Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong continue sorting through their archives of punk-era concert footage as it’s digitized for the Downtown Collection at N.Y.U.’s Fales Library.
Some called what they played fake jazz but we loved their sinuous stew of no wave, be-bop and cinematic soundscape that Robert Palmer of The New York Times famously described as “somewhere west of Charles Mingus and east of Bernard Hermann.”
And they looked like they sounded: natty, a bit louche and darkly captivating. You just wanted to light up a cigarette and enjoy. Founded by saxophonist John Lurie and his brother, pianist Evan Lurie, the band roster read like a Who’s Who of downtown: new music royalty, with more than 35 members cycling in and out over 20-odd years.
“John and Evan came over one night with some songs and we played together once and by the second time we were a band. It came together very fast,” remembers Anton Fier. “We had the freedom back then to practice and develop and, of course, we shared the same vision.”
They had a rich collaboration but John was the acknowledged leader of the band. “The original compositions were actually things that John wrote for a movie,” Evan told us. “He wanted to make this kind of film-noir pastiche thing, as everybody did at that moment, so the original pieces that the Lizards played were actually written with that in mind. Of course, the film never happened.”But lots of other films were made. This was the era of “No Wave” cinema, a stripped-down DIY style made by the likes of Scott and Beth B and Amos Poe. John Lurie even directed a film, “Men in Orbit.” The Lizards were a whole other thing. As Evan says, “All of us were musicians who decided to start a band. The Lounge Lizards were not an art-school project, we were musicians.”
And it showed. In 1981, they recorded an album with Teo Macero, the fabled producer of Miles Davis’s “Bitches Brew” and “Kind of Blue.” It was simply called “The Lounge Lizards.” Fier recalls, “We were nervy enough to ask Macero to produce and he did it. We recorded it in three days and they mixed it in two. We basically played like a live band.” Listening to it anew after many years, he marveled, “I was shocked at how good we really were.”
Anton Fier recalls, “We had genuine fun working together. It made me a better musician.”Over the next 20 years, the band evolved and changed. “When Arto left [to form The Ambitious Lovers] we revamped and then we revamped again,” Evan recalls. “Then I left for a while and came back. At about the end of the run, we were on the Conan O’Brien show.” (Fun fact: John Lurie composed Conan’s theme music with Howard Shore.)
In 2004, Evan began a four season run writing the music for the kids show “The Backyardigans.” He is now working on solo compositions. Arto, Steve and Anton continue to play as well, working on a variety of group and solo projects. John Lurie devotes his time to painting; you can see his work at his site, www.strangeandbeautiful.com.
Strange and beautiful — that perfectly describes The Lounge Lizards.
This post originally appeared on The Local East Village.