In the first chapter of John Lurie’s The History of Bones, as the deterioration of Lurie’s father painfully accelerates, the father, for no particular reason, tells his son that he’s led a full life. A few paragraphs later, Lurie’s mother reports with unfazed transparency that his dad has died. It’s quite a sad, stark way to begin, of course, but it’s also the keystone to all that follows in the next 400 pages.
Lurie is equally unfazed and transparent in telling his own tales. He recalls, as a teenager, meeting the legendary bluesman, John Lee Hooker, not with any great joy, or dissertation on Hooker’s musical accomplishments, but instead with a punchline; Hooker admitting, as two women wait for him backstage, that one woman will suffice. It’s an effective choice- this curt and candid, somewhat idiosyncratic narrative style- for a memoir that opens on Lurie’s early days as a lost high school hippie in late-1960s Worcester, Massachusetts and follows him through the gritty and grim invitations available to a multi-faceted artist and musician living in the East Village of New York City in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Within these admittedly loose chronological boundaries- Lurie does move fluidly in and out of the timeline as the context requires- he tallies hundreds of noteworthy experiences.
That is, to say, of interest to anyone curious about Lurie’s (extensive) explorations of sex, drugs, and avant-garde jazz. Not to mention poverty and crime, Madonna and Martin Scorsese. Yet, while NYC and its endless supply of colorful characters are spiritual anchors for Lurie, he wisely steers away from NY-centric myopia. In fact, Lurie travels just about everywhere in this world, and never without a story and a lesson as souvenirs. It’s almost as if his father’s summation of his own existence serves as a subconscious catalyst not only for Lurie’s constant and worldly pursuit of a fully creative life, but also for his astounding proclivity for retaining in technicolor detail the minutiae of each episode. All while mostly dodging verbosity and that insidious kind of narcissistic self-awareness that filters out the blemishes in the retelling.
If anything, Lurie embraces the blemishes, using them as foundational points of motivation and grievances; he’s an acne-riddled youth who becomes “the handsomest man in the world,” after all. His most obvious gripes are aimed at director Jim Jarmusch; his most protected spaces reserved for his brother, Evan, and artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat. In between, Lurie patrols, guarding his creative license and carrying a somewhat tacit contempt for the type of success that just as easily could have provoked a move to the dull, green lawns of Connecticut. Lurie’s full life is on the sharper edge of the blade.