Wednesday, July 08, 2009

On The Filmwork of John Lurie: an interview

John Lurie is best known for his starring roles in, and soundtracks for, early Jim Jarmusch films, and his Grammy-nominated soundtrack for Get Shorty (playing at the Vancity Theatre as part of the Cinema Salon series on August 4th, and the pretext for publishing this interview). Slightly hipper people may be aware of his band The Lounge Lizards, who exuded urban hipsterdom and a creative engagement with jazz and world music; it is arguable that the term “Fake Jazz,” long a descriptor used in Vancouver for the Fake Jazz Wednesdays series, comes from an offhand comment Lurie made in the 1980s to describe what his band did. True Lurie devotees, meanwhile, know him as the host of the brilliant, funny IFC “fishing show” Fishing With John, and the man behind Marvin Pontiac’s Greatest Hits, a pseudonymously released collection of Lurie singing very funny, very strange, and very creative pop songs, supported by some of the downtown New York scene’s finest - including John Medeski, Billy Martin, Michael Blake and Calvin Weston.

There are probably, however, people who know all of the above, who have missed out on the fact that Lurie has been seriously ill since 2002, with a chronic condition that has eluded exact diagnosis, though the best guess is advanced Lyme disease. “Sometime in June of 2002, I had my first really full-on attack,” he told me over the phone from his New York apartment when I spoke to him for Subterrain. “I was still on Oz, and there was supposed to be a scene of me naked, so I’m working out like crazy. About a half an hour later, I just felt like I was on a boat in an ocean and I was on LSD. Everything was floating around, and lights were flashing, and I couldn’t keep my balance and I had these weird sensations going on from my heart down my left arm, and I went to the hospital and I said, ‘Look I don’t know, but I think I could be having a heart attack,’ and they gave me fluids, but it continued for, like, two days. And then I was working out about a week later, and it happened again. And then shit just started happening all the time - my legs would go numb, my hand wouldn’t work, my vision would go crazy... I hear electrical sizzling sounds in my ears. It feels like my brain is sort of twisted. I mean, I could go on for hours. I ache. Lights bother me. Sounds bother me. And then sometimes I’m fine. There’ll be two weeks of hideousness and then there’ll be a week where I can kind of function. When things are going badly, when my psychological state is bad, it makes things much worse.”

With such symptoms, Lurie was forced to give up playing music - a painful decision - and to stop taking film roles; he has, however, reinvented himself as a painter, and his paintings were the subject of much of the 2007 Subterrain article (“John Lurie Is Sick, Who Will Help?” - itself named after a painting of his, “Dog Is Blind, Who Will Help”). Lurie has always been a painter to some extent - The Lounge Lizards 1987 album, No Pain For Cakes - their first great record, by me - has a Lurie painting (“Uncle Wiggiley As The Devil”) on the cover, as does their final release, 1998’s magnificent Queen Of All Ears, the cover of which is his hilariously-titled “One Bird Wants To Fuck Two Snakes; Snakes Are Appalled”); but focusing on painting full-time brought him to some magnificent and painterly places (as well as many playful and ridiculous ones), and he’s been the subject of several well-received shows. The most recent to close, at the Mudam, Luxembourg, was entitled "The Skeleton In My Closet Has Moved Out To The Garden" (you can download the painting it takes its name from here). Lurie says “That was the best painting up to that time; now they are better, though.” Lurie has recently completed six oil paintings that, he tells me, are "the best paintings I have done.”

Two books have been published of Lurie's art, as well: Learn To Draw and A Fine Example Of Art. (That latter link, note, allows you to look inside at some of Lurie's paintings; there's also, of course, the John Lurie Art website, with Lounge Lizards music to accompany the images).

Much as I was delighted to be talking with Lurie - whose works I had admired and enjoyed for years - the Subterrain article was exhausting to write, since, in addition to his illness, Lurie was understandably struggling with depression, frustration, and a considerable amount of anger at various aspects of his life, from bad business deals to theft of his music to extreme frustrations with certain publishers and gallery owners. The article ended up fairly dark and at times painful to read.

