John Waters hosts Mosswood Meltdown

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Tuesday June 20, 2023
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John Waters
John Waters

You know that old Scott McKenzie song? The one that goes, "If you're going to San Francisco...?" If you head east from San Francisco, across the Bay Bridge, then you'll arrive in Oakland where, on July 1 and 2, "filth elder" John Waters will be emceeing the 2023 edition of the hip, queer, punk music festival Mosswood Meltdown (formerly Burger Boogaloo).

This year's line-up is one deserving of Waters' inimitable hosting and includes groundbreaking acts such as Le Tigre, Gravy Train (see Q&A in this issue), ESG, Bratmobile, JJ Fad, and Quintron & Ms. Pussycat, among others.

John Waters was gracious enough to make time to answer a few questions in advance of Mosswood Meltdown.

John Waters at a recent Mosswood Meltdown  

Gregg Shapiro: In early July, you will once again be hosting the Mosswood Meltdown music festival in Oakland. How did you become involved with the festival?
John Waters: I was asked to do it through my two music promoters who also promote the "John Waters Christmas" show and a lot of my different shows. Punks have always been my people. I always felt at home in the punk world. So, I said yes.

Mark and Amy, who run the thing, liked it. It worked the first time and then it's just become part of a tradition. I do it every year. I introduce all the acts. I'm writing the intros right now. I get a great education! I'm probably the oldest punk there. They treat me with great respect, even the youngest ones. It's just a perfect place for a filth elder to end up.

I love it because they're all angry and funny and in a good mood. They love each other and they just hate everybody else in the world. It's kind of funny because they're good people. It's a crazy couple of days, but it's a peaceful one, even with all the slam dancing and all the music is about craziness. There's a certain irony. They are good people; the punks.

The 2023 line-up is awesome and features Le Tigre, ESG, Gravy Train, and Bratmobile, to name a few.
It's almost all women. There are a few men that we're allowing in our liberalism to play [laughs].

Are there bands that you are particularly looking forward to hearing?
Well, I'd love to see the ones like Gravy Train because they haven't performed in a long time. I get a great education in punk rock every year. My youth spies come through. But punk's there, anywhere from 12 years old to 80. That's what's so amazing. Punk really has never died and it never feels dated.

Have you ever been invited onstage to perform with any bands, and if so, which ones?
[Laughs] I would not be out there pogoing. I strictly come on and they like to hear me do their introductions. Iggy (Pop) and I have never stage-dived together. Even though he was really great; we're the same age. He's more adventuresome than I am, especially about being nude.

If you were going to form a band in 2023, with you as the front-person, what musicians would you want to enlist to perform with you?
Oh, God! Well, first of all, if I could sing, I would have exploited that a long time ago. I guess I would have a G.G. Allin cover band.

He was sort of Iggy-ish; the stuff that he used to do on stage.
G.G. Allin used to throw turds (at the audience). He would be the opposite gay thing because he was known for having a tiny penis. It would be for reverse size-queens.

That would be a great name for a band, too. The Reverse Size-Queens.
It would be! John Waters and the Reverse Size-Queens.

I was thinking about the role of music in your movies, beginning with the "Polyester" theme song sung by Tab Hunter and Debbie Harry, and then the vintage tunes on the 1988 "Hairspray" soundtrack. Can you please say something about the role of music in your life?
In "Desperate Living," I had a classical score. In "Cecil B. Demented," we had noise punk bands playing. Stiv Bators (of the bands Dead Boys and Lords of the New Church) was in "Polyester." Debbie Harry was also in "Hairspray," and she started in the punk movement. I've always had punk attitude. "Pink Flamingos" was a punk rock movie before there was such a thing as punk rock.

The compilations "A John Waters Christmas" (2004) and "A Date With John Waters" (2007) featured a diverse selection of artists including Tiny Tim, The Chipmunks, Ike & Tina Turner, Edith Massey, and John Prine with Iris DeMent. Could you foresee putting together another such compilation, perhaps one for Pride?
A Gay Pride one? I guess. [Laughs] There was a hipster gay pride parade once in London, called the Gay Shame Parade. It was really funny. I must admit that gay music is kind of terrible [laughs]. Yes, I would like to do a gay one. "Jet Boy Jet Girl" would have to be on there. That was my favorite.

Yes, Elton Motello!
But I've already used that one on "A Date With John Waters." Now there are so many gay songs. I definitely could do a really good gay pride album! I'll have to think about that one. Maybe that will come in the future.

Two of your movies, "Hairspray" and "Cry Baby" have been adapted into Broadway musicals. Is there another one of your movies that you think would make a good musical?
I always said "Pink Flamingos" would make a good opera. It was optioned once to be an opera, but it never happened. I think "Pink Flamingos" as an opera would work best of all the other ones.

In late May 2023, Leslie Van Houten, about whom you wrote in your 2010 book "Role Models," had her grant of parole reinstated by a state appeals court panel. What does that mean to you?
I'm going to let the appeals court speak for themselves on that. I believe the most important thing to read is the amazing L.A. Times editorial that came out this week saying that they agreed she should be free.

Finally, John, we're speaking during the first few days of Pride Month 2023. As you know, I live in Fort Lauderdale, which is kind of ground zero. Do you have any thoughts about the current state of Pride celebrations, especially since we are under attack more than ever?
It only makes you stronger! Remember Anita Bryant? She made the gay movement so strong. Didn't she come from Florida? I want to have "Don't Say Straight" in Florida, where you can't do line-dancing. I think it's a little late to attack drag queens. It's a little late to attack gay anything because it's so accepted now. They're 30 years too late.

Mosswood Meltdown, July 1 & 2, Mosswood Park, 3612 Webster St., Oakland. $40-$279.

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