Jim Jarmusch

Jim Jarmusch : “Take things in to get something out” 

Words : Rüdiger Sturm
Photograph : Jeff Vespa

The cult director knows how to get by in life: you summon the gods, you hunt the sheep, and you forgo email

Filmmaking legend Jim Jarmusch has been responsible for some of the most revered independent movies of the past three decades. From giving lead roles to Tom Waits in 1986’s Down By Law and Clash rocker Joe Strummer in 1989’s Mystery Train to achieving mainstream success with the Johnny Depp Western Dead Man and mobster flick Ghost Dog: Way Of The Samurai, Jarmusch, now 63, has defied Hollywood convention. He has trodden a culturally omnivorous and determinedly offbeat path to success, influenced in part by the wisdom of late friend Strummer, who told him, “No input, no output.” But what does this mean in an age of constant information overload?

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THE RED BULLETIN: Paterson, the titular protagonist in your new movie, refuses to get a mobile phone. Do you have one yourself?

JIM JARMASCH: Yes, I have an iPad, an iPhone. They can be very valuable tools, but we can get sucked into them. I love to read about new musicians I don’t know about, then go on Spotify or YouTube and listen to them. But I’ve never owned a laptop, and I don’t have personal email. 

Why not?

I would be on it half the day; I already have to fight to write and make music. I want to read and think and do my job. Joe Strummer used to say, “No input, no output,” which means you have to spend time taking things in to get something back out of yourself.

And you don’t get sucked into your phone?

New York is a drag: you walk down the street and everyone is fumbling around with their phone. I want to shove them out of the way and say, “What is your problem? There is a f–king world around you!” But you can’t shove them out of the way. They’re like sheep. “Baa! Baa!”

But you’re the embodiment of calm and coolness…

Not always. I have a terrible thing with inanimate objects. Some days, I might drop a tea cup, or a window-shade will break, and I’ll freak out.

How do you collect your thoughts again?

I do things like Tai chi, and I say to myself, “Come on, accept it. Accept that your house is full of broken things and your shirt is on backwards. You are an idiot.”

So you’re a follower of Eastern philosophy?

I do have a kind of Buddhist perception, although I’m not practising. Because of Tai chi, I studied with a Sifu – a master – and read a lot about Buddhism. I also have a lot of Native American friends. I always salvage hope from them, because they understand how all things are connected; that there’s an energy running through us and everything on Earth. I really appreciate this, because the planet is going to hell. We’re overpopulated, and nature is starting to deal with that. It will wipe out most of us.

“I say to myself, ‘Accept that your house is full of broken things and your shirt is on backwards. You are an idiot’”
Jim Jarmusch, 63, the director doesn’t waste time with emails; he reads, thinks and does his job instead

Are you afraid of death?

No, but I want to prepare for it. My father is already gone, I’ve lost a lot of friends in recent years, and my mother is very old now. I love her. She’s not going to be here forever, so I’m reading The Tibetan Book Of The Dead. 

When your cat died, you went to a priest and asked him whether its soul would go to heaven…

And he said no and I never went back to church. I was 12 years old. But have you ever heard of a drug named DMT? Ayahuasca, which is used by the indigenous peoples of the Amazon, is a form of it. You can smoke it, among other things. It might answer that question better than I could.

And you used it?

Only once. It’s released in your brain when you die, too, so it’s a kind of window. The philosopher Terence McKenna, who studied hallucinogenic drugs and shamanism, wrote a lot about DMT, and included it in his masterwork Food Of The Gods. He said that if you use hallucinogenic drugs and you receive the call once, hold onto that message and hang up the phone. So I take that to heart. Am I really saying all this? I can’t believe it. I’m not advocating the drug. But in any case it did answer some things for me, very much. 

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