Arthur Russell

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Dinosaur, “Kiss Me Again,” 12-inch, side A, 1978. Composed by Arthur Russell. Remix by Jimmy Simpson.

The personnel for this record blows my mind:

Arthur Russell (cello, organ)
David Byrne (guitar)
Sammy Figueroa (percussion)
Frank Owens (piano)
Henry Flynt (violin)
Peter Gordon (sax)
Larry Saltzman (guitar)
Peter Zummo (trombone)
Myrian Valle (vocals)

The Henry Flynt finale is an especially rewarding touch, & it’s kind of thrilling to hear him — and Byrne — on the same record as Russell, Gordon, & Zummo.

See Tim Lawrence’s richly detailed Hold On to Your Dreams, pp. 130-37, for an account of this record’s origins. Find a download link here.

Previously. And.

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At a loss for time is more like it. My teaching schedule today prevents me from posting, but stay tuned: We have some special pre-33 1/3 release posts on their way.

Meantime, here’s a teaser for the material my Downtown Scenes class is dealing with today:

Previously on PWHNY. And. Plus.


Via the Guardian‘s music blog, an extended mix of Arthur Russell tracks and reimaginings. Perfect for the return of snow at the end of a long weekend.

Pocketknife presents Moving Me Up (Russell Mania) by elninodiablo

Details/tracklist here.


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Monday morning music

Over the weekend my copy of Tim Lawrence’s Hold On to Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Scene, 1973-1992 arrived. I had been otherwise engaged during the conference/book launch a couple weeks ago, much to my disappointment.

Thumbnail image for ARbio.jpgI started reading last night and had to force myself to stop and go to sleep at a reasonable hour. It’s hard to put down: a rich and personal narrative, much like Matt Wolf’s documentary about Russell, and also a rich tapestry of music history. The opening sections on Iowa and California set the stage for everything to follow by offering insight into a web of musical influences that swirled about Arthur during his formative years. The rest of the book promises to be a wide-ranging history of the many downtown scenes Russell stitched together in his work and via his influence, from his first recording sessions in New York (backing Ginsberg with Bob Dylan) to the underground disco scene to his time as curator at the Kitchen to his short-lived stint playing cello with Talking Heads. This is the material I wish had been more fully represented in Wolf’s Wild Combination, and I’m glad now to have Lawrence’s book now as an extensive and indispensable companion piece. Plus it’s the best guide I’ve yet encountered to the full range of downtown music in the 70s, something I’m thinking a lot about as I gear up to write about Television’s Marquee Moon.

foursongs.jpgThe book blurb by Swedish lush-popster Jens Lekman made me finally sit down at the computer and buy the EP Four Songs by Arthur Russell, curated by Lekman a few years back. I’m sorry I took so long to get around to it. The four songs are uniformly great renditions that showcase Russell’s ability as a song-writer. Lekman and Joel Gibb (the frontman for the Canadian indie-pop ensemble Hidden Cameras) come closest to mimicking Russell’s own tone and vocal style; Vera November (formerly of Electrelane, one of my favorite bands of the 2000s) and Taken by Trees (Victoria Bergsman, formerly of the Concretes) put more original stamps on their arrangements, but all the tracks are equally beautiful.

Here are two takes on Lekman’s contribution. The first, directed by la Blogothèque, was named one of 2007’s best videos by Pitchfork, though I missed it at the time. The setting for the video reminds me of paintings by the young Brooklyn artist Ryan Mrozowski, whose work I hope to own before it’s completely out of my price range. The video is as disarmingly simple as Lekman’s arrangement for African thumb piano:

The other video for Lekman’s take on this song is, I think, even more intimate, thanks to repeated close-ups. And you get a better sense of the how the instrument works:

Here’s the Arthur Russell original (via an unofficial fan video). His ghostly cello playing somehow makes the song a little sadder, more ethereal, even though it has a faster tempo than Lekman’s cover:

If you’re like me and you can’t get enough of Arthur Russell — and I seriously can’t! — you’ll rejoice to learn that Chris Taylor, the multi-talented Grizzly Bear member (aren’t they all?) who oversaw production on last year’s phenomenal Russell compilation Love Is Overtaking Me, has just released another long-lost Russell track, “Come to Life,” as part of a split single with his side project, CANT. You can find the Russell song here; the CANT track here. Or you could be a good doobie and order the 7″ directly from Taylor’s Terrible Records.

come to life.jpg

“Come to Life” seems an especially apt song title for this particular moment in the ongoing Arthur Russell revival. More life! And more life for Russell’s extraordinary music. That’s what we want.


