John Waters is one of Australia’s most jwaters television, film and theatre performers. Many would readily recognise John from his roles in All Saints, Offspring and as co-host of Playschool … yet John’s first and great love is music, and 20 years ago he co-wrote Looking Through a Glass Onion, an homage to the music, mystery and memory of John Lennon.
On the 31st anniversary of the shooting of Lennon, John Waters is once again channelling the iconic musician in his Up Close and Personal tour …
In 1992 I had the good fortune of seeing you and Stewart D’Arrietta in the debut production of Looking Through a Glass Onion at the Tilbury Hotel in Sydney. Fast forward 20 years and many successful Glass Onion tours later, and you are again reprising the role that explores the essence of Lennon through song and spoken word. Tell us about the show:
Glass Onion was conceived essentially as a challenge I wanted to give myself – namely, to devise a way to get back to my early years as a singer and musician in bands, but add to that what I’d since learned about being on a stage and talking to an audience.
I had flirted with a vague idea about using the songs of John Lennon in a way that celebrated the essence of who he was as a person or, more correctly, how I imagined him to have been.
A call from the Tilbury Hotel in Woolloomooloo with an offer to do a show to fill an unexpected vacancy occurred. This gave me the drive, and the necessary deadline, and with my close friend, musician Stewart D’Arrietta, the show came into being … a collage of song and monologue that has proved to be a fairly unique experience.
For baby boomers, the show must be quite an emotional trip down memory lane. How do audience members respond to the show?
I find the emotional response to the show extends beyond the baby boomers for whom Lennon is a first hand memory, to much younger people who are still touched by the honesty of a man they only know from handed down history.
This is probably the aspect of doing the show that gives me the best buzz. It means that this is a piece that works, regardless of preconceptions.
Which songs can people look forward to hearing you perform?
There are many (about 30 I think), and they were chosen either for just being classic examples of Lennon’s writing, or because they are tellingly biographical in nature – even if in a cryptic way. So from the landmark piece of song-craftsmanship of Strawberry Fields Forever we go to How Do You Sleep? (Lennon’s savaging of his best friend, Paul McCartney). Along the way, there are many Beatles and Lennon solo tracks, most of which are part of everyone’s life.
Also, a few songs less well known, that add to the audience involvement by filling in gaps for them. Mother, God, How, Isolation and Working Class Hero provide the ‘other side’ to Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, Nowhere Man and All you Need is Love.
Why the track, A Glass Onion?
The song, which is on the classic White Album, is a kind of retrospective on the Beatles as an entity and as an era. It’s lyric, which begins with: “I told you ‘bout Strawberry Fields; you know, the place where nothing is real…” seems to hint at the unreality of life itself in the goldfish bowl of ‘Beatlemania’, and that made the refrain a good title. Or, so I thought. I’ve since realised that not everyone listens to every track on an album!
In 2014 you are planning to tour the show in New York … Are you hopeful that Yoko Ono will see the show, and have you received feedback from Yoko about the show to date?
We’ll be doing a tour of New Zealand in late 2012, and then we’re planning on doing a three-month off-Broadway stint in New York for 2014. It’s been on my wish list for some time to perform the show in New York.
Yoko, while not yet having seen the show, gave approval for the show to go ahead in London’s West End previously, so with a show in her hometown of New York we would hope that she could make it along.
Some of her friends have seen the show in London or Australia and given it the thumbs up, so if that’s a gauge of what her thoughts might be, then we can only hope!
Tell us about your former life as a professional Rock musician?
I was invited to join a Blues band called The Riots when I was 16. They were older guys from my area of South-West London, who saw me sing and play guitar at a coffee bar in Richmond in Surrey. It turned out they needed a bass player who could sing. I wasn’t a bass player, but I learned to play well enough not to be really bad!
The band had pretty regular gigs at weekends in various venues around the South of England, but never succeeded in getting a recording contract – which was a pity, but that’s the way it went in those highly competitive days.
You continue to be one of the most employable actors in Australia … what advice would you give to aspiring actors?
I think self-belief is the most vital thing to have in your armory. Not blind ego – you must be a listener – but knowledge that you can ‘do this thing’.
Beatles or Stones – no brainer?
Pointless comparison. Both are great bands, but in different ways. I don’t have favourites.