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

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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