For some reason, we’ve been reading a lot of memoirs this year. We’ve seen good, bad, and ugly, but by far our favorite so far is John Waters’ Role Models. The book introduces us to a new Pope of Trash, a man who is undeniably fond of the extreme and shocking but also has a genuine and keen appreciation for true beauty, Hollywood glamor, and great literature. Waters’ series of essays amounts to a surprisingly open and sincere self-portrait, rendered through explorations of the cultural icons — from squeaky-clean Johnny Mathis to Cy Twombly to Manson girl Leslie van Houten to “outsider porn” directors — who have helped to shape his personality, taste, and work.
What we found most touching about Role Models is the wisdom Waters imparts throughout the book. Like the eccentric uncle we never had, he waxes profound about how to be a happy, functional freak without killing what makes you different. Make plans to buy the book ASAP, and read Waters’ advice on fashion, love, and art after the jump.
1. “If someone is racist and really cute, could you still have sex with him? I have to admit the answer is yes. I have. You just change the subject or shout, ‘La la la la la la la,’ covering your ears when he speaks nonsense. If all else fails, stick something in his mouth to shut him up.”
2. “You should never just read for ‘enjoyment.’ Read to make yourself smarter! Less judgmental. More apt to understand your friends’ insane behavior; or better yet, your own. Pick ‘hard books.’ Ones you have to concentrate on while reading. And for God’s sake, don’t let me ever hear you say, ‘I can’t read fiction. I only have time for the truth.’ Fiction is the truth, fool! Ever hear of ‘literature’? That means fiction, too, stupid.”
3. “If you’re not sure you could love your children, please don’t have them, because they might grow up and kill us.”
4. “[F]or all the neurotics who may have felt a little blue one day and were unfairly diagnosed and overly medicated before they could even try to talk out their problems, I have some advice. It’s appropriate to be depressed sometimes. Who wants to be ‘even’ day after day? If you just killed three people in a DWI accident, you should feel bad. If your whole family molested you in a giant basket on Easter morning, you have a right to be grumpy every once in a while. But feeling down can make you feel up if you’re the creative type. The emotional damage may have already been done to you, but stop whining. Use your insanity to get ahead.”
5. “Everybody knows you need young blood in your house. The way to build a great [art] collection is not to have a lot of money and buy established artists; it’s to go to all the galleries once a month and find a brand-new artist you like in a gallery whose stable seems to be up your alley. Go back to the artist’s second show and buy something for around $5,000. It really means a lot to the artist at this stage of the game, and even though you should never buy art just so you can later sell it for a profit, it does perk up looking through the auction results when you see your gamble go sky-high once in a while.”
6. “Parents should understand that their young kids are not like them and need to have the privacy to fantasize both their good and bad desires. What you may find shocking about the perverse behavior of your child may not even be remembered by your offspring later in life. But what you may pooh-pooh as their silly young fears can be more debilitating to your children than you will ever imagine.”
7. “Everybody has his or her ‘love map,’ as the late, great, sadly discredited Baltimore sexologist John Money once called our predetermined sexual types. And we can never really change our love maps, but we can learn to see them coming. A healthy neurotic knows his type can and probably will bring emotional trouble combined with a powerful sexual wallop. But we can see, through effective therapy, that we have a choice. Yes, our love maps may be bad for us, but WOW! I won’t find this kind of sex in a healthy relationship. So is it worth it? If it is, yes, you are fucked-up, but as long as you choose it, you are also neurotically happy.”
8. “Nobody has to meet Tennessee Williams; all you have to do is reread his work. Listening to what he has to say could save your life, too.”
9. “I’m a fascist about my work habits and I expect you to be, too. Never have a spontaneous moment in your life again. If you’re going to have a hangover, it should be scheduled on your calendar months in advance. Rigid enjoyment of planning can get you high. Militant time-management will enable you to ignore how maladjusted you would be if you had the time to notice it in the first place. Discipline is not anal compulsion; it’s a lifestyle that breeds power.”
10. “You don’t need fashion designers when you are young. Have faith in your own bad taste. Buy the cheapest thing in your local thrift shop — the clothes that are freshly out of style with even the hippest people a few years older than you. Get on the fashion nerves of your peers, not your parents — that is the key to fashion leadership. Ill-fitting is always stylish. But be more creative — wear your clothes inside out, backward, upside down. Throw bleach in a load of colored laundry. Follow the exact opposite of the dry cleaning instructions inside the clothes that cost the most in your thrift shop. Don’t wear jewelry — stick Band-Aids on your wrists or make a necklace out of them. Wear Scotch tape on the side of your face like a bad face-life attempt. Mismatch your shoes. Best yet, do as Mink Stole used to do: go to the thrift store the day after Halloween, when the children’s trick-or-treat costumes are on sale, buy one, and wear it as your uniform of defiance.”