A Long Lost Arthur Russell Interview

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thanks a LOT, jay. will read this tonight with a nice glass of wine i think ;-)

willem (willem), Saturday, 20 August 2005 08:57 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Cheers! That last paragraph is lovely.

LRJP! (LRJP!), Saturday, 20 August 2005 09:43 (thirteen years ago) Permalink


m coleman (lovebug starski), Saturday, 20 August 2005 10:58 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Very nice, thanks.

Bohannon OTM.

sleeve (sleeve), Saturday, 20 August 2005 14:53 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

thanks jay vee. am i the only one seeing strange formatting icons here?

jed_ (jed), Saturday, 20 August 2005 15:02 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

My pleasure, everyone!

I typed this up in MS Word on my Mac. If anyone's unable to read it as posted here -- it looks fine to me, btw -- I'll be glad to send you the original Word file. Not sure if that'll help but ...

Jay Vee (Manon_70), Saturday, 20 August 2005 15:35 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

ah, no prob; kept me concentrating just a little, like Arthur's music always does (to say the least), no matter how ambient. Hope there's a few hours of his country/folk repetoire floating around somewhere (I suspect there is, considering his other self-documentation. Yall know he's all over a good portion of that Allen Ginsberg boxset, frequently with Dylan? Can see the John Martyn allusion, esp. the latter's Solid Air, and some of his live stuff of that era, with acoustic guitar run through effects. AR wise not to join Heads, alas (But imagine what he might've done with material from Remain In Light, even if he weren't on the LP itself--I suspect Eno wouldn't want another genius guest/collab aboard). He prob saw enough of the battles between Byrne and Tina, speaking of well-documented. And would've had to go schlepping cello etc around to talk shows and shit, as part of their Top 20 or whatever career (not that I don't miss them on MTV, not that I don't miss music on MTV) Dance music with improvisation! That's what we need, and sure did then. No matter how much I dug disco in principle, and for social purposes, and livin room excercise, that beat sure as hell could get boring to actually dance to, after about 10 minutes of typical club mix, no matter the predictable bells and whistles on top of the thump.

don, Saturday, 20 August 2005 16:10 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Mr. Knutson is one lucky man, to have Arthur's tapes to issue over the coming years. It makes me happy he's also a good man who really cares about and understands Arthur Russell's genius.

Not that this adds anything, but below is a review I did for a local magazine (the only review I've ever written of any music for publication) that apparently caused the sale of a large number of copies of 'World of Echo' at the best local record shop. That's all I could've asked for--that more people hear Mr. Russell.

Arthur Russell
'World of Echo'
[1986; reissued Audika Records, 2004]

I am a proactive humanist; I don't believe in religion or science as anything more than means to an end. If I have a concept of ritual, of efficacious religious activity, it's listening to and making music. By this understanding, listening to 'World of Echo' is a genuinely religious experience.

Instead of trying to explain its power to friends, over the last few years I've copied it a dozen times and let it do its own proselytizing. Miraculously, it's been rescued from the land of hopelessly-out-of-print and reissued by Audika Records (who also released the nearly-as-brilliant record of unheard avant-Casio-hip-hop-pop, 'Calling Out of Context,' in early 2004) after a year of growing interest spurned in part by Soul Jazz's 'World of Arthur Russell' compilation. If you've only heard that disc, then you know Arthur Russell as an underground New York disco maestro via Dinosaur L, Loose Joints, Sleeping Bag Records, and his work with the likes of David Byrne and Jerry Harrison. But Arthur was also a quiet gay kid from Iowa; a renowned classical and avant-garde cellist; an adherent at a Buddhist monastery in California; Ginsberg's musical accompanyist; and a compatriot of Phillip Glass. But beyond all that, he also recorded hundreds of hours of practically secret music that transcends any of his public personae, most of which he never felt the need to share with the world. Of that more private Arthur Russell, 'World of Echo' is the central expression.

