by Steven Pisano
Even back in his heyday, in the 1980s and 1990s, it was a challenge to pin down John Lurie. Was he a band leader (Lounge Lizards)? Was he a film composer (Get Shorty--which garnered him a Grammy nomination)? Was he a first-rate saxophonist? Was he an African American-Jewish singer called Marvin Pontiac, a fictional character he created? Was he an actor, appearing in Jim Jarmusch and Wim Wenders movies, as well as in such TV shows as HBO's long-running prison drama, Oz?
The answer is: John Lurie was all of these things!
But then, seemingly all of a sudden, he was none of those things. Lurie went from being one of the most active and arguably "coolest" participants in the New York music and film worlds, to being forced to drop out of that life due to the debilitating effects of advanced Lyme disease. Since he couldn't perform music, John Lurie has spent most of the past decade painting.
But, Lurie was definitely ripe for a look back at the rich body of music he had created in his prime. This past Saturday at Town Hall, Le Poisson Rouge presented Strange and Beautiful: A Celebration of the Music of John Lurie, the Lounge Lizards, and Marvin Pontiac, part of a multi-concert tribute celebrating Lurie's work. In some ways, the show felt like a wake, remembering a past life gone. But there was no corpse at this wake, and the theatre was very much alive with music, like a New Orleans funeral.