BA of the Week – Singer and Cartoonist Jeffrey Lewis
Every week we feature a different person from the community shedding a little light on their life of brokeitude. Who knows, maybe you’ll learn something about the human spirit — probably not.
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I first came across Jeffrey Lewis at a house party he was playing back in 2005. I thought he was great and I loved his DIY spirit, plus he wrote and sang “The Chelsea Hotel Oral Sex Song“, which is in reference to one of my favorite songs of all time, Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel #2” (which by the way is about Janis Joplin). After the gig we hung out and talked a bit and I think I bought a CD. About half a year later I was in Belfast doing some work for Lonely Planet and I saw a flyer that said Jeffery and his band were playing in town the next night. My world is full of strange coincidences, I’ve run into people I know in nearly 10 countries.
Anyways, I went to the show and then afterwards drank beers with Jeffrey, his brother Jack, and the rest of the band. I’ve stayed in contact with the Lewis brothers on and off ever since and have watched their awesome success. Jeffrey even had this huge New York Times article written about him last year. For anyone who is into being a creative person and succeeding on their own terms Jeffery is certainly someone to look up to. Check out the rad comic he made above and read his thoughtful answers below. And of course buy some music or comics over at TheJeffreyLewisSite.com
Name: Jeffrey Lightning Lewis
Occupation: Hard to explain. I make a living from making art and music, that’s the simplest way to put it. I tour with my band, I do freelance illustration work, and I sell my comic books, and I engage in various combinations of these activities.
What neighborhood do you live in?: The East Village of NYC, or the Lower East Side, depending on whether you’re buying or selling.
Best money saving tip: Two of the best museums in the entire world are New York City’s Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art – When you pay to get in, neither museum makes it very clear that the price charged is actually just a “suggested donation.” Every time I go I just pay a dollar, or a quarter, or a dollar for me and whatever friends I’m there with. Highest possible quality culture, at the lowest possible price! And not many people seem to know about this.
What do you refuse to spend money on?: Many things, but a big one is hotels. I’ve done a lot of touring with my band all over the world, and a bunch of other traveling, and there might literally have been less than a dozen times in my entire life that I paid for a hotel room. There’s always somebody’s house to sleep at, which is a lot more interesting than staying in a hotel anyway. Even when concerts offer my band hotel rooms, for years we used to always demand that they cancel the hotel rooms, give us the cash instead, and we’d just find someplace free to sleep, even if it was just in the car. Nowadays we’re more likely to accept the paid-for hotel rooms we get offered, but the idea of paying for a hotel myself remains pretty alien to me.
Most expensive thing you’ve ever bought: My apartment. It’s a co-op, which means that there’s no landlord making a profit off of it, and it’s a very fair system of affordable housing, really the most affordable and sensible way to live long-term in NYC. There’s no way I could (or would) pay what they call “market rate” for an apartment, I’m very lucky that I was able to get on a waiting list for my place. I was on the co-op waiting list for a number of years, I forget exactly how long. One day I got a letter in the mail, which said there was a co-op apartment available for me, and giving me 24 hours to respond with a yes or no.
How’d that feel?: When I actually paid for the place and got the keys I was in a daze of “buyer’s regret,” not only because of the amount of money I’d just parted with but because it was kind of a big life moment, a moment of realizing I was really committing to living in NYC, in this one place, for potentially the rest of my life. See, the thing with these apartments is that you can’t sell them for a profit, if you decide to move you just get out the same money that you put in; this is a great thing, because it keeps them affordable for the next person, but it also means I should really live here till I die if I can.