Elements of Arthur's roles as disco auteur and composer-poet are apparent on 'World of Echo'. The record consists almost entirely of intimately microphoned voice and cello treated with dub echoes and twists that enhance the album's feeling of being in the blood, wholly organic. The melodies recall Russell's serenely joyous keyboard lines from "Is It All Over My Face," but most of the beats are implied rather than pronounced. The cello sounds more like a living voice than a refined classical instrument, providing the heartbeat as much as the melody. The album is meditative, but in a way that recalls West African kora playing; a classical raga; evensong at St. Paul's; or a Javanese Gamelan piece played at quarter speed; more than any singer/songwriter confessional. The interplay between Russell's voice, his cello, and the expertly applied dub effects reminds me of nothing so much as Bill Evans, Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian on "Jade Visions". ‘World of Echo’ consists of identifiable "songs," but Russell clearly thought more in terms of motifs and textures than traditional verse/chorus/verse arrangements. Lyrics and melodies cycle through, but the pattern of how and when they appear is more akin to jazz than pop. It may be Russell's unassuming, full voice, sounding corporal and spiritual—somewhere between Curtis Mayfield, Percy Sledge, and Nick Drake—that gives the music such transcendent warmth and vitality.

There is the intoxication of a party: the dancing, the drugs, the flirting, the sex. And then there is the more sobering intoxication which comes after all of that, if you're lucky enough to be sleeping next to the one you love. 'World of Echo' is intoxicating like the moments when you awake to find that she's still there, when you realize she will be again tomorrow and after ten thousand tomorrows. It is in this moment that life is clearest, when you know you are blessed. In this moment of safety, you understand what could be lost if you take life for granted, and so you resolve to live fully rather than passively. 'World of Echo' is an experience of an active peace, not a sterile absence of discord. You can let it wash over you, and it is beautiful enough to simply soothe. But if you can listen actively, it will reaffirm your faith that music is integral to being successfully human, and that the beauty of being human is worth all the trouble. For me, that's the hope music-as-religion can offer.

I.M. (I.M.), Saturday, 20 August 2005 16:21 (thirteen years ago) Permalink


ah, no prob; kept me concentrating just a little, like Arthur's music always does (to say the least), no matter how ambient.

I was going to say the same thing! Treat the odd Mac-PC grammer artefacts and stray consonant intrusions as typographical echoplex and tape shimmer ;)

Nice stuff I.M.

LRJP! (LRJP!), Saturday, 20 August 2005 16:37 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

haha i feel bad for taking them out now! and thanks jay for posting this.

jess (dubplatestyle), Saturday, 20 August 2005 17:03 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Excellent review, IM.

Next week I'll post the MM review of world Of Echo that was in the same issue. I think some of it was quoted in the reissue liner notes.

Jay Vee (Manon_70), Saturday, 20 August 2005 17:54 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Nice stuff indeed, I.M. And the Nick Drake ref (which I also saw in customer review on Amazon; checking for pre-order listing of next Audika, not on there yet) also pertains to previous mention of John Martyn in several ways (and prev mentioned Solid Air's title track was supposedly inspired by STP trip taken with Drake). Martyn's vocal slurs remind me less of Arthur's vocals than of his cello swipes, aside from associating cello with M.'s amplified and otherwise altered acoutic guitars.But I like Arthur better than either of those guys. (Some of the music on ND's albums was dubbed in against his will, like on some of Arthur's Sleeping Bag singles, but the latter's better, too!)

don, Saturday, 20 August 2005 18:28 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

this is great-i finally got to read it. jay vee, thx again for doing this.

Susan Douglas (Susan Douglas), Tuesday, 23 August 2005 19:09 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

after reading this again today i'm feeling depressed/uplifted. depressed bc of prevalence of close-mindedness and smugness in the creative and academic communities then (and now). uplifted that he continued to make his music (seemingly) completely unnaffected by other people's notions (atleast I cannot hear a compromise in there) and in the face of all what i imagine was a lot of personally directed hostility and painful dismissal from his peers and folks he respected. even if you are that resolute in your vision, its a really hard thing to just continue doing.

Susan Douglas (Susan Douglas), Wednesday, 24 August 2005 23:05 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

three weeks pass...
This message is from Bob Blank. I was the producer of 'Wax The Van', for the artist Lola.

The article I just read contained conjecture and innacuracies that need to be mentioned.

