Catching Up With John Lurie

The world of music has seemed a much less colorful and interesting place in the years since John Lurie stopped recording. The former leader of NYC jazz ensemble The Lounge Lizards, film score composer and occasional collaborator with the likes of Tom Waits, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Ryuichi Sakamoto, the 65-year-old artist had to put down his trusted saxophone due to the fallout of contracted Advance Lyme Disease. He instead funneled his energies into the dual pursuits of visual art and his Twitter account, both of which are marked by his arch sense of humor and biting political commentary.

New attention is being drawn to Lurie's musical efforts of both past and present this year, thanks to the return of his artistic alter ego Marvin Pontiac. The character - a mentally unstable outsider folk-blues musician inspired by the guitar music of Mali and the blues harmonica of Little Walter - is one that he cooked up in the late '90s to accompany a self-released album of almost childlike tunes called simply Greatest Hits, featuring a stunning array of his New York brethren like guitarist Marc Ribot, keyboardist John Medeski, and vocalist Angelique Kidjo. While the 1999 CD of this album has gone out of print, it will be back in circulation via Northern Spy Records, who are re-releasing it as a limited vinyl edition this coming Record Store Day.

The reissue comes on the heels of a brand new Marvin Pontiac release that was snuck into the world late last year. Called The Asylum Tapes, the digital-only album is supposedly a collection of recently unearthed recordings found in a Detroit mental institution, with Lurie playing with various blues and folk tropes with the tossed-off earthiness of Jandek's '80s-era recordings.

AD caught up with Lurie via email to discuss the legend of Marvin Pontiac and check up on the health and well being of one of our favorite musicians.

Aquarium Drunkard: How are you feeling these days? How is the state of your health?

John Lurie: That is not a question I can answer simply. Advanced Lyme is the weirdest. The way it comes and goes and how the symptoms switch from one thing to another. I am certainly better than I was.

AD: How does it feel to be putting music out into the world again?

John Lurie: Wonderful. Horrible. Everything in between. Felt like an accomplishment to get it done. I owe Nesrin Wolf and Pat Dillett quite a bit. Also James Yost.

AD: Why did you decide to return to the world of Marvin Pontiac instead of releasing music under your own name?

John Lurie: The world of Marvin Pontiac had been created and is a nice place for me to visit. Because this is mostly, guitar, banjo, harmonica and vocal, it made much more sense to do a Marvin Pontiac record. John Lurie’s musical world radiated from the saxophone which I cannot play anymore. Christ, you have turned me into one of those people who talks about himself in the third person.

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