My talks with Lurie had also included a great deal of sheer fanboy enthusiasm on my part, however, as I got John to talk about all the cool shit he's been involved in over the years. Much of that material - though it included some of the highlights, for me, of our conversations - never saw print; the upcoming Vancouver Get Shorty screening makes this an opportune time to put it online.

John Lurie has an upcoming show at the Watari Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo in January 2010, and a show coming up in New York at the Fredericks and Freiser Gallery in October.

Subterrain #49 cover: "Of Course, Animals Have Souls," by John Lurie

A: Let me ask about John Cassavetes.

J: Yeah, he’s a hero of mine.

A: Yeah, mine too. I remember hearing that before Cassavetes died, you were going to do a project with him.

J: Yeah, but I never even met him. This was his producer - Sam Shaw - sort of his creative producer, you know – who wanted me to be in this Django Reinhardt movie. I wouldn’t have been Django Reinhardt, I was going to have been the Nazi who hated Django Rheinhardt - who loved his music, but hated his freedom, kind of thing. But it never happened.

A: You never saw any correspondence from Cassavetes, any script, or -

J: No.

A: What’s your favourite of his films?

J: The biggest impact on me was Killing of a Chinese Bookie, because I was really young, and I was doing music, and I saw that, and it was like, ‘Oh, movies make sense!’ I always thought movies were this superficial thing before that. It really rocked me, that movie.

A: Did you see the shortened version or the longer version? The original cut of it has a long routine at Cosmo’s club at the beginning.

J: Oh really? I don’t know if I ever saw that.

A: It’s on the box set - both versions are. He recut it because no one liked it - he had huge hopes for Bookie, and then no one liked the first cut, so he actually took it back and re-did the entire film. In a way, his story and your story sort of mesh up.

J: Yeah, he’s a fellow traveller, I think....

A: Who else do you really admire in the art world?

J: Him I really do admire. Coltrane I admire. Who do I admire? Oh, Harper Lee - God yes! You write one book and you disappear - it’s like, ‘You’re my fuckin’ hero!’ You are my hero beyond heroes. She warms my heart.

A: Have you ever met her?

J: No.

A: Have you met any of your heroes?

J: Yeah, but that’s usually a terrible mistake. I mean, Scorsese was my hero before I met him. And then he wasn’t my hero anymore. I mean, I was in that movie, The Last Temptation of Christ. Scorsese was one of my big heroes.

A: What happened as a result of working with him?

J (chuckles): He’s just a really uncomfortable man. At least he was with me.

A: I thought that was a really awkward film - that was your only film appearance that I had a really hard time with.

J: (laughing) So did everybody! I mean, it was ridiculous. He shouldn’t make any movies that don’t have a tenement in them. That movie was so ridiculous that if you really watch carefully, there’s a scene where I’m like purposely exposing a band-aid I have under my costume. And Willem cures this blind guy, and when you cut back to me, I’m laughing! I had fuckin’ had it with that movie - my God, I wanted out so bad.

A: Scorsese’s first film still matters to me...

J: Yeah, and Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, even The Departed was pretty good, I thought, for him.

"Hittites Attacking The Schnabel" by John Lurie. The Hittites are saying, from left to right, "Stop him before he makes a movie of our civilization," "Oh Lord of Gods we must smite the terrible Schnabel," and "Yes, smite the Schnabel."

A: What about Julian Schnabel?

J: (Chuckles) What about him?

A: Well, I was amused by your painting, "Hittites Attacking the Schnabel"...

J: That was sort of a little payback for the Basquiat movie. Basquiat was actually a good friend of mine, and so - Julian sort of playing Stalin and rewriting history was a little bit disconcerting to me. Me and Vincent Gallo are both played by Benicio del Toro - me and Vincent Gallo, two actually interesting people in Jean Michel’s life, are composited into one person, and then this peripheral character named Julian is played by the best actor of the time, Gary Oldman. I never saw the movie.

A: Did you ever see any of Schnabel’s other films?

J: Nahh. I mean, Julian - there’s a lot of good about Julian, too, but... I don’t want to see his movies.

A: Do you see your paintings as being influenced by Basquiat?

J: No! Basquiat? – please! Basquiat was a kid who slept on my floor. I have a problem with that one.

A: Okay. I’ll adjust my controls.

