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Role Models Hardcover – May 25 2010

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Summer Clearance on Books Books That Make You Think

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: FSG Adult; 1 edition (May 31 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374251479
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374251475
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 3 x 21.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 476 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #343,276 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Waters is a greater National Treasure than 90 percent of the people who are given 'Kennedy Center Honors' each December. Unlike those gray eminences of the show-business establishment, Waters doesn't kowtow to the received wisdom, he flips it the bird . . . [Waters] has the ability to show humanity at its most ridiculous and make that funny rather than repellent. To quote his linear ancestor W.C. Fields: It's a gift. (Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post)

His acolytes won't need a reviewer's say-so to lap up every word of "Role Models," . . . But dilettantes at liberty to skip around will find a lot to charm them. In a way, the best joke is that - Baader-Meinhof gang, outsider porn and all--Waters can't help revealing one very page that he's both sentimental and good-hearted. Pass the relish, Uncle John. (Tom Carson, New York Times Book Review)

Waters may not be a gloater, but there is a delightful lunatic glee that pulses through the book. It combusts in the final chapter, titled 'Cult Leader,' which exhorts readers to rise up against the 'tyranny of good taste,' wear their belts off center, and infiltrate living crèches. Happily, for all the reflective and tender moments, Waters never suppresses his radiant pervert self. (Liz Brown,

What is exhilarating about Waters is that he's not kidding, that he's the reporter, comedian and poet-in-chief of a fantasy cult which thinks 'there's only one way to die--spontaneous combustion. The unexplained phenomenon of being so guilty and happy, so obsessed, so driven and so fanatical that you just burst into flames for no apparent reason on the street.' He remains one of our most necessary fellow Americans. (Jeff Simon, The Buffalo News)

The collision of the eloquent and the profane is probably the best reason to read this quasimemoir-cum-how-to, aside from its deeper philosophy: judge not lest ye have the whole story, indulge your inner pervert (within reason), and read, for the love of Divine. Waters puts it another way: 'I believe in the opposite of original sin. I don't believe anybody is born guilty or evil.' Glory-hole-lujah. Amen. (Heather McCormack, Library Journal)

[Role Models is] an impressive, heartfelt collection by a true American iconoclast. (Kirkus Reviews (starred))

Apart from its consistently engaging voice, both casual and eloquent . . . what makes Role Models more than just the latest expression of a great American oddball is its appearance at a time when nearly every segment of society (hipsters, meet Tea Partiers) feels justified in dehumanizing anyone they deem as the other. Waters never does that, even to the truly abhorrent. This man who never sought respectability may have become the most affectionate and radical humanist in American letters. (Charles Taylor, Barnes & Noble Review)

How did somebody from a quiet Baltimore neighborhood grow up to become the outlandish, brilliant, and insane John Waters? Two words: Johnny Mathis. (Augusten Burroughs, author of Running with Scissors)

A delirious descent into Waters World, Role Models is a true-life confessional from one of America's greatest ironists. John Waters is a man always ready and willing to say the unsayable. He is the dark mirror of contemporary culture. From haute couture to low culture, from literary outsiders to lapsed actors, he delivers razor-sharp pen portraits of the women and men who have perverted and inspired him by turns. And yet Waters's warped imagination is always humane, his judgments insightful. Role Models is as much a philosophical manifesto as it is an utterly hilarious and shamelessly entertaining read. (Philip Hoare, author of The Whale)

John Waters has a great gift for appreciation--whether for toothless lesbian strippers in Baltimore or the most rarefied painters and writers of our day. He is a dandy who has done away with everyone else's hierarchies and created a new world that conforms only to his own taste for trash and the sublime. He is frank, funny, and (strangely enough) both sensible and outrageous. (Edmund White, author of City Boy)

His acolytes won't need a reviewer's say-so to lap up every word of "Role Models," . . . But dilettantes at liberty to skip around will find a lot to charm them. In a way, the best joke is that - Baader-Meinhof gang, outsider porn and all--Waters can't help revealing one very page that he's both sentimental and good-hearted. Pass the relish, Uncle John. (Tom Carson, New York Times Book Review)

