It’s cellist/composer Arthur Russell’s great triumph that his influence became so massively widespread, and his great tragedy that he never knew it. His AIDS-related death in 1992 happened before the world caught up with him, but his vision impacted genres as widespread as acid house, jazz, minimalism, ambient, folk, hip-hop, dub… this could go on, as a concise summation of Russell’s improbable career is just flat out impossible. DM’s Niall O’Conghaile did an insightful post on Russell about a year and a half ago, and frankly, I can’t touch it. If you want to know more, I strongly recommend you have a look at it. Now is fine, I’ll wait.
There’s a lot of GREAT personal and musical background on Russell here in this rarely seen video. It features his friends and collaborators David Byrne, Philip Glass, and Allen Ginsberg, and it was recorded in 1994 as a video press kit for the posthumous Another Thought, a collection of unreleased late-career recordings. Bonus: David Byrne’s heroic pony tail.
Russell’s profile is about to climb again, as he’s the subject of the next installment in the famed and long-running series of “Red Hot” AIDS benefit compilations, Master Mix: Red Hot & Arthur Russell. The double-length comp features tributes from a huge and diverse lode of current performers, including José González (of whose band Junip I’m a great fan), Cults, Devendra Banhart, and Scissor Sisters. Styles represented are fittingly all over the map, from fragile Nick Drake-ish atmospheric folk to joyfully uninhibited disco. Not all the stuff I’d want to share with you is actually available online (I’d love to play you the Autumn Defense and Richard Reed Parry tracks), but of what I could get, the González cut is quite good, and Hot Chip’s eleven-minute take on “Go Bang” is pretty insane. I’ve included the originals for your A/B-ing pleasure.
José González, “This is How we Walk on the Moon”
Arthur Russell, “This is How we Walk on the Moon”
Hot Chip, “Go Bang”
Dinosaur L / Arthur Russell, “Go Bang”
The comp isn’t due out for another month, unless, well… just how big of a geek are you? Because if you still have a functioning tape deck, you get a month’s leg up on everyone else, as Master Mix will be a Cassette Store Day item this Saturday (Sep 27, 2014). And before you go pointing and laughing at the hipster straw man, first of all, fuck off, and secondly, in some circles, the format has never died. Thanks to their low price point on small runs, cassette has remained a preferred method of transmission in the noise scene, and cassette-only labels are more abundant in the underground than you might think. One of my favorite albums in the last five years was cassette only, in fact. And since the advent of download codes, does the specific physical format of a release really matter that much? Besides, PRETTY RED AND BLUE TAPES ARE PRETTY!
We’ll leave you with the trailer for the 2008 Russell documentary Wild Combination. It hasn’t found its way to Netflix or Hulu yet, unfortunately, but it can be streamed in HD from Amazon.
Previously on Dangerous Minds
Talking Heads previously unheard version of ‘Psycho Killer’ featuring Arthur Russell on cello