John Waters was the keynote speaker at the Association of College and Research Libraries Conference at the Baltimore Convention Center in 2007. And I was there. As a dyed-in-the-wool Baltimoreon I was happy to visit my hometown and hear this native son giving us exceptional advice on how to get more people to visit the library ("be nude").
In this collection of essays he reflects on his work over the last 50 years, and looks at his life today. I was glad to find five places where libraries were mentioned, although all were a bit unusual.
In "Bye, Bye Underground" in which he describes his "odorama" gimmick in the film Polyester using scratch and sniff cards he tells of 3M's inspriational "library of smells".
He recounts many of the strange things people have asked him to autograph, including a freshly used tampon, in "Overexposed". It is of course not unusual to ask an author to sign a book and he relates the story of a girl he scolded for "bending the paperback cover back far enough to break the spine when she asked for autograph on the tile page". The fan snapped back at him "I bought the book, so I can do anything I want with it." Waters accepts this and paraphrases the young woman: "In other words, take your library-science bullshit and shove it, Mr. Know-It-All."
Few people would suggest that their ideal home would be in the Brutalist architecture style, but Waters' describes a house of horrors to rival the Addams Family's in "My Brutalist Dream House". The house does have a library, though which one would be able to enter a panic room
by pulling a faux spine of a book you grab like a handle and the whole shelf spins around. Once you saw the horrifying selection of fascist books displayed here in my satellite reading room, you'd feel anything but safe. Hitler at Home, Dead Funny: Humor in Hitler's Germany, Magda Goebbles: First Lady of the Third Reich, and Born Guilty: Children of Nazi Families. We've got all the other monsters, too: Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Ronald Reagan, even On Democracy by Saddam Hussein.As this essay wraps up Waters fetishizes Brutalism as he fantasizes about his favorite coffee-table book This Brutal World by Peter Chadwick. "Damn" he says "that giant concrete mushroom sprouting rigidly from the top of the Geisel Library in San Diego (architect: William Pereira) is hot!"
I'd never heard about Betsy the finger-painting chimpanzee before reading "Betsy". This monkey artist, like Waters and me, hailed from Baltimore. Betsy had some fame in the 1950s, but it was short-lived. Likewise her boyfriend Dr. Thom (a relationship created by her managers) was unable to find success playing piano.
Dr. Watson tried to make him a star in his own right, buying him a piano and hoping to donate some of the recordings of his banging on the keys to the public library to be cataloged and placed alongside the the composers Beethoven, Bartók, and Brahms. The library politely declined.
I do wonder which library was contacted. Enoch Pratt? Baltimore County Public?
Fans of Waters won't be surprised by his raunchy brand of humor. Those who don't like him, still won't like him, and those who don't know him will likely find out more than they bargained for.