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Waters and Peaches plan assault on senses

John Waters
with Peaches
this Sunday
Crystal Ballroom
1132 W. Burnside
tickets $28.50 Ticketmaster

Pop culture covers a broad spectrum, and Sunday night two generations of its more left field characters will appear at the Crystal Ballroom. John Waters is an internationally recognized director, writer and photographer, openly gay and a resident of Baltimore, Md. He has been making films since 1964 and has often been described as “the Sultan of Sleaze.” Peaches is a white, female rapper residing in Berlin who specializes in sex raps. The sex raps on her debut record last year would make a sailor blush. Waters and Peaches have found each other and are sure to present an evening of the beautiful and the absurd.

Waters was born in Baltimore to middle-class parents – probably the last normal event of his life. Despite his parents’ best efforts and a Catholic school education in 1964 he filmed the black-and-white short “Hag in a Black Leather Jacket,” and from this point on there was no stopping his desire to conquer everything considered decent. Working on a shoestring budget he continued to film 8mm and 16mm shorts entirely on-location in Baltimore featuring his assembled cast, the Dreamlanders. This cast included his unlikely but frequent star, Divine, a 300-pound drag queen who Waters would continue to work with until her death in 1988.

Waters’ first feature-length release was 1972’s “Pink Flamingos.” Funded by his parents, whom he told should never see it, it is one of the most hilariously disturbing films ever made. The story centers on a group competing for the title of “Filthiest Person Alive.” It was re-released in 1997 and no description could do it justice. Please go rent it.

Over the years Waters has moved away from such overtly shocking material, but he continues to create high art from incredibly bad taste. His casts alone are testament to his genius and ability to plumb the fringes of pop culture and combine it with the mainstream. He has paired Riki Lake with former teen porn star Traci Lords, Iggy Pop with Willem Dafoe, and Kathleen Turner with SLA kidnappee-turned-convert Patty Hearst. He has cast everyone from Pia Zadora to Sonny Bono to Stiv Bators. It is as though all of pop culture is an elaborate joke and he is going to let us in on it.

Waters has stated, “This is what I make movies about: people who are completely insane but think they are normal.” But there is so much more. In 1988’s “Hairspray” he focused on ’50s TV, dance shows and the larger issue of class and racial integration. “Cry Baby” explored the early ’60s juvenile delinquency craze. “Serial Mom” was an ’80s yuppie housewife turned serial killer. And, finally, “Pecker” was the story of a ’90s kid who becomes the unlikely toast of the Manhattan art world. Waters has the intelligence to pick apart nearly anything and find the comedy, add the satire and do it all in Baltimore on a budget that probably totals less than the catering costs for “The Hunted.”

Waters the person, though, is nearly as famous as his films. His retro wardrobe and pencil-thin mustache are as recognizable as his caustic wit. He has appeared on the Simpsons (the one with the gay steel mill), discussed his love of bad movie watching on LSD and his early attraction to pornography with Jay Leno, and written essays for everyone from Newsweek to Esquire. And beneath an absolute love of low culture, from trashy tabloids and hillbillies to drag queens with mustaches, lurks a serious artist. He can shift from discussing the b-movie splendor of Ed Wood and Herschell Gordon Lewis to the finer points of Warner Fassbinder or Fellini. It all exists in the same twisted world and we are invited in for a night.

No word on the Peaches live show, but the record is murky, lo-fi hip-hop. And Peaches does not buy into anyone’s idea of what a female pop star should look like.