Tuesday, August 18, 2009

John Lurie

Having the new Acoustic Ladyland album on repeat (punk-jazz album of the year so far?) has reminded me of my very great affection for the work of John Lurie and I realised that I've been meaning to post something on here since the very beginning of time itself.

My first visit to Derby's (now defunct) art house cinema was circa 1986/87 to see Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise. Not that I knew the first thing about it, I was told by my friend John Pyle that we should go because it was meant to be good and there might be girls there who would be impressed by our apparent intellect.

I don't think there were girls but it was great (one of those US indie films where nothing much happens..in monochrome..for ninety minutes) and not only did Lurie play the leading man, but he also scored the haunting string quartet soundtrack.

I picked up a copy of the soundtrack CD in Way Ahead a couple of years later and thus my love affair with Lurie's music officially began.

John Lurie - A Woman Can Take You To Another Universe; Sometimes She Just Leaves You There (from the Stranger Than Paradise soundtrack)

Although that first CD was mainly strings, there was a second piece on the end of the CD called "The Resurrection Of Albert Ayler" which, as you'd imagine, was a more honking jazz-based concoction.

From there I picked up a few more of his soundtracks and also delved into his earlier work with the Lounge Lizards (the original punk jazz group).

The Lounge Lizards - Big Heart (from the LP Big Heart - Live In Tokyo)

Of his film work, the score to "Mystery Train" is a particular favourite, it also veers from the jazz format (this time towards a sort of desolate closing-time minor key blues) and includes some choice tracks from other artists too.

John Lurie - Tuesday Night In Memphis (from the Mystery Train soundtrack)

Lurie's profile seemed to peak in the early 1990's with his own TV Show, the brilliant "Fishing With John" a sort of travelog, celebrity fishing documentary series where John travelled the globe..erm...fishing with people like Dennis Hopper and Tom Waits. Definitely pick up a copy on DVD should you come across one. From there he continued to perform and release records with the Lounge Lizards and most notably provided the soundtrack to the mainstream John Travolta flick Get Shorty in 1995.

John Lurie - Nose Punch (from the Get Shorty soundtrack)

His last original music project was the spoof blues album "The Legendary Marvin Pontiac". Not my favourite by a long stretch but it did raise a smile to see it being taken seriously by some areas of the media, apparently unaware that Marvin Pontiac was a fictional creation.

And then it all went quiet on the music front. I knew from Lurie's own website that he was doing a lot more painting (see it here) but it wasn't until I started researching stuff for this blog that I discovered two things

1) His painting "Bear Surprise" (see above) is at the centre of some bizarre Russian-speaking viral internet phenomenon called "Preved" which I can't even begin to explain. Luckily this page does it for me.

2) He has effectively retired from music due to ill health (Advanced Lyme Disease). The saddest part of the story is that he says even if his health permitted him he would be unlikely to consider making music again due to a life-time of bad experiences with the business side of things that I'm sure plenty of people can sympathise with. I suspect that when his memoir "What Do You Know About Music, You're Not a Lawyer" is eventually published, it will be a fascinating read.

There is an excellent (reasonably recent) two part interview here and here, which is essential reading if you've got this far.

I'll leave the last word to Mr Lurie himself. I think there is a case for this being written into some people's record contracts...

To make it make any sense the music has to be breath taking. It doesn't make sense otherwise. The world needs so much, but the last thing it needs is another record or concert, unless it is stunning and moving.

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