|School is in session again. Your music teacher is John Waters.|
I recently promised that, if my first article about John Waters' liner notes received a positive response, I would compile a second one. Well, it did, and I have, so here it is: Volume 2, ready for your perusal. Be gentle. The notes below come from the soundtrack album for Waters' 1998 feature film Pecker as well as two compilation albums he did for New Line Records in the 2000s: A John Waters Christmas and A Date With John Waters. These notes contain all the twisted wit and demented scholarship one would expect from Baltimore's notorious Pope of Trash. These are obviously songs he loves, and he wants you to love them, too.
And, yes, to the best of my ability, I have once again attempted to preserve all of the spelling, punctuation, and grammar from the notes exactly as they appeared originally. My spellchecker may not like it, but it's important to present history as it truly was. Along the way, see if you can spot any lines that have also appeared in Waters' screenplays. If you know his movies backwards and forwards, some of what you're about to read should seem eerily familiar. You'll also learn a few interesting tidbits about Waters' own life and films.
UPDATE: I have now added Waters' liner notes to Invasion Of The B-Girls, a 2007 album by Texas-born new wave singer Josie Cotton. It's a concept album, consisting of cover versions of cult movie theme songs, including those of Russ Meyer and Herschell Gordon Lewis.
Pecker: Original Soundtrack (RCA Victor, 1998)
"Pecker" music: the redneck novelty sound you never heard anybody play. Tunes that are so pitifully confident and insanely cheerful that the word "artless" comes to mind in all its unselfconscious glory. Nonsense music for mutant hipsters. Tongue-twisting schizo lyrics for slow learners.
Listen to some of the original cuts on this CD and feel your I.Q. drop to a new level of "Pecker" bliss. Play the title song "Happy-Go-Lucky-Me" over and over—it's an instant cure for a bad mood. "Uh! Oh! Part One" by The Nutty Squirrels: jazzy Chipmunks-type scat music for cartoon characters with monkeys on their backs. How about "Woo-Hoo," that dangerously happy, sexy without knowing it, untranslatable ditty of the vintage simpleton sound? "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter" (God, I've been trying to get this one in one of my movies for decades), the perfect solo alcoholic sing-along as you lose your last quarter to a "claw-machine" in some old-timer bar.
What could be a better, more rousing anthem for the lunatic fringe of the animal rights movement than "In the Mood" by The Henhouse Five Plus Too? How about "Baltimore, You're Home To Me," such a shock to me the first time I heard it, so embarrassing to be this proud of the place I call home. And "Swamp Thing"? It's the best and maybe the only hillbilly techno song: demolition derby music for culturally challenged club kids.
And boy, did Stewart Copeland, the composer who scored the original music for the film, get it right! Sexually confused disco, cheerfully passive rap, artistically tortured jazz, he could do it all John Waters style. "Straight Boys," the first "trade" dance song, music to "teabag" your partner. "Pecker Man," the least aggressive rap number you ever heard—music to inspire squeegee harrassment, littering, even jay-walking. And God, "Don't Drop the Soap (For Anyone Else But Me)," a Johnny Cash-style tender love song of prison domination—isn't that the original meaning of "punk"? You heard it all here first: the "Pecker" sound, a first and last in musical trends. Go ahead—feel inferior. It's a "Pecker" moment.
A John Waters Christmas (New Line Records, 2004)
Just when you think you can't stand to hear another Christmas carol, here I come with a holiday treat that will make you actually appreciate the insanity of the Yuletide season. Wrap this CD as a gift to yourself, pretend you forgot what it is and act surprised when you open it. Close your eyes and imagine you're with me at my house Christmas morning listening to favorite carols.
What better music to open your Xmas stocking with than "Fat Daddy"?! "Fat Daddy", Baltimore's one-time coolest rhythm and blues disc jockey, host of "Negro Day" on "The Buddy Deane Show", and my inspiration for the Motor Mouth Maybelle character in "Hairspray". He never sounded so lovely, so cheery, so ripe to be asked over for eggnog. Maybe Tiny Tim could join us. No Mrs. Miller, this eccentric but brilliant performer may have been a novelty act in his day, but when he sings, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" like a Christmas canary, he's no joke in my house.
Of course, some of us get neurotically religious during the holiday season, so "Happy Birthday Jesus (A Child's Prayer)" by scary "Little Cindy" will be just perfect to play if Christian guilt ever creeps into your celebration. Listen to this child's voice: so godawful, so devout, so beautiful, so perfect. No second take in the recording booth for this motley moppet! "Little Cindy" regrets nothing and neither should you.
