+ 1, Guest Contributor, Jason Weiss, May 2014

Visits with Lacy

When I lived in Paris in the 1980s, I used to visit Steve Lacy with some regularity. Mostly we talked books and listened to music, once in a while he played me a new tune; sometimes, other visitors dropped by too. Once, I walked in to find James Newton and Abdul Wadud there. I had admired their playing, but did not imagine them and Steve in quite the same circles. With all the more reason, then, I appreciated the mutual regard they held for each other. Another time, he and Irene asked me to stay for supper, or maybe I was already invited, and there was Eduard Limonov, a bad boy of the new Russian literature who had left the USSR and subsequently NY and was then trying out Paris.  I don't know how much Limonov knew Steve's music, but he was on good behavior that evening (with no sign of the nationalist cult leader he later became).

But not every visit was occupied with matters of high art. One afternoon, Steve recounted how he'd just spent hours running all over Paris trying to find a small part for their broken washing machine, a quest that had started simply enough at the BHV department store down the street from them. Somehow the mundane task seemed incongruous to me: would that have been like Yehudi Menuhin changing a flat tire?

For all the writers and painters and performers that Steve turned me on to, it was a rare pleasure to be able to bring something new to his attention. One day, in the posh seventh arrondissement where neither of us was inclined to stray, I chanced upon him in the street. I was on my way to the Mexican cultural center to see a show of Huichol yarn paintings. I told him the little I knew about that startling tradition of psychedelic dream images, and so he came along. We spent a good while in there, as he was fairly blown away by them, and then we went our separate ways again.

Another time, a few years after, I was less successful in that regard. Samuel Fuller's final film, Street of No Return, opened in Paris and I encouraged Steve and my close friend Séamas—who knew Steve through me, we had even taken the train up to Lille several years earlier to attend the premier of Futurities—to go see it with me. Hardly had the film begun, I had that sinking feeling. I felt kind of bad for wasting their time, but Steve had that wry smile I'd seen often before, recognizing the mess in front of us while patiently keeping his humor to get through it. There was, after all, a certain solidarity in experiencing that mess together, even if it was the work of a master.

Our long-time friend Jason Weiss edited Steve Lacy: Conversations (Duke, 2006) and wrote, more recently, Always in Trouble: An Oral History of ESP-Disk’ , the Most Outrageous Record Label in America (2012), as well as an essay on artist Llyn Foulkes’ music for the catalogue to Foulkes’ retrospective at the Hammer Museum last year. Forthcoming in the fall: Cloud Therapy, a book about swimming.