It's not easy to live down a nickname like "The Pope of Trash," especially when it was bestowed on you by William S. Burroughs, so John Waters is living up to it instead. For the last 40 years, he has been gleefully producing some of the weirdest, gutter-dredging films in American cinema, such as "Mondo Trasho," "Pink Flamingos," "Female Trouble" and "Desperate Living," peopled by bodacious drag queens and margin-dwellers and marked by outlandish plots and fantastic musical numbers.
Squeezed in between careers as a filmmaker, photographer and author -- as well as daily mustache maintenance (he shaves his trademark pencil-thin 'stache every day, trims it two or three times a week with nail scissors) -- Waters frequently tours the globe performing his one-man shows.
On the heels of his popular Christmas special at UCLA's Royce Hall in December, Waters comes to Cal State Northridge this weekend with "This Filthy World," an evolving mix of stand-up, spoken word and theater that he describes as "a feel-good lecture if you're a happy neurotic."
The only elements Waters doesn't incorporate into the show are singing and dancing. "Believe me," he says, "if I could sing, I would have exploited that a long time ago."
The show touches on many of Waters' obsessions: Baltimore, true crime, show business, art, fashion, books, how to live with and without love, and how to embrace your neuroses. "It's a self-help group for people who don't need self-help," he says. "It's to try to make you feel good about being nuts, which I think is important these days."
Waters jokes that the newest version of "This Filthy World" is even dirtier and filthier than before, but he has an unusual definition of "filth." "I use it as a joyous word," he says. "I think the word 'trash' is used up. All the words I used to embrace have kind of been bludgeoned to death. 'Filth' still works and has a sort of a punk edge to it." Not unlike Waters.
Mixing the sacred and the profane, "This Filthy World" is like a cocktail party with only one guest. Fortunately, he's the life of the party. An erudite and gifted raconteur who doesn't take himself too seriously, Waters never seems to tire of wallowing in the dregs of pop culture. But his love of campy sex and tabloid mayhem is married with an intense appreciation for literature, history and high art. It makes perfect sense that he's currently trying to turn "Pink Flamingos" into an opera.
"It would be a good opera," he says. "It's extremes of competition to see who can be the filthiest person in the world. It stars a fat lady. And, I've said it before, not only does she sing at the end, she does something else. If you think about it, it would work."