If Waters began his career by seeking to infuriate, he now has mellowed to a place of gleeful tweaking. 'Role Models' is charming and chatty. . . it also reveals the making of a unique American artist through his influences. When he calls for people to make him a cult leader of filth --having left trash behind for becoming too acceptable--it's hard for any outsider not to want to follow along. (Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times)

The cult director's memoirs are always so witty and pleasurable that you want to read whole chapters aloud. (Details)

What Vasari is to the lives of the artists, what Burke is to the peerage, what the Social Register is to the elite, so is John Waters to the lunatic fringe. In Role Models, John Waters makes us gasp with admiration and joy at these defiant prime ribs of America's underbelly. (John Guare, author of Six Degrees of Separation)

About the Author

John Waters is an American filmmaker, actor, writer, and visual artist best known for his cult films, including Hairspray, Pink Flamingos, and Cecil B. DeMented. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

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By Christa Conway on June 3 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Acuity and fervor and honesty and well-mannered charm make John Waters a priceless gem and this book a treasure. I do not share his taste, but I relish his commitment to his own aesthetic and fascinations. This book of soliloquies examines a cross section of filth in contemporary art and society.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 55 reviews
30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Loads of Fun on Audio July 8 2010
By Amanda J. Henning - Published on
Format: MP3 CD
Waters is a fantastic narrator and his new book is absolutely hilarious (but also very touching at points). I've honestly been forcing anybody who rides in my car this week to listen to the section about Lady Zorro and I'll start forcing everybody to listen to the section on Esther Martin next week. Honestly, despite other reviews that talk about his trashy side, I'm amazed how sweet and kind he comes across. From one bleeding heart liberal to another, I absolutely love this book :)
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Thw World of Waters July 4 2010
By Richard A. Jenkins - Published on
Format: Hardcover
John Waters always has elicited strong opinions from people and that seems evident here in the early reviews. Anyone who has seen or heard Waters being interviewed or seen him emcee a show will recognize the tone and style here. He rambles entertainingly through the book, with on-target observations that integrate references that range from the absurd to the refined. The chapters vary in their quality. Some passages are laugh out loud funny, but some sections drag. The chapter on Leslie Van Houten becomes rather tedious and didactic, in places, although Waters raises worthwhile questions about rehabilitation and the grandstanding of prosecutors. The section on his art collection betrayed perhaps a need to be taken seriously even as he collects pieces that most people who find academically interesting, at most. Waters' parents do not get their own chapter, but they are always present and come across as people who supported Waters' development and work in surprising ways while remaining very much the conventional parents of their time. At the same time, Waters confronts the problems and limitations of some of the eccentric Baltimore characters he had idolized, like Zorro, the lesbian stripper whose daughter somehow thrived despite a chaotic, problem-ridden environment. Despite focusing on role models, Waters creates a world where neither nature nor nurture seem to triumph. His conservative, conventional parents wound up with "The Pope of Filth" for a son, while Zorro winds up with an apparently very conventional, well-adjusted daughter. Waters lives in a world where the classic 1950s songs of Johnny Mathis co-exist with a fringe gay pornographer like Bobby Garcia, and Leslie Van Houten of the Manson Family. Somehow the only really discordant note was the repeated mention of Elton John who seems neither fringe nor conventional, nor particularly interesting.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
This book will make you rethink your views on parole Nov. 29 2010
By Craig Rowland - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Role Models is John Waters's tribute to those who have influenced him throughout his life. I had already read two of his earlier books, Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters and Shock Value: A Tasteful Book About Bad Taste, so I knew what I was in for: I was ready to laugh myself silly.

Waters describes himself as "a cult filmmaker whose core audience, no matter how much I've crossed over, consists of minorities who can't even fit in with their own minorities.". One can see how the people who have influenced him the most fit in with this self-assessment.

