Arthur Russell was a contrarian. If you liked his music he did not trust you. Not well known when he was alive Arthur Russell is making a comeback: fans include Kanye West who sampled him on 30 hours, Frank Ocean, and Devandra Banhart. As a cellist and composer he only released one record called “World of Echo”. He was a very shy man, with an acne pocked face.
Russell was an explorer of the extreme. His vibrato-free voice, and mid american accent hid the clarity of his lyrics. When you hear his lyrics it can sound like he is singing underwater. He would wander the streets of Lower Manhattan studying people. Hiding in the dark corners of dance clubs he would study which music enticed people onto the dance floor. How the rhythm of their bodies synched with the rhythm of the music. He composed the Ballad of Lights featuring Allen Ginsberg in a haunting track of darkness and light.
Russell died of Aids in 1992 but he left behind a treasure of unreleased music. His work cannot be categorised: Allen Ginsberg called it “Buddhist bubblegum music”. This disco track “Is it all over my Face” became an instant classic.
For every famous well known artist, composer, musician, academic, scientist, and inventor, there are men and women working away creating work that is out of the mainstream. Away from mass appreciation, they skirt around the bodies of well recognised work, able to create without the pressure of being liked, appreciated or revered. Arthur Russell was one of these artists.
Copyright Adrian Scott North London Counsellor Blog 2017
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