Role Models
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Role Models

By (author) John Waters

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Here, from the incomparable John Waters, is a paean to the power of subversive inspiration that will delight, amuse, enrich--and happily horrify--readers everywhere. "Role Models "is, in fact, a self-portrait told through intimate profiles of favorite personalities--some famous, some unknown, some criminal, some surprisingly middle of the road. From Esther Martin, owner of the scariest bar in Baltimore, to the playwright Tennessee Williams; from the atheist leader Madalyn Murray O'Hair to the insane martyr Saint Catherine of Siena; from the English novelist Denton Welch to the timelessly appealing singer Johnny Mathis--these are the extreme figures who helped the author form his own brand of neurotic happiness. "Role Models "is a personal invitation into one of the most unique, perverse, and hilarious artistic minds of our time.

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  • Paperback | 304 pages
  • 27.94 x 137.16 x 25.4mm | 272.15g
  • 26 Apr 2011
  • Farrar Straus Giroux
  • English
  • black & white illustrations
  • 0374532869
  • 9780374532864
  • 40,776

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Author Information

John Waters is an American filmmaker, actor, writer, and visual artist best known for his cult films, including "Hairspray," "Pink Flamingos," and "Cecil B. DeMented." He lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

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Review quote

Praise for "Role Models""Waters is a greater National Treasure than 90 percent of the people who are given 'Kennedy Center Honors' each December. Unlike those gray eminences of the show-business establishment, Waters doesn't kowtow to the received wisdom, he flips it the bird . . . [Waters] has the ability to show humanity at its most ridiculous and make that funny rather than repellent. To quote his linear ancestor W.C. Fields: It's a gift."" --"Jonathan Yardley, "The Washington Post""His acolytes won't need a reviewer's say-so to lap up every word of "Role Models," . . . But dilettantes at liberty to skip around will find a lot to charm them. In a way, the best joke is that - Baader-Meinhof gang, outsider porn and all"--"Waters can't help revealing one very page that he's both sentimental and good-hearted. Pass the relish, Uncle John."" --"Tom Carson, "New York"" Times Book Review""If Waters began his career by seeking to infuriate, he now has mellowed to a place of gleeful tweaking. 'Role Models' is charming and chatty . . . it also reveals the making of a unique American artist through his influences. When he calls for people to make him a cult leader of filth "--"having left trash behind for becoming too acceptable"--"it's hard for any outsider not to want to follow along." "--"Carolyn Kellogg, "Los Angeles"" Times ""Waters may not be a gloater, but there is a delightful lunatic glee that pulses through the book. It combusts in the final chapter, titled 'Cult Leader, ' which exhorts readers to rise up against the 'tyranny of good taste, ' wear their belts off center, and infiltrate living creches. Happily, for all the reflective and tender moments, Waters never suppresses his radiant pervert self." --Liz Brown, "Bookforum.com""What is exhilarating about Waters is that he's not kidding, that he's the reporter, comedian and poet-in-chief of a fantasy cult which thinks 'there's only one way to die--spontaneous combustion. The unexplained phenomenon of being so guilty and happy, so obsessed, so driven and so fanatical that you just burst into flames for no apparent reason on the street.' He remains one of our most necessary fellow Americans." --Jeff Simon, "The Buffalo News" "The collision of the eloquent and the profane is probably the best reason to read this quasimemoir-cum-how-to, aside from its deeper philosophy: judge not lest ye have the whole story, indulge your inner pervert (within reason), and read, for the love of Divine. Waters puts it another way: 'I believe in the opposite of original sin. I don't believe anybody is born guilty or evil.' Glory-hole-lujah. Amen." --Heather McCormack, "Library Journal""["Role Models "is] an impressive, heartfelt collection by a true American iconoclast." --"Kirkus Reviews "(starred)"Apart from its consistently engaging voice, both casual and eloquent . . . what makes "Role Models" more than just the latest expression of a great American oddball is its appearance at a time when nearly every segment of society (hipsters, meet Tea Partiers) feels justified in dehumanizing anyone they deem as the other. Waters never does that, even to the truly abhorrent. This man who never sought respectability may have become the most affectionate and radical humanist in American letters." --Charles Taylor, "Barnes & Noble Review""How did somebody from a quiet Baltimore neighborhood grow up to become the outlandish, brilliant, and insane John Waters? Two words: "Johnny Mathis."" --Augusten Burroughs, author of "Running with Scissors""A delirious descent into Waters World, "Role Models "is a true-life confessional from one of America's greatest ironists. John Waters is a man always ready and willing to say the unsayable. He is the dark mirror of contemporary culture. From haute couture to low culture, from literary outsiders to lapsed actors, he delivers razor-sharp pen portraits of the women and men who have perverted and inspired him by turns. And yet Waters's warped imagination is always humane, his judgments insightful. "Role Models "is as much a philosophical manifesto as it is an utterly hilarious and shamelessly entertaining read." --Philip Hoare, author of "The Whale""John Waters has a great gift for appreciation--whether for toothless lesbian strippers in Baltimore or the most rarefied painters and writers of our day. He is a dandy who has done away with everyone else's hierarchies and created a new world that conforms only to his own taste for trash and the sublime. He is frank, funny, and (strangely enough) both sensible and outrageous." --Edmund White, author of "City Boy" "The cult director's memoirs are always so witty and pleasurable that you want to read whole chapters aloud." --"Details""" "What Vasari is to the lives of the artists, what Burke is to the peerage, what the Social Register is to the elite, so is John Waters to the lunatic fringe. In "Role Models," John Waters makes us gasp with admiration and joy at these defiant prime ribs of America's underbelly." --John Guare, author of "Six Degrees of Separation"

