John Waters, whatever else he does, will always be remembered for that scene in Pink Flamingos where Divine eats dog shit. His sharp wit and quirky outlook on life are much revered and he is currently touring with his Christmas Show. Divine as juvenile delinquent Dawn Davenport pushing over her parents tree on Christmas Day because she didn’t get the cha-cha heels she wanted is something we can all relate to.
My dream came true. I had managed to line up a telephone interview with John Waters – only ten minutes but I would be talking to my hero at last. For weeks I could think of little else. I did my homework. I re-read Shock Value and Role Models. I devoured everything online about him that I could find and watched all of his movies. Two days before my allocated ‘date’ (which was stressed as being EASTERN USA time) I still hadn’t been given his phone number and to say I was distraught would be mild, The e-mail finally came from Mr Waters’ assistant and I was given his number. I carefully typed it into my phone right away. “What’s the dialling code for the USA boys?” I showily asked the office with dizzy cheer. “Double zero.” I was unbearably ecstatic. The boys get really uneasy when I start doing anything close to happy.
The e-mail again stipulated that I call him at 1.15pm EASTERN USA time. I checked the time difference online. On Tuesday at 6.15pm I would be calling John Waters. Neatly I copied out my questions onto pieces of paper that would be arranged before me when my ten minutes came. The e-mail warned that Mr Waters “is a stickler for punctuality, so please call at the exact scheduled EASTERN time. (Please note: his schedule is so overloaded that missed interviews, unfortunately, cannot be rescheduled and all interviews have to end at the scheduled time – exactly ten minutes after the scheduled start-time – regardless of when they begin.” just like a memo from the Dashers!
There followed details of his number, an e-mail to contact if I had trouble reaching him, an “emergency” text number and an “absolute, absolute emergency” telephone number. Naturally I was beside myself as the minute drew near to call him. I didn’t want to be too early – or too late. At exactly 6.15pm I pressed the call button and waited. A continuous note sounded. Was it ringing? ‘Number not recognised’ – was his phone oft? I checked the number. I tried typing in a + sign in front of it. Same. Had I died and gone to Hell?
I was suddenly plunged into a sluggish nightmare that seemed to prevail for hours. In no particular order I found I had no Internet connection, some pest phoned the office landline, all my questions fell from the desk, my emergency text failed to send and I could hardly breathe. The clock was ticking. At last his assistant rang to see what the problem was. Mr Waters was being kept waiting and I had lost minutes off my interview. Turned out I had dialled the wrong code. I dialled the right number and -
His voice? I started the tape recorder. Where the fuck were the questions? I was drunk with mortification. I‘ve been told-off by the Shangri-la’s – and by Deborah Harry (I offered her a chipped beer bottle) and I braced myself to be told-off by the Pope of Trash. Silencing my fumbled excuses he patiently suggested that I start asking questions straight away as I had lost time. Questions? Heck.
Donald Urquhart: “OK. Let’s go. What about the Christmas movie you were going to make – ‘Fruitcake’?”
John Waters: It hasn’t got made because I haven’t got the money yet… (Fruitcake has been in production since 2008 and is set to star Johnny Knoxville and Parker Posey)… so I’m writing other books, doing different shows and all kinds of other things – I’m hoping to make it. I’m still pushing but – it costs money to make.
DU: What’s the new book you’re working on?
JW: Well I just finished Role Models. I took two giant tours to London – if you missed that one…
DU: (feeling even more stupid) No, no – I know about Role Models. But I heard that you’re writing another one.
JW: I am but I never talk about something BEFORE I do it. Because I always talk about it after.
DU: What are you doing at Christmas?
JW: (like this was an even dumber question) I‘m coming to London to do my show! It’s going to be great. I talk about how to get through Christmas… if you’re crazy, if your family’s crazy, if you love Christmas, if you hate Christmas, if it brings you agony, if it sexually turns you on, if it makes you commit crimes. I talk about it in all ways.
DU: Do you see the Wall Street protest tents as a kind of Mortville?
JW: Actually in Baltimore they set up Mortville at the Occupation Baltimore. Some gay guy has set up Mortville there. Which I saw as a great compliment.