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Saturday, Oct. 10

NYU Tisch Performance Studies, 721 Broadway (at Waverly Pl.), Suite 612, NYC

9:30 – Coffee

ARbio.jpg10:00a-10:30 Keynote – Tim Lawrence, author of Hold on To Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene

10:30-11:30 Panel 1: Musical Variations

Chair: Sukhdev Sandhu
Peter Zummo: “Pop and the Multi-Pentatonic, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Whole Steps and Minor Thirds”
Elodie Lauten: “Lesser-known Relationships: In the Singing Tractors Nexus, a Sense of Freedom and Exploration”
Ryan Dohoney: “The Experimental Assemblages of Arthur Russell and Julius Eastman”

11:45-1:15 Panel 2: Arthur Russell: Recording and Legacy

Chair: Peter Gordon
With Mustafa Ahmed, Bob Blank, Joyce Bowden, Gary Lucas, Bill Ruyle, Peter Zummo.

2:00-3:15 Panel 3: Arthur Russell and the World

Chair: Simon Reynolds
Joyce Bowden: “Impermanence and Non-Duality: Buddhist influence in the music of Arthur Russell”
James Thomas: “I’m Sorry, But This Is How I Learn” (Theme: repetition and language in Russell’s collaborations)
Ernie Brooks: “Arthur Russell: Creativity and the Business of Music, Resolving a Pursuit of the Ineffable with the Need for Recognition in Worldly Terms”
Daniel Portland: “I Touched You on the Arm: Cruising as Epistemology in the Life and Work of Arthur Russell

3:30-5:00 Wild Combination screening and Q&A with Matt Wolf

5:00-6:30 Panel 4: Remembering Arthur Russell

Chair: Steve Knutson
With Alan Abrams, Ernie Brooks, Peter Gordon, Steven Hall, Elodie Lauten, Tom Lee

6:30-6:45 Wrap-up ¾ Sukhdev Sandhu


7:00-9:00 Solo and duo performances of Arthur Russell music plus book launch

Reception & book launch at Housing Works Café, 126 Crosby Street, NYC, with performances by Mira Billotte, Alex Waterman, Nick Hallett, Rachel Henry, Peter Gordon, Peter Zummo, Joyce Bowden, Steven Hall and others. Tim Lawrence will read from his new biography of Arthur Russell, Hold On to Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene. $10 admission to benefit Housing Works, a nonprofit AIDS-service organization.

10:00-late Dance party with Arthur’s Landing at Public Assembly

Play It Loud presents Arthur’s Landing (with Jerry Harrison) at Public Assembly at 70 North 6th Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Live dance music! $10 admission to benefit Gods Love We Deliver.


Alan J. Abrams is an independent producer, director, and writer with film credits including The Rook, Paradise Falls, Charles Bukowski’s, 900 Pounds, and Larry Brown’s Leaving Town. During more than 20 years in the industry has also produced Tibet, A Culture In Exile with Richard Gere and Professor Robert Thurman. His editorial credits include Academy Award nominees Never Cry Wolf, Blue Velvet, and The Mosquito Coast.

Mustafa Ahmed is a multi-faceted percussionist. Since the 1980’s he has performed in concert throughout the United States and Europe with an eclectic group of composers, vocalists, musicians and dancers. He currently performs and records with the critically acclaimed gospel choir Total Praise, the jazz group The Phibes and Arthur’s Landing.