The first major influence on John as a little boy was "Clarabell, the psychotic clown on The Howdy Doody Show, whose makeup later inspired Divine's, had been my role model.". One can't miss the similarities when comparing the two:

The chapter entitled Leslie is perhaps the most serious piece of work Waters has ever written. In it, he talks about his twenty-five-year friendship with Leslie Van Houten, the member of the Manson family who was sentenced to death for her role in the LaBianca murders in 1969. Waters makes a very convincing case for the parole of Van Houten, who has been incarcerated for over forty years. He also apologizes for exploiting the Manson family murders in his early film career:

"I am guilty, too. Guilty of using the Manson murders in a jokey, smart-ass way in my earlier films without the slightest feeling for the victims' families or the lives of the brainwashed Manson killer kids who were also victims in this sad and terrible case."

This was quite a revelation from Waters: that of guilt. Waters has visited Van Houten on a regular basis at the California Institute for Women and is convinced that Van Houten has been mentally rehabilitated for decades and is in no danger of reoffending. The most surprising thing of all is Van Houten's sense of inner peace in all this. She seems resigned to live her life to the fullest, even though she may never be granted parole. I never thought I'd ever say this, but Van Houten's lawyers should have John Waters testify in her behalf at her next parole hearing. Waters never sweeps the LaBianca murders under the rug, and often identifies with their orphaned children, and how they must feel if they were to see their parents' murderer released. Nevertheless, it is a very convincing case to parole Van Houten, and made me review my own opinions on the matter.

Waters also talks about personalities from his hometown of Baltimore. One of them was the stripper known as Lady Zorro, whom he describes as "[having] a real rage she brought to the stage, which added a demented hostile sex appeal. An angry stripper with a history of physical and sexual abuse with a great body and the face of a man. Now there's a lethal combination...Zorro was so butch, so scary, so Johnny Cash. No actual stripping for her at that point [at the end of her burlesque career]; she just came out nude and snarled at her fans, 'What the f*** are you looking at?'".

Waters fondly remembers a Baltimore bar owner named Esther Martin: "the real reason I loved Esther right from the beginning was her mouth. No one in the world cussed more! She gave the phrase 'cursing a blue streak' a refinement that seemed almost noble. 'That motherf***ing c***s***ing son of a b***h' was used as a prefix to almost every name she uttered...Just a mention of Esther's foul language makes each sibling go into hilarious imitations of their mother's tirades. 'As my dear sainted mother would say'--Dick laughs and then mimics Esther's voice--'You're as worthless as a c**t full of cold p**s.' 'Sh** and fall back in it!'". I tell you, reading Waters's reminiscences about Lady Zorro and Esther had me laughing so hard during my work lunch breaks I could barely eat anything at all.

In the chapter entitled Bookworm, Waters writes about five of his favourite fiction authors. After I read this chapter I researched these authors and looked for their books and criticisms. Waters writes about one of his favourites:

"Try reading any novel by [Ivy] Compton-Burnett. She was English, looked exactly like the illustration on the Old Maid card, never had sex even once, and wrote twenty dark, hilarious, evil little novels between the years 1911 and 1969."

The chapter on art, entitled Roommates, was surprisingly boring. It would not have been so tedious to plow through if only Waters had included some photos of the works he was describing. There is nothing more boring to read than pages and pages of descriptions of paintings. Waters did make me laugh at this remark:

"I knew about Richard Tuttle's minimalist troublemaking and respected his early hostile establishment reviews, such as 'Less has never been less than this.' His bare plywood slat pieces nailed flat to the wall with just one thin side of the depth of the wood painted white were so beautiful, so simple, so plain, that I felt exhausted just imagining how complete the artist must have felt when he decided the work was finished."

In the final chapter, Waters tells of his childhood education at Catholic schools. I again felt like laughing so hard I could barely chew:

"I hated my Catholic high school, so I certainly never went back to a reunion, although I did get to comment to The Baltimore Sun, on the school's fifty-year anniversary, that the Christian Brothers and lay faculty there had 'discouraged every interest I ever had.' A friend who attended the reunion that year said he heard me called 'f**got' and 'pornographer' by some of my p***ed-off fellow classmates who had read my criticism, but I didn't mind. The only reason to attend any school reunion is to see how the people whom you had wanted to have sex with then look today. And I had already looked up those people's addresses and driven by their homes to stalk them years before."

