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John Waters, Bringing Out Yesterday's Trash

Thursday, December 23, 2004; Page C04

Introducing the man of the night at the 9:30 club on Tuesday, Charm City's own Mary Prankster called him "the man who made being from Maryland exotic and mysterious."

True, at least, in his "Pink Flamingos" heyday. But in 2004, at age 58, Waters may be losing, if not his ability to shock, at least his ability to make that shock worth more than shock.

After a musical set by Prankster, the willow-thin indie-film auteur, clad in a funny-uncle dinner jacket in a festive red and wearing spectacles that gave him gravitas as well as a view of his notes, delivered a harangue on Christmas that wasn't too far removed from an Andy Rooney monologue. If, that is, Andy Rooney were to profess a love for porn, a wish for oral gratification for the nation's beleaguered teachers, and a holiday-decor hint for decorating tree balls with photos of serial killers.

Waters avowed his opposition to capital punishment -- "not because I'm such a liberal," he added. "I'm afraid I'll get it." And he spoke seriously, with some discomfort at being serious, about his belief that Leslie Van Houten, convicted of taking part in one of the Manson Family murders in 1969, should be paroled. And he firmly reiterated his love of reading; it sounded like he loved it almost as much as he loves sex. But his discussion of feticide was more taboo-shattering than genuinely entertaining or enlightening.

His opening act likewise reveled in subversion, with a strangely sweet waltz-time lament making liberal use of the F-word as noun, verb and adjective. Strumming vigorously on an acoustic guitar and talking/singing her way through favorites like "Mac and Cheese" and "Punk Rock Heaven," the lively Prankster was nonetheless nearly upstaged by her sleek jumpsuit sewn from the patterns of the Maryland flag. To a cry of "Love your outfit!" she replied, "That's because Maryland is sexy!" As Waters and Prankster know, it's the Free State, after all.

-- Pamela Murray Winters

© 2004 The Washington Post Company