A Pearl Necklace of Wisdom From John Waters 

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John Waters has spent a big chunk of the year out-and-about promoting his latest collection of memoirs, Mr. Know-It-All. He recently made headlines as a presenter at the surprisingly glamorous 70th annual National Book Awards, and last week spoke at the even more surprisingly bad-ass Miami Book Fair, where other speakers included punk icons Patti Smith and Debbie Harry. 

I attended that event, which saw Waters interviewed by film critic and curator Juan Barquin. In typical John Waters style, any prompt or question could launch an anecdote or philosophical monologue delivered with the polish and charisma of a well-rehearsed stand-up routine. 

Here are some choice quotes from the evening: 

On Art: 

“There’s not much art left to collect out there except monkey art… It was done in the 50s to make fun of abstract expressionism… So I’ve been tracking down all the monkeys who made art and drawing comparisons to the style of contemporary artists. The first monkey was Babs in Baltimore and zoos have tons of these paintings in storage and don’t even know!” 

When asked by a fan why he wrote the names of Greek writers on a piece of paper and hung it in his house: “What? I don’t know what you’re talking about… Oh! I didn’t do that! That’s my Cy Twombly!” 

“The first time I saw “Nude Descending a Staircase” as a child I imitated it for weeks! I’d be going down the stairs slowly and my father would ask ‘what’s wrong with you?’ … Don’t you know Duchamp is OBSCENE?!”

On censorship: 

“Dumb censors are great! We used to have a censor in Maryland who would say ‘Don’t tell me about sex, I married an Italian!’ But liberal censors are the worst… Censors want to do everything in the name of ‘the family?’ What is a family?” 

“When [we made A Dirty Shame and the MPAA]  were debating the meaning of ‘felch’ I wanted to say ‘that’s not what that means, you filthy censors!’ Some doctor told them! But maybe felching means something different in every family?”

“What’s the point of censoring movies when the children could just watch Pornhub?”

“LIFE Magazine is what corrupted me! … God, I just wanted to go to Needle Park!”

On drugs: 

“I took LSD for the first time in 50 years at age 70. I did it with Mink Stole. It was great…. My mother always used to say ‘don’t tell kids to do drugs!’ And I don’t… those pussies with their microdosing! I want old people to do drugs!”

On sex, when asked “top or bottom?”: 

“You should always be adaptable!”

On his career ups and downs and experiences with mainstream Hollywood: 

“I learned how to fail upwards… I started in the underground and ended up in the gutter! …but Hollywood has been fair to me… I have nothing bad to say about the people [I’ve had financial dealings with.] … It’s called show business–not show art!”

“People always say I made ‘uncommercial’ movies… obviously they aren’t that uncommercial, they’re still playing!”

“I’m not against Netflix. Anyone who can say yes to me making a movie I’m all for.”

On why he hasn’t made a movie recently: 

“They keep paying me to write em, I’m still in the business… They just keep not making them!”

Advice to young filmmakers: 

“I always tell young filmmakers If you think you should cut it, do it. All movies are too long!”

“When Desperate Living came out Variety had this one paragraph review: ‘Amateur night at the psycho ward.” Failure is good for you. It brings you back to your friends and back to reality. And reminds you to always have alternatives. If you have a hit this week, you might not have one next week. You always need a backup plan!”

On politics: 

“The only way to get people to change would be a civil war. But you can make them laugh! I don’t know how to get Trump people to change, but maybe if you can get them to laugh they’ll stop and listen for a moment.” 

On fans and life in public: 

“You’re never not working. Someone will always come up and say ‘can I take a selfie with you?’ Of course! … I always think of what Liberace used to say, ‘You like these clothes? You should! You paid for them.’” 

“One time a girl passed me and a friend walking down the street and yelled ‘I’M GLAD I HAD AN ABORTION’ and we thought ‘My God, why would she say that!?’ and then I remembered, oh yeah. I wrote that!”  

And a follow-up to his famous “If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them. Don’t let them explore you until they’ve explored the secret universes of books.” adage: 

“There’s a sequel to that. If you go home with someone and they have books in the bathroom, don’t fuck them. When someone leaves old US Weeklys next to the toilet… God, have some decency!” 

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