berlin Film Festival with that.
I was struck by when I was watching it how you’re the person who can say the thing no one else can say or can show in a film the thing no one else can show.
I guess I’ve got cinematic immunity. I think when I say really rude stuff it’s never mean. I don’t think I’m ever mean to people. I always kind of look up to my subject matter in amazement at people’s behavior, but I don’t think I’m ever putting down anybody. And if I do it’s only because they’re so successful.
Like that joke about Michael Jackson...
Michael Jackson, I do obsessively follow his career and wonder how Blanket is today. Every day of my life I think about how he calls his son Blanket, it makes me insane. “Blanket, dinner’s ready!”
Are there other artists, people who make movies or other kinds of art, these days that you think are trying to “say the unsayable?”
I don’t think there’s anybody who copies me. There are certainly people that I really like their work. I think these Jackass boys certainly are very much in the spirit of my early films and how I started. I think Borat has the same kind of humor, he’s meaner than me but I like it. I thought it was hilarious. I’m not saying I’m like them but certainly the Johnny Knoxville guys, they’re very much in the spirit of a kind of political action almost, like when we made Pink Flamingos. We have similar sensibilities.
Do you have plans to direct more movies?
Yeah, I have one written and I was trying to make it in the fall but we couldn’t quite get it ready. It’s a movie that has to take place in winter so we’re hoping to shoot it this fall. I don’t like to talk about a movie before I’m ready to do it. I guess it’s like saying you’re trying to get pregnant. It’s just not a good idea.
It jinxes it or something. That’s good to hear. But you're thinking you’ll keep doing these other artistic projects like acting, going on the lecture circuit or putting out CDs?
Yeah, everything. I like touring, I like the art world. I have museum shows. I’ve had three books out of my art work. I like being in things, if it’s the right part. I like to keep active. You can never have too many jobs.
Gothamist is a New York site, and even though you’re such a distinctly Baltimore kind of guy…
Yeah, but I have an apartment in New York too. I came from there this morning.
Then what particular places in New York do you like to go to?
Waverly Inn is the hot spot now, and I had dinner there just last night and it was great. Star-studded and great.
Was Graydon there?
Is he there every night?
I don’t know, I’m not there every night. But he happened to be there last night.
Extras: An mp3 from the album, Josie Cotton's "Johnny Are You Queer" and a YouTube clip of Waters reading from the record's liner notes.
Waters will also be in town this Saturday, Feb. 10 at the Chelsea Barnes and Noble signing CDs at 1 pm.