Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder is the latest book by John Waters. I love his writing and definitely needed a good read after my last book, a dismal one-star review. I knew I would be laughing out in public when I read this book on the bus and subway. It was a riot of a read, and I imagined listening to Waters’s voice as I read it. His “tarnished wisdom” covered topics ranging from breaking out with the movie “Hairspray” and its transformation into a hit musical and another movie version; the worst (or best, knowing Waters) of brutalist architecture; his lifelike infant doll named Bill; collectible art painted by primates; exploitative car-crash hit records; no-holidaying in Provincetown and so many others. Every chapter was a hit except for his attempt to copy Andy Warhol’s novel a by writing it in a run-on stream-of-consciousness format. It made for awkward and slow reading (and rereading)–which I suppose was Waters’s point.
I took notes constantly, so that I could research ghastly records or unmentionable cuisine cookbooks later. It would have been helpful though if Waters had included some photos such as his favourite singers–many unknown, as he accurately asserted–and those horrid buildings so I could know immediately what he was talking about, although since most people have cellphones they could look up whatever Waters was writing about on the spot.
I have read many of Waters’s books (even before I started publishing reviews on-line in 2010), and in Mr. Know-It-All he covered two topics that he had not heretofore addressed, at least not in as much detail. Waters wrote about how he coped after the death of his dear friend Divine in 1988. One might not expect such sensitivity from the Pope of Trash but you will feel his grief and mourn the loss of a brilliant drag queen and actor. The other topic Waters addressed is his sex life. He has never been in the closet, yet in this book he referred to boyfriends and the various places he has had sex. Throughout this book is the general admission that Waters is still sexually active.
Breaking news is that the 2020 North American Scrabble Championship will take place in Baltimore. Baltimore! I will explore the city that Waters loves so much and pay my respects to Divine at Prospect Hill Cemetery.
Mr. Know-It-All was quote-heavy and the funniest passages I have cited below. I burst out laughing every time I reread them:
“There’s no such thing as good plastic surgery if you notice it.”
“And of course a toupee is the ultimate violation. Every single person who sees you instantly spots your rug, knows it’s fake, and laughs at you behind your back.”
How true. There’s a guy at the library who also goes to the Y who wears a two-tone toup. I even saw him on his bike without a helmet. Guess that toup was shellacked on so tight it could serve as an ersatz bike helmet. The rug does not fool me–I knew it was a toup the first time I saw him. Listen to Filth Elder John Waters!
“You never make much money on the projects you think up when you’re young–the ones that are the most original, the ones that get you noticed. No. You cash in later, once you’ve made a name for yourself and begin to fail.”
“I realized right away that the real problem with these odorous ideas of showmanship was not the technology itself. The problem was that all the smells were good. I had a hunch that bad smells were the road to an olfactional hit. I would reinvent the smellploitation picture and get the whole world to pay me money to smell dirty tennis shoes.”
“After yet another test screening of Cry-Baby, the head of National Research Group asked me honestly, ‘What is the norm we test you against?’–admitting the futility of his company’s entire purpose. As soon as you cut out the extremes of my film (always picked as ‘least’ or ‘most’ favorite by test audiences), then nobody likes it, not even the dumb ones too cowardly to have an opinion of their own.”
“…I once saw graffiti written on a blackboard over the urinal that said BLOW ME, ASSHOLE. I ran home, got my camera, came back, took a photo of it, and later sold it in a New York art gallery for $5,000. Art is everywhere. You just have to notice.”
“And no, the hit records of your generation are not better than today’s. As soon as you stop listening to new music, your life is over. You are a fart.”
“I always felt bad for my mom because she claimed to ‘hate jazz.’ When she was very ill near the end of her life and they gave her a morphine drip in the hospital, I thought, ‘Finally! She can appreciate Coltrane.'”
“I amuse myself, as all gay men do, by watching other males remove their coats and sweaters, which always offers a glimpse of stomach or ass as they struggle to disrobe. I am appalled every time I fly by the hideous way many travelers dress. No, you can’t wear shorts. Do you think others want to sit next to your hairy, scaly legs? Workout clothes? P.U.! Who wants to smell your sweaty armpits? Bare feet! How disgusting! And pajamas? You have to be kidding me! Are you a baby? Does Daddy need to hold you? Get the fuck dressed! The only thing worse is traveling with a companion animal. If you are so mentally fragile that you can’t leave home without some poor creature you’ve condemned to a lifetime of cuddling, then you shouldn’t be allowed to mix freely in society. Don’t go to the airport; check yourself into a mental institution.”
I agree with Elder Waters on all the points above. I wish people would get dressed up when they flew. Bring back the days of deafening daylong flights across the country!
“‘Thank you for your patience,’ the agents at the gate always say when a flight is delayed, but even though I feel sorry for these employees, I let them know in no uncertain terms that ‘I don’t have any, so please do not thank me for something I cannot offer.’ They look at me blankly but not with so much hostility as they do when I roll my eyes in derision at the other fliers who ‘need extra time to board,’ who get to go on in front of me even though I’m in first class. I know that sounds heartless but so many of these passengers are faking! Especially on Southwest, which has open seating once you get on board. ‘What’s the matter with her?!’ I always want to ask the flight attendant. ‘Can I see a doctor’s note?’ I’m not being coldhearted here; most of those ‘disabled’ passengers are liars! I see them once they get on the Jetway–it’s like Lourdes! They throw down their crutches and sprint toward the airline door, laughing and singing, ‘Yippee, aisle seats in the front of the plane!’ Bastards.”
“I never watch the movies on board because they’re usually the worst Hollywood fare made even more unwatchable because of airline censorship. I want to see airplane-crash movies while flying. I love them! Just think how exciting the flight would be if the original Final Destination, Fearless, Alive, Sully, even United 93 suddenly suddenly came on-screen? I always secretly wondered what films were playing on the flights that crashed on 9/11. It took me years of sleuthing, but I finally found out that on all the United flights that day two films were scheduled to be shown, A Knight’s Tale and Dr. Dolittle 2. What a chilling thought. Being on those hijacked planes was a terrible tragedy, but one good thing did happen to the passengers–the planes crashed before the movies could be seen. Just think how horrible it would have been to smash into the World Trade Center while watching Dr. Dolittle 2.”