Arthur Russell's Next Last Composition
In Matt Wolf's Arthur Russell documentary, Wild Combination, there's an incandescent, almost surreal scene, about halfway through: Russell, seated awkwardly on a metal folding chair, playing a Byzantine and circular cello-and-vocals composition to a largely empty room. The footage is black-and-white, grainy; the audio crackly, clipping at the top of Russell’s range. But there's no mistaking the song: "Eli," a baldly heartfelt ode to a dog, exactly the kind of weirdly beautiful thing at which Russell excelled.
Now Audika, the same label that brought most of Russell's work back into print in 2004 and 2005, is slated to release Love Is Overtaking Me, another slice of Russell's legendarily overgrown and unheard archives, on October 28th. "Eli," and many other songs featured in Wolf's Wild Combination, are included, and the release sports liner notes from Tom Lee, Russell's longtime partner and his chief advocate and publicist since 1992, the year Russell died of AIDS.
Those unfamiliar with Russell's biography—the flight from Oskaloosa, Iowa to a Buddhist commune in Haight-Ashbury, a stint as the music director of the Kitchen in 1970s, brushes with Ginsberg and Glass and other New York luminaries, a titanic reign at the Loft—would be advised to check out Wild Combination, a truly exceptional documentary that's showing at the IFC on September 26 in advance of a November DVD release. In the meantime, Audika is streaming "Eli" and another rarity, the pleasingly melancholy "Close My Eyes."