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Published: 2011/02/01
by Larson Sutton

John Lurie Sustains

In the mid-1980s, John Lurie had a career choice to make. Three choices, really. Painter? Actor? Musician? In the end, thankfully for music lovers, he chose his saxophone.

As a Grammy-nominated film score composer ( Get Shorty ), bandleader, record label founder, and non-existent bluesman, Lurie found his highest moments of creative collaboration and adulation. His Lounge Lizards, with pianist and brother Evan, required new hyphenates for description; no-wave, punk-jazz. His writing graduated from Monk-inspired, warp-speed atonal bursts complemented by the scattershot guitar of masters like Marc Ribot to tightly composed sections of contrapuntal tension that gave way to improvised release, often with a sly sense of humor implicit in the notes or explicit in song titles and stage banter.

Ironically, it is in his third act, in which he fights a daily battle with Advanced Lyme disease, no longer acts, no longer makes music, and devotes all of his creative energy to his painting, that Lurie is ever more fascinating.

What had become a life restricted, with little activity outside of his home for six years due to his illness, morphed into surreal in 2008. That is when a onetime friend of Lurie’s turned into his stalker; a man with, according to an August 2010 article in the New Yorker, an admitted history of violence, arrest record, and tendency toward predatory behavior began a series of threatening emails and phone calls. Coupled with his tenuous health, Lurie faced the unimaginable- leaving his home and going into hiding. Moving in and out of the country, and concerned for his safety, Lurie tried to remain positive. A few weeks after his 58th birthday, Lurie conducted the following interview via email, still under significant duress.

The Lounge Lizards music of the mid ’90s seemed built around tightly composed sections that led into sections of solos and improvisations. How strict were you with each player adhering to the composition and how much freedom did you offer the band during the improvised moments?

The composed sections were pretty strict. One or two players could possibly stray from what was written depending on the section. I would try to give each of them a chance to stretch out in a solo at some point live. Freedom was there but then it wasn’t. If someone did a solo that was perfect for that piece in Brussels, three weeks before, I would play it for them and try to get them back to it. Also, on recordings, the nature of the CDs should really not have been waiting 12 minutes for the musician to find it. So in some ways the solo had to be structured.

Did you feel the Queen of All Ears record accurately captured the strength of the band at the time or were you better represented in a live setting?

We were far better live than in the recording studio. Just hearing what is going on is difficult with that many players. There are bits on Queen of All Ears – like ‘First and Royal Queen,’ ‘Scary Children,’ the softer, more composed ones that work, but that thing we could get live- that ecstatic roar- just was never there.

Miles Davis and Frank Zappa were two terrific players, but were perhaps equally as renown for their ability to recruit top-flight talent for their bands. You also fit that description, with your bands having included John Medeski, Steven Bernstein, Michael Blake, Marc Ribot, David Tronzo, Billy Martin, Jane Scarpantoni, and the list goes on and on. What are you listening or looking for when you select your musicians?

How they fit together is important. For example, if the drummer is macho, then the bass player has to be a little lenient. There is a big masculine/feminine thing in who I hire. Not male/female but just a sense of who is sensitive and who is strong. It is best to have both in the same person, but if you don’t, then you need to balance it out. I have hired some musicians without even hearing them play; just seeing how they pack up their instrument after talking to them can be enough.

A favorite of jamband audiences is Medeski, Martin, and Wood. At one point in the ’90s, Billy Martin and John Medeski were Lounge Lizards. Can you talk about how Medeski came to be in the band and what he brought to the band’s sound?

Billy Martin (percussion/drums) was in the band for a long time. He kept talking about Medeski. He kind of ending up filling the void that happened when (David) Tronzo and Evan (Lurie, John’s brother) left the band. Medeski can really, really play. And he is real and spontaneous. This is actually rare – you often meet people who can play but they just are a little phony in a way because of how much they studied. So the music is not really coming from them. John was a delight. I really got to use him more on the Get Shorty soundtrack than in the band.

