You might recognize John Lurie from his new and inventive HBO series, Painting with John. The episodes, all scored with weird jazz, feel like a delightfully unpredictable twist on Bob Ross. If Ross reflected candidly on music, existence, art, and a wild urban youth. Lurie has a lot of stories to tell. Being a lifelong musician and noted actor, he’s crossed paths with some of the greats: Jim Jarmusch, Matt Dillon, Tom Waits, Willem Dafoe and Dennis Hopper, to name a few. And it’s those friends who joined Lurie for his first — and mostly forgotten — early 90’s TV show: Fishing with John.
John Lurie is an American artist. A diagnosis of chronic Lyme disease in 2000 has driven his recent dedication to painting but before that, Lurie had an eclectic career that spanned decades and mediums. As a founding member of The Lounge Lizards, a New York jazz ensemble, he was a major player in the city’s avant-garde scene emerging through the ’80s and ’90s. The Lounge Lizards were famous for their ironic, deconstructive take on the genre — even dubbed “no wave” music for their nihilistic, noise experimentation. Lurie also acted, starring in director Jim Jarmusch‘s post-NYU debut Stranger than Paradise. This early movie, shot in black-and-white on a shoestring budget, became an indie cinema landmark and set Jarmusch apart as a filmmaker to watch.
John Lurie later starred in another Jarmusch picture, Down by Law, and appeared in more modern classics: Paris, Texas and The Last Temptation of Christ. Behind the camera, Lurie also worked the score for more than 20 films, including Get Shorty, which earned him a Grammy nomination. It was those projects that introduced Lurie to the men who would eventually become his celebrity fishing buddies on Fishing with John.
‘Fishing with John’
Fishing with John premiered in 1991 on Bravo and IFC. Since then, it’s been released by the Criterion Collection, signaling the cultural relevance of the off-beat journeys pictured. Each of the six episodes features a different fishing trip with a different guest.
With his friend and longtime collaborator Jim Jarmusch, Lurie fishes for shark off the coast of Montauk, New York in the pilot episode. In episode two, Lurie and musician Tom Waits — who co-starred with Lurie in Jarmusch’s Down By Law — hunt for red snapper in Jamaica. Lurie later revealed that a seasick Waits became so annoyed with him that they didn’t talk for two years! In the third episode, Matt Dillon fishes with Lurie in Costa Rica. (This mismatched pairing was arranged by the producers.) Episode four finds Lurie in a new environment, ice fishing in northern Maine, with actor Willem Dafoe. The final two episodes both feature Dennis Hopper in an extended narrative set in Thailand that revolves around the search for an elusive giant squid.
The theme song and score of Fishing with John, arranged by Lurie himself, contribute to the fantastical atmosphere of the outings, as does Robb Webb’s meandering voice-over narration. John Lurie is no fishing expert, as the small disasters caught on film make apparent. But his persistent, unusual premise — a documentary-style nature(ish) show, peppered with surreal and awkward anecdotes — heightened the travel genre to an edgy form: a concept later popularized, and perfected, by Anthony Bourdain. And if you enjoy these old, star-studded clips, check out Painting with John on HBO. New episodes every Friday!
Episode 1: Jim Jarmusch
Episode 2: Tom Waits
Episode 3: Matt Dillon
Episode 4: Willem Dafoe
Episodes 5 & 6: Dennis Hopper