John Waters is one of my favorite filmmakers, writers, and speakers. Every time he says or does anything I think, Wow, you are so smart and fun and I agree with everything you say. I love you. I've read all of his books multiple times. I've made drawings and paintings based on photos of him from when he was young and had long greasy hair. For a while my voicemail message was, "Oh Aunt Ida! Yeah, Aunt Ida! Don't you look hot today!" On a purely personal level, John Waters is huge. He is also huge on all other levels. It makes me supremely happy that John’s work has seeped into the public consciousness through his Broadway musicals and either inventing or telling the world about tea bagging.
John is going to be performing a live Christmas show on December 2 at the Tarrytown Music Hall in Tarrytown, New York. As you might have guessed, I am very excited about that. Kimya Dawson will be performing at this show, and I am very excited about that too. When Robert Johnson, the show's promoter, asked if I would like to interview John Waters to help spread the word, I came very close to dying right there on the spot.
So here it is. I hope you'll read my brief interview with Mr. Waters and then go see his show this Sunday.
VICE: Hi, John. It's Nicholas from VICE. How are you doing?
John Waters: I am fiiiine.
Thanks for speaking with me. In recent years you've been doing a lot of spoken word events. Why?
This isn't just in recent years, I've been doing it for 40 years. Divine and I would tour the colleges and we had a little act where a fake cop would come on stage and pretend to bust us for depravity. Divine would strangle him and hit him with a chair. I did it from the very beginning—it was the only way we could promote our movies! It's changed very much though. I don't come out with any movies or talk that much about my movies any more. Certainly I've been doing it for a long, long time though. Even the Christmas tour has been going on for ten years.
I'd like to know about your Christmas experiences, but I suppose you should save that for the actual event.
No, you can ask me about them! I love Christmas, but I understand that some people hate it! It’s a very stressful time. I talk about everything concerning Christmas, including what I hate about it—and there are a lot of things I hate about it. Things like the behavior at Christmas parties, recycling gifts, gift baskets… Gift baskets should contain cigarettes, candy, and drugs, things you would never buy for yourself.
I can see why you'd be into Christmas so much. I've heard people say that art is a heightened form of life. In a lot of ways Christmas is also a heightened form of life.
Christmas can unfortunately be a heightened form of capitalism too, but I don't mind that because Christmas is good for criminals. Shoplifting is easier, there are presents in the car you can steal… At the same time, most stores survive off the commerciality of Christmas. I find that funny.
What else bothers you about the holiday?
I don't think you should let your children write letters to Santa Claus. First of all, if they were good all year then they deserve to get presents, isn't that the deal? So why do they have to beg a second time? And where do those letters go when they put them in the post box? Some pervert's reading them and they have your children's addresses and they'll be over at your house giving your kids something they DON'T want for Christmas. So don't let your kids write those pagan letters.
Since you're going to be devoting a whole show to Christmas, will you tell me about your Halloween memories?
I answer the door on Halloween at my house, and I regret it because it's the only time of the year people can knock on my door. What happened this year—and I find this a little offensive—was I opened the door and was blinded by flash bulbs. First off, this isn't a photo op and the parents are just getting the back of their children's heads and me, so I kind of tilt my head back.
Another time my assistant put all her candy out and she heard a mother say to her child "TAKE IT ALL!" Haha, that's nice!
I never wear Halloween costumes. If I had to choose to wear a Halloween costume or die I would choose death. You see, those people coming home drunk after those parties in their costumes, it's so embarrassing. It's worse than a Diane Arbus moment.
What about when you were a child? What did you dress up as then? I remember reading that you were obsessed with Captain Hook as a kid.
Well, the only time I dressed in drag was when I went as the Wicked Witch one year. I was obsessed with Margaret Hamilton. I was a pirate, too. I was always a villain. Whatever the villain was in the movies, that's what I was for Halloween. I liked the costumes, but I really liked the vandalism of Halloween as a kid. I don't think they really do that anymore, but when I was young they had chalk night, soap night… weeks of vandalism leading up to Halloween when they'd binge on candy. They'd do terrible stuff on Halloween! I mean, they set fires! I never hear about that anymore. When my friend Pat Marantz' daughter was a child, I taught her to throw her first egg at a car and she still remembers that.
You've spoken before about going from being the producer of the most outsider-y, disgusting stuff, to being embraced and somewhat traditional.
It's still the same stuff, it's just that I'm older and they can't get rid of me so they think it's normal and nice. I come out on stage and get a standing ovation, but that's just because I'm old.
Is it uncomfortable for you to be accepted?
No, are you kidding? I always wanted to be accepted. Now it's so boring to say you're an outsider. Outsiders won the election. Now I want to be an insider AND an outlaw. I want to be in control.
I used to feel alienated and wanted to belong too.
I just wanted to be a beatnik. That's the first thing I ever wanted to be. I still like beatniks; I like old bohemians. I like the idea of that tradition, because now kids are shutting down governments on their computers while their parents leave food outside their bedroom doors. There's no fashion in that.
What do you think of the younger generations?
They're great! They're having just as much fun as we did.
What do you like in cinema these days?
I write my ten-best list as an art form every year and I just turned that in. I'm a sucker for foreign art movies. I like feel-bad movies. I like movies that torture you and make you feel horrible. I already feel good—I don't expect a movie to be my psychiatrist. I like to be tortured when I go into a theater. The worst thing is a move that makes people say "Awwww..." That is the sound of dread for me. "Awww..."
What did you think of The Master?
Well, I liked it. I asked John Travolta if he saw it when I interviewed him on stage the other night, and he said it was total shit. I love that answer. I thought it looked like fun to be in that cult! I don’t think scientology is any more insane than the Catholicism I was brought up to believe in. If it works for you, I'm fine with it. The only issue I take with it is when someone tries to make other people do it.
What can you tell me about your Christmas show at Tarrytown?
It's my guide for how to get through the holidays—how to turn it into sexual eroticism or revenge. If you're a crackhead, go Christmas caroling and scare the neighbors. You can't get arrested for that. Go through your family's scrapbooks and find the ugliest photos of your relatives and put them on Christmas decorations. Hang them on the tree and people will think it's funny.
Do you still spend Christmas with your parents?
Well, my dad died a couple of years ago and it's my turn to make Christmas dinner for my whole family this year. I'll have my whole family over and I'll be cookin'!
Sounds like a Norman Rockwell painting.
In some ways it looks traditional, but it'll be in my house and on my mantle I have a Unabomber birdhouse and the electric chair is decorated like a Christmas tree.
I heard Kimya Dawson is playing your show.
She is! She's great! I wish I could talk her into having a Moldy Peaches reunion because I loved them. I love her too.
They were a favorite band of mine when I was very young.
They were a favorite band of mine when I was mid-old. Those songs were so great. My favorite is probably the one about crack, "Who's Got the Crack?" And it's not just a novelty album, it's a really good album.
Novelty records can be great though.
Oh, are you kidding? I collect them. Most of my Christmas album is from novelty records. Don't you wish more people put Christmas albums out? John Travolta has one, but I wish that more rappers would do it. That's what I want, gangsta rap Christmas albums. Almost none of them do it.
There are a few. There's a song by De La Soul called “Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa.”
I've heard that one, but there haven't been any recently. I think Justin Bieber should do a duet album with a really gangster rapper. That would be really funny. Well, I've gotta go!
Thanks John, bye!
You can buy tickets for the December 2 performance here. I'll see you there!