Favorite cheap eat: It used to be the 50-cent char-siu bau (steamed pork bun) from Sun Say Kai on Baxter and Canal Street in Chinatown, it remained that price for many years but I think it’s at least a dollar now and besides I’m more vegetarian than I used to be. Nowadays I’ve become a big fan of the one-dollar pizza on St. Mark’s Place, but you must be careful because there are two one-dollar pizza places right next door to each other, and one seems to be much better than the other. I prefer the one that is a few feet further west. Note that a one-dollar slice of pizza is not quite the same kind of food as a regular slice of pizza, but this particular place is really good, in my book. Anytime I walk up that block I have to get at least one slice, you just can’t afford NOT to! By the way, if you aren’t already aware, Slice Harvester is the greatest zine of the 21st Century (it’s a blog too but I prefer the print format); this dude is having a slice of pizza at every single pizzeria in NYC and writing fantastic and entertaining reviews of the slices and his experiences. I have not yet read his review of the one-dollar slice from the pizzeria on St. Mark’s Place that is a few feet further west from the other one-dollar pizzeria on St. Mark’s Place.
Favorite dive bar: Here’s another one of my personal cheap tips – I almost never go to bars. Buying beer at a bodega and drinking it at somebody’s apartment is way, way cheaper, plus there’s better music, better conversation volume, better seating, better lighting, I have never understood the appeal of bars other than as a desperate necessity if you really, really have no place else to go hang out.
Best deal you’ve ever gotten: I’m a record nerd, mostly in the 60s psychedelic and garage categories, so my mind instantly goes to memories like buying a scratchy copy of “The Hook Will Grab You” for a dollar out of some guy’s car trunk in Maine, or TWO scratchy copies of the first Pearls Before Swine album from a guy on the street for four bucks total. Also, when I briefly lived in Austin, Texas around the year 2000, the Sound Exchange Record store presented me with a big box full of Daniel Johnston original drawings, there must have been hundreds in there, I guess I was the only Daniel Johnston fan that they knew at the time because they said I could buy any of them for three dollars each, I was too broke in those years to afford to buy more than a couple of them but his artwork sells for a lot more now, I should have bought a hundred of them. That record store has been gone for many years now, I wonder what happened to that box. Oh yeah, and as a comic book nerd, I can proudly tell the tale of buying Daredevil # 168 from a guy selling comics on the street many years ago, for a gosh-darn quarter!!! If you know the significance of that issue you’re a nerd too! I even eventually got it signed by Frank Miller. Nowadays I don’t know if it’s worth very much but back in the 90s that was a big deal to me.
Favorite free thing to do: Draw!
If you woke up a millionaire, what’s the first thing you’d buy?: I seriously don’t know, I don’t really buy much in general, I never buy clothes, I never buy shoes, I’m not into cars or boats or sports equipment, the only thing I really value is artistic success and no money can buy that. A million dollars won’t help me to become a better artist. On second thought, maybe I’d buy a nice van for my band to tour in. I just don’t need the money, I’ve got everything I need, at least all the things that money can buy, the other stuff I’d like to have can’t be bought.
Despite not having money, do you still love your life?: Do I get to finish the interview if I say that I’m not broke? I was broke for my entire life until roughly 2003 or 2004 when my music career started to actually be a career. Prior to that, there was no time in my life when paying to use a laundry machine wasn’t a significant expense out of my personal fortune. Nowadays I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have at least twenty dollars in my pocket. Of course my standards for “having money” may be lower than Mitt Romney’s but as a dead relative of mine used to say “it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, as long as you have money.”
Do you own my book?: I don’t remember. Did you sent it to me? A lot of people send me their books and stuff, if I do have it I haven’t read it.
Best hangover cure: Asprin, soup broth, 24 hours of sleep.
Are you a hipster?: Yes, I am a 30-something artist who listens to rock and roll, wears ragged clothes and lives in New York City. I would even say that I am an uber-hipster, because I am probably hipper than most hipsters (although it is conceivable that what I consider hip is not what the lesser-hip consider hip, and they might even probably sometimes consider themselves hipper than me, but they would mostly be wrong). However, I don’t fit in with much of the hipster culture here because I didn’t move here from somewhere else, I just happened to be born here. In fact, I grew up just a couple blocks from where I live. I mean, I don’t own a single Yeah Yeah Yeahs album but I did buy Daredevil #168 on the street for a quarter and I bought “The Hook Will Grab You” LP out of a guy’s car trunk for a buck. So there are people who own Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Grimes albums who THINK they’re hipper than me, but they don’t know that I am hipper than them.
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