Don't worry, Baltimore. John Waters won't desert you.
He hasn't seen his beloved hometown much lately, spending time in California and New York preparing this week's Broadway debut of Cry-Baby, a musical based on his 1990 film.
Then there's Waters' ceaseless touring schedule, including Saturday's appearance at the Salvador Dali Museum, drolly lecturing on his favorite topic: "This Filthy World."
Sure, Waters has a tasteful San Francisco pied-a-terre. But he's still a Baltimore kind of guy, his residence there still drenched in avant-garde art and books suitable for burning somewhere by someone who isn't so joyfully peculiar as Waters.
Anywhere he hangs his John Wayne Gacy clown painting is home.
"I didn't move to San Francisco; this is an expansion of my filth empire," Waters said during a recent telephone interview. "I also have a place in New York and a summer rental in Province-
"I live the life of an airline pilot but, as Patty Hearst said, without the hidden families."
Dropping the name of the most notorious kidnapped, brainwashed terror-heiress in American history is one perk of an uber-eccentric life. The same goes for a casual boast that equally bizarre filmmaker David Lynch (Blue Velvet) sponsored his Academy Award voting membership.
Waters has seen it all and preserved a lot of it on film. He lionizes the worst perversions of good taste in movies like Pink Flamingos and A Dirty Shame, and stands up for oppressed social "deviants" in gentler cinematic pranks like Hairspray and Cry-Baby.
"I used to hear Jesse Jackson talk about representing 'the damned, the despised and the depraved,' " Waters said. "I told myself: 'Hey, that's my audience, too.' "
Waters' 62nd birthday was Tuesday. Not a big deal since Waters only celebrates the occasion every 10 years. His 30th birthday party occurred in a punk rock nightclub, where a stripper leaped from a cake and broke her leg. His 40th was in a rented assisted living facility. Nothing so elaborate this year.
Two days after his birthday, Cry-Baby bowed on Broadway, hoping for success equaling his previous screen-to-stage mutation, Hairspray. As brash as Waters can be, he dodged any suggestion that Cry-Baby might merit a screen remake as Hairspray did last year.
"I'm never going to be so foolish, a week before opening, to be that optimistic," Waters said, hinting that acclaimed Broadway newcomers are often treated differently the second time around.
"This isn't my first time at the rodeo, as Joan Crawford might say," Waters said. "This is not my first date. I'm no longer a virgin; the goodwill of virginity may be past the first blush."
The movie version of Cry-Baby starred Johnny Depp as a 1950s juvenile delinquent romancing a girl from the right side of the tracks. Now it is a full-blown musical with Waters-inspired song titles such as I'm Infected With Your Love co-written by Fountains of Wayne bassist Adam Schlesinger and The Daily Show producer David Javerbaum.
Reviews during Cry-Baby's California previews were better than Waters expected.
"I guess we feared it was going to constantly be compared with Hairspray and it never was," he said. "It instantly had its own identity. Hairspray was about race and this is about class. This one is much sexier, much ruder in a way. There's lots of French kissing, very sweet but overall a bit more raucous."
By the time he's at the Dali Museum, Waters will be basking or roasting in the glow of critical response. His appearance is likely the bawdiest part of the ongoing Dali & Film series, a comedy monologue on decadence, taboos that have been shattered and ideas for new ones. Be offended, or don't.
Whatever happens, Waters should feel cozy among the surreal creations of the showman-artist who also shocked his era's establishment and sported a signature mustache. But Waters marvels at one way in which Dali was different from him.
"He masturbated more than I do," Waters said casually. "Actually he preferred it, even when he was with his wife. But the fact that he had a weird sexual fetish certainly goes along with some of the humor of my movies."
Make that some of his movies. Waters described his next project, Fruitcake, as "a terribly wonderful children's Christmas adventure."
"Fruitcake is The Little Rascals meet (Luis Bunuel's) Viridiana," Waters said, relishing the shock potential of Spanky's gang rescuing a troubled nun.
"It's certainly a satire of children's films but I think kids 10 and up can see it. Edgy kids will like it better. These days, with everything kids see on TV, is anything risque?
"My favorite thing I ever asked a kid
was last summer. We were talking about movies and I asked him if he liked The Wizard
"He said, 'Not really because it's basically just walking.' I loved that."
Steve Persall can be reached at (727) 893-8365 or
firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at blogs.