It’s one thing to like music, to follow it, to read about it, absorb it – but music is just a part of the larger pop-culture wheel. Usually you scratch a music fan and find someone obsessed with movies, TV, books, comics…all or any of them as well.
And so it is with our favourite filmmakers and authors. They write to music, they write with music in mind, they write about music – some of them even cover music. Charles Bukowski reviewed U2 – he hated them. It was probably a joke on the part of the magazine to send him along, for even someone only up for a cursory glance into Bukowski’s world comes away with the knowledge that classical music was his proverbial cup of herbal tea. He was friends with Sean Penn at the time when the actor was married to Madonna. It’s funny to think of Bukowski socialising with Madonna. Well, it’s probably funny to think of him even socialising at all.
One of my favourite filmmakers is John Waters. His weird and wonderful world is always exciting, always interesting.
He’s also one of my favourite authors.
You can arrive at John Waters in one of many ways. I imagine, over the last decade or so, he’s gained an audience almost solely through his one-man-shows. He talks about his life and whatever is on his mind. It’s not quite stand-up comedy. And yet it’s funnier than at lot of the comedians I’ve seen.
There’s always been an important music-thread to Waters’ life and work. As a self-appointed Pope of Trash he is knowledgeable across garage rock and the twee pop of the 50s and 60s, but he also has other musical interests.
He wrote about some of them in what I think is his best book to date, Role Models. (There’s also an amazing piece in that book about the Charles Manson murders).
And even though his most recent book wasn’t much chop, it still featured a wonderful playlist; a soundtrack created for the shaggy-dog tail by its author.
In Role Models Waters champions Johnny Mathis. Something almost nobody would do in this day and age. Another of his (obvious) heroes is Little Richard – and he wrote a great piece about meeting this icon.
The great outlaw spirit and soundtrack for rebellion that was early rock’n’roll permeates the film world of Waters too. If you only know him for Cry Baby and Hairspray then you know those films are inspired by and linked to the music of the era they represent, propelled by that music too.
A few years ago when John Waters brought his show, This Filthy World, to New Zealand I was lucky enough to get to interview him ahead of the performances.
I was writing then, as now, for a music audience as such, so whilst I didn’t want to force a music album I was encouraged to lean slightly toward it.
Speaking to Waters in his home town of Baltimore I tried for a joke/silly-obscure music reference by opening the interview asking, “What’s new in Baltimore?”
I’d carried the phrase with me for years – picked it up on one of the first Frank Zappa albums I’d ever heard.
Waters slipped into discussing recent travels and how he had only just returned home. Next sentence had him mentioning a Frank Zappa statue that was only recently unveiled. And how he was looking forward to catching up with that, taking it in. It was said, in that trademark smirking fashion, a wee nod and a wink. He wasn’t going to miss that reference. He would pay it lip-service, a thin smile from an even thinner moustache.
What a wonderful man.
There are a few John Waters-related soundtracks and compilations you could check out. But certainly A Date With John Waters, a collection chosen by the man himself, is worth a look and a listen.