I worked with Arthur for years before the creation of "Wax The Van'; I did literally hundreds of recording sessions with Arthur as engineer and as producer (I produced Arthur and group for Sire Records as The Necessaries). Lola (my wife) was one of the vocalists on "Go Bang" which I also remixed - Arthur was interested in working with Lola on a record and worked out 'Wax The Van' as one of 5 titles we recorded for an album (another title from this album came out on Jump Street Records). I had produced Sleeping Bag's first #1 title - 'Weekend', and Will Socolov was very happy about our producing a song for Lola - we both assumed it would be a good product, and it was.

I created the rhythm track, playing the drum machine (!) and of course guitar (as I had done on our other #1 NY record, 'Over Like A Fat Rat')and Arthur played piano and sang a chrous part. Ken Smith was brought in to play bass, and of course Lola sang it. My six year old son Kenny sang the 'why why' parts - another great part contributed by Arthur - and Arthur got all the credit and $$ compensation that we agreed to and was entitled to. He was to continue to work with me for another few years until his death, at my home studio in Connecticut, after I sold Blank Tapes Studio in 1987.

The reason for Arthur's departure from Sleeping Bag was simple, and it was not, as the author imples, due to a disagreement over the record 'Wax The Van'. Quite simply, Will wanted to take the label to 'another level', and he and Arthur had many artistic disagreements. Will wnet on to achieve great success without Arthur (effectively screwing him out of his part of the company, which Arthur was co-owner with Juggy Gayles and Will) and of course, Arthur went on doing projects. 'World Of Echo' was one - I worked on this as I had done on many of the projects he did.

I think the original article, written at the time of great upheaval in Arthur's life and from a perspective of the times, has a sweetly innocent quality that belies it's ignorance. For instance, the cute 'fishy' metaphors conclude by naming the publishing company's name, Beach House Music. Cute tie in, but in reality, it was Will's family's restaurant, the Beach House, on the West Vilage, that gave the publishing company it's moniker, not any relation to Arthur.

Another title is still "in the Can' from the last few years of working with Arthur; many memories remain, like the 1951 Chevy that Arthur drove east to trade for payment of studio time (I eventually gave it away) and the times spent in my attic studios in Stamford.

Hey, the article was 20 years ago, right?

Anyway, thanks for letting me set the record straight. Email me....

Bob Blank, Friday, 16 September 2005 02:03 (thirteen years ago) Permalink


andrew m. (andrewmorgan), Friday, 16 September 2005 02:29 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

"wax the van" is pretty classic.

Russell's passion for extended groove formats was well in evidence, the single clocking in at 18 minutes

18 minutes?

vahid (vahid), Friday, 16 September 2005 02:35 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Just shy of 13.

Thanks for the Aural Exciters as well!

Dan Selzer (Dan Selzer), Friday, 16 September 2005 04:06 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

"Disco music was strongly influenced by repetitive music. The appearance of the minimalists like myself in the pop circles contributed to this trend. Although pop musicians based themselves on us, they still created their own forms. Their musical language was expanded." - Philip Glass.

what an egotistical fuck.

hstencil (hstencil), Friday, 16 September 2005 04:13 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Thanks for the additional info and perspective, Bob. I now have this great image in my head of Arthur driving a Chevy listening to his own musics blasting through the speakers... (incidentally, I just bought a 1986 rerelease of the "Go Bang/Clean On Your Bean" 12" last week :-))

willem (willem), Friday, 16 September 2005 06:19 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

one year passes...
I just stumbled across another MM interview/feature on Arthur Russell and Sleeping Bag Records in a pile of cuttings - dates from a year earlier than this one, i.e. 1986.

If there's a demand I'll scan and YSI it or something.

Jeff W (zebedee), Thursday, 28 September 2006 10:13 (twelve years ago) Permalink

please do!

stirmonster (stirmonster), Thursday, 28 September 2006 10:32 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Yeah, that'd be great!

Gerard (Gerard), Thursday, 28 September 2006 10:40 (twelve years ago) Permalink


Raw Patrick (Raw Patrick), Thursday, 28 September 2006 10:52 (twelve years ago) Permalink

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