"I wanna see all my friends at once!" screams a vocalist on Arthur Russell's "Go Bang". It's a line that might ultimately define the man - a musical genius of the glory days of disco who seemed to be loved, even pined after, by all who knew him. The feeling couldn't have been any more apparent than at the emotional Electric Minds tribute to the man last night at Santos, at which the surviving members of Russell's disco projects Loose Joints and Dinosaur L performed his tracks live.
Russell's most important work, for us at least, came when he moved to NYC and became the coordinator for the Kitchen - a creative roosting place for composers and instrumentalists - where he would meet and eventually collaborate with an avant-garde elite (Phillip Glass and David Byrne included). He had spent his youth cavorting with the likes of Allen Ginsberg and John Cage (while studying at the Ali Akbar Khan School of music in San Francisco; later, the young composer grew to be a playboy in the underground disco scene, gaining notoriety for his unique take on the genre and his entourage of nightlife's disco kings. Most fascinating was the fact that his peers put up with him at all. He often dropped projects mid-way (including an opera for Robert Wilson, later saved by Glass), respectfully declined to work with John Hammond (Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Aretha Franklin's producer), and sometimes created so many versions of the same track that the end result was confused or went un-recorded. Not to mention his many romantic entanglements, some of which led to the poetry that served as his lyrics. In all, Russell was an innovative composer and musical virtuoso whose unique strengths and weaknesses combined to make him both adored and, for all intents and purposes, unknown.More »