In the chronology of the band, 1998 seems to be one of the higher points; you’re playing sold-out shows here in the U.S. and in Europe and Asia, Queen of All Ears is released, you’re appearing on Conan O’Brien’s show, and yet a year later there seems to be a collision of interests with your Fishing with John television series and the Marvin Pontiac release. Subsequently the Lounge Lizards fades away completely, save for a few anniversary shows. What happened?

No, it wasn’t really a collision of interests. There was a horrible fiasco with the Knitting Factory for our 20th anniversary that really put a damper on things for the band. My health was really getting strange and I had to pull back on stuff. I had started my own label to put out the Lounge Lizards music, but then had to do Hollywood film scores to keep it going financially. It was just becoming too much business and not enough music. But the release of the fishing show was just a coincidence. Marvin [Pontiac, the name of his next studio project] came a year or two later.

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Comments

There are 17 comments associated with this post

Leonard February 4, 2011, 04:53:50

oh man i gotta admit Lurie is genius and annoyingly talented. Any art form he touches becomes magical and extraordinary. I bet people hate him for that. Well it seems like tad friend did.
such an immature and irresponsible journalism

Maria February 4, 2011, 13:21:36

Great interview, thanks for posting. You should also check out this beautiful article about John Lurie:
http://theartblog.org/2011/01/john-lurie-from-another-perspective/

Sam February 4, 2011, 18:30:15

http://staires.org/audio/1937

Arthur February 4, 2011, 19:49:41

Apparently it’s not so black or white – I highly suggest reading this recently published piece which gives what seems to be an accurate account of both people involved in what’s now considered “John Lurie’s Stalker Situation”. http://staires.org/audio/1937 Maybe we are doing him wrong by perpetuating something that does appear to be fishy, at the very least. As a fan of John Lurie and his work throughout the years I sure would not want to be considered an enabler of something it is purely wrong.

Bertha February 5, 2011, 11:46:06

I tried reading that piece at http://staires.org/audio/1937 but it is so badly written and mean spirited. I can’t believe this guy shared his personal email exchanges with John Lurie without his consent. It’s obvious that his only intention was to screw up Lurie. Shame on you stuyvesant