J: You could understand, right? I’m 25, he’s 18, we’re both painting together, y’know, and then he becomes this thing and he dies, and so now he’s, like, embronzed. But I was doing this stuff before, so it’s hard for me.

A: In terms of your own work in film, do you have any proudest moments?

J: Ah... I don’t know. I mean, the fishing show is the thing I’m proudest of, which isn’t really film, it’s TV. But that’s the thing I’m proudest of.

A: Because it’s really yours?

J: I never felt that comfortable with acting, you know? There’s very few minutes where you conceive of how you want to do something, and it’s realized, as a creative thing. You know what I mean?

A: Not exactly.

J: There’s a scene. You’re supposed to be upset about this, you want to go over and pour a cup of coffee, and you want to do it a certain way. You want to start soft, and then yell, and then – you know, whatever. But the lighting guy only has lights in this part, and then... It never falls into place how you had imagined it; and that’s kind of what gives me the most fulfillment: something comes to you, there’s a moment of inspiration, and then you actualize it. But with acting, you can’t ever really actualize it.

A: Is that part of why you like Cassavetes?

J: Mm. It has more of a liquid, open-ended aspect... I never really was very good at acting, you know?

A: You’re wonderful in the two Jarmusch films.

J: I’ve got something going on, but I never worked at acting like I did at music or at painting.

A: How do you feel about Stranger Than Paradise and Down By Law now?

J: Eh. Just so-so.

A: You seem like you’re being required to satirize yourself, poking fun at your hipster image.

J: But neither of those guys are that hip. What bothers me about Stranger Than Down by Law (sic! And no doubt deliberate...) is that I definitely was a character, and then Jim made it sort of like I was playing myself. But I wasn’t playing myself, it was a character! And then I played the same character twice, in the two films, even though I tried really hard to change it, the second time. But I ended up playing the same character twice, and then Jim was like, “John’s playing himself.” Which did me no favours at all, because both of those guys were not very bright, y’know, they weren’t kind, they were myopic.

A: They’re still fun characters.

J: They’re fun characters, but if you can imagine... If someone comes up to you – no, they don’t even come up to you: you come up with an idea with your neighbour. And then you do this thing, and it’s like, ‘Okay, Allan’s gonna play a garbage man who farts all the time and rubs grease on his face.’ And so you do it, and the neighbour gets all the attention as being some kind of genius, and he says, ‘Yes, I discovered Allan. He was my crazy neighbour, and he really does fart and rub grease on himself...’ So it was kind of bothersome. ‘Aren’t I a genius, I used this crazy person in my movie.’

A: Do people assume these characters are you?

J: Well, they did at a certain time, which is why I was so anxious to get the fishing show out, because the fishing show really is me playing myself. I mean, that really is that – and it’s a completely different character from the person in Jim’s films.

A: Down by Law is still one of the most pleasurable of Jarmusch’s films to watch.

J: I thought, with Down by Law, that Robby Muller did an unbelievably good job, except that he was horrible to work for as an actor because it was like, you would have to hold your head at a forty-five degree angle just so the light hit your nose just in a certain way, you know what I mean? It took the Cassavetes element away from it, and Jim was terrified of him, so Robby ruled the set. It kind of lost its fluidity because of that.

A: Was that some of the first stuff Robby was doing in America?

J: I’d worked for him before on Paris, Texas, so no.

A: How did you get involved with Wenders?

J: Wenders was a fan and was coming to see the band all the time.

A: Oh really?

J: I was supposed to have a large part in Paris, Texas, but they’d run out of money. So I flew down there and I was just waiting, they don’t know how the film is going to end – I’m supposed to have this big fight scene with Harry Dean Stanton. And I end up having a one day shoot, and they want to not pay me, they don’t have the money to fly me back...

A: Yikes. Do you still know Wim?

J: No, I haven’t talked to him in a long time.

"Dog Is Blind, Who Will Help?" by John Lurie

A: Okay... let’s talk about Fishing with John a bit. What are your favourite moments?

J: The two best episodes are Willem and Tom Waits, but as a human being, my favourite moments are being on that squid boat with Dennis. That’s, like, the best moments of my life.

