Arthur Russell was a diverse musician who died of AIDS in 1992. Known for his inability to ever really finish a piece of music, he left behind an impressive collection of unreleased material which is now starting to see the light of day through various CD releases.
I first became aware of him when I stumbled over the compilation descriptively titled Four Songs By Arthur Russell, featuring various indie talent’s renditions of four of the late Arthur Russell’s songs, and I’m currently in the process of idly exploring his now growing discography. In 2004 a CD entitled Out Of Context was released under his name, collecting what I’d describe as various avant-garde disco pieces. One of the highlights of this release is this week’s featured song.
I like how the chorus doesn’t really start until two and a half minutes into the song, but I’m curious if you could get people to dance to this in a discotheque. Hopefully you could. My favourite line from the song was actually one I misheard; I thought he sang “I’m happy with one arm around you”, but what he’s actually singing (according to SongMeanings) is “I have to put one arm around you”. The latter works better within the context of the song, but I can’t help but wish he’d sung the former, as it’s such a lovely line. But perhaps I can use it for my own purposes then.
Arthur Russell was no doubt talented, and his early death is no small tragedy. His vocals and lyrics are just plain lovely, but his music is a bit of a hit or miss affair for me personally; sometimes he hits upon a melody you just can’t get out of your head and which will haunt you for the remainder of the day (such as “Arm Around You”), but other times you just can’t manage to get one of his melodies into your head and it will leave you cold.
Other than lovely, fleeting or windy or minimalistic are other adjectives that comes to mind when trying to describe his music. The music seems almost to barely be present, threatening to blow away at the smallest of gusts. But given his diversity – the most recently released CD bearing his name is a folky guitar affair entitled Love Is Overtaking Me – he’s a musician who’s music is difficult to sufficiently describe and summarise.