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Friday, December 10, 2010

John Waters Explains His Love for S.F. Muni, the Roxie Theater, and Die Antwoord

Posted By on Fri, Dec 10, 2010 at 11:44 AM

John Waters
  • John Waters
Among other things -- like making movies and stuff -- film director John Waters is known for possessing a sick affection for public transportation in San Francisco. The part-time S.F. resident is coming to town for a performance of his Christmas show tomorrow (Saturday) night, a benefit for the Roxie Theater. (Tickets are $250 and go to support the nonprofit Mission moviehouse.) Naturally, we couldn't resist asking Waters to explain why he likes Muni so much, his history with the Roxie, and which rappers he's digging.

How much time do you spend in S.F. these days?

Depends. I come out there whenever I can. I really hitchhike. If anybody ever says to me, "Would you like to do something?" I say, "Where is it?" Especially if it's in L.A., I'm, "Oh yeah, I'll come," then I come to San Francisco. I hitchhike with airlines, with air fees.

That's cool.

In the old days I used to get drive-away cars and drive across the country, where you could get somebody's car for free -- and who would ever have given me their car then? But nothing bad ever happened to them. They still have that. Now they pay you, I think. In those days you had to pay for your own gas, even, but it was a free way to get there.

But who would have given you their car?

I know, and I brought all [these] other people with me, and you're only supposed to have one. But you know what? They always got their car, I never ripped them off. That and I never had an accident or anything.

Did you do anything crazy in the cars?

Oh [laughs] yes! I mean, not armed robbery. It depends on what you definition of crazy is. Certainly smoking pot and singing "God Bless America" as we drove through Utah with the sun coming up. But I wouldn't call that so radical in the '60s. It was too scary to get out of the car then anywhere then in America, what we looked like. I was with David Lochary, who had dyed gray hair with the roots in a shape of a heart -- before punk rock. So getting out of the car was an adventure you didn't want to take. Especially in the daylight.

Stay in from California to Chicago or whatever.

Actually on the way, the first time I ever drove, we had to let one of the passengers off in the mental institution on the way, before we got to Chicago. It was quite a trip. She was in the car with us, having a kind of breakdown right from the beginning. And it was an adventure -- I'm still friends with her. She would look to other families and yell "Help," which is not the best way to start out a trip driving across the country -- yelling, "Help, there are drugs in the car!" Anyway, now I fly first class. Things have changed, but ... my apartment is a few blocks from where I lived in my car when I was first coming to San Francisco, so I'm not that different. Now I just spend more money to wear clothes that look like rags. That then were rags. So it's really not so different.

You got the apartment fairly recently. What prompted that?

When I was young, San Francisco was one of the first places my films ever caught on so I always came to San Francisco, I always had friends here. It was kind of a fantasty I had. A friend of mine, who's a film distributor, I was visiting him and he said he was selling his apartment, I said, "You are? Maybe I'll buy it." And I did. And I love being there.

It's really really nice -- one of my favorite cities in the world. I'm thrilled to be coming back for the Roxie, which I've been going to for my whole life. But it's the only one that's still the same ... it still has this mission of being a real movie theater in the old-fashioned way -- of being a calendar house and showing new movies, old movies, extreme movies. It's an extremely great movie theater.

You're doing the Christmas show there. I guess it's been a while since you did that here.

I try not to do it for at least two or three years each time when I come to a city, because I think we need to get a new audience. It'll be good, I think, I hope. It costs a lot to see me this time, too, but it's going for a cause. It's not like I'm suddenly a Broadway ticket that is charging VIP seats. This is a benefit. So hopefully we'll have very cool rich people, or rich thieves who've stolen the money.

And of course people always have the chance to run into you randomly.

Well, if they ride public transportation, they do. Because I told you, my idea of a vacation is to ride public transit in San Francisco, I absolutely love it. I took a bus recently that I've never taken before, that just stops at this most incredible view of the Pacific Ocean. The only thing I've ever caused controversy with is saying I like San Francisco public transportation. I want to be the ad for the public transportation. I think they should pay me, because I really push how good it is every time. Recently they cut back a little, so I noticed I had to wait like one minute longer and I still thought it seemed okay. And it's always a drama. My favorite is to come home from Zuni's after two drinks at 11 o'clock at night and get on that beautiful streetcar -- well there's two -- the J is my favorite, it's like being in Amarcord to get on it. Then you turn around, and it's full, and every person is out of their mind -- but in a nice way. It's not scary. The drivers are insane. Everyone is insane and happy, or even if they're not happy, they seem -- it's like, ship of fools. It's really a great feeling to be on a streetcar filled with desire.

So you said you like the J?

The J is the one that I think is the most beautiful, that goes up in the hills, that winds its way around like an inch from people's houses. But what's the old streetcar that runs along market, is that the F?

That's the F.

I love that one, too. That's the one coming home from Zuni's. It's the ship of fools, my favorite.

Do you ever go to concerts in the city or get music here?

I buy music but I don't go to concerts that much. I used to go them [at the] Deaf Club. I used to go there. I like to play music, I don't need to see it, really. And I do buy CDs, I'm an old person.

What kind of CDs you buying these days?

Oh, everything from classical music to, hey, I just got in the mail today Kid Rock's new one. I listen to all kinds. I love rap music -- I listen to all kinds.

Who's your favorite rapper?

Hmm. These days, I don't like so much the gangster ones, all the ones I like, who is the guy in A Tribe Called Quest? I guess they're old school ones. But I know -- that African one, the South African one. The bald-headed guy and the young girl?

Oh, Die Antwoord?

Them. That's the one I've been playing the most recently.

You like that one?

Yes. And who's the one in London that always sings about geezers?

Oh, the Streets, Mike Skinner.

Yeah, him. Those are my two. He's hardly new. The South African ones are the only ones that are new, but I like them a lot.

Do you think they're being sincere? This is the big question about them.

Who cares? I don't care. I'm not asking them to do an act of contrition for me. They just look good and sound good, and it gets me in the mood to go out.

Okay, last question: Is there any kind of humor that you think is off limits?

Certainly. I think humor that's trying too hard. Not off-limits, but you shouldn't make Jew jokes if you're not a Jew. Age jokes aren't that funny unless you have it. There are people who can tell each kind of ethnic joke, but I think it helps if you are that person. Or if you're telling it from the exactly right viewpoint, which is tricky. I'm not saying anything is off limits for humor, but certainly some of the best humor is about things that aren't funny. I mean I have made a career out of making movies, making comedies about things that aren't funny in real life, but they certainly can be magically funny on the movie screen. So yeah. It's pretty hard to make racist jokes that are funny, but I'm not saying it's impossible. It's just harder. It's almost impossible to make a mean joke about a woman if you're a straight man.

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Ian S. Port


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