A lot of my Baltimore friends might be described as "extreme white people" so I hope you don't mind if I invite a few of them over to join us. They especially like to get drunk and sing-a-long with "Here Comes Fatty Claus" and complain about future bankruptcy because of gift giving. Of course, some of these guests get the "whirlies" and are unable to stand up without falling down so I put on the crippled Christmas carol "Little Mary Christmas" and we all shed a tear over the pathologically maudlin orphan who "hobbled back to her room" after being passed up for adoption year after year.
But who needs to feel sad at Christmas, right? Especially when Big Dee Irwin and Little Eva belt out "I Wish You A Merry Christmas" in a soulfully obscure holiday greeting that makes me wish I had their heirs' home addresses so I could wish them a merry one, too. Of course, not all of our friends could make it over here today, so when we listen to the melancholy "Santa! Don't Pass Me By" and think about that country singer hitching a ride with Santa to get home for Christmas, I bet you'll feel like picking him up and buying him a present all on your own.
I can't help it, I have the hots for "The Chipmunks". We all have a type, what can I say? When these mischievous little friends take a "Sleigh Ride", I feel so happy, so aggressive that I want to get dressed as Santa and go out and scare the neighbors. Just when I think no Christmas song could be any closer to my heart, I hear the nasal good cheer of "Sleighbells, Reindeer and Snow" and wish I could get a stuffy nose. I fix everybody another cocktail and we sit back, count our blessings and marvel at the almost cinematic use of the musical instrument, the theremin, in "First Snowfall." I remind my guests that being alone can sometimes be so peaceful.
But hey, it's time for turkey dinner so what better way to say grace than to play my old time favorite Kwanza carol, "Santa Claus is a Black Man". Here it is, the motherload of crackpot Xmas carols, the 45rpm record I hunted for my whole life and recently bought on eBay at a great deal of personal expense just so you could hear it too. Yes Akim, there is a Santa Claus and he'll always be black in my mind because of your liberating, endearing vocal. Just thinking about this holiday song makes me feel as if I could spontaneously combust.
Have a merry, rotten, scary, sexy, biracial, ludicrous, happy little Christmas.
See you next year.
A Date With John Waters (New Line Records, 2007)
I'm John Waters and I'm lookin' for a date—with you. Come on over, let's listen to some tunes. Wow, you look great! Come on in. Would you like a drink? Have a seat on my sofa and let me play for you the first record I ever shoplifted, "Tonight You Belong To Me" by Patience and Prudence. So stolen, so pure, so good. Of course, I can be bad, too. "Jet Boy Jet Girl" always gets me in the mood. Wanna "pogo?" Go ahead, knock over the furniture. I don't care. I always feel relaxed if punk rock music is blaring in the background. Sit a little closer. Like the song says, "I'm gonna make you be a girl." Want a popper? Here's the first tri-sexual song ever recorded—"Ain't Got No Home"—and God, is it a good one. Let's play sexual roles just like Clarence "Frogman" Henry does as he sings. You want to be the "boy" this time? You can be the "girl" too just as long as I get to be the "frog"—I'm just kinda kinky that way.
All control freaks like me are looking for the person they can't control, that's why I asked you for a date. Listen to "I'd Love to Take Orders From You" by Mildred Bailey and maybe you'll get some ideas. Good ol' Mildred—that white fat girl singer who hung around with gay guys and passed for black. When she sings about "discipline" it goes way beyond race and gender and guess what, so do I. Want to be corny and sing a duet together? Let's be hillbillies and pretend we're stupid. Who wants to sleep with smart people all the time, anyway? Think I invited you over here to discuss the future of independent film? Hell no. I'm lookin' for a little action and "In Spite of Ourselves" by John Prine and Iris DeMent ought to do the trick. "Convict movies make her horny" goes the lyrics. Me too! Put on a video.
Wanna get married? Just kidding. Me neither. But listen to the great Tina turner, when she was still with Ike, had a mustache and wore ratty mink coats, as she screams out the ultimate wedding song of rage and jealousy "All I Can Do Is Cry." God, I wish I could have directed the music video for this song. What lyrics! When Tina wails, "Their friends were throwin' rice all over their heads," she always makes me feel like popping the question.
Ok, let's lighten it up a bit. Need to take a leak? You might want to smoke a joint, too. My next selection is by one of my own stars—the greatly unhinged Edith Massey and while some have called her rendition of this classic one of the World's Worst Records, I think it's pretty catchy. "Big Girls Don't Cry"—well, sometimes they do if their dates don't put out. What? How old am I? What difference does that make? Didn't you ever hear the expression "old chickens make good soup?" Let's slow it down a bit and get melodramatic. Love? Is there such a thing or are we forever searching for some idealized fantasy, fueled by movies like Douglas Sirk's "Imitation of Life?" Listen to Earl Grant's voice as he sings the title song from the soundtrack. So smooth...mmm...kissing is so personal, so much like being in a movie. Here...lie down, let me hang up your clothes.