A: Any particular things you think back on?

J: I mean, I’ve told this story many times, but we wanted a shot from the shore of me and Dennis in the little boat at sunset, and so I’d gone with the fishermen in the morning and see how to drive the boat on my own. So we’re out in this boat and the crew’s all on the shore, including the fishermen, so it’s just me and Dennis in this boat, and I’m just immensely happy. It’s the first day of filming and we’re in Thailand and it’s beautiful. Dennis is way more fun and charming and brilliant than I expected; he’s not like this curmudgeon that I thought he might be, he’s just a wonderfully entertaining person. We’re out on this boat and the breeze is hitting your skin and the sun’s going down and it’s just... perfect. But I had gone out with the fishermen at six in the morning, and now it’s six o’clock at night, and everything has changed. The estuaries that I could recognize, with high tide, are now not findable. So we’re out on the ocean, and I don’t know where we are. I go closer to the land, but everything looks different, and we’re out of radio contact. The walkie talkies just sort of work – they’re sort of like (imitates sound of radio interference). Now I’m afraid that it’s going to get dark and we’re going to run out of gas and I don’t know what to do. The engine is incredibly loud, so think maybe I can hear them on the walkie talkie if I turn off the engine. And I turn off the engine, and I can’t hear a thing, and now – the way you start this boat is this weird cranking handle, and I try to start it – and the handle breaks.

A (laughing): Uh-huh.

J: And now it’s getting dark. And we’re drifting out. And I look at Dennis and I think, “Well, if there’s anybody on the planet you should fear, it would have to be Dennis Hopper.” If you kill him by exposure... So I went from, like, the happiest I was to... they eventually found us, but...

A: How did Dennis respond to all of that?

J: I looked at him and I said, “Are you going to kill me?” And I meant it quite literally. “I wish you’d stop asking me that,” he said. It was the first time I’d asked him.

A: He must get it a lot. Actually, you also worked with David Lynch, in Wild At Heart, which, unfortunately, I thought was one of his weakest films...

J: That was such a shame, you know. He’d done Blue Velvet, he was told he was a genius, and then he just lost it: every idea that popped into his head: “Okay, let’s have fire eaters! Let’s have naked fat ladies!” And it was just like – there was no editing process... Willem was going to be in that movie, and he showed me the script, and it was just beautiful, like that script was written by some ex-con – it was gorgeous. And the combination of Nick Cage and David Lynch just took it into surrealville, which it really shouldn’t have been. It should have been a really down-to-earth, realistic movie. It would have been beautiful. And they just took it over the top into dreamland, which I thought was a terrible mistake.

A: Yeah, it’s nothing like Barry Gifford’s novel. The film has all these Wizard of Oz references, but the book is both gritty and touching.

J: Yeah, I imagine – because the script just ripped your guts out.

A: They have a really weird backstory, Gifford and Lynch, because Gifford had hated Blue Velvet. He called it “phlegm noir.”

J: (chuckles)

A: He called it “academic pornography,” “one step above a snuff film” – and the next thing you know, they’re working together. They did Lost Highway together, too, which I think has some self-referential stuff in it, with Loggia and Blake figuring Gifford and Lynch... but... Anyhow, I agree, people’s egos get in the way.

J: But Lynch is a great guy. A lot of these directors, they’re just not cool. They don’t play fair. They create this little world where they’re in control of everything, and I just don’t like the dynamic. Like, when we did Last Temptation, we go into this Moroccan village and we change everything for the worse, for good. Lynch was none of that. Lynch was really real – his vibe was just warm, attentive, and present, y’know?

"Follow The Signs," by John Lurie

A: Any other people you’ve met through working in film that you’ve really liked?

J: Drew Kunin is the first person that comes to mind. He’s the sound guy on many many movies. I like a lot of people on the crew.

A: Let me ask some questions about your soundtrack work. I really like the punk rock song on the Manny & Lo soundtrack, “She’s Not a Nurse.’

