Cult film director/pop culture obsessive John Waters doesn't need any coaxing to "say nice things about Detroit." Waters has always admired the "sexy and fun and exciting" vibe he got from the city, from such worthies as Iggy and John Sinclair and Eminem.
He's up to date, he even knows about the anti-hipster graffiti that popped up last summer ("Is it working?" he wants to know) and he sees Detroit as a romantic city, thanks to Jim Jarmusch's movie, "Only Lovers Left Alive." "It made Detroit look so romantic and vampirish," Waters enthused. But then, he's from Baltimore. He gets it.
The writer/actor/artist/director and self-proclaimed "filth elder" who brought the world actor/actress Divine and "Pink Flamingos" (he later crossed over with "Hairspray") is headlining the 16th annual presentation of "The Dirty Show" with his act "This Filthy World: Filthier and Dirtier," starting Thursday.
The "Dirty Show," which presents erotic performance and juried artwork (including some by Waters), runs Thursday-Saturday, and Feb. 20-21 at the Russell Industrial Center in Detroit.
Waters spoke by phone from his Baltimore bolthole.
This show isn't the same as the one that came out on Netflix, right?
"It's completely different, I'm always updating it. I talk about everybody, including the Boston bomber's ex-wife, whom I'm fascinated with. She's already remarried! She has a boyfriend, and some people I know don't!"
You've hit a lot of cities in the middle of the country with "This Filthy World."
My favorite was going to Boise, Idaho, which I always wanted to do because at the end of "Pink Flamingos," they say they're moving to Boise, Idaho. It actually took me 30, 40 years to get there and I got to come out and say: "Boise, Idaho, get ready, you are about to receive the filthiest people ever!" They did go crazy, it was a great audience.
You were good friends with Detroit's own Mike Kelley (the outsider artist who committed suicide in 2012).
I have a piece, a tribute to him at the Ivan Boesky gallery, you can go online and see it. I was a speaker at his funeral, and I told all the people there and his brother, too, "Don't feel bad. It was his choice, it wasn't a cry for help. He had great success, something I think he never expected. He was a great, great artist and a funny guy. I was sad, but I'm never sad if it's someone's choice."
One of the joys of your latest book, "Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America," is that you include the names of some wonderful old records relating to hitchhiking (or car travel).
"They're almost all country songs, although the most famous one is of course the Marvin Gaye song, 'Hitchhike.'
And you included the 1956 song depicting a car accident, "Transfusion."
That was by Nervous Novus, he was very much a role model for me when I was very young. I love novelty records, I'm trying very hard to be in the next Chipmunks movie. The only goals I have in life are to be in the next Alvin and the Chipmunks movie, and the next "Final Destination."
One of your favorites is the great early 1950s singer Johnnie Ray, whose big hit was "Cry." (Ray's career foundered after he was busted for soliciting in Detroit).
He was one of my idols, and was in one of my advent card cutaways this year. I love the book on him ("Johnnie Ray" by Jonny Whiteside). He got busted in a bathroom and married Dorothy Kilgallen.
It was in a bathroom at the Stone Burlesk, on Woodward Avenue where Ray allegedly made an overture to a Detroit cop, and was arrested.
Just get over it and move on! (Waters laughs). All he had to do is say 'no'! I love Johnnie, I still play all his records. People forget, but he was as famous as Eminem or Elvis, but for just two years. In between Frank Sinatra and Elvis, was Johnnie Ray.
In New York, as a conceptual art piece, you have children reading a cleaned-up version of "Pink Flamingos," as "Kiddie Flamingos."
Now everybody tries to be shocking, so the only thing I could do was censor myself, and have it with children reading innocently so only the audience thinks dirty, because they know the original.
Are your early movies available?
I'm in a deal hopefully to get "Multiple Maniacs" back out there. From "Pink Flamingos" on are available. The (very) early ones were shown at my 50-year tribute at Lincoln Center in a historical way, and they're going to be shown in England soon. But no they're never going to be available, they're 8, 16-millimeter, they're really my juvenalia. It is interesting to see Divine as a teenager. Dreamland Studios was the bedroom at my parents' house.
What do you think about the thaw in U.S./Cuban relations?
Poor Joanne Chesimard, the Black Panther who is hiding out there, they're going to give her up. She has been successfully hiding there for 30 years, which has made the U.S. government insane.
All the skyjackers are still there. There are so many of them! There used to be one a week, and they'd always let them in. It was like the hula hoop.
There are a lot of similarities between Detroit and Baltimore.
I think they're the same ... I think we should band together, our two cities, and attack New York. Seize their assets.
Both cities have a sizeable Catholic population.
That means there's a lot of good sex, 'cause everybody thinks it's dirty.
Does Detroit still have an inferiority complex? You will get in trouble if you say yes.
Not really, if people put us down, they just don't get it.
Travel & Leisure magazine picked Baltimore as having the ugliest people in the country and the government was really upset about it. I said, they just don't understand extreme beauty. And also, who wants to be the second ugliest? That's Philadelphia. Why not be the ugliest?
What else are you going to be doing in Detroit?
I am going to meet someone from the Satanic Temple. I think they do funny things, they have pink masses. I love a church with a sense of humor. There aren't many.
The Dirty Show
John Waters, "This Filthy World: Filthier and Dirtier," is the special guest artist appearing at 7 p.m. Thursday at The Dirty Show Preview. Some of his art will appear in the show, as well, and copies of his book, "Carsick," will be available.
Russell Exhibition Center, 1600 Clay, Detroit. Tickets $30
"The Dirty Show" runs Thursday through Sunday and Feb. 21-22. Tickets are available at Noir Leather in Royal Oak, The River's Edge Gallery in Wyandotte, and Found Sound in Ferndale, or via dirtyshow.org.