Arthur Russell was born and raised in Oskaloosa, Iowa, the son of the town's mayor. He studied cello and piano from a young age and began to compose his own music. When he was 18 he left his home to live in a Buddhist commune in San Francisco, where he had to keep his "earthly" cello playing a secret. Somewhere around this time, he met Allen Ginsberg, and soon the two began performing together: Arthur playing cello as Allen sang or read poetry. He moved to New York City and enrolled in the Manhattan School of Music in 1973, where he had a miserable experience, clashing constantly with his instructor Charles Wuorinen. As he contemplated leaving the school, he happened to meet Rhys Chatham, who arranged for Arthur to succeed him as the musical director of The Kitchen, the Hells Kitchen avant-garde performance space. He dropped his studies and roomed with Chatham briefly in Allen Ginsberg's building, who provided Russell and Chatham with electricity via extension cord. While extremely prolific, Russell's recordings, which spanned a multitude of genres and approaches, were relatively unknown during his lifetime. Part of this is attributable to the fact that he had a tendency to continually revise his work, leaving it unfinished. Within the last decade, a real renaissance and reevaluation of his work has taken place, and some of the multitudes of recordings he left behind when he died (over 1,000 tapes) have been compiled and released posthumously. Covers of his songs, such as “This is How We Walk on the Moon,” have been used in commercials and many contemporary artists now cite him as a major influence on their work. Filmmaker Matt Wolf and writer Tim Laurence have each paid Arthur Russell tribute with their works Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell and Hold On To Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene. Arthur died at 40 in 1992.
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