John Lurie

lurie by basquiat

John Lurie (b. 1952) is an American actor, musician, painter, director and producer. He is co-founder of The Lounge Lizards, a jazz ensemble. Lurie has acted in 19 films including ‘Stranger than Paradise’ and ‘Down by Law,’ composed and performed music for 20 television and film works, and he produced and starred in ‘Fishing with John,’ a 1991 television series.

In 1996 his soundtrack for ‘Get Shorty’ was nominated for a Grammy Award. For five years he appeared in the HBO television show ‘Oz.’ Suffering from chronic Lyme disease since 2000, Lurie refocused his attention on painting. His primitivist art works have shown in galleries around the world. His painting ‘Bear Surprise’ became an internet meme in Russia in 2006.

In high school, Lurie played basketball and harmonica. He jammed on harmonica with Mississippi Fred McDowell, and with Canned Heat around 1968. He played harmonica in a band from Boston, but it did not work out. He switched to guitar and then saxophone. After high school, Lurie hitchhiked across the U.S., seeing a lot of places including Berkeley, California. He moved to New York City around 1974, then briefly visited London where the punk music scene was beginning—it did not appeal to him. He was more interested in avant-garde jazz and no wave.

In 1978, he formed The Lounge Lizards with his brother Evan Lurie. The Lounge Lizards, initially a ‘fake jazz’ combo, has included artists such as Arto Lindsay, Calvin Weston, Billy Martin, Oren Bloedow, Steve Bernstein, Marc Ribot, and Erik Sanko, among others. The band continued to make music for 20 years. During this time, Lurie recorded 22 albums and composed scores for over 20 movies.

During the 1980s he starred in three films directed by Jim Jarmusch, ‘Stranger Than Paradise,’ ‘Down by Law,’ and ‘Permanent Vacation.’

In 1999, Lurie released the album ‘The Legendary Marvin Pontiac–Greatest Hits,’ which was purportedly a posthumous collection of the work of an insane African-Jewish musician named Marvin Pontiac. Pontiac, however, was a fictional character created by Lurie, and the music was written by Lurie. Performers on the album include Lurie, John Medeski, Billy Martin, G. Calvin Weston, Marc Ribot, and Tony Scherr. The album received praise from David Bowie, Angelique Kidjo, Iggy Pop, Leonard Cohen, and others, who were in on the joke, and a fictional ‘biography’ was published by Allmusic.

In New York City, he has lived with a girlfriend but has not married. The artist Jean-Michel Basquiat slept on Lurie’s apartment floor for a few days at a time, on and off over a couple of years, leaving studies and artwork behind. In cleaning his apartment, Lurie says he may have thrown away ‘millions of dollars worth’ of art.

In 2010, Tad Friend wrote a piece in ‘The New Yorker’ about Lurie disappearing from New York, hiding from an artist named John Perry, whom Friend said was stalking Lurie. Perry and Lurie had a falling out over an incomplete documentary film shoot.

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