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Hold On to Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene,…

de Tim Lawrence

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322591,042 (3.63)2
Hold On to Your Dreams is the first biography of the musician and composer Arthur Russell, one of the most important but least known contributors to New York's downtown music scene during the 1970s and 1980s. With the exception of a few dance recordings, including "Is It All Over My Face?" and "Go Bang! #5," Russell's pioneering music was largely forgotten until 2004, when the posthumous release of two albums brought new attention to the artist. This revival of interest gained momentum with the issue of additional albums and the documentary film Wild Combination. Based on interviews with more than seventy of his collaborators, family members, and friends, Hold On to Your Dreams provides vital new information about this singular, eccentric musician and his role in the boundary-breaking downtown music scene. Tim Lawrence traces Russell's odyssey from his hometown of Oskaloosa, Iowa, to countercultural San Francisco, and eventually to New York, where he lived from 1973 until his death from AIDS-related complications in 1992. Resisting definition while dreaming of commercial success, Russell wrote and performed new wave and disco as well as quirky rock, twisted folk, voice-cello dub, and hip-hop-inflected pop. "He was way ahead of other people in understanding that the walls between concert music and popular music and avant-garde music were illusory," comments the composer Philip Glass. "He lived in a world in which those walls weren't there." Lawrence follows Russell across musical genres and through such vital downtown music spaces as the Kitchen, the Loft, the Gallery, the Paradise Garage, and the Experimental Intermedia Foundation. Along the way, he captures Russell's openness to sound, his commitment to collaboration, and his uncompromising idealism.… (més)
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This is simultaneously a biography of avant garde cellist Arthur Russell, a history of the downtown music scene of which Russell was a part, and a scholarly work developing the author's theories about creativity as explored in previously published articles. On any of these counts alone, it is not entirely satisfactory. It is obviously the product of deep research and critical analysis of Russell's contributions to music, and is therefore both thought provoking and entertaining. But Arthur is an enigma, as Matt Wolf's recent documentary Wild Combination also makes clear, and it is no easy task depicting the inner life behind this odd exterior. Even with excerpts from Arthur's letters and multitudinous interviews with Arthur's friends, colleagues, and family, Lawrence struggles to convey the musician's highly internal yet collaborative, improvisational yet perfectionist creative process. As a history of the downtown scene, Lawrence's portrait is necessarily fragmented, focusing as it does on Arthur's work and that of his many collaborators without always successfully conveying the scene at large. And Lawrence's scholarly theories seem out of place here alongside the far less academic anecdotes of recording sessions and concerts, family visits and sexual relationships. But even given these limitations, this book attempts, like Arthur did, to connect disparate strands of music: formal composition and recording studio technique; new music and avant disco; gay anthems and country and western ballads. And like Arthur's music, it challenges its audience to consider otherwise disparate ideas alongside one another. ( )
  andystardust | Aug 9, 2009 |
Well, I just finished the Russell bio. Wow! The book was a real eye opener for me. I didn't know anything about Russell or the "downtown music scene" and I found that to be very interesting. However I'm not sure the book is as successful as it could be. As Lawrence goes on (and on) describing the "scene" and especially the recording sessions, I found it emotionless. Russell was driven. (I get it). But there's no real description of the highs or lows. I came away feeling that all these artists didn't have any fun or enjoy doing the work that they were doing. Lawrence talks a lot about collaboration but very little about the comradery (and joy) that must have existed in the downtown music scene. Considering Russell saw enough in the disco scene to write for it Lawrence doesn't give any sense of what that the 70's - 80's downtown disco scene was really like. He seems to assume that most of his readers were already there.

I'm going to work on a longer review of this book because, in spite of its flaws, I think it is important. ( )
  e-zReader | Aug 6, 2009 |
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Lawrence shines a bright light onto a subject who fails to reflect much back. But the light picks out telling background details. By exploring downtown-Manhattan culture so restlessly and thoroughly, even if he didn't impress himself forcefully on it, Russell has inspired a book that helps us understand a thrilling twenty-five years of American cultural history.
afegit per Shortride | editaBookforum, John Rockwell (Dec 1, 2009)
 
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Hold On to Your Dreams is the first biography of the musician and composer Arthur Russell, one of the most important but least known contributors to New York's downtown music scene during the 1970s and 1980s. With the exception of a few dance recordings, including "Is It All Over My Face?" and "Go Bang! #5," Russell's pioneering music was largely forgotten until 2004, when the posthumous release of two albums brought new attention to the artist. This revival of interest gained momentum with the issue of additional albums and the documentary film Wild Combination. Based on interviews with more than seventy of his collaborators, family members, and friends, Hold On to Your Dreams provides vital new information about this singular, eccentric musician and his role in the boundary-breaking downtown music scene. Tim Lawrence traces Russell's odyssey from his hometown of Oskaloosa, Iowa, to countercultural San Francisco, and eventually to New York, where he lived from 1973 until his death from AIDS-related complications in 1992. Resisting definition while dreaming of commercial success, Russell wrote and performed new wave and disco as well as quirky rock, twisted folk, voice-cello dub, and hip-hop-inflected pop. "He was way ahead of other people in understanding that the walls between concert music and popular music and avant-garde music were illusory," comments the composer Philip Glass. "He lived in a world in which those walls weren't there." Lawrence follows Russell across musical genres and through such vital downtown music spaces as the Kitchen, the Loft, the Gallery, the Paradise Garage, and the Experimental Intermedia Foundation. Along the way, he captures Russell's openness to sound, his commitment to collaboration, and his uncompromising idealism.

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