MAT MARTIN | Noises & Bravery

5 March, 2011, 01:50

Blog · Reference · Writing

John Lurie
John Lurie

I have been listening to John Lurie. A lot. I bought a record of some of his film music whilst on tour in Hamburg last year and haven’t been able to get it out from under my skin. It led me to The Lounge Lizards, to his alter-ego Marvin Pontiac (the insane African-Jewish musician), and to his altogether seminal and quite charming tv series Fishing with John. All of these things have pleased me greatly.

They have also led me back towards Marc Ribot, and out towards Arto Lindsay (the latter must without doubt be the international authority on how to make scratchy noises owith an electric guitar). Of course I was already sold on Jim Jarmusch’s movies. In all of these things there is a bravery of movement tempered with an ability to hold the tongue which I continue to find nothing short of inspiring.

The whole scene, in fact – or at least those bits of it I’ve been wallowing in of late – seems to give out this careful yet nonchalant cool which comes from an economy, even restraint, of expressive means which is distinctly at odds with the directness and immediacy of the gestures that make up these pieces. I suspect it is the inner tension between these that gives the work its engaging tautness.

Take Lurie’s music for Jarmusch’s Down By Law as an example. Swathes of this collection of delicious noises are made up of single lines, single pitches even. Repeated. Paused. Repeated. You are drawn directly into the detail of the playing. The breath behind the harmonica. The attack of the banjo. The sharpness of the tone. A repeated pitch hardly represents a melody. Rhythmically we are talking about a regular pattern, too. This is music that in places pulls itself into a line so tight that there is nothing but texture left, and it’s hard to resist the compulsion to run your fingers over it.

The point is that the detail is erased by the whole. The destination more important than the way in which you arrive. You hear this in Ribot’s playing all the time. It’s rough, he reaches for things that should be outside of his grasp, both physically and musically, and he grabs them. It works. It fails. It is taut. These guys know how to land, brush themselves down and saunter away in a single movement. No wonder they refer to hip guys as cats.

The moral of these stories? I guess you should shut up until you know what to say, then say it like you mean it, and stop thinking about grammar. And mind you don’t cut your fingers.

tagged: · · · · ·