john February 5, 2011, 15:46:08

Between Larson Sutton and You
John Perry February 4 at 10:54pm
Dear Mr. Sutton, I cannot take issue with your having said in your article that I have a history of violence. It’s true, I have twice confronted individuals who have either threatened my life or harmed me without provocation, and once used violence to defend myself and overcome two criminals who broke into my home, knocked out four of my teeth, split my head open in five places, and bit part of my ear off. It’s also true that I have a criminal record. One arrest for one of the confrontations previously mentioned, one arrest for smoking weed on the subway in 1993 and one arrest for not backing down to two off-duty police men who unlawfully entered my building to view a rental apartment. What I do take exception to is your having written that I have a “tendency toward predatory behavior”. What evidence do you have that would support such a statement? Also you asked a reasonable question of John Lurie: “why has he not filed charges against me?”.
I can’t help but think that you asked that question because it is a perfectly reasonable one. If someone had actually threatened you, or you believed that they intended to kill you, wouldn’t your natural instinct for self-preservation override any “practical or spiritual” concern? It would for me. I don’t blame you for wanting to help John.
It seems clear that you have known him, or of him, for some time; however, I would submit to you that you are helping him in the same way that a friend gives money to a junkie because he believes it will quell his pain. Say what you like, think what you like, and write what you like, but please stick to the facts and limit your opinions of people to those you know. Best regards, John Perry
Larson Sutton February 5 at 12:09am Report
Mr. Perry, Thank you very much for your letter. It is not unexpected, as these past two days have been filled with surprise with regards to the reactions generated by the interview. I’ve come to be less surprised by the surprises. I also appreciate your candor and your disclosure of past incidents from your life. I will not dispute those. However, the following is a direct reprint of the introduction to which I believe you are referring: What had become a life restricted, with little activity outside of his home for six years due to his illness, morphed into surreal in 2008. That is when a onetime friend of Lurie’s turned into his stalker; a man with, according to an August 2010 article in the New Yorker, an admitted history of violence, arrest record, and tendency toward predatory behavior began a series of threatening emails and phone calls. Coupled with his tenuous health, Lurie faced the unimaginable- leaving his home and going into hiding. Moving in and out of the country, and concerned for his safety, Lurie tried to remain positive. A few weeks after his 58th birthday, Lurie conducted the following interview via email, still under significant duress. I wish to isolate this fragment from the introduction, not to patronize you but to illustrate a point: a man with, according to an August 2010 article in the New Yorker, an admitted history of violence, arrest record, and tendency toward predatory behavior began a series of threatening emails and phone calls. What I have written is directly attributed to the article in the New Yorker magazine. I, myself, do not claim to know personally of your history of violence, arrest record, or predatory behavior. I know what the New Yorker reported in its article. That is why I have attributed it as such. If you take exception to the phrase, ‘predatory behavior,’ as it is not a direct quote from the article but rather it is a description of behavior based on opinion, then you are correct. It is based on opinion- that of a licensed psychologist I consulted while writing this piece. The psychologist was presented with the same article as I, and I asked how to best describe the activity of the man in question (yourself). His clinical term was, ‘tendency toward predatory behavior,’ based on the information provided in Friend’s piece. I will not speculate as to the doctor’s rationale for making such a claim. I believe questions in such areas of physical and psychological capability are best left to the experts, to which I deferred. I will not presume how you feel about such an assessment, but I can understand your taking exception to this description, as you may very well feel quite differently about yourself. As such, you have every right to challenge and dispute the description, but it was not written without clinical corroboration. Despite much of what others do online these days, I do not offer speculation in areas of which I’m not an expert. Furthermore, you are a ‘public figure,’ at this stage in your life, thanks to both the article and your career as an artist. Public figures, under law, are subjected to much more criticism, scrutiny, and at times, opinion. If you wish to avoid being portrayed by opinion, I would suggest returning to private life. Additionally, unlike blogs, this interview was not posted without being reviewed by the editors of the site, the chief editor of which maintains a law degree from Columbia University. They take very seriously the content of website. The following is an inference at best, but I’m correctly or incorrectly assuming that you believe I’m a friend of Mr. Lurie’s and “wanting to help” him. I appreciate John’s artistic contributions in film, art, and especially music. I have met John Lurie on three occasions; the first in 1995 as a backstage guest of one of the Lounge Lizards. I spoke to him again briefly at a Lounge Lizards show in 1998 in Los Angeles. Finally, I spoke to him briefly at a book signing in Los Angeles in 2007. I would not classify Mr. Lurie as a friend, but I have certainly come to know more about him over the course of our email interview. How the interview helps or harms Mr. Lurie is not within my control, nor was it a consideration when proposing the interview to Mr. Lurie. 2011 will mark the 30-year-anniversary of the first Lounge Lizards release, and I felt, given his seclusion, his curious fanbase, and the recent events made public by the New Yorker article, this may be an opportune time to interview Mr. Lurie. He agreed. Finally, I’m guessing that you read the entire interview and not just the introduction or the questions concerning yourself. Of the 25 questions asked of Mr. Lurie, only two were direct questions about you. The other questions regarding your dispute were asked with regards to the New Yorker article, and the reporting by its author. Furthermore, in total, the questions asked about the article and your dispute represents roughly 20% of the piece. The other 80% consists of questions restricted to Mr. Lurie’s career, mainly his musical one. Finally, and I believe this is a fitting way to conclude this letter; unlike the New Yorker and many if not all of the hobbyists masking as writers floating around cyberspace, at no time did I use your name in the piece, and, in fact, when Mr. Lurie referred to you by name, I informed him that I would not be using your name in the publication. My reasoning for this is clear. While it may require but a quick internet search to ascertain your identity, I felt this article was intended to discuss his career and his reaction to the article, not to discuss John Perry. Should the topic arise, I felt your name should not be included. I would hope that you recognize this in the spirit it was intended. Thank you for your time. I hope this satisfies your concern. -Larson Sutton
