NEM#7. Gary Lucas on Zen and the Avant Ghetto

Gary is a guitar virtuoso who’s put out more than 30 albums, typically by writing guitar instrumentals that then get a melody and words added by a singer/songwriter, the most famous of these being Jeff Buckley in the early ’90s, but also Joan Osborne and many others. Gary got his start on Captain Beefheart’s final albums in the early ’80s, and gained from him an intuitive approach designed to be experimental yet deeply felt and accessible.

On this episode of the Nakedly Examined Music podcast, we discuss a new instrumental “Will O’ the Wisp” (singers are invited to layer on their own vocals; Mark’s version will appear at the end of Partially Examined Life episode 135), “Overture” from Stereopticon (2016) by Gary Lucas and Jann Klose, and “The Wall” from The Edge Of Heaven, a 2010 album covering Chinese pop songs from the 1930s. Watch this performed live in 2011 with Sally Kwok.

So, why add vocals at all to self-contained instrumentals? How does the solitary Zen activity of oneness with your instrument relate to then sending it to someone else to add things to? Why didn’t Gary ever just join a famous touring band and cash in? We discuss these issues and others, and then listen to “The Kid” from Gary’s 2014 album with Peter Hammill, Other World. The intro/outro music is from the demo version of “Grace” by Gary and Jeff, as released on Songs to No One 1991–1992.

You can learn more about Gary from his recent book Touched By Grace: My time with Jeff Buckley and by visiting his website: You can see and hear more of his many and various projects on YouTube and SoundCloud.

Hear more conversation between Gary and Mark and more Gary songs by signing up for a recurring donation, then clicking here.

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  1. I am a fan of Beefheart so this interview was really interesting. While it is true that some of Lucas’ playing on his Beefheart albums definitely seem improvised, I am always suspicious of people who go out of their way to stress how little ‘thinking’ that goes in to their writing and playing. Zen, feeling, ‘it just comes to me’; pretty words and I guess a cool image, but he is seriously down-playing the skill and analytic know-how it takes to ACT like you’re simply making it up on the fly. In all fairness he does acknowledge his musical education, but then ends up espousing something like the romantic idea that ‘the real talent’, the natural artist must not impose unnatural analytic thinking onto the God-given work of art. (Yes, Lucas rubbed me the wrong way. But this made me bring out my old Beefheart albums, and all is forgiven.)


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