J: Lisa Krueger was an old friend of mine, when I was doing that music for that. She made a couple of movies. She’s good, she’s smart. You know, when you compose music for a movie, you kinda zone in in a different way. And so there’s things in the plot that you don’t notice in a certain way, because you’re not watching it like that. And so I’m watching it with her the second time, I just assumed this woman in the movie was a nurse, but that’s a big part of the story, that she’s not a nurse, she’s kind of nuts and she just dresses like a nurse. And so I said, “Oh, she’s not a nurse, she just dresses like a nurse?” And Lisa thought it was the funniest thing she’d ever heard, and she was laughing. And so she needed a song for when the girls are dancing outside the car towards the end of the movie, and she thought she was going to buy a Nirvana song. I was saying, you’re never going to get the rights to that, you can’t afford it, so I did it, and I just made up those lyrics, kind of on the spot. “She’s not a nurse/ she only dresses like a nurse.”

A; What’s the rest of the lyric, because I can’t make it out...

J: “She’s such a liar/ pants on fire,” um... Then – I can’t remember, and then, the other thing she laughed at me about, was, there’s this scene where... God, Scarlett Johansson is a little girl in that movie. I forgot that.

A: Oh wild! I didn't know that. I need to see Manny & Lo.

J: ...And she’s talking to a lizard in the forest, and the lizard is holding perfectly still. And I just kept asking Lisa, “How do you get a lizard to hold still like that?” And so the next line – and she thought that was hysterical too. She never told me – she just laughed at me. So the next line is, “How do you keep a lizard still/Don’t know if it ever will/act like a human/ They’re so stupid.” I think that’s what it was, I forget. (laughing)

A: No wonder I couldn’t make it out.

"Women Shopping in Cleveland," by John Lurie

J: But what was really cool about that was, it was no budget, I was doing this as a favour, and the musicians were doing it as a favour to me and I was doing it as a favour to her, and it was just – record the whole thing of the day and rush in and out between different kinds of music, and I had to record this kind of rock song. And so it’s Ribot, who’s great at it, and Billy Martin on drums, and – who played bass? Chris Wood. And they all nailed this thing, and I’m basically producing it. I wasn’t even playing on much stuff on it, I had just written everything and am producing it, it’s going really fast. It’s like, it’s more about “where are we going to put the marimba while we record this thing?” So I run into the vocal booth and I just drrrd, and I go through the song, one take it’s done, and I wish I’d left it on (the CD), because it’s like, immediately on ending the song, I go from being this punk singer to – you hear me go, “okay now we gotta move the marimba back in here, and go find John Medeski!” It’s like, immediately within seconds, this lunatic who was singing this song is, like, a banker.

"Your Life Is Meaningless. Why Don't You Masturbate," by John Lurie

A: How did you get involved with Get Shorty?

J: That came about because someone - not sure who - contacted my office. I didn't think much about it as I was in the middle of editing Fishing With John. Sara Rychtarik, who ran my office, really pushed for it. She kept the ball rolling until they had a screening in New York. I met with Barry Sonnefeld after the movie, and of course because I wasn’t interested, they wanted me to score it.

A: What, other than the film, did you look at when working on the soundtrack?

J: I am a fan of Elmore Leonard and wanted to try to capture the color that his books have left me with, I also wanted to create an arc for the movie. But what was I thinking? This was a Hollywood movie, they weren't going to let me do that.

A: Did you get to interact with Leonard much?

J: We sort of became friends somewhere along the way - just phone friends.

A: How did you feel about the Grammy nomination?

J: The nomination, actually, was for the CD, which was mostly, about 80%, music that was rejected for the movie. So I worked really hard to get it on the CD or no one would ever hear it. I wonder if Sonnenfeld and Karyn Rachmann ever realized that the music they had rejected was nominated for a Grammy?

A: Do you have any favourite aspects of the film?

J: I thought Travolta was exceptional. Obviously, when you score a movie you have to watch it over and over - usually the performances become more and more suspicious. Travolta never once did that.

A: Another soundtrack question: Excess Baggage, I see, has a score by you - but I don’t think people know that that’s one of your works. I didn’t, anyhow.

J: If you can find the soundtrack album to that movie - that soundtrack is really good. Some of my best stuff is on there.

A: Who are you working with, Medeski and such?

J: He wasn’t on that. Who was on that... uhh, Calvin Weston, Steven Bernstein, Michael Blake, Evan my brother... David Tronzo was on that and he’s really good.

