The History of Bones: A Memoir
by John Lurie (Random House)
Review by Lee Sobel (1/3/22)
5 out of 5 stars
John Lurie is a downtown Manhattan institution. At one time he seemed to
be everywhere: playing gigs with his "fake jazz" band The Lounge Lizards, starring in Jim Jarmusch movies or making cameos in movies like David Lynch's "Wild at Heart." I am a John Lurie fan and I like that there isn't a
fake bone in his body (not trying to make a pun here since the book is
called "The History of Bones").
Why the title? I assume he is "making his bones" while "making no bones" about what he has endured while having such a prolific creative life. Only
in the last ten years did I become aware of what an amazing painter John Lurie is as well. Is there anything he can't do?
I actually met him once and, completely unrelated, had an awkward phone conversation with him. The meeting was when I was promoting a music
event in the early 2000's at a long-gone nightclub called "219 Flamingo" on Second Avenue in the east village. He kind of stumbled into the bar as we were setting things up and he wanted to get a drink so I bought him a Maker's Mark -- I probably remember that because I used to drink that myself. He seemed a little confused but was perfectly nice and I was kind of in awe to meet him. The phone conversation happened about ten years later when I had an idea for a book about cutting edge filmmakers I wanted to write and I had interviewed Lurie's "Stranger Than Paradise" co-star Richard Edson who gave me Lurie's email. Out of the blue I got a phone call from Lurie and he was in mid-sentence when I answered the phone as if he'd started talking to me before I even said hello. At the time he was dealing with a stalker and I believe he was attempting to sue The New Yorker magazine for an article that had come out about him that he felt was slanderous lies about his personal life. John was also suffering from Lyme's disease so he definitely was not in the best of moods. He also made it clear to me that he didn't really want to talk about "Stranger Than Paradise" or he didn't have much to say about it and that's pretty much what you get in this book -- the movie gets a couple of brief anecdotes and he gripes a bit about Jim Jarmusch but if you're expecting him to delve into the movie in great detail you will be disappointed.
There is a lot of Lurie griping in this book so if you don't like griping then you will probably not want to read this book. I don't mind griping. I'm a New Yorker and I grew up griping so I'm used to it. Lurie gripes with great humor - I got the sense that as he was complaining about crappy sound systems at shows his band played or the horrendous treatment he received by movie executives (at one point during a problem with a movie he is scoring he receives a call from a gangster warning him to back down), he seems to be kind of enjoying venting about it and he seems to find the humor in the whole thing. Mainly he stays true to himself and gets tagged as "difficult." You have to admire someone who is so confident in their vision that they don't suffer fools gladly (or at all).
Lurie is a total original -- there is nothing about him that is derivative of something else. Even his chapter titles are unique. When he felt himself starting to behave in any way like a fake celebrity it made him sick. You really got a sense from this book about what it was like for a poor struggling musician to suddenly be thrust into fame. It actually made me happy not to be famous. You could tell that he had a love/hate with it -- mostly hate.
I laughed out loud so many times when I read this book. At the core of it, I got that John Lurie is a good person who wants to lay down some wisdom for you so that he feels he is in some way enlightening you about the roads he's traveled. I savored every word of this book like a sip of Makers Mark. Highly recommended for anyone who is a fan of John Lurie's music or movies, which I am, obviously.