And when talking about those wacky saints he learned about at school:

"Of course, there are some saints we do take very seriously. Saint Catherine of Siena is without a doubt the most insane of these and we have no choice but to honor her daily. Reading Holy Anorexia by Rudolph M. Bell, the best encyclopedia of deranged saints ever written, we learn that in Catherine's time (the 1300s) she was known as 'a person of considerable reputation for outstanding holiness'--in other words, nuts! At the peak of her career she 'urged the holy hatred of oneself' and advised others to 'build a cell in your mind that you can never escape.' She was a 'bottom' for God."

and I am still laughing over the poor girl who could never succeed here:

"Catherine organized a group of fellow child masochists who flagellated themselves daily. Well, I can understand that, too. I had a Horror House in our garage and I'd charge the neighborhood kids twenty-five cents to enter. After they gave me the money, I'd tell them to wait, and I'd go inside and then yell, "Okay, come in!" The little ticket buyers would group their way into the darkness and I would squirt them with a fire extinguisher (my dad's company sold them) and then kick them in the leg. They loved it. They even came back for more. I also used to play 'school' as a kid with the little girl who lived next door, and I was always the teacher and she was always the student. Every time we played I failed her, yet she still eagerly agreed to play every time I asked, fully knowing the results."

Role Models is John Waters's most serious written work. Without his name on the cover, one would never believe that the chapters on Leslie Van Houten, art, Johnny Mathis or Little Richard was written by him. If you love Waters's humour, and need a laugh like the original "Hairspray" on the printed page, this book does not disappoint.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Laugh out loud funny! Sept. 24 2011
By Jacob S Callahan - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This work is so entertaining and good hearted and funny, I immediately ordered a copy for a friend. There were times when I had to phone people to read out passages so we could laugh together. It is perhaps not for everyone, but if you already know and like John Waters, you will love this book; it was so absorbing and delightful, I had to read it almost straight through. If you don't know John Waters (where have you been?), and have a sensitivity to language as spoken and heard away from church, your mind may be too pure to process his special brand of "filth" which includes interviews with criminals, celebrities of special note, trivia, information and particular advise on how to realize or expand your own personal filth. I wish he lived next door; it feels as if we are friends already. I'd love to have him over for a drink.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A charming, quirky collection of essays by cult movie director John Waters on his role models May 25 2011
By bobbygw - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is an entertaining, insightful and often thought-provoking series of journalistic essays by John Waters on his role models.

Waters is arguably America's most wonderful, funny, quirky and cult film director (who can forget, once seen, the marvels of 'Pink Flamingos' and 'Female Trouble') and, for those who aren't already fans of his journalism as well, John Waters is a natural writer. You can hear his voice as he reflects, shares, meditates and wryly comments on a wide range of topics. He's also widely read and his cultural interests are equally wide-ranging and, unsurprisingly, reflective of his quirky, distinctive - and, I hasten to add, utterly charming - personality.

While this latest collection is accomplished and well worth the price - the UK edition, this review refers to, by the way, is by Beautiful Books, and is truly beautiful in format, dust jacket and design - and this review will highlight a bunch of evidence to justify such claims - it doesn't have the many hysterically funny, laugh-out-loud moments that run through two of his previous collections of journalism (I'm thinking here of 'Crackpot' and 'Shock Value', both of which I adore).