Bob Blank has been part of the New York music scene since 1973, and from 1976 till 1987 owned and operated Blank Tapes Recording Studios, where he produced or engineered 19 gold records for artists as diverse as Sting and Instant Funk. Bob’s music production company, Blank Productions, makes music for TV and film, and has provided music for shows as diverse as American Idol and Dance Your Ass Off. Bob also dances, and he and his partner Martha Estevez have been US Over 45 Latin Champions twice. He was also a principal dancer in the Nicole Kidman film The Stepford Wives.

Joyce Bowden feels lucky to have known Arthur and to have worked with him in the 1980’s. Arthur was an unflinching mentor and wonderful friend. Working at Circle Sound in Raleigh, NC, turns out to be to be one aspect of a continuous connection. Recent musical involvement includes Arthur’s Landing as well as the Goodnight Graces and Recent Memory (both on Moon Caravan Records).

Ernie Brooks is a bass player and songwriter. A member of Boston band Modern Lovers, he met Arthur Russell at one the group’s last concerts in spring of 1974. Ernie collaborated with Arthur in various projects, including bands Flying Hearts and Necessaries. He currently plays in ensembles with Gary Lucas, Peter Zummo, and Rhys Chatham, and performs as much of Arthur’s work as possible in the band/collective Arthur’s Landing.

Ryan Dohoney is a music historian specializing in American music and culture since 1945. He received his PhD in musicology from Columbia University in 2009. He is currently at work two book projects; a critical history of the life and music of Morton Feldman and a study of the downtown music scene glimpsed through the work Julius Eastman and his collaborators.

Peter Gordon is a composer, musician and producer known for the Love of Life Orchestra (which featured Russell in the original lineup) as well as for music for performance and media. Gordon met Arthur Russell in 1975 and they developed a friendship through shared musical interests. Gordon’s performances and recordings with Russell include Instrumentals, “Clean on Your Bean”, “Tell You Today”, “Kiss Me Again”, and the legendary John Hammond sessions. Gordon and Russell co-wrote the LOLO track “That Hat”. Gordon is Associate Professor of Music at Bloomfield College.

Steven Hall was born in Scotland in 1957 and wore a kilt and played the bagpipes when he was a boy–he moved the the US at age 15–went to NYC where he met Allen Ginsberg and Arthur Russell at age 18–the rest is a blur…

Nick Hallett is a New York-based composer, singer, and curator working across a broad range of disciplines and genres. His music has seen recent performances at Joe’s Pub, New Museum of Contemporary Art, The Stone, and ISSUE Project Room. He is composing the music for a theater collaboration with the artist Shana Moulton, playing at The Kitchen in April 2010.

Steve Knutson is the founder of Audika Records. A longtime admirer of Arthur Russell’s work, and a music veteran of over 25 years, Steve Knutson, through his collaboration with Tom Lee has worked to bring the wide breadth of Arthur’s musical imagination back to those that remember him, and introduce his music to a new audience.

Elodie Lauten, daughter of jazz composer Errol Parker, was born and educated in Paris. Moving to New York City, she graduated from NYU with a Master’s in composition. She developed into a full-fledged composer with Lincoln Center credits, chamber and symphonic commissions, several operas, and 29 releases on more than 15 major and independent labels. She is on the faculty at the New York City College of Technology.

Tim Lawrence is the author of Hold On to Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene, 1973-92, ne
w out from Duke. His first book, Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970-79, was also published by Duke. He runs the Music Culture: Theory and Practice degree at the University of East London and is a member of the Centre for Cultural Studies Research.

Tom Lee is an elementary school teacher. He met Arthur Russell in the summer of 1978 and lives in the East Village, NYC apartment that he shared with Arthur since 1980. He is honored to be a participant in the enduring appreciation of Arthur’s musical legacy through the film, book, and articles and of course the songs that serve to remind him of a very special time in their lives together.

Gary Lucas is a guitarist, Grammy-nominated songwriter, composer and recording artist with over 20 acclaimed solo albums to date. He has been called “The Thinking Man’s Guitar Hero” (The New Yorker), and tours the world relentlessly both solo and with a variety of ensembles including his longtime band Gods and Monsters. He is responsible for bringing Arthur Russell to the attention of both Rough Trade Records and Upside Records and getting him signed to both labels.

