If you’re a John Waters fan, you have a good idea of what to expect in a book of essays by this Baltimore film producer and proud provocateur. Famous for movies like Hairspray, Pink Flamingos, Serial Mom and Polyester, he’s been called the Pope of Trash, the Prince of Puke, the Ayatollah of Crud—and tours with a comedy show he calls This Filthy World. So if you’re a person who’s easily offended, take it from me: Don’t even read the reviews, much less crack open the cover of Waters’ latest book, Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder.
But if you’re still with me, there’s no denying that Waters is a whip-smart (he’d no doubt like that description), funny, multitalented and unique cultural icon. He’s also an artist and book collector, and these essays reflect his endless assortment of interests—ranging from his movie-making memories (Patty Hearst thought he was kidding when he asked her to be in a movie) and music preferences (including Glenn Gould, Maria Callas, Eminem and Alvin and the Chipmunks) to his planning of and taking what he calls “a senior-citizen acid trip.” (“I had made it,” he notes afterward. “But there was absolutely no reason to ever do it again.”)
“Somehow I became respectable,” Waters notes in his opening essay. “What the hell has happened?” He later counters with a chapter called “The Toilet,” which begins, “OK, if you ever write a book, you must have a dirty chapter. Here’s mine.” Enough said.
In “Going Hollywood,” he notes that he may be the only casting director to give a young (and unknown) Brad Pitt the boot, finding him too handsome for the quirky character he needed in Cry-Baby. Waters’ homage to art created by animals is not only fun but fascinating. (“Want to speculate in the art market? I’m telling you what to buy―monkey art. Yes, paintings by chimpanzees.”) In “Overexposed,” a discussion of his speaking and comedy tours, Waters observes, “librarians are always smart, a little nuts, and know how to party.” His multitude of descriptions never cease to amuse; he calls singer 50 Cent “a nouveau-riche, homophobic braggart―the Donald Trump-meets-Chick-fil-A of rap.”
While it’s certainly not a book for everyone, Waters’ legion of admirers will be lining up in droves to hop aboard the Mr. Know-It-All bus.