Tom Waits Fishing with John Lurie: ‘Like Waiting for Godot on Water’

in Television, Video - Arts & Culture | February 6th, 2012

John Lurie is a musician, actor and artist. He’s also a horrible fisherman.

As saxophonist and leader of the punk-jazz group the Lounge Lizards, Lurie emerged as a cult figure in New York’s downtown arts scene in the 1980s, and the deal was cemented with his surly, straight-faced performances in Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise and Down by Law. As writer Tad Friend put it in a 2010 New Yorker article, “Between Fourteenth Street and Canal–the known universe, basically–he was the man.”

In 1991 Lurie ventured outside that universe, into the middle-American realm of the TV fishing show. With backing from Japanese investors, he assembled a film crew and invited some famous friends–Jarmusch, Tom Waits, Willem Dafoe, Dennis Hopper and Matt Dillon–on a series of improbable fishing trips. Fishing with John, as the series is called, builds on the deadpan, journey-to-nowhere sensibility of Stranger than Paradise: nothing much happens.

But that’s the point. As a reviewer for the Los Angeles Times saidFishing with John is “like Waiting for Godot on water.” The pleasure is in observing people so utterly out of their element. It’s like watching Marlin Perkins or Curt Gowdy wander into a SoHo performance art happening.

In the episode above, Tom Waits doesn’t believe his ears when a Jamaican fishing guide tells him what time to get up in the morning: “Five o’clock?” Waits reportedly didn’t speak to Lurie for two years afterward. “I dunno why I ever let you talk me into this,” he grumbles. “It’s the most absurd thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

In addition to the Waits episode, you can watch the Jim Jarmusch segment online or own the entire series (six episodes, 147 minutes) on the Criterion Collection DVD, which includes commentary by Lurie. And to learn about what Lurie has been up to since the series was made–his struggle with the neurological effects of Lyme disease, his hiding out from an alleged stalker, his new focus on painting–be sure to read Larson Sutton’s 2011 interview with Lurie at H/T Biblioklept


Related Content:

Jim Jarmusch: The Art of the Music in His Films

Tom Waits Reads Charles Bukowski

Tom Waits Makes Comic Appearance on Fernwood Tonight (1977)

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Comments (5)

  1. muffin says . . .
    February 6, 2012 / 3:01 pm

    as a huge fan of the show, i appreciate reading the fantastic reviews of the dvd that have been popping up recently.

    but as an even bigger fan of john lurie himself, i feel compelled to point out that the new yorker article which you have links to has been almost universally acknowledged as garbage. by everyone it seems at this point except tad friend.

    for a much more interesting and relevant take on john lurie and his life today, read


  2. Mike Springer says . . .
    February 6, 2012 / 7:31 pm

    Thank you for your helpful comment. After reflecting on the matter, I’ve decided to change my reading recommendation at the bottom of the article.

  3. Julian says . . .
    November 2, 2012 / 5:52 pm

    Nice article. I am a longtime fan of John Lurie. He’s someone that I’ve always held as a sort of role model – he’s someone that has inspired my own creative endeavors. I always wished Fishing With John went on longer.

  4. stephania says . . .
    December 15, 2012 / 11:45 pm

    my favorite show! this is a great video interview with john lurie about the show

  5. george says . . .
    December 30, 2012 / 8:03 pm

    this is a really nice review about one of the greatest shows. i am disappointed that you mentioned that outrageous new yorker article though. you should check this blog:

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