A: I will hunt that down. While we’re talking about music, though... do you have time to talk about Marvin Pontiac?

J: We got seven more minutes.

A: It’s probably my favourite work of yours, but it’s not even out under your name! (Laughs).

J: Yeah.

A: Do you have any regrets as to having done that under a pseudonym?

J: A million people tell me I made a mistake, but I don’t think so. I had to do it like that. What, was I gonna make it a John Lurie Sings album? It seems ridiculous.

A (laughs): It does have a wonderful prank-like quality... How well did that sell?

J: It did okay, but - it was on my own label and stuff. It’s still selling, but if it had been on a major label and was on MTV, I’m sure it could have done better. I think we sold 30,000 in the US, or maybe more. And I get cheques from i-Tunes every month - it does well.

A: I didn’t know it was even still in print. So Strange and Beautiful is still manufacturing it.

J: Nyaah, kind of. I mean, you’re talking to Strange and Beautiful right now. There’s not really anybody running the label. But it’s still in print.

A: Did any of that ever get performed live?

J: No.

A: Too bad.

J: It would be impossible - there’s no way. I don’t think I could sing onstage, and I mean - one of the hardest things about performing onstage is learning how to use monitors, to hear yourself back. That took me years, just with the saxophone. I can’t imagine trying to figure out how to sing onstage. That would just be something I couldn’t do. Plus the way the songs are all constructed, it’s like - me playing guitar, me playing the saxophone, me playing the harmonica, me playing the marimba - y’know what I mean? And there’s a lot of stuff on there, so it would have taken an eighteen piece band with twelve of the guys just standing there half the time.

A: Too bad. But it’s a fucking amazing album. Did you get unusual responses to it? I remember reading that people were upset that you were making fun of the mentally ill...

J: Well, that was bizarre to me. What happened was - I was going to put it out without the musician’s names and really do it like it was this insane guy that people should know, and they don’t. And so they think that they want to be cool by saying, “I knew about him all along.”

A: Right.

J: I got all those people to do [testimonials] - they were all happy to do it: Leonard Cohen, Flea, David Bowie... [Beck, Iggy Pop...]

A: Those were real quotes?

J: Those were real quotes, yeah. And then it was getting a lot of attention as this insane African guy who’d gotten hit and killed by a bus, and had two hits, and these were his undiscovered songs. And it was getting a lot of attention like this. I hired a publicist who, right in the middle, without even warning me, panicked and didn’t want the press to be angry with him. And he called everybody and said, “It’s John Lurie - it’s not really a dead African guy.” And so everybody was furious! Because there was a guy from the Voice who was writing this five page thing about undiscovered genius and...

A: (laughing)

J: ...and when they found out they’d been duped... a lot of these white writers, they really have racial problems - because they liked it better when they thought he was black, they’re pissed at me!

A: (laughing)

J: I tell you one thing - I proved white men can sing the blues! least some of them. I proved it!

A: (laughing)... thank you very much, John.

J: No, wait wait wait - let me just tell you the insane thing. I get invited to be on NPR about people who do things in masks. I thought, perfect - that’s exactly what it was: I put on a mask, I created a character, and that was how I did this project. But I didn’t realize it was some kind of negative thing. Instead of being annoyed - I had sent this to every African person I knew, and I sent it to Isaach De Bankolé, I sent it to Spike Lee, I asked - ‘will you be offended by this,’ and they said no. So I went on NPR expecting to have to defend myself for doing this thing, basically, in blackface, but what she was mad about was, she’d bought this record at this store in upstate New York because the guy had recommended it because it was an insane person. And she was particularly interested in the music of the insane. So she was mad that I was pretending to be insane. I was shocked by it. I said, “Look, I wrote the music and lyrics first - LATER I decided on the guy’s bio that he was insane.” I didn’t say, “Oh, I’m going to be insane and do this.” Why does it lessen what you think about the music?

A: Some liberals just don’t have a sense of humour at all.

J: Not only not having a sense of humour - their racism and their prejudice against the insane is what’s really suspect.

A: You think that’s where it’s coming from?

J: Yes!

A: But it seems so harmless as a gag - and it’s a fond gag, as well.

