A funny, introspective and altogether charming show driven by the inventive and confessional artistry of its creator, John Lurie, that if you got the opportunity to make a third season, you’d like to do operatic episodes in which you just talk about a given painting that you’re working on while 20-minute pieces of music play. Was that part of the reason you wrote so much new music?
If you speak any languages, you’ll understand. Say I’m going to Italy, so I’m trying to brush up on my Italian. Then every bit of every other language—Spanish, Japanese, French—they all come flying to my mind. When I started working on the guitar playing, it was just, oh, I got this African kind of beat. Oh, the tango. They just kept coming, they kept coming, they kept coming. I couldn’t stop them. So then I had to make this season around those, more than the other way around.
“I really thought I would have a better idea of what this life was about by this age, and I don’t. I do think it’s about something! I just can’t quite get my finger on what that is.”
Between you talking about hiring older musicians, and about young people mocking their elders and having bad taste in music, and about your feelings toward kids, there’s a running theme throughout this season about growing older. Do you feel more comfortable at this age, even with (as you say) the additional pain?
It depends. I have periods where I do, and then in the last little bit, no. Less angst than when I was really young. But I really thought I would have a better idea of what this life was about by this age, and I don’t. I do think it’s about something! I just can’t quite get my finger on what that is.
Older people, they’ve been around and they know some stuff, and young people ignore that, and that’s a problem. And young people have all this energy, and I wish I had some of that. I probably jump one percent of what I used to be able to jump—the height of my jump—and I wish I had some of that back [laughs].
You say in Painting with John that most young people’s music sucks. I’m not here to argue that point, but do you listen to new music?
Not much. When I got Lyme [disease], I couldn’t listen at all, because of what it did to me neurologically for a long time. I could not hear music; I couldn’t go to a restaurant that had music playing. That’s a while ago now, when it was that bad. But still.
I’ll sort of go on these little YouTube trips where I’ll listen to somebody I know and then see where the next thing takes me, but I get disappointed pretty quickly and then stop. I’m a snob, musically, really. I’m a snob.
I think snobbery in art, to some extent, has gotten a bad rap as of late.
There’s so much bad music, so much bad painting. People come up to me on the street all the time and go, I started painting because of your show! And I just go, oh my god, what have I done? [laughs]
And that’s with you not even actively teaching people how to paint.
I feel like it does, though. It does more than Bob Ross, who’s like: do this, do this, do this. It really sets you in motion, to have the motivation to try it. You see how somebody does it, and then you can figure out how you want to do it, rather than you being told, take Green 110 and put it on top of this yellow spot. I bet more people paint because of me than Bob Ross.
No, I’m taking it back! I got attacked on the Bob Ross stuff—I’m taking it back.
The Bob Ross fans are coming for you?
People are really staunch defenders of him. And I like Bob Ross! I was just being silly, saying Bob Ross was wrong. “How dare he come out against Bob Ross!” You know, he was in the military. Wasn’t he a tough guy?
And then his estate got stolen from him.
It’s a pretty interesting story. But I love Bob Ross, actually.
There’s even a Bob Ross docuseries (Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed) that could be your next binge-watch.
I have binged it. I’ve seen it already [laughs], where the son doesn’t get the inheritance because it’s stolen by the evil people.
Has the show impacted your painting in any way?
In a bad way, yeah! Especially in Season 2, where I realized, fuck, you asshole, your paintings. It’s one thing if you have the painting and you know it’s there and you know where it’s going and the magic is there or the magic is yet to come, and you paint for Erik things that look good on camera. But in Season 2, there were a couple that I knew, you’ve got this green background that’s still wet, and you put down a cobalt blue on top of it and it’ll explode in this beautiful way—but it wasn’t the right fucking thing to do for the overall painting. I was really angry at myself for that.
The painting’s got to be more important to me than the show. Probably HBO wouldn’t like the sound of that, but on a personal level, it’s really about the painting. I can’t let the painting be screwed up because the show has dictated what I’m doing.
I’ve started painting again after we finally finished putting the whole [new season] together, and the two new ones I’ve got going are really good. There’s one called This vine will kill that vine. Then his face disappeared in the mirror, which is a really good painting, but I finished it right after Season 2 was done. I need to get away from the show to really do the good paintings, it seems like.
Lastly, what happened to the holy toast that features so prominently in Season 3?
Erik wanted to save them! Erik is inane about not wasting any food. Any food that’s left over, Erik will eat it. I’m kind of bad like this, where I leave half the plate, and then Erik will have to handle it. I have a bag of those blue chip tortillas, and once it gets to the crumbly things at the bottom, we mark the bag, “Erik.”
He wanted to save the toast, and then he wanted to have this thing, “No toast was wasted during the filming of this scene,” and me, him, and Nesrin [Wolf] sit there eating this dry toast. I said, we’re not using that! [laughs] So we didn’t save the toast. We gave them to the birds. We could have covered them with epoxy and sold them on eBay or something.