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Published: 2011/02/01
by Larson Sutton

John Lurie Sustains

That raises two questions. First, you referred to your health, “getting strange.” Meaning what?

I had, what they called at the time, ‘chronic fatigue syndrome.’ I later discovered it was Lyme. I had had Lyme in 1994. I could do what I needed to do but would just collapse for a month or so after a tour. I was dizzy and aching all the time. I knew something was wrong but thought maybe it was just exhaustion. So, in 2000, I decided to stop everything.

On the Marvin Pontiac record, you moved away from being the sax player you were in the Lounge Lizards, to being a singer, guitar player, and harmonica blower. Did the growing effects of your illness have any influence over the choice to do this record, under a pseudonym no less, and kind of remove yourself from the pressures of being the bandleader of the Lounge Lizards?

No, the pseudonym was because I can’t sing and didn’t really want to put out a John Lurie Sings! album. No, I wasn’t so sick yet. (It) was just a project.

So without having any sense of what debilitating effect the illness would eventually have, how comfortable, in hindsight, are you with Marvin Pontiac being your last major recording? I would imagine you have a lot left to say musically?

Well, I am more uncomfortable that we were never able to really capture what was great about the Lizards, except in moments, on record. I am proud of the Marvin Pontiac CD – maybe this project was just better suited to recording than the band, but I don’t mind that it was my last CD.

Can you describe what your daily life is like battling the disease, and why it has forced you to stop playing music?

The disease is odd. Migrating neurological problems. One day my vision is nuts, migraine aura. There is another one that is really crazy where everything looks like it is made of static electricity. The next day, my left leg won’t work. Music became more like the sound of fingernails on a blackboard. The sound of two plates clinking together would just kill me. Music with a beat, particularly an insistent, irritating beat, would just send my sympathetic nervous system into hell. I am a good deal better now. My daily life, since the stalker- that is almost impossible to explain. It is so strange to have had a disease that no one really believed or understood and then this threat of a psycho freak that no one really believed or understood.

Interviewer’s note: In August of 2010, the New Yorker magazine published a lengthy article making public a situation in Lurie’s personal life. Subsequent to the article’s release, several blogs and their attached reader comments have disputed writer Tad Friend’s account, including omission of facts and quotes out of context.

The New Yorker detailed a situation in your personal life in which a onetime friend had become a stalker of yours, threatening physical harm through emails and phone calls beginning sometime in 2008. What did you think of the article?

The article was so undignified, so wildly inaccurate, that I don’t know what to say about it. And this was in the New Yorker, a magazine that I used to trust.

Can you point to one or two things about the article that you find most egregious?

It was supposed to be an article about my life and work. I think interviewing someone’s stalker and writing what they tell you as fact, with confirmation from nowhere, is fairly egregious. If my stalker told them that he took care of me when I was ill- something that is absurdly untrue- it is in the article as though it happened. Evidence and witnesses were ignored to tell the stalker’s account of the hideous things he did and is still doing. All the seething obsession of this guy has been cleaned away, making him appear to be a rational starving artist. The inception of the problem is so muddled that the reader might think the stalker had a legitimate reason for doing what he was doing. I have documented Advanced Lyme disease and it is passed off as a mysterious ailment. The writer seems to be obsessed with fame. If I spoke to a stranger in Starbucks, the writer’s take on it was that I was hoping to be recognized, which I think is pretty sick. If someone was to recognize me at a Starbucks in Joshua Tree, I believe I would have fainted. And, of course, the mis-quotes were a charming addition.

At one point, early on in the harassment, you had the opportunity to file charges with the police and you declined. Do you regret that decision?

I felt that practically and spiritually this was the wrong way to go.

How about you, practically and spiritually? Did all of these recent trials ever find you depressed? Or was it more anger and confusion as to why it was happening?

Anger. Depression. Baffled. All three. All I am guilty of is doing an unstable person a favor and agreeing to do an article with a magazine that was once reputable. Look at what has happened to my life.

I understand from a recent, very bizarre email several weeks ago from the man that this situation is not over?

Well, the eeriest thing about that email is that I had only been home for three days after being gone for two years. And the freak sends me the strangest email that ends in “WELCOME BACK.” No one knew I was back. Two days later I began getting a series of calls from pay phones in my neighborhood and then someone came and leaned on my doorbell buzzer for two minutes. I thought the buzzer had broken but then the pay phone calls started again a couple of minutes later. A writer contacted me because he found the New Yorker article somewhat off and wanted to do a piece on it. He also called the stalker. Then I guess he thought he would try to do the human thing and asked if they could mediate the situation. The stalker said he would only sit down with me if I took out a full-page ad in the New Yorker admitting my lies. But the gist of the conversation was that he was on a mission to teach me a lesson because of who I am. And he admitted that it was him calling. So, no I don’t think so.

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