Divine master John Waters

  • by Jim Piechota
  • Tuesday August 13, 2019
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Divine master John Waters

Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder by John Waters; Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27

In his new memoir "Mr. Know-It-All," outspoken self-proclaimed "filth elder" John Waters opens a Pandora's Box of opinions, secrets, and stories, along with rants, opinions, and hilarious memories on the road and from his experiences through a decades-long career in bestselling books and films ranging from underground alternative cult hits starring Divine and Mink Stole to Hollywood centerpieces featuring Kathleen Turner.

A spicy introduction meant to direct readers toward achieving some semblance of a "newfound serenity" imparts pointers on aging gracefully ("nothing shouts midlife crisis louder than driving a convertible"), how and when to watch what you eat, embracing your undeniable "lunatic fringe" lifestyle, and the fact that he is over 6,000 days past the time he'd quit smoking, a life-changing event Waters commemorates by writing it down every day.

A subsequent chapter on the earlier days of his filmmaking career charts his rise to filthdom and is the perfect introduction for readers unfamiliar with Waters' celluloid legacy. His breaks into mainstream commercial-film success, "Hairspray" and "Serial Mom," earn their own sections with delicious insider tidbits. These savory bits are leavened with bittersweet notes on the last time Waters met with Divine before his death in 1988, the night before he was supposed to begin filming a guest appearance as Uncle Otto on "Married with Children."

Commentary on contemporary topics follows, alongside some sage advice for those eager for Waters' style of counsel. On directing major movie stars: "Never leave a leading lady alone once she's in costume and has been delivered to the set," he writes. "Idle time for major talent can only lead to shit-stirring from the ignored and famous."

Anecdotes on music and favored musicians are also hilarious, particularly notable in an aside on his dislike of popular rapper 50-Cent, whom he thinks "sounds like a big nell-box to me, a nouveau-riche, homophobic braggart, the Donald Trump-meets-Chick-fil-A of rap."

A chapter on gay rights and LGBTQ equality rightfully denounces the Catholic Church and religion in general, and is as honest and real as his straightforward tips and tricks on traveling without stress and bother.

When it comes to food, Waters is just as particular. The chapter "Gristle" skewers pretentious "foodie" restaurants where patrons beg "to overpay for the privilege of just stepping inside." He imagines opening a restaurant of his own and describes the experiences from making a reservation to the immensely inappropriate pressure the waiter would place on diners to sign off on an extortionate final bill. Reflections on the inconvenience of death close out the book appropriately, with just the right amount of acerbic snark.

For Waters fans, this is effortless amusement packed with his trademark wit and demure societal deconstruction. Much of the same can be found in earlier incarnations of his traveling adventures, but this book is as up-to-date and culturally relevant as anything Waters has written.