Daniel Portland is a conceptual artist and writer. He holds a master’s
degree in arts politics from NYU and his research interests include queer time and space.

London-born but New York-based, Simon Reynolds is a freelance journalist and author. His books include Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-84, Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture, Totally Wired: Postpunk Interviews and Overviews, and Bring the Noise: 20 Years of Writing About Hip Rock and Hip Hop. He operates a number of blogs clustered around

Bill Ruyle has been a percussionist/composer/collaborator for new music, dance, and theater in NYC and abroad since 1974. He has performed with the ensembles of Peter Zummo, Jon Gibson, Peter Gordon, Bill Obrecht, Scott Johnson, Phillip Johnston, “Blue” Gene Tyranny, Bob Een, Naaz Hosseini, The Feetwarmers, The Manhattan Marimba Quartet, Last Forever with Dick Connette, Newband, Counter)induction, Arthur’s Landing, Compton Maddux and the Dirt Simple Band, and The Hudson Valley Philharmonic. He first met Arthur Russell while studying at the Manhattan School of Music.

Sukhdev Sandhu is the author of London Calling: How Black and Asian Writers Imagined A City (2003) and I’ll Get My Coat (2005). His latest book, Night Haunts: A Journey Through The London Night (2007), has been developed as a series of site-specific performances and soundworks in collaboration with Scanner. He is the Chief Film Critic for the London Daily Telegraph, and Director of Asian/Pacific/American Studies at NYU.

James Merle Thomas is a San Francisco-based curator, writer, and researcher. He is currently completing his PhD in contemporary aesthetics and politics at Stanford University. His most recent curatorial project, “I’m Sorry, But This is How I Learn” explores the relationships between repetition and pedagogy in art and performance, and is touring Europe and the United States throughout 2009-2010 (Kunstverein, Munich; Artist’s Space, New York City).

Matt Wolf is a filmmaker in New York. His documentary Wild Combination about Arthur Russell was released theatrically and on DVD by Plexifilm and is currently airing on the Sundance Channel. He is finishing a documentary in collaboration with New York City Ballet Dancers about the landmark 1958 ballet Opus Jazz by Jerome Robbins for PBS Great Performances.

Peter Zummo is a musician focusing on the trombone, a composer of works and processes for interactive ensemble, and a band-leader, engineer, and producer. His work is informed by four decades of performing for other composers and band-leaders. He also collaborates with artists in theatre, dance, poetry, film and television.

The conference organizers Peter Gordon (Bloomfield College), Tim Lawrence (University of East London), and Sukhdev Sandhu (New York University) would like to thank Toriono Gandy (technical director) and Kit Fitzgerald (video documentation) for their help. They would also like to acknowledge the English Department at NYU, Bloomfield College, the Centre for Cultural Studies Research at the University of London, the Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music at NYU, the Center for Gender and Sexuality Studies at NYU, the Colloquium for Unpopular Culture at NYU, and the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis for their help in sponsorship and space to support the conference. Thanks also go to the New Media Department at Concordia College, New York, as well as the Creative Arts and Technology Division at Bloomfield College for additional assistance. This brochure has been printed by Categrafica at Bloomfield College.



We want to take special notice this week of a rapidly approaching conference co-organized by our colleague Sukhdev Sandhu, also to be held at NYU: Kiss Me Again: The Life and Legacy of Arthur Russell. The conference will take place primarily at 721 Broadway, Ste. 612 — Tisch Performance Studies — with other events happening at Housing Works Cafe, Public Assembly, and Bar 169.

Russell lived and worked in New York from the early 1970s to his AIDS-related death in 1992. He was instrumental to a range of music scenes downtown, from his work as a curator at the Kitchen, to his recording of underground dance music under the names Loose Joints and Dinosaur L, to his performance with vocals and cello in the ghostly compositions known as the World of Echo. Although his work and influence was far-reaching, only recently has he begun to receive widespread public recognition, including the release of many long-lost songs and new interest in his biography by Matt Wolf, Tim Lawrence, and others.

