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John Waters on "Role Models"

John Waters on "Role Models"

This week in The Sun, movie critic Mike Sragow talks to Baltimore filmmaker John Waters about his new book, "Role Models." It's a look at some unlikely models, including Leslie Van Houten, one of Charles Manson's murderous clan. On the jump is an excerpt from the book.

Waters says in the article, "I want people to like what I've written about them, and so far everyone I've given the book to has liked it. The Leslie Van Houten part was very hard for her to read. Fourteen thousand words about the worst night of her life. But I didn't write about anybody I didn't like. If you are interested in these stories, you can learn from them; you can learn from what happened to Leslie and not have your own life screwed up."

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Most of all, says the article, Waters wants readers "to like some of my friends, even when there are some issues. Even when their issues make their experiences so out of the norm, I'm always fascinated by how they deal with that."

(Keep reading for Waters' words.)

Baltimore Sun photo by Jed Kirschbaum

From "Role Models": I wish I were Johnny Mathis. So mainstream. So popular. So unironic, yet perfect. Effortlessly boyish at over seventy years old, with a voice that still makes all of America want to make out. Heavenly, warm. Yes, I'll say it out loud—wonderful, wonderful. I saw Johnny Mathis in real life once, but he didn't see me—the best way to glimpse a role model. I had just pulled into the parking lot of Tower Video, off Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, with my good friend the photographer Greg Gorman. "Oh my God," said Greg, who is never impressed with celebrities, having shot them for billboards, movie posters, and album covers for thirty years, "don't look up, but Johnny Mathis just pulled in next to us." And there he was. In a sports car with the top down and a cashmere sweater tied around his shoulders. Good Lord. Johnny Mathis himself. The legend you never hear about, never see on the red carpet, never read about in gossip columns. Highly successful but nearly invisible.

Smooth for ever and ever. As my favorite girl group of the sixties, the Shangri-Las, might have said about how I felt that day, "That's called impressed." I never got over seeing Johnny Mathis in the parking lot. I'd secretly think about those thirty seconds at odd moments, like when the Acela train between Baltimore and New York would have to stop so inspectors could examine the corpses of suicide victims who threw themselves on the tracks. Or waiting in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles to renew my driver's license.

Or sometimes right when I woke up—bam!—for no apparent reason, there he'd be: Johnny Mathis in that car with that sweater. Is it because Johnny Mathis is the polar opposite of me? A man whose Greatest Hits album was on the Billboard charts for 490 consecutive weeks. Versus me, a cult fi lmmaker whose core audience, no matter how much I've crossed over, consists of minorities who can't even fi t in with their own minorities.

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