J: It’s all done with the best of intentions.

A: There’s an interesting link between the insane and Marvin Pontiac and outsider art, because your paintings sort of play on the sort of way outsider art is received.

J: There was a thing at the Drawing Center about eight years ago that was all people from institutions. And it was the best thing I ever saw. It was just real.

A: Do you consider yourself an outsider artist? Are you comfortable with that term?

J: I don’t know what that means. Some people say so – I couldn’t care less. I mean, there’s a certain naïve quality to a lot of my work, but some of it’s quite painterly, so I don’t know.

A: Some of your later paintings are stunning. “When I Die, I Want to Go Like My Grandfather, Asleep and At Peace, Not Like the People Screaming in the Other Car.” That’s really beautiful.

J: Yeah, that’s pretty good. I got the book here... some of them are so badly painted, and some of them are so good. (Chuckling).

A: What’s one you think is really bad...?

J: There’s one: “The Indians Didn’t Like the Looks of This.”

A (laughing in anticipation): I don’t know it.

J: It’s two pilgrims standing on the water.

A: Like, walking on the water?

J: Yeah.

A: (laughs)

J: Really badly painted. I mean, they’re just terrible. But it’s funny, how bad they are. And there’s another one – “Harry Didn’t Want to Say Anything, But the Appearance of Jesus was Ruining His Vacation?” The title’s great, but the painting is bad.

"Harry Didn't Want To Say Anything, But The Appearance of Jesus Was Ruining His Vacation," by John Lurie. In the Subterrain article, Lurie explained, “Christians think it’s an affront on Jesus, but it’s really the opposite, it’s an affront on yuppies! It’s like – Jesus appears to you, but it’s going to ruin the luxury of your vacation? It’s like – ‘hello?’” I'd asked Lurie whose side he was on. “I’m right down the middle of that! I’m Jesus and I’m the boat – I’m both.”

A: Your work got more painterly as you went along?

J: Yeah, but some are bad on purpose... I mean, “Portrait of a Cow,” it would take a painter to do that.

A: Is there one piece in the book that represents the direction you’d want to go in?

J: I’m particularly fond at the moment of “Everybody Loves Sardines.” Hang on one sec.
(Pause, toilet flushes.)

J: Sorry – that wasn’t me peeing, that was soup.

A: (laughs). I hope you don’t mind, I’m going to put that in: “(Pause, toilet flushes): that wasn’t me peeing, that was soup.”

J: That’s fine. I remember the day I learned that, from Maria Duval in 1982. It’s like, ‘What do you do with soup?’ The leftover soup? What do you do with it? You can’t put it down the sink, you can’t put it in the garbage. You flush it down the toilet! I was like, ‘Awwwh! That’s genius!’ (laughter). It’s one of those moments in your life where you learn something, maybe everyone else knows it but you never knew it? ‘You flush soup down the toilet!’ That’s brilliant!

Note: if you're a fan of John Lurie's work - past or present - do leave a comment! I'll make sure he sees them...


665+1 said...

That was a great interview! Lurie is one of the more underrated renaissance guys of our time.

amy logan said...

Had been a fan before but your John Lurie article in Subterrain got me into learning more about him. Watched a lot of his films, and told a lot of friends to check out his art. I find him articulate and funny -- your interviews with him seem comfortable wide-ranging. Fishing with John is one of my favourites... We almost took up urban fishing as a result (Army and Navy has an obscene amount of fishing gear). Also great to see all the paintings, which are whimsical and intelligent in turns.

Allan MacInnis said...

Thanks, Nova! Thanks Amy!


Anonymous said...

listening 2 voice of chunk
good interview
an era of nyc thats gone
oh well

Anonymous said...

I've just recently been getting into John Lurie, and god dammit everything he does is beautiful. I love the level of absurdity that exists in Fishing With John and in his naming of songs and paintings. I think it's safe to say that he is the coolest white guy alive.

Anonymous said...

Awesome interview! I just "discovered" John Lurie through Jim Jarmusch's films, then fishing for John, the Lounge Lizards, now his artwork. What a brilliant man. I'm praying for his physical recovery and resolution to the strange business with that former friend.