What's this in your coat pocket? A gun? Jeezze, I knew you were edgy, but I guess I'm old fashioned—I frown on firearms on the first date. Well, of course I understand rage and so would Mike Stole, one of my favorite actresses. Listen to her give Julie London a run for her money as Mink sings the perfect song for our awkward moment, "Sometimes I Wish I Had a Gun." Sit back down. What else you packin'? Confused about your sexuality? Who isn't these days? "Trend-sexual," "friends with benefits," "bro-jobs," all these modern words for dating turn me on. "Johnny Are You Queer" you may ask and so does Josie Cotton on the song that's playing right now. Go ahead, turn up the volume. Feel like go-go dancing? Hit it! I love to watch. Go baby, go!
Feelin' dirty? Who isn't with Ray Charles' "(Night Time Is) The Right Time" playing in the background. Let's go all the way! But wait to hit the jackpot until you hear the amazing voice of Margie Hendricks come in half-way through the song. Hold it...here she is...listen to her howl! Oh my God, she's gonna sing that line, "Squeeze me, squeeze me!" Get it Margie! Get it!
Phew, that was nice. Want a Jujyfruit? Yummy. It's nice to share, isn't it? Oh Christ, who's that at the door? What do you mean "it might be the cops?" Shhhh...they'll go away. You must be tired from running from the law all day. Let's "Hit the Road to Dreamland" with Dean Martin and cuddle up. Nighty night, don't let the bedbugs bite.
Good morning! Breakfast's ready! Poached eggs and so much bacon you'll get a headache. Ain't love grand? "If I Knew You Were Coming" I'd do more than "Bake You a Cake" as Eileen Barton chirps in her upbeat song of the same name. Sorry you have to leave so early but I understand with your name being on the news and all that you better get an early start. Bye! Come on over next weekend and we can "break up." Isn't that the best part of a good date missing the person right afterwards? I always feel downright "Bewildered" when I take a chance on love, so what better way to celebrate this risk than listening to Shirley and Lee sing about it? Isn't hearing Shirley's nasal voice even better than love? If I hold my nose and sing to you the next time I call, will you still love me tomorrow?
Josie Cotton: Invasion Of The B-Girls (2007)
"Josie, Are You A B-Girl?"
Ever wonder what happens to forgotten theme songs from cult movies when the audience can't yell back at the screen? Well, here is the answer. Josie Cotton may be singing B-list title songs from C-list movies, but she'll always be an A-list singer in my book. Part Shangri-Las, part Rachel Sweet, the all-original Josie has long been a favorite hipster vocalist of mine ever since I took personally her nasally joyous anthem "Johnny, Are You Queer?" And now she's back with a CD of obscure exploitation movie theme songs that she astonishingly makes sound like hits for the first time. Who better to sing about the end of the world ("The Green Slime") than Josie Cotton? No matter how ridiculous or a great a tune ("Maneaters" from Herschell Gordon Lewis' "She Devils On Wheels" or "Run Pussycat Run" from "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" complete with sound effects of roaring sports cars peeling out and Tura Satana's evil laughs), Josie never condescends to her material and gives each track the dignity it deserves.
And, Hallelujah! Josie Cotton has finally covered The Sandpipers nauseatingly dreamy "Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls" with the honor and respect that Russ Meyer would have demanded. Nancy Sinatra might be the only person to object to the movie "The Girl In Gold Boots", directed by Ted V. Mikels (who makes Ed Wood look like Godard), but even she would have to tip her hat to Josie's rendition of the hymn-like title song remembering the hideous sorrow of low-rent go-go dancing. The murderous ballad, "Who Killed Teddy Bear? will brainwash you into honoring even the haunting and hilarious "Shiawaseo Yobou", the almost completely forgotten theme to "Ghila, The Three Headed Monster." When Josie belts out the racially tense revenge title song of "Black Klansman", you'll want to infiltrate the KKK and sing along with her.
Cinematically nuts, but musically smart and happily revisionist, Josie Cotton has given us a beautiful tribute to the forgotten bottom-of-the-barrel movie themes that definitely DIDN'T get an Oscar nomination. She never humiliates her choices of material or makes fun of the critically drubbed motion pictures. She knows that eventually if cream can't be destroyed, it rises to the top. Josie Cotton has made the unlistenable unforgettable.
Just a reminder: If you liked this article, be sure to check out the first installment.