But there's no harm or foul in this fact, as there's a greater maturity and depth to be found in these essays. (Still, if you want incredibly funny, there is one article in particular, 'Baltimore Heroes', in which he tells you stories about some of his beloved local heroes, and, one especially had me laughing out loud time and time again: Esther Martin, who ran a bar whose only clients were bums and misfits, alcoholics and troubled, with Esther as 'keeper of the asylum', but all of whom were welcome in The Wigwam, or Club Charles as it was later renamed. Esther was clearly an amazing, remarkable woman, who took **** from no one, and swore like a motherf**ker. It's the stories her grown-up kids share with John Waters about Esther's swearing - including the fact that she swore on yellow post-it notes left around her house for her kids (all of whom loved Esther to bits, and for whom Esther was clearly a responsible parent), that leave you gasping for breath.)

In 'Bookworm', he tells you about some of his many favourite reads (in his Baltimore house, he had as of the time he wrote the article, 8,425 books). He shares his love for the very quirky, brilliant fiction of Ivy Compton-Burnett, and focuses on 'Darkness and Day', one of 'her strangest novels' - which is saying something, because only her first one was ordinary (she disowned it), the rest are all uniquely original and disturbing; he evokes the wonder of Jane Bowles' 'Two Serious Ladies', and the little-known English novelist, Denton Welch's 'In Youth Is Pleasure', and others, besides. It's fascinating, and demonstrates his real love for great fiction.

Interestingly, in 'Leslie', he maturely reflects on the Manson murders - as well as his obsession about them as an interest ever since they occurred in 1969 - in terms of the real implications and impact on the lives of the victims as well as on the life of - and his long-term friendship with - one of the murderers in particular - Leslie being, of course, Leslie Van Houten, one of the original Manson 'family', who was involved in the LaBianca murders ('the night after the Tate massacre'), and still in prison.

He acknowledges how at first he was gratuitous and thoughtless in the way he drew upon the murders as fodder for entertainment, directly inspiring and leading him to write and direct the an homage movie to the murders, 'Multiple Maniacs'; besides dedicating 'Pink Flamingos' to the 'Manson girls, "Sadie, Katie and Les"'. The article shares his thoughts and feelings about the history and experience of being a long-term friend to Leslie. It is fascinating, troubling, moving and intelligent; deeply researched, compelling, and he also pulls no punches with himself or the reader. One of the most insightful interpretations of true crime that I have ever read.

I also want to single out his great article on his collection of modern art, 'Roommates' (the roommates in question being the art itself, inhabiting his house and two apartments). And it sounds like a fantastic collection, including pieces by Cy Twombly (probably the best appreciation I've ever read on this artist), besides Mike Kelley, Peter Fischli and David Weiss, and Richard Tuttle, and others.

I have read a lot of art appreciation over the years, but none has come close to conveying as well as 'Roommates' a collector's passion, and personal taste, and likewise consistently insightful observations about the art works themselves.

Fans, of course, will also be delighted that his mainstay obsessions continue in his latest collection, including a piece singing the praises of the fashion designer, Rei Kawakubo; besides great articles on the rock and roll singer, Little Richard (about an interview Waters did with him); on 'Outsider Porn', where he shares his passion for two of his favourite 'genius', groundbreaking outsider gay porn directors, Bobby Garcia and David Hurles - both sadly now absolutely broke; and on cult leadership, in 'Cult Leader' - that is a singular, funny fantasy about him being a great and charismatic cult leader and what he expects of us if we are to be his devoted disciplines.

He also writes beautifully, in a deeply personal and touching way, of his love, respect and appreciation for Tennessee Williams; 'he saved my life', Waters writes in his opening sentence to the essay, called 'The Kindness of Strangers'; and the equally lovely and charming, always thoughtful and learned essay appreciation on Johnny Mathis, his life and accomplishments, and whose opening sentence reads 'I wish I were Johnny Mathis'. Of course.

I wish I were John Waters, if only for a day. He's a true star, in the 1940s/50s Hollywood sense of the word, when it meant something; he is Little Richard, Johnny Mathis, Rei Kawakubo, yes, sometimes even a Cy Twombly drawing, but he is always, uniquely, irrepressibly John Waters. I love you, Mr Waters. May you write and direct much, much more, you beautiful, lovely, wicked, funny, clever, perfectly self-described 'Master of Filth'.