Saturday, October 17, 2015

All Hail the Filth Elder

I can only hope to be as irreverent as John Waters when I'm 69.

Everyone knew tonight's main event was seeing him live at the Byrd. That meant playing the odds and getting to Carytown just slightly ahead of the hundreds of other attendees, sliding onto a stool at Secco and not moving until nigh on to show time.

Reveling in scarves and pumpkin lattes may be the order of the day for everyone else now that Fall seems to be making itself felt, but I'm not the least bit happy about the cooler weather. I made the best of it with a glass of Calabretta "Gaio Gaio," a young Sicilian I hoped would share some warmth with me.

For an appropriate nosh to accompany it, I had the satisfyingly rich four beast (beef, pork, lamb, chicken) meatballs with broccoli rabe, peppers, preserved lemon and Parmesan while discussing tonight's expected crowd with another attendee.

 "If the bomb drops on the Byrd tonight, it'll wipe out the culturati of Richmond," she concluded. "Same thing I said when Laurie Anderson played the VMFA in the '90s. Boom, gone!"

About the time I noticed the woman next to me eyeing and then ordering the same meatballs, I asked her if she was going to see John Waters. "Yea, isn't it cool that he's here?" Naturally this led to a wide-ranging conversation about the state of the scene, which we agreed was robust, to say the least.

Meanwhile, I overheard a man behind me ask a server what is surely one of their least favorite questions, "Do you have any big, stupid reds?"

A woman told me about having to wear a dress for two weeks, a rarity for her, saying it had been a nightmare. "My thighs chafed so bad I had to put cream on them." You don't want to laugh at someone's misfortune, but this is a hazard of dress-wearing I can't say I've ever had.

By the time my chocolate torte arrived, my copycat new friend ordered the same and we noticed that people were paying their checks and heading over to the Byrd to find seats.

When it comes to lingering over dessert or missing part of John Waters, I'm afraid chocolate takes a back seat (there's an analogy he'd enjoy).

In line to be ID'd and have my ticket marked, I heard someone say the theater was filling up fast. I found a solo seat and asked a man if he minded me crawling over him. "I've been waiting for it all my life," he quipped.

Despite the very few seats still available, people kept pouring in to look instead of heading directly upstairs to the balcony, which would have made far more sense. A vocal wave kept going up from the back rows, tempting everyone in the front to think something was starting when it wasn't.

Andrew and Ward, the organizers of the event, got a deserving ovation when they came onstage, but their main goal was to thank sponsors and make it crystal clear that no recording of any kind was allowed per you-know-whose insistence.

I was thrilled. For a change, people would be forced to stay in the moment and I wouldn't be surrounded by them experiencing a show through a phone. It was downright refreshing.

Finally John Waters walked out in a red blazer, white shirt and black tie with black pants and the game was on. "This Filthy World" had finally landed in Richmond.

He began by talking about "trigger warnings," saying that college level teachers use them now to warn students that challenging material lay ahead. "Isn't that why you go to college?" Waters asked. "My whole life has been a trigger warning."

His patter was non-stop, his delivery practically seamless as he reminisced about seeing trashy girls for the first time when he got to public junior high, being a "filth elder" at 69 and  feeling embarrassed about being the same age as the number that represents a sex act he never cared for.

Sometimes it was musings - "Imagine if Michael Jackson had ever seen Justin Bieber," and other times, anecdotes - "This movie played seven years in Baltimore, so I had to go see it. There was a birth scene in it. I saw men jerking off to birth. That's why I'm up here today."

Some of his humor came from comparisons between then and now, like when he asked, "What's with young people and the lack of hair? Is alopecia sexy? Now there will be no more crabs." Then, dropping his voice to sound small and pathetic, he said, "Where will they go?"

Hitting another current hot button, he asked, "We're not allowed to make fun of Caitlyn Jenner. Why not? She's a reality star, a Kardashian, a Republican and was against gay marriage. Why can't I make fun of that?"

He touched on the exploding transgender movement, expressing fear that dyke culture would be erased entirely with so much sexual reassigning and that that would be a huge loss.

We learned that "Female Trouble," the movie I'd seen last night, was his favorite and that he couldn't understand casting a skinny black girl as Tracey in "Hairspray." The audience cracked up when he shared that one John Waters film retrospective had been tagged, "How much can you take?"

He mused a lot on how he could be bad for his 70th birthday, never really choosing a method. He intends to be buried near Divine, his star, in an area of a cemetery in Towson, Maryland that he's dubbed "Disgraceland."

"So if you outlive me, come have sex on our graves. We'd love that!"

Like in his movies, he made clear that he'd hate to be straight. "There are lots of heterosexual customs I don't want to do. I don't want to do the electric slide." Big laugh.

Some of his references - Diane Arbus, Susan Sontag - went over the heads of certain attendees, evident by lesser reactions to jokes, but also confirmed in the ladies' room line afterwards when I overheard women discussing the parts they hadn't "got."

His theories were hilarious. "We have enough gays. I think gay people need to audition to be gay and a panel of experts will decide" and "Laughter is the enemy of masturbation."

During the question and answer period, Byrd manager Todd asked him if he wanted to come down off the stage, the better to see the people asking questions. "No-o-o-o-o," he said trepedatiously and stayed firmly onstage.

At no point did it feel like we were listening to a man on the cusp of being a septuagenarian. He was lively, sarcastic and always had a tangent at the ready.

When asked how it felt to be a cross-generational star, he managed to dismiss youth and sate the obvious simultaneously.

"Old chicken makes good soup." Like this man, I intend to be good enough to slurp.

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