John Waters : Looking Through A Glass Onion

When I think tribute band, I think 50-something-year-old geezers with beer and nostalgia pulsing through their varicose veins, trying to experience some illusive sense of glamour that their now washed-up idols would have had in days gone by. The irony is lost on them as they plug along to an audience of boozy, swaying punters at the local RSL.


So how is Looking Through a Glass Onion, John Waters’ tribute show to John Lennon, any different? Besides costing $70 to see and being performed at reputable venues such as the Regent Theatre in Melbourne, it’s a dignified representation of one of the most revered musicians of the past century.


“I was trying very much to shy away from the Elvis Impersonator kind of vibe,” says Waters as his latte sits on the table of a restaurant in Melbourne’s swanky Langham hotel. “This isn’t John Lennon up there, it’s John waters. I don’t dress up to look like him or anything.”


He talks fondly and carefully about the revolutionary rock legend and it’s quickly evident that Lennon’s image is in safe hands. It has to be, otherwise the show wouldn’t have been given Yoko Ono’s seal of approval.

It was twelve years after Lennon’s death in 1992 that Waters conceived of the show with musician Stewart D’Arrietta. The name, a lyric from a song off the influential White Album, is a “sort of retrospective on the whole Beatles era. I’ve been berated by a few promoters for the title being rather obscure, but I didn’t think it was,” he laughs. “Don’t you know the double White Album for God’s sake?”


Since its inception, the one-man (and band) production has toured on the 20th anniversary of Lennon’s death and is now filling up the theatres yet again with Adelaide and Canberra shows sold out and others heading in a similar direction. “Our first audience is obviously baby boomers in general because they’re the people who kind of lived through the actual time, but the music itself just keeps going and spreads to all the subsequent generations.


It’s just a concert of songs with a little bit of extra that helps you maybe understand the background of the songs, because the songs themselves are a text of Lennon’s life.”


The “extra” comes as a monologue “which is kind of interwoven within the songs.” Which begs the question – how authentic is the monologue? Does it consist of Lennon’s actual words? “Not really. I take a cue from some of the things John Lennon has actually said. Maybe like one line or something as a quote of his and I expand on it as if it was him talking.”


The monologue is presented in a brilliant Liverpudlian accent, which can’t be too difficult for Waters as he spent his formative years in London where he played bass in a rock ‘n’ roll band called The Riots. So why not a show about fellow bass player Paul McCartney? “I think Paul McCartney is a fantastic musician and songwriter and is an equally important part of that era of music as Lennon really, but when you think about the MAN, he [Lennon] is more interesting. It’s a no-brainer.


“Lennon had a lot of grit in his voice, which I liked. White guys can sometimes try too hard to sound black but white people have soul of their own anyway. When they just do it naturally, it comes out like John Lennon.”

Unlike the aforementioned geezers, Waters doesn’t need to draw on the fame of John Lennon for a counterfeit sense of self worth. We already know and love the guy – from his 1988 AFI Best Actor performance in Boulevard of Broken Dreams to his more recent roles in TV’s All Saints and Offspring.


“I just love the fact that I was able to come up with something that enabled me to go back to my roots as a singer with bands and to add to that something that I learned over the intervening years about being an actor, being on a stage and communicating with the audience. So I sorta put all these elements together in a show.”

After meeting with Waters, I think it’s safe to say that Lennon is not turning in his 30-year-old grave.


  • Looking Through A Glass Onion will be performed at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre on February 19. Waters is chucking in a few country shows as well and as mentioned before, tickets are fast disappearing so get in there quick! Tickets through ticketek, or check out johnwaters.com.au for more info.