THE BEAUTY OF ARTHUR RUSSELL

imagesI can remember being in some gay dance club in Boston back in about 1993. The DJ stop’d the steady flow of thump and announced that he was about to play, in tribute, a “kick ass” track by yet another fallen sister, Arthur Russell. There were several older men there that night and nearly all of them seemed to become energized when this odd disco song came blasting through the sound system.

At the time, I didn’t really care too much for the song. I remember it sounded like disco, but the beat was somehow “off” and the powerhouse vocal of the track seemed to be somehow removed from the melody — like the beat. I remember the song would fall into a sort of chant of “Go Bang” or something. I could not figure out how to dance to it. I mean, this was not Lords of Acid! They guy I was near explained to me that this was the work of Arthur Russell. He went on to discuss the underground NYC music art scene and I think I rolled my eyes at another friend who was attempting to funk-down to the song.

Last year a documentary was released called WILD COMBINATION which was about Arthur Russell. I think it screened at The Roxie. But, I wasn’t feeling well at all and could not dredge up the energy to deal with the uncomfortable seating of the cool little cinema.

It came out on DVD a couple of months ago and I put it on our NetFlix list. It arrived a few weeks ago and I finally had the chance to watch it.

arthur-russell-wild-combination1It is an amazing film filled with archival clips of Russell and the likes of Philip Glass, Allan Ginsberg and The Talking Heads. Matt Wolf’s film provides a glimpse into the life of an artist who never quite made it or fit into ‘the scene’ — but who never slid away from his ambitions and vision of what music could be.

Anyone interested in the NYC art scene of the 70’s – 80’s or music should most definitely check it out.

I rather fell into love with Arthur Russell’s music as I watched Wolf’s film. And, I was filled with a great deal of sadness as it came to a close. I didn’t want it to end.  And, Russell’s artistic process captured my imagination — and frustration. It was as if his mind/soul was filled with so many far-reaching musical ideas and ideals that he could never quite fully complete a musical thought. Oddly, this seems to add to the beauty of his work.

He did jump into the disco sound for a brief while — tho, he seemed to be more interested in the idea of creating music of value that would inspire kids to dance as well as drift in thought. Arthur Russell seemed to be forever drifting into musical thought and whimsy.

An accomplished celloist — the cello was a means to an end for him. As was the use of beats, synths and playing with his voice. Constantly experimenting with these things he created an incredible body of diverse work that went largely unnoticed. After his death due to complications of AIDS, his work was “re-discovered” and has been slipping out ever since.

Although he seemed to have a full and warm voice, he liked to play with it. Utilizing special mics to create echos and approaching his lyrics as almost lazy musings caught from a string of humming. If you ask me, it is next to impossible to categorize his work.

It is “disco”? Is it “folk”? Is it “country-inspired-folk”? Is it “electronica”? …Or is it simply “alternative”?

I think it is safe to say that bits of his music fall into a wide range of categories/genres.

I prefer to think of his work as alternative electronica.

If interested, rent the documentary and I’d suggest the track “That’s Us/Wild Combination” and the entire LP/CD called “World of Echo” — this is fantastic headphone music.

Just put it on, get comfortable and allow his voice and music to let you float into his sweet and lazy world.

…It is magic. …and a wild combination.

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March 13, 2009. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized.

One Comment

  1. PresidioSue replied:

    he sounds interesting. i will have to check his music out.

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