DU: That’s really fantastic. Can you tell me about the new documentary on Divine, ‘I Am Divine’?
JW: I’m in it. I don’t have anything to do with it but I think it’s going to be a very good documentary. I’ve co-operated, I’ve given the filmmakers every single contact related to Divine that I could find. They’ve had a lot of support.
DU: I hear that Jean Hill is in it. How is Jean these days?
JW: She’s alright. She was in my last movie. She was in A Dirty Shame. Prior to this interview I had been advised that Mr Waters tends to give stock answers to repetitive questions and that throwing him a ‘wild card’ might produce interesting results. I had my wild card up my sleeve and I threw it.
DU: Now, a thing my friend lane wants to know. She gave Divine a chocolate nativity set in 1983 to give to you. Did Divine pass it on?
JW: Say that again?
DU: My friend lane gave Divine a chocolate nativity to give to you in 1983. Did Divine pass it on?
JW: Wait a minute. Why didn’t Jean give it to me? Jean comes to my Christmas party at my house every year at Christmas
DU: Oh no. This isn’t Jean it’s a friend of mine, Jane. No. No. (Jesus where is this going? Damned Jane and her stupid question!) I tried to explain and John did his best to understand as
precious seconds evaporated.
JW: I don’t know. When you’re travelling it’s really hard because you can’t take a lot of stuff in your suitcase, especially in those days…
DU: Divine probably ate them. Er, can you tell me about your friendship with Peter Hujar, the photographer?
JW: Well certainly I knew Peter. Peter actually shot the picture of the dead rat on the plate for the ad for Desperate Living. Peter was a great photographer and I own a lot of his work
DU: Do you have a Christmas message for our readers?
JW: A Christmas message? …you have to be needy, greedy, horny for presents and filled with an unnatural desire to please.
DU: What is the best Christmas gift you can give someone?
JW: A book by their favourite author that the recipient of the gift never knew existed.
DU: That‘s a perfect one. And what’s your favourite Christmas scene In a movie?
JW: My favourite Christmas movie is something called Christmas Evil. It’s about a man that gets possessed by Santa Claus and he gets a job in a toy factory and he spies on children and gets stuck in someone’s chimney on Christmas Eve.
DU: You‘re obsessed with horror movies but I don’t think you’ve ever made a horror film?
JW: My mom thinks they’re ALL horror movies.
DU: Are you still in touch with Tab Hunter? And how is he?
JW: He’s great. Talk about ageing well – he looks really great.
DU: And how about Leslie Van -
JW: (cuts in) You have less than two minutes. You have about a minute – I’ve got other people waiting to call me. In my dazzled and frazzled state this was where my brain began to close down. This had all been too frantic and too short. Like bad sex. Of all the questions that I had concocted to ask, none could be worse-picked than the one I came out with next. I had been watching Desperate Living and when one character mentioned a Dutch Oven I was reminded of the odd fact that the first time I had heard this expression it was when my friend Sam’s mum remarked that his bedroom smelled like a Dutch Oven. He had bad flatulence. We puzzled over the origin of the phrase. We had no Wikipedia then. Maybe it smelled of meaty cheese? Gaseous yeasts?
DU: What about Dutch Ovens?
JW: It’s when one partner farts under the bed sheets. (I knew this and was horrified that I had made him say what it was. My worst question. Or was it?)
DU: Is there anything you get sick of people calling you, like when you get called “cunt eyes” in the street?
JW: That‘s a compliment. I know where It’s coming from. It always surprises me when someone does that. It also surprises me when someone walks past and says “I’m glad I got the abortion”- and then I think why did she say that? And then I realise ‘you wrote that`! It’s a line from a movie.
DU: That’s funny.
JW: I gotta go now.
DU: Alright. Thank you Mr Waters. Have a great Christmas.
Call ended. I sighed two long sighs and looked at the questions I hadn’t asked him. Had he seen footage of Leigh Bowery’s impersonation of Divine giving birth? Did he know how obsessed Leigh was with his films? I should have told him about meeting Divine’s parents in London. Trust me to klutz it all up. I sighed again. I had spoken to my hero. My dream came true – kind of That makes mine a very cool Yule already.