Here’s your summer reading assignment: John Waters just released a new collection of essays called Role Models. It’s a beautifully indulgent litany of “The Pope of Trash”’s artistic obsessions that also manages to be witty, insightful, and compassionate. Waters is a great interviewer and journalist – his pieces on Little Richard, the still incarcerated “Manson Girl” Leslie Van Houten, and a creepy internet pornographer named Bobby Garcia are hair-raisingly intimate and force (presumably liberal) readers to the edge of their own tolerance.
Role Models also offers bright and barbed discussions of Waters’s favorite cult authors (Ivy Compton-Burnett, Denton Welch, Jane Bowles); highly debatable modern artists (Mike Kelley, Cy Twombly, Peter Fischli and David Weiss); and unknown heroes from his hometown of Baltimore like the lesbian stripper Zorro and the bee-hived transgender rebel Pencil. Role Models is as fascinated with desperate fringe-dwellers as the author’s most notorious movies. But while John Waters the filmmaker can be amateurish and unfocussed, Waters the writer is sharp, clever, and humane.