John Perry February 5 at 7:45am
Dear Mr. Sutton, I clearly made an error in judgment. I thought I was writing a letter from one human being to another. Based on your response, I find simply another writer making excuses for having written exactly what they wanted without any regard for the truth, and subsequent explanations inferring that they are protected from litigation.
In essence: “What I did was wrong…
...but not illegal!” If you truly feel that having had an assessment of my psychological state based on Tad Friend’s cowardly (in my opinion) piece of journalism is valid, don’t you think you should have cited that doctor? As you did not cite the doctor, and as that phrase did not appear in the New Yorker, you know, as well as I, that statement is your responsibility. I hadn’t realized I was a public figure (until you mentioned it) but after looking it up, I see, unfortunately, under the circumstances, I have become one.
I am well aware, public figures are (I think you meant to say) entitled to less protection under the law, just as I am well aware that Conde-Nast has a limitless budget and agreements with many of the top New York law firms to avoid prosecution on first amendment issues.
I’ll be advised soon enough if you do as well. Regardless, considering the tenor of your response I see that you have no intention of accepting responsibility (as a human being) that what you wrote, or the steps you took-rather did not take-to support your statements were, at best, unprofessional. As far as your suggesting that I return to private life, nothing would please me better.
Please tell me how such a thing is done.
Thank you for the advice. Also, you did not address my question about your query to John as to why he he did not, and has not, pursued legal action against me.
I submit, again, that you asked John a perfectly reasonable question, and was given a patently ridiculous answer.
I, myself, implored him very early on to have me arrested, and still hope he will, knowing full well he will not, as a revelation of the facts to an impartial jury would, produce a satisfactory end to this miserable charade for me, and overwhelming shame and embarrassment for John. You question to John remains, and your motivation for asking it are what I hope you will re-visit with John. That you are a “writer”, as you say, and not simply a “hobbyist”, I take it, is directed, in part, at either Stuyvesant Parker or Marc Campbell, or both. If you possessed a fraction of the courage that either of they have, you would ask John to provide you with some support (besides his word) for his claims, as both of they did. Any “writer” would. Just as any “writer” knows that information presented in an article written by another “writer” are an unacceptable substitute for research, weaker still as raw material to be presented to an expert who has been asked, and deferred to, to make a valuation as to the mental state of a subject.
What did your psychologist say about John, based on Tad’s article? Or didn’t you ask? If you can find the backbone to press John for evidence- beyond his word- to support any of his claims that I have even once threatened to kill him, or any quantitative evidence that would be necessary to support a claim of stalking, you will quickly find yourself no longer in his favor; an outcome you seemingly, at this point, will do anything to avoid at the expense of logic, journalistic integrity, and just plain fairness. You point out that 80% of your article is about John’s work.
Fine.
20% of an article implying a person is guilty of a crime of which they have not been convicted, is 20% too much. Don’t you agree? Finally, your explanation for the omission of my name is puzzling.
Not only did I not mention it, you tell me it requires only a quick internet search to ascertain my identity, and that your article is meant to discuss only John’s career.
You say those things, not to assure me that I would not be further slandered,- as I was in your piece and the NY-er, but, as though I was displeased not to have been mentioned, or as though it is of some benefit to me to be yet again be associated with the label “stalker”. Strange. Regards,
John Perry
Larson Sutton February 5 at 12:26pm Report
Mr. Perry- Here’s how this ends for me. I thank you for your time and your comments. When presenting to the public, one is subject to the both the praise and criticism of the public. I accept your criticism. However, if you cannot accept that identity theft, repeated phone calls, waiting outside one’s apartment, emailed threats, and the expressed suggestion of continuing such behavior, all of which you have admitted to in the New Yorker article, as the action of stalking, which by definition is : to pursue obsessively and to the point of harassment, then we have a difference of opinion and a semantic disagreement at best. Not everyone is going to agree that the actions to which you have admitted are acceptable behavior. For the record, your name never appeared once in my interview. Thank you for your time. -Larson Sutton
John Perry February 5 at 3:42pm
Mr. Sutton. Again, your last email speaks exactly to my point. You cite the New Yorker as if it accurate with regards to me, yet are willing to accept John Lurie’s statement, without question, that it is not with regards to him. “However, if you cannot accept that identity theft, repeated phone calls, waiting outside one’s apartment, emailed threats, and the expressed suggestion of continuing such behavior, all of which you have admitted to in the New Yorker article, as the action of stalking, which by definition is : to pursue obsessively and to the point of harassment, then we have a difference of opinion and a semantic disagreement at best.” Does it actually make sense to cite as proof that I did something, by pointing out it says in a magazine I did? Especially when you have access to the person who could (cannot actually) provide you, firsthand, proof if only you ask. Why do you also say: “For the record, your name never appeared once in my interview.” Did you not read the paragraph wherein I acknowledged you had not? Also does your responding to some of my questions and not others mean the unanswered ones never actually existed? Does that then also mean if I close my eyes nobody can see me? Yes, Mr Sutton…
...When presenting to the public, one is subject to the both the praise and criticism of the public. John Perry Reply: * * * Attach: * Photo * Video * Link

