By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
John Lurie is a steam engine with a nuclear reactor in his firebox — always has been. The downtown icon filled our ears with “fake jazz” that was better than the real thing; he didn’t care much about acting and it showed, in the best way; and he taught us how to fish, rewiring a centuries-old proverb to his own specs: one part brilliance, two parts endless cool, tons of cosmic goof. But it’s been a while since we’ve heard from the lead Lounge Lizard, and, tragically, there are only six episodes of Fishing With John to keep us sated. In 1994, Lurie was diagnosed with advanced Lyme disease, the neurological effects of which make playing music and acting impossible. Still, though time has modified its casing, that internal engine is well intact.
(Click to enlarge)
Self-Portrait with Lump (2005)
Lurie has just released a collection of paintings, A Fine Example of Art, and it’s full of the same humor, facility and cracked spirituality that runs through his oeuvre. In one painting, in which the word “fun” is scrawled all over the walls, a cat-beast with a pink boner dances on a woman’s dresser. In I Am a Bear. You Are an Asshole. God Is God, a warm watercolor blot of an ursine face dumbly gazes out at the viewer, as if to suggest some crude refiguring of the food chain. Horse With A Mullet is a wistful 2-D rendering of a steed on the prairie, sporting a normal mane — which, if you think about it, really is a mullet. Lurie’s work has been shown around the world, and he recently stopped in L.A. for a signing at Book Soup. As he sits down to talk, it’s clear that not much has changed: John Lurie is still, inimitably, John Lurie.
L.A. WEEKLY: So, what’s a day in the life of John Lurie?
JOHN LURIE: I go to bed around 7 in the morning, and get up around 1 in the afternoon. Three days a week I do ozone therapy, and the others I usually have studio visits. I play a lot of online poker and try to figure out where to put all the paintings. I work in my apartment, in my laundry room and at the breakfast table, so it’s like I’m living in a storage facility — there are boxes everywhere.
How often do you paint?
It comes in weird jags of compulsion — I’m hurled into doing it. There are some months where I’ve done 15 pieces; some months, I’ve done none. I’ve usually got four or five lying around, but when my symptoms are bad and I can’t see so well, or I can’t hold my hand straight, then I can’t do it — or I have to start a new one.
Is there a difference in the paintings’ style that comes with you being symptomatic?
The color sense is really better. I come up with very unusual combinations — four or five colors — before I even start, and I’ll jump up and just paint.
How much time do you typically spend on a piece?
It varies. Some of the better ones in the book took moments, like Davy Crockett Has Lost His Fucking Mind. But the cover painting ... that background took days to do, and then I plopped those bunnies and the girl down in minutes — and it kinda looks like that. I don’t know how other people interpret it, but some of them are bad on purpose. And some of them are bad on accident.
So far, the critical consensus seems to be that they’re actually good.
As far as the legit critics, it’s all been pretty great. I mean, [New York Times critic] Roberta Smith gave me a good review, and you kinda can’t do better than that. But I’ll discover these blogs where they really hate me. You know, “I wouldn’t put this on my refrigerator if my kid brought it home.” They don’t even debate me, they just all discuss how much I suck.
You don’t sound too dismayed ...
I think it’s funny. But I once read a blog attacking my sax playing, and that hurt. They kept talking about this Tom Waits record I had played on [Rain Dogs], where I’d popped into the studio and done this thing that came out awful. It wasn’t my fault — the way my part was recorded, it just sounded like a piece of string. I played the sax for 30 years and practiced for five hours a day. I had a beautiful tone — I had my own tone. It kinda hurt my feelings, because I can’t play anymore.
You can’t show up on the blogger’s doorstep and solo him to silence.