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Customer reviews

Thoughtful, quirky, insightful - a classic collection of essays

A great collection of essays from America's most wonderful, funny, quirky and cult film director (who can forget, once seen, the marvels of 'Pink Flamingos' and 'Female Trouble'). For those who aren't already fans of his journalism as well, John Waters is a natural writer; you can hear his voice as he reflects, shares, meditates and wryly comments on a wide range of topics. He's also very well and widely read, and his cultural interests are equally wide-ranging and, unsurprisingly, archetypally JW. While this latest collection is accomplished and well worth the price - the UK edition, this review refers to, by the way, is by Beautiful Books, and is truly beautiful in format, dust jacket and design - and this review will highlight a bunch of evidence to justify such claims - it doesn't have the many hysterically funny, laugh-out-loud moments that run through two of his previous collections of journalism (I'm thinking here of 'Crackpot' and 'Shock Value', both of which I adore). But there's no harm or foul in this fact, as there's a greater maturity and depth to be found in these essays. (Still, if you want incredibly funny, there is one article in particular, 'Baltimore Heroes', in which he tells you stories about some of his beloved local heroes, and, one especially had me laughing out loud time and time again: Esther Martin, who ran a bar whose only clients were bums and misfits, alcoholics and troubled, with Esther as 'keeper of the asylum', but all of whom were welcome in The Wigwam, or Club Charles as it was later renamed. Esther was clearly an amazing, remarkable woman, who took **** from no one, and swore like a motherf**ker. It's the stories her grown-up kids share with John Waters about Esther's swearing - including the fact that she swore on yellow post-it notes left around her house for her kids (all of whom loved Esther to bits, and for whom Esther was clearly a responsible parent), that leave you gasping for breath.) In 'Bookworm', he tells you about some of his many favourite reads (in his Baltimore house, he had as of the time he wrote the article, 8,425 books). He shares his love for the very quirky, brilliant fiction of Ivy Compton-Burnett, and focuses on 'Darkness and Day', one of 'her strangest novels' - which is saying something, because only her first one was ordinary (she disowned it), the rest are all uniquely original and disturbing; he evokes the wonder of Jane Bowles' 'Two Serious Ladies', and the little-known English novelist, Denton Welch's 'In Youth Is Pleasure', and others, besides. It's fascinating, and demonstrates his real love for great fiction. Interestingly, in 'Leslie', he maturely reflects on the Manson murders - as well as his obsession about them as an interest ever since they occurred in 1969 - in terms of the real implications and impact on the lives of the victims as well as on the life of - and his long-term friendship with - one of the murderers in particular - Leslie being, of course, Leslie Van Houten, one of the original Manson 'family', who was involved in the LaBianca murders ('the night after the Tate massacre'), and still in prison. He acknowledges how at first he was gratuitous and thoughtless in the way he drew upon the murders as fodder for entertainment, directly inspiring and leading him to write and direct the an homage movie to the murders, 'Multiple Maniacs'; besides dedicating 'Pink Flamingos' to the 'Manson girls, "Sadie, Katie and Les"'. The article shares his thoughts and feelings about the history and experience of being a long-term friend to Leslie. It is fascinating, troubling, moving and intelligent; deeply researched, compelling, and he also pulls no punches with himself or the reader. One of the most insightful interpretations of true crime that I have ever read. I also want to single out his great article on his collection of modern art, 'Roommates' (the roommates in question being the art itself, inhabiting his house and two apartments). And it sounds like a fantastic collection, including pieces by Cy Twombly (probably the best appreciation I've ever read on this artist), besides Mike Kelley, Peter Fischli and David Weiss, and Richard Tuttle, and others. I have read a lot of art appreciation over the years, but none has come close to conveying as well as 'Roommates' a collector's passion, and personal taste, and likewise consistently insightful observations about the art works themselves. Fans, of course, will also be delighted that his mainstay obsessions continue in his latest collection, including a piece singing the praises of the fashion designer, Rei Kawakubo; besides great articles on the rock and roll singer, Little Richard (about an interview Waters did with him); on 'Outsider Porn', where he shares his passion for two of his favourite 'genius' outsider gay porn directors, Bobby Garcia and David Hurles - both sadly now absolutely broke, and both, you come to feel along with Waters, that they were genuinely brilliant and revolutionary gay porn masters - phwor (ahem)!), and on cult leadership, in 'Cult Leader' - that is a singular, funny fantasy about him being a great and charismatic cult leader and what he expects of you, his devoted follower. But he also writes beautifully, in a deeply personal and touching way, of his love, respect and appreciation for Tennessee Williams; 'he saved my life', Waters writes in his opening sentence to the essay, called 'The Kindness of Strangers'; and the equally lovely and charming, always thoughtful and learned essay appreciation on Johnny Mathis, his life and accomplishments, and whose opening sentence reads 'I wish I were Johnny Mathis'. Of course. I wish I were John Waters, if only for a day. He's a true star, in the 1940s/50s Hollywood sense of the word, when it meant something; he is Little Richard, Johnny Mathis, Rei Kawakubo, yes, sometimes even Leslie Van Houten and a Cy Twombly drawing, but he is always, uniquely, irrepressibly John Waters. I love you, Mr Waters. May you write and direct much, much more, you beautiful, lovely, wicked, funny, clever Master of Filth.show more
by bobbygw