Stewart Lupton, Jonathan Fire*Eater Singer, Dies at 43

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Stewart Lupton 

Stewart Lupton, the magnetic singer for 1990s New York rockers Jonathan Fire*Eater, has died at 43. A family member confirmed to Pitchfork that Lupton passed away on Sunday (May 27), with no official cause of death revealed at press time. Fronting a band made up of his childhood friends from Washington, D.C., Lupton captivated audiences with his punk-inspired howling vocals, a drawling mix of Mick Jagger swagger and Iggy Pop attitude.

Credited with inspiring the New York rock renaissance of the early 1990s, the group with the uniquely punctuated name formed in 1993 while Lupton was a student at Washington's private all-boys St. Albans School, a prep academy whose alumni include former Sec. of State John Kerry, Ok Go singer Damian Kulash, NFL great Odell Beckham Jr. and actor Jeffrey Wright. Joining up with bassist Tom Frank, guitarist Paul Maroon, drummer Matt Barrick and organ player Walter Martin, the band coalesced as Jonathan Fire*Eater while most of the members were in college in New York.

Their self-titled debut came out in 1995 on tiny Tucson, Arizona, label Third World Underground Records, followed shortly after by a self-titled EP. With Martin's signature wheezing, 1960s garage rock-sounding Farfisa organ and Lupton's dramatic, goth punk vocals yelps and croons, the group began to gain notice quickly, mostly thanks to the growth on their 1995 five-song album Tremble Under Boom Lights, which featured one of their signature songs, the spooky, rattling "The Search for Cherry Red."

Word of their intense live shows and Lupton's charismatic stage presence helped stir up interest from major labels, leading to a signing with then-nascent Dreamworks SKG label, which released Wolf Songs for Lambs, an album that didn't quite capture the electric feel of the group's post-punk mix of rattling blues, high-energy lo-fi rock and Nick Cave-like nihilism. After years of being tabbed as the next big thing, the album would prove to be the band's swan song, as they broke up after playing a final New York show in July 1998. While their moment in the spotlight was brief and intense, the group was credited with helping to inspire the next wave of New York rock bands that rose up in the early 2000s, including the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol and The Strokes, among others.

Barrick, Martin and Maroon went on to form another early 2000s New York rock staple: The Walkmen, while Lupton tried his hands at a number of musical projects that never put him back in the same white-hot spotlight. He released the debut album by his group The Child Ballads in 2007, came back two years later with a new group, The Beatin's.

Lupton's cousin, Sarah Lupton, posted a tribute on Instagram, writing, "Thank you so much for your tributes to this beautiful artist. I love hearing what he meant to other people... My cousin, the inimitable Stewart Lupton. An inspiration through the ages. Through my ages. I remember clinging to your leg in a princess costume. I remember flipping through @seventeen, seeing your face and saving the issue in a special stack on my bookshelf. I remember the thrill when you told me you liked my music choice on the day we buried grandad. I remember @catpowerofficial at @930club and my first night in NYC with you guiding the way - a Times Square blur all the way to Redhook. Had no idea where I was but trusted you to lead me. You have led me in such profound ways, even in distance, even in silence, even without knowing or meaning to. Your overwhelming, gut-wrenching genius even you don't understand. It has been a strong beacon of inspiration since I was a child. Sometimes it confuses you, and me. But I always stand in awe of you. I celebrate you, cuz. Because you give more to me and so many others than I think you know."

 

Thank you so much for your tributes to this beautiful artist. I love hearing what he meant to other people. Stewart inspires me endlessly and is so dearly missed ---- --#StewartLupton ・・・ My cousin, the inimitable Stewart Lupton. An inspiration through the ages. Through my ages. I remember clinging to your leg in a princess costume. I remember flipping through @seventeen, seeing your face and saving the issue in a special stack on my bookshelf. I remember the thrill when you told me you liked my music choice on the day we buried grandad. I remember @catpowerofficial at @930club and my first night in NYC with you guiding the way - a Times Square blur all the way to Redhook. Had no idea where I was but trusted you to lead me. You have led me in such profound ways, even in distance, even in silence, even without knowing or meaning to. Your overwhelming, gut-wrenching genius even you don't understand. It has been a strong beacon of inspiration since I was a child. Sometimes it confuses you, and me. But I always stand in awe of you. I celebrate you, cuz. Because you give more to me and so many others than I think you know. -------- #childballads #jonathanfireeater

A post shared by Sarah Lupton (@slupster) on

The Kills' Allison Mosshart and Ted Leo were among those paying tribute to Lupton as well, with Leo writing, "In DC in the 90s, in NYC in the 00s, he was always such an affable, kind person, and a talent I admired," and Mossheart saying, "He was a singer, a performer, a poet, a talent beyond comprehension, a beautiful soul, a heart the size of a planet."

 

Stewart Lupton. He was a singer, a performer, a poet, a talent beyond comprehension, a beautiful soul, a heart the size of a planet. Maybe he was too old for this world, or too young, or too otherworldly- to stay. He was always somewhere beyond, thinking in poetry, thinking deeply, there when the sun came up. While he was with us, he wrote some of our favorite songs, he taught and gave, with his music and his incomparable blue childlike eyes, that sweet wondrous grin, always dancing in a dream in a world more beautiful than this one. He was enchanting and kind, he was wild, and he was our friend. Stewart, we will always remember you, love you, and sing your songs. You are gone too soon, but not without leaving great beauty in your wake. It is with such deep sadness to lose you. You inspired the fuck out of me. R.I.P. -- #stewartlupton #childballads #jonathanfireeater

A post shared by Alison Mosshart (@amosshart) on

Watch a performance of "When the Curtain Calls for You" below.