Arthur Rus­sell ‘Call­ing Out of Con­text’

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - TICKET STUBS - Donal Di­neen

Arthur Rus­sell was born into a farm in the charm­ingly ti­tled Oskalooska in Iowa in 1951. He didn’t har­bour much love for work­ing in the fields but from a young age he showed a tremen­dous feel­ing for mu­sic and as a child and ado­les­cent stud­ied cello and piano. The in­nate melancholia at the heart of much of his work was some­thing he felt from the start. He was a lonely child and a fish out of water in Iowa. His ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity was a source of iso­la­tion in a place he con­sid­ered sev­eral plan­ets re­moved from the cen­tre of civil­i­sa­tion.

He moved to San Fran­cisco at the age of 18 and his world ex­panded ex­po­nen­tially. He lived in a Bud­dhist com­mune and stud­ied North In­dian Class­si­cal mu­sic at the Ali Ak­bar Col­lege of Mu­sic and west­ern com­po­si­tion at the San Fran­cisco Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic.

He re­lo­cated to New York in 1973 to fur­ther his stud­ies, and ex­pand his bur­geon­ing world through a chance en­counter he be­came mu­sic di­rec­tor at The Kitchen, an avant-garde down­town per­for­mance space. His own mu­si­cal ex­per­i­men­ta­tion at this time was cen­tred largely around a band called The Fly­ing Hearts. It wasn’t un­til he paid a visit to Nicky Siano’s disco club in Soho in 1976 that the mir­ror­ball dropped and a whole new world of dance mu­sic ex­ploded.

It pre­cip­i­tated a brand-new modus operandi on Rus­sell’s part. He be­gan work­ing solo at a fu­ri­ous pace, of­ten turn­ing over sev­eral songs in a sin­gle day. New tech­nol­ogy en­abled him to be his own orches­tra with prim­i­tive drum ma­chines re­plac­ing the need for a drum­mer. For a multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist it was like reach­ing Shangri-La.

His abil­ity to im­bue each of his songs with a per­son­al­ity of its own turn them into some­thing else. Some work bet­ter than oth­ers but they all have char­ac­ter in abun­dance. His col­lab­o­ra­tion with Jennifer Warnes, That’s Us/The Wild Com­bi­na­tion, is a richly nu­anced clas­sic.

The charts never listed an Arthur Rus­sell song. While he reached for the skies and brought back the star­dust, they re­mained a poorer place.

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