Soundtrack Mix #14: Dirty and Divine - An Ode to John Waters

Celebrating the music and tonal shifts that have accompanied the films of John Waters.
Florence Scott-Anderton

I’d recently been absorbed in the deep colors and heartache of Douglas Sirk's melodramas, following on from this I found myself pining for more white picket fence drama, but with a twist. This is where John Waters came back into my world, how I had missed him, so this edition of Notebooks Soundtrack Mix is a sonic ode to a pioneer of perversion. I started back with Polyester (1981) and Serial Mom (1994), which, alongside Gus Van Sant's 1995 To Die For is a double bill I’m always dreaming of. The work of John Waters ramps up the technicolor dreams of Sirk and places them in a camp world of dysfunctional misfits. His work is a reminder to not take things so seriously and that there is a place for everyone in this world which, importantly, includes the poor, repugnant and nasty! Waters is famous for his use of the sugar candy rockabilly sensibility playing out against images of vulgarity and misdemeanor. It is a reimagining of the American dream through a queer and candid vision, and music is an important component of his work. It would only be characteristic to make a John Waters mix in which the tone, pace (and at times key) of the music shifts abruptly, highly elated and constantly bursting into the next track. Waters brilliantly juxtaposed the romantic and breezy nature of rock n roll and jive inside his cutting room, ensuring something darkly funny was taking place on screen. This mix cuts between genres fast and furiously with a focus on some lesser-known later music alongside classic Waters moods.

One of my favorite John Waters films is 2000s Cecil B. Demeted. That and 1998s Pecker are timid in comparison to Waters earlier oeuvre and a good example of Waters compassionate and honest temperament, which has always come across in the way he conducts himself in person, with press, the public and when performing or hosting. Demented is an ode to guerilla filmmaking and a middle finger to mainstream cinema, the great paradox being that the aforementioned fims are somewhat mainstream in comparison to say, 1969s Mondo Trasho or 1970s Multiple Maniacs. From the 1980s onwards John Waters has enjoyed a certain loose alignment with the mainstream in a way his earlier works could never have imagined, or desired (never losing artistic integrity or vision along the way). Demented boasts some great 90s metal, hip hop and doom tracks. Waters was behind the production of some of the tracks performed by Lawrence Gilliard Jr. and Zenzele Uzoma in their roles as Lewis and Chardonnay. These tracks have been lovingly applied throughout this mix in a Waters-esque disruptive manner, alongside the theme song made by none other than Moby. Over the years many stars have lined up to work with Waters. Deborah Harry had input in the Polyester soundtrack and also included in this mix is a song from Polyester sung by Bill Murray (Waters was not happy about this studio choice at the time, disliking Murray, SNL and the 80s mainstream currents of entertainment of which Murray was a poster boy).

What is great about 1988's Hairspray is that a transgressive musical comedy that Waters intended for a broader non cinephile audience has in its legacy a mass Broadway hit, with many unaware that this hit musical is born from the same creator behind cult icon Dawn Davenport, played by the inimitable Divine, who rips off her newborn umbilical cord with her own teeth in Female Trouble (1974). Hairspray is a perfect example of a beloved filmmaker dismissive of aligning with the art house and instead slyly dishing out subversion to the masses in a digestible fashion. The joyful and bright soundtrack of Hairspray features in the mix, joined by another Waters musical foray, the rock n roll tones of 1990s Cry Baby, but if you listen closely for the cute lyricsm this Grease Lightining style is known for, you instead find direct lines like, “Johnny, are you queer?”.

John Waters now iconic appearance on The Simpsons and snippets from his 1982 interview on David Letterman with Divine appear within, alongside dialogue from the Dreamlanders and music from Waters non-soundtrack album, A Date With John Waters. Enjoy loudly, best played when feeling a little blue, to add some sunshine to your day. A sonic ode to a cinematic icon, shining a light on the queers and weirdos and reminding us all the important life lesson that a good diet is not complete without eggs.

  1. Excerpt - Polyester (1981), edit (0:00)
  2. Divine, Female Trouble (1974), "Female Trouble Theme" (1:06)
  3. Rachel Sweet, Hairspray (1988), "Hairspray" (3:52)
  4. Excerpt - Multiple Maniacs (1970), edit (6:59)
  5. Moby, Cecil B. DeMented (2000), "Opening Credit Theme" (9:00)
  6. DJ Class & Mayo, Cecil B. DeMented (2000), "No Budget" (11:58)
  7. Basil Poledouris, Cecil B. DeMented (2000), "Oyster Shootout" (15:19)
  8. Excerpt, John Waters on David Letterman, 1982, edit (18:01)
  9. John Prine with Iris Dement, "In Spite Of Ourselves" (18:30)
  10. Josie Cotton, "Johnny Are You Queer" (21:52)
  11. The Locust, Cecil B. DeMented (2000), "The Nice Tranquil Thumb In Mouth" (24:32)
  12. Rachel Sweet, Cry Baby (1990), "A Teenage Prayer" (25:22)
  13. The Honey Sisters, Cry Baby (1990), "Cry Baby" (27:28)
  14. Basil Poledouris, Cecil B. DeMented (2000), "Loopy" (30:38)
  15. Rachel Sweet, Cry Baby (1990), "Please Mr. Jailer" (31:20)
  16. Clarence “Frogman” Henry, "Ain’t Got No Home" (35:11)
  17. Meatjack, Cecil B. DeMented (2000), "Upstart" (37:34)
  18. Jan Bradley, Hairspray (1988), "Mama Didn’t Lie" (38:35)
  19. Basil Poledouris, Cecil B. DeMented (2000), "Dinah" (40:39)
  20. Baldwin and the Whiffles, Cry Baby (1990), "Sh Boom" (42:20)
  21.  Mildred Bailey And Her Swing Band, "I’d Love To Take Orders From You" (45:02)
  22. Substance D, Cecil B. DeMented (2000), "Everyday" (47:43)
  23. Excerpt, Pink Flamingos (1972), edit (50:24)
  24. Basil Poledouris, Cecil B. DeMented (2000), "Dying To Meet You" (51:47)
  25. Ike & Tina Turner, "All I Can Do Is Cry" (58:56)
  26. Zoë Poledouris, Cecil B. DeMented (2000), "Sprocket Holes Theme" (64:22)
  27. James Intveld, Cry Baby (1990), Teardrops Are Falling, (65:36)
  28. Edith Massey, "Big Girls Don’t Cry" (68:01)
  29. Aunt Ida, Female Trouble (1974), "The World of Heterosexuality" (70:40)
  30. The Jive Bombers, Cry Baby (1990), "Cherry" (71:04)
  31. Excerpt, The Simpsons: "Homer’s Phobia" (1997), edit (73:56)
  32. Bill Murray, Polyester (1981), "The Best Thing" (74:31)
  33. Karen McMillan, Cecil B. DeMented (2000), "Demented Forever" (75:30)
  34. The Chips, Cry Baby (1990), "Rubber Biscuit" (80:00)
  35. Dawn Davenport, Female Trouble (1974), "Retarded Brat" (82:20)
  36. Liberace, Cecil B. DeMented (2000), "Ciao!" (82:31)
  37. Excerpt, John Waters on David Letterman, 1982, edit (84:53)
  38. The 101 Strings, Female Trouble (1974), "Bridal Chorus" (86:16)

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