JOHN WATERS IMAGINE Sydney Morning Herald By TONY SQUIRES. 28th June 1993
A few years ago, John Waters imagined "a show in a suitcase". After carting Looking Through A Glass Onion, the music and musings of John Lennon, across the country, he is in need of slightly larger baggage. Waters and his co-writer and keyboard player, Stewart D' Arietta, return to Sydney tonight with the show that began at the Tilbury Hotel - a cabaret venue so intimate that the punters in the back row can count the beads of perspiration gathering on a performer's brow.
Glass Onion has put on some weight during the tour, with the addition of three more musicians, building to a show that should fill the larger environs of the Seymour Centre. But Waters, who wears his fame and 45 years with ease, maintains that the showcase for the fab former Beatle's contribution to the planet remains close to the original production. He has simply tinkered with the mechanics and fattened up the sound while traipsing about Australia. Waters was determined to give the bigger show a send-off in his home town before heading overseas. The British producer Michael White is taking Glass Onion to London's West End in September, with the approval of Yoko Ono.
It's not surprising then, that Waters seems a content man, folded into a canvas chair at his dining room table. He has just returned from short seasons in Brisbane, Melbourne and the capital of clubland, Twin Towns at Tweed Heads. Unlike his show, Waters has gained no weight on tour and looks horribly healthy. The only concession to age is a close-cropped skull cap of grey hair. "Twin Towns is absolutely ... well, it's a charming place," Waters offers, drawing a bit harder on the thinly-rolled cigarette. John Lennon sometimes misled the media, too. "It's clubland. It's not really geared for our show."
The experience did, however, convince Waters that the show could hold people, no matter how difficult the room. Directly in his line of vision from the stage at Twin Towns was a bar "lit up like Disneyland", with people hustling to and fro. But the noise died and the stage became the focus, with no-one yelling for Waters to do one of Ringo's tunes. If Waters had been heckled, he would have ignored what passes for audience wit. He devised the show with no concession to audience interaction. While the only negative critical responses during Glass Onion 's first Sydney season related to Waters not being open enough to his audience, he sees it as part of the style.
"It's odd, because the chat between songs is quite intimate and casual and is meant to be personal-sounding, but it's a detachment. When I envisaged the show, I imagined what I suppose is rather a stupid thing: a live show that actually looks like television. It cuts from one thing to another. Like you've turned on the telly and it's John Lennon in bits and pieces of interviews saying things. That's why I don't expect, encourage or need the audience to feel that they can come back at me at all. It's not like a stand-up act.
Lennon's introspection was very public."
While he could at times be completely closed off, Waters believes Lennon's self-image was of one who explored himself publicly through his songs and statements. "When journalists approached him, most of the time he would shock by being completely out there with everything he'd done: 'You want to know what drugs I've had so far today. Well, I had a line of coke at 10 this morning, shot up some heroin at lunchtime and I've just had a joint.' So journalists say, 'I can't dig up any dirt; he's just given it all'."
Waters isn't obsessed by Lennon and the show isn't one that "throws rose petals at his feet". It was a business decision by a man who has had almost constant work and who found himself in a quiet period. He wanted to take control.
After the Tilbury season, Waters began work in the concert version of Jesus Christ Superstar and D' Arrietta took the Glass Onion script to New York, the city the pair regard as Lennon's true home. While there was muted interest from off-Broadway producers, it was Michael White, visiting from London, who grabbed the script enthusiastically. Should the London season be a winner, it is likely Waters will have his wish of performing the show in New York. After years of working for other people, Waters is also revelling in the role of producer.
"In some ways, I'm getting to be a bit of a power junkie. Stewie and I own the production company, so we've made a few mistakes, learning by 'em as we go along, and I like this. I have a lot more respect for producers in general, because I know just how much it costs in blood and sweat and actual money to get something on."
Waters let go of the power to take on the lead role in a telemovie that may become a series. Singapore Sling, set in South-East Asia, is the story of an intelligent private investigator and sees Waters leaving the hunky action stuff to a handsome blond German actor 10 years his junior.
The Eastern connection crosses the Lennon path, however, with Waters learning some Mandarin and Oriental ways.
"I'd always been interested in things Oriental, ever since I was a professional hippie in Hair. Most of my influences of a philosophical nature have been of the Oriental type. I don't keep a statue of Buddha and burn incense in my own house, but I have read a lot and that's one of the things that attracted me to that character - also, it's a parallel with Lennon."
Waters likes the fact that Lennon punched holes in pomposity, even taking some of the magic out of the mystic East. He drops into a Liverpudlian accent to deliver a Lennon line about how the Maharishi's desire to bed women had been a problem - although it meant he could relate to him a lot better. "It's always just bringing everything back down to a nice level we can all to relate to," Waters said. "So he (the Maharishi) is not Buddha in an earthly guise; he's just a guy who knows a lot about Oriental philosophy - but he's got a dick the same as the rest of us."
John Waters has been a feature of the Australian entertainment business for 25 years. The 19-year-old who arrived here hadn't planned a career, but had simply handed over Pound 10 for the trip, thinking he could return in a couple of years.
He stayed, growing with a film and television industry that was doing likewise in the '70s, taking the most of his opportunities.
"It's ironic, because we'll be considered a bunch of boys from Down Under bringing a show about John Lennon to London. I rather like that. I could say, 'well, actually, I'm English', but that won't be the perception. In a way, it takes an edge off our nervousness, because we expect a slightly cynical reaction. But I don't expect that to last long, because we're nice guys and, hey, we do a good show."