Role Models: by John Waters, 320pgs. By Billups Allen

Jul 30, 2010

When discussing the films of John Waters, people generally consider his “good” movies to be his earlier, poorly made ones. The “bad” ones are often the ones he spent more time on. Good or bad, there is nothing like a John Waters movie. I am, for better or worse, a devotee of his entire filmography. With that in mind, I am going to make a statement that will be borderline blasphemy: I think he is often a better writer than he is a filmmaker. Waters’ book Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters is one of my favorite collections of articles about pop culture. His latest book, Role Models, is an equally compelling collection of essays. This time, Waters focuses on people he admires, recounting meetings and experiences with some well-known and not-so-well-known personalities. Waters’ writing is charming and honest. He shares information as a fan would; with no attitude in his delivery. He brings alive the world he walks in. The subject matter ranges from meetings with legendary musicians like Johnny Mathis and Little Richard to outsider pornographers. He has strong opinions about the continued incarceration of Leslie Van Houten, a surviving Manson family member languishing in prison over the infamous LaBianca murders. He also knows his way around a Baltimore strip club. But there is more to John Waters than a curiosity about pop and sleaze. His positivity transcends a surface curiosity about the underground; he seems to have a genuine curiosity about the world. His cult celebrity status allows him to walk through walls without causing a ruckus; he appears at home among kings and winos. Waters, through his unique insight into the world, holds the keys to real Americana. Billups Allen (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 18 West 18th St., New York, NY 10011)