The key, I think, to Jim, is that he went gray when he was 15 … As a result, he always felt like an immigrant in the teenage world. He’s been an immigrant – a benign, fascinated foreigner – ever since. And all his films are about that.
His films are not middle of the road and include Down By Law, Mystery Train, Dead Man, Coffee and Cigarettes, Broken Flowers, The Limits of Control and – perhaps the most mainstream one (which I saw and enjoyed) – Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.
But let’s get on with Peter’s face to face celeb encounter on…
The day I met Jim Jarmusch
There is a sweetness and maybe glory in being between things and having the time to sit and watch and walk and to soak in the places you would otherwise busily and blindly navigate through on your way to destinations and obligations. Two summers ago I was in that in between place having just finished a gig overseas and moved into a new place in Queens. I was halfheartedly looking for a new job and wholeheartedly toing and froing between the neighborhoods of New York: Billyberg, Park Slope, Cobble Hill, the Village, the lower east side and Soho.Soho is for tourists: at mid century an abandoned warehouse district sparcely occupied by artists, now chock a block full of out of reach for the ordinary person boutiques, and an endless stream of models, shoppers, beautiful people and some ordinary New Yorkers thrown in.
There is a favorite bar there, Spring Lounge, which has the quality of a hanger on grunge bar from before the gentrification. It has a huge corner window past which the entire neighborhood parades in their boots and fashions like Felini’s circus. Inside, the cobwebs and dust have been painted over and the clutch perched on barstools look like they’ve been there since – well, since before the arrival of the fashionistas.I was early to the bar that day and I’d bought a spicy Vietnamese hoagie with pork. There is a lovely park across from the bar and I wandered over to eat my sandwich before my drinking buddy showed up. In the park there is a playground with a large contraption for neighborhood kids to climb on and jump off and swing from, and from the gate as I entered the park I saw – among all of the other people – in the playground a man and a little girl.She was in a spring dress and he wore black jeans, a black cotton shirt and a black jacket all topped off by a shock of white hair extending upwards. No question, it was the film director Jim Jarmusch. It made sense, friends had told me he lived in a loft on the Bowery only a block to the east.Jim Jarmusch made all those so hip it hurts films in the 80s: Mystery Train, Night on Earth, Down by Law; and all those still hip but maybe more grown up films in the 90s and aughts: Ghostdog and Broken Flowers. He is a life long – really since university days until now – personal hero, and my heart leapt into my throat about seeing him here in the park on Spring Street.Darshan is the auspicious sighting of the godhead in a Hindu temple. It’s a human truth: seeing the object of your worship whether it be Ganesh, a movie star, or as in my case that day, a favorite film director, has a visceral effect on the devotee. If you are a priest you will want to have your tin cup ready to scoop up the lucre from the frozen worshiper, and if star struck you’ll need your sharpee and a copy of OK magazine.I didn’t quite freeze. Instead, immediately aware of my past failings in similar situations, I began negotiating with myself – between bites of hoagie – the best way to have a pukka conversation with the great director. I needed to express myself, hear him speak and, without any regrets about having frozen up or leaving out important information, walk away happy. I wasn’t giving myself room for anything but a solid human interaction.I took my last bite and waited for an opportunity which came to me when Mr Jarmusch walked over to the garbage can at the fence to throw out a wrapper. I got up and casually placed my self between him and the fence and when he walked by me said plainly, “Are you Jim Jarmusch?”There are a lot of very self important people in big cities and New York is not exceptional in this regard. Additionally in American north eastern cities there are a lot of fearful people. I braced myself for a brush off.“Yes I am,” he said disarmingly.So far so good, as long as I can get the next sentence in, with clarity – it has at least to make some basic sense – then even if he does brush me off at least I’ll have heard that one sentence – yes, I am – and can say that I got out a garbled attempt at a conversation, I thought. I said hyperbolically, “My name’s Peter, and may I say that your work has had an enormous effect on my life.”“Thanks that’s good to hear,” he replied and then began to tell me about his current project. It was clear, very early on that Jim wasn’t going to brush me off, that he had the time to talk with me as his daughter played on the jungle gym. He had wrapped his new film and was now in editing which he graciously described to me.And when the time came for me to say something new, as happens in most conversations, I was ready. I asked him about Dead Man, that masterpiece of American filmmaking he had made with Johnny Depp and Gary Farmer in the mid 1990s about an innocent caught in the violent world of frontier California, who finds salvation through a powerful and mute native American benefactor. That sent him off again to describe for me how difficult Deadman was to make. He told me about heavy rains during the final weeks of shooting and how the river they were filming on was rapidly rising. They shot scenes out of sequence to free members of the cast and crew to leave the flooding site, and kept back a skeleton crew to capture the final scenes.And that was more or less it. I felt I had expressed my admiration for the director, articulated how his work had been meaningful for my life, and heard a story about one of the most haunting and beautiful scenes in American film history directly from the mouth of the guy who made it. I had a real conversation with Jim Jarmusch!“Good bye Mr Jarmusch, good luck on the new project, I’m extremely excited and happy to have met you,” I said and we parted.Since then I have reflected a little on my meeting with Jim, on the power of his filmmaking, and on his gentle nature. During that same summer I read an interview with the director in which he described the love he shared with his grandmother. She would take him on day trips into the countryside in Ohio where he grew up, and describe for him the life and destruction of the ancient native people who built their complex societies in that region. I know now that is what he was filming on the flooded river at the end of Deadman: a haunting allegory of brokenness and redemption, a mysterious journey into the American version of Valhalla.I can’t be certain, but I also like to think that memories of his grandmother and of those Ohio fields are the source of his peaceful nature which pervaded our talk that day in the park on Spring Street.
What do you think of that? I know what I think. I think that story was beautiful and oddly elegaic. If you’d like to submit your own story of an encounter with a celeb of some sort – please do. Details of how to are here, but basically just email me your tale at paulwaters99 at hotmail.com You’ll get a prize! Really. (Peter, I must send you the book list asap.) You can check out past entries via the links below.
- The Day I Met… The Queen
- The Day I Met… James Nesbitt
- The Day I Met… met Her!
- The Day I Met… the Colonel
- The Day I Met… Indira Gandhi
- The Day I Met… Billy Bragg
- The Day I Met… Gerry Adams
- The Day I Met… Telly (Kojak) Savalas
- The Day I Met… Frederick (Day of the Jackal) Forsyth