What John Waters Is Listening To

John Waters wants you to know that he was way ahead of the scammer trend. Four years ago, when he began writing his debut novel Liarmouth: A Feel-Bad Romance, about a grifter with a penchant for stealing luggage, Anna Delvey was not yet the viral magazine story and Netflix sensation she is today. Marsha Sprinkle, his rather despicable protagonist, wasn’t ripped straight from the headlines, but was based on a stranger-than-fiction story he once heard from a friend. “He discovered some suitcases in his attic and found out his girlfriend had stolen them from the airport,” the legendary director says via the landline in his Baltimore office. “I took this one little fact and turned it into 250 pages of insanity.”

Liarmouth is as crazy as anything the 76-year-old self-proclaimed “filth elder” has ever put to film—and, as anyone who’s seen Pink Flamingos knows, that’s saying something. This deliciously trashy novel has everything: adult trampoline enthusiasts, doggy butt lifts, a talking bisexual phallus, and ear masturbation. The last topic, which relates to the novel’s climax, was inspired by an instructional book titled Ear Masturbation, by the writer Michael Goldstein. Though Waters mentions the book, which mysteriously made its way onto his bookshelf (“I think a fan sent it to me, maybe it was him?”), it doesn’t pop up even after an exhaustive Google search, save for a mention in the acknowledgements of his novel.

If he was putting me on, it was hard to tell—then again, Waters, more than most, is likely to boast an obscure collection of the arcanely profane. And throughout his nearly 60-year career, he’s left people wondering how seriously they should take his boundary-pushing work. Despite this reputation—or, perhaps, because of it—Waters has become the leading purveyor of politically incorrect, sexually experimental kitsch that appeals to those with a strong gag reflex. “I’m just amazed that I’m still doing the same thing,” he says. “And that is because of all the wonderful people that have liked what I do and have been vocal about it.”

He does, however, worry that there are some who might be offended by Liarmouth—namely, the Jonas Brothers, as one particularly horrific lie told by Marsha involves the band dying in a gruesome tour bus accident. “I just thought that would be the meanest thing she could tell a child,” he says, sounding a bit guilty. “I’m a fan of the Jonas Brothers. I hope they’re not mad at me.” Waters didn’t reveal his favorite JoBros song, but he did talk about the music he’s been listening to as he prepares for his own tour.

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