James February 5, 2011, 23:21:27

I have been trying to reach Perry’s emails. My brains hurts. I hope it is not contagious

James February 5, 2011, 23:23:01

I have been trying to reach Perry’s emails. My brain hurts. I hope it is not contagious

Allan February 6, 2011, 00:07:12

from the looks of this, i imagine Lurie was hoping Perry would get psychological help rather than sending his friend to jail

dean February 6, 2011, 10:42:14

I read this interview. Then I read the New yorker article. Then I read the comments. Then I read the blogs. All I can say is this whole thing is FUBAR. I don’t know crap about art. I’m more of a music guy, but if I could ask this guy johnperrynyc something, assuming it’s the real John Perry, it would be this. Did you call Lurie 30,40 times in a row like the New Yorker says? Did you call the cable company pretending to be him like the New Yorker says? Did you say you would do it again like the New Yorker says? Did you threaten this guy with emails like it says? I’d want a yes or no answer from him,like in the military, no bullsh.. excuses. Because if the New Yorker is lying, then you should sue the New Yorker. And it’s libel, not slander, dude. And for Lurie, I’d ask, if all this crap is really happening to you still, why haven’t you had this guy arrested? I’d have his ass in jail.

Marty Jourard May 1, 2011, 18:20:20

John Lurie wants to spend his time and energy creating art. The stalker apparently wants to spend his time and energy harassing someone who wants to create art.
The stalker strikes me as a complete asshole, period.

zara May 16, 2012, 04:43:42

The New Yorker should be shut down this is an outrage. this happens so often people dont even know and it can go on for yrs . i’m happy he went to a detective there are feds that know about these groups of stalkers and they do this more than once. even just this one guy i am sure he has done this to others. John is telling the truth, he is right its easier for ppl to think u are crazy than realize there are ppl out there like that. he is talented , so funny and smart.. i’d love to own some fo his art.

Jeff December 6, 2013, 21:54:31

This was a great read. Lots of info on John’s musical career. Check out a new interview with him on Quotes Yes, where he reveals that another Marvin Pontiac record is possible. Read it here: http://quotesyes.com/2013/12/02/john-lurie-interview/

Greg Guro February 2, 2011, 19:08:16

A very thorough and succinct article. John Lurie is a fantastic artist and a treasure. I’d be one of the first to buy an autobiography. I know he can do it!

Tim February 2, 2011, 22:28:02

great interview. great artist.

Isabel February 3, 2011, 02:38:34

I knew it! I knew something was wrong with the New Yorker article. Shame on you New Yorker for making fun of such a heartbreaking and horrible story.

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