The daylong conference on Saturday, beginning at 10 am, will feature Mustapha Ahmed, Bob Blank, Joyce Bowden, Ernie Brooks, Peter Gordon, Steven Hall, Steve Knutson, Elodie Lauten, Tim Lawrence, Tom Lee, Gary
Lucas, Simon Reynolds, Will Socolov, Peter Zummo & others, including a screening of the recent Arthur Russell documentary Wild Combination (filmmaker Matt Wolf will be on hand for Q&A). I can’t praise this movie enough and really encourage anyone who hasn’t yet been exposed to Russell to take advantage of this screening. (The movie’s also readily available on DVD.) The prior evening (Friday) at 9 pm Steven Hall and Joyce Bowden will perform Arthur Russell songs at Bar 169.

Saturday evening, from 7 to 10, Housing Works Cafe will host more performances of Russell’s music — by Mira Billotte, Joyce Bowden, Peter Gordon, Steven Hall, Nick Hallett, Rachel Henry, Alex Waterman, Peter Zummo and others — along with a booklaunch for Tim Lawrence’s  Hold On to Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene, 1973-92, which will be officially released by Duke University Press next month. From 10 pm to 4 am, Public Assembly (70 N. 6th St. in Williamsburg) will host a dance party, with a $10 donation at the door to benefit the AIDS charity God’s Love We Deliver.

If you can make it to the 4:05 mark in this song and not spend the rest of the day smiling, I’d suggest you’ve got some work to do. Then again, who among us doesn’t?


arthur russell.jpg

I finally had a chance to see Matt Wolf’s much-acclaimed documentary on the avant-pop cult hero Arthur Russell, who died of AIDS in 1992 at age 40. He had been a key force downtown since the early 70s, when he was the musical director of The Kitchen, one of old SoHo’s key venues for experimental performance/art. For years he lived on E 12th St in a building inhabited by other artists, including Ginsberg and Richard Hell.

The film is beautiful. See it. Give it as a gift. Let it lead you to a lot of amazing music (with more to come, as Audika Records and others sort through the thousands of tapes he left behind). This year’s release, Love Is Overtaking Me, should be a good starting point for newcomers or a fantastic complement to those who already thought they had this multi-facted composer and performer pegged.

A quick snippet from the official site’s synopsis and a trailer to lead you in:

Arthur began working with Philip Glass and other composers in the
avant-garde music world, specifically at The Kitchen, where he became
musical director in 1974. He composed melodic orchestral music and
absorbed the vanguard ideas of the new music scene. Simultaneously
Arthur discovered the liberating social and aesthetic possibilities of
underground discos. Under the guise of various monikers–Dinosaur L,
Loose Joints, Indian Ocean–Arthur produced playful and eccentric disco
records that became hits of the pre-Studio 54 era.

The rules and codes of established genre didn’t apply to Arthur. The
serialized patterns of minimalist symphonies resonated with the
repetitive rhythms in dance music. Likewise, the utopian social settings
of the early discos were like the Buddhist commune Arthur had once
known. With childlike innocence and fun, Arthur ambitiously explored
all of these possibilities.

He fell in love with his boyfriend Tom Lee, and the two moved in
together in the East Village, next door to Allen in a building populated
by poets, musicians, and artists.

But despite Arthur’s musical talent and ambition, he was often tempered
by self-defeating career choices and alienating perfectionism. It
seemed that Arthur was creating a kind of utopia, where the absorbing
process of making music was his life. Finishing his work was a
secondary concern. Collaborators moved on to new projects, career
opportunities passed, and Arthur began working alone in his apartment.
What resulted was perhaps his most fully realized body of work, “World
of Echo.” These transcendent solo cello-and-voice songs were like
intimate diaries that fit somewhere between lullabies and art songs.

I only wish there had been a little more in Wild Combination on the wider scenes he helped to shape, but it’s a small complaint about what’s ultimately one of the best films of the year.

For more on Russell:

A New Yorker profile by Sacha Frere-Jones from a few years back.
A Slate profile by Andy Battaglia from around the same time.
A Gothamist interview from just last week with Tom Lee, Arthur’s boyfriend. 

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