ROLE MODELS by John Waters (2010 Farrar, Straus and Giroux / 304 pp. / hc)
Like his classic memoirs SHOCK VALUE and CRACKPOT, John Waters's ROLE MODELS is another collection of essays from the undisputed "Pope of Trash," and I actually found much of this one a bit funnier than his previous offerings.
The opening chapter dealing with Waters's fascination with singer Johnny Mathis is as heart-felt as it is hilarious, while his brief tribute to Tennessee Williams is unusually serious for the exploitation pioneer.
His section dealing with former Manson cult member Leslie Van Houten--while a tad lengthy--is quite amazing. Over the years they've become very good friends and he has visited her in prison countless times. He paints a convincing picture that she's now beyond remorseful over the crimes she committed under the brainwashing of America's most notorious cult leader, yet he himself understands she'll (probably) never make parole. Not the funniest section of the book, but the most memorable.
As someone who could care less about fashion, I was surprised how entertaining the chapter on designer Rei Kawakubo was. Waters can truly make you laugh at just about anything, and his love for absurd fashion designers proves it.
The section titled 'Baltimore Heroes' features memories of the countless nutjobs Waters grew up around, and in keeping with his true sleaze-film reputation, gives props to these weirdos who somehow managed to shape his life.
I knew (from pictures) about the amazing library John Waters has. According to the chapter titled 'Bookworm,' he currently owns 8,425 books, "all categorized but no longer in complete order on my shelves." He goes on to recommend his top five favorites in graphic detail (I ordered two of them before I finished the chapter). If you're a book lover, this chapter alone is worth the price of ROLE MODELS. And how he managed to condense all those titles down to five is mind-boggling.
in 'Little Richard, Happy at Last,' Waters recalls a 1987 interview he did for Playboy magazine with the iconic rock-n-roll star. Their meeting was a real riot, and Richards' actions immediately following the interview had me in stitches.
I thought by now (having seen all his early sleaze-movies multiple times and having read all his books) I'd no longer be able to be disturbed by Waters. WRONG! 'Outsider Porn' chronicles his love of an underground film and picture world I didn't know existed (and now reading about, prefered that I didn't). Yet Waters makes even this, arguably the "ickiest" of his obssessions, interesting, written in his trademark sophomoric, nihilistic glee.
The final two chapters were a bit of a let down for me. 'Roomates' deals with Waters's fascination with modern and avante garde art (in particular the pieces he has scattered around his various homes), and unlike the chapters that preceeded it, I lost interest. While the last section, 'Cult Leader,' is quite funny, I found parts of it depressing, although I'm guessing many of his fans will not.
ROLE MODELS is a satisfying read if you're a Waters fan. I thought I knew all there was to know about one of my favorite directors but MAN was I wrong. Newcomers may be a bit lost at times (its apparent this was written FOR his fans as there's many nods to his body of work), but there's still some laughs to be had if you're a newcomer.