Is today one of those days where it’s just useless to try to get anything done? I made the beautiful mistake this morning of putting on Arthur Russell’s Calling Out of Context, the sublime compendium of unreleased work forthcoming from Audika, and since then I’ve been in the most exquisitely melancholy mood. Read Toop’s Wire article on Russell, seduced by the first three paragraphs – Toop manages to pull off that kind of sentimentalism where in almost any other writer’s hand it would just go maudlin – and by the end was in tears. Can’t explain it – well, except for the fact that I am inherently a sap, as anyone who knows me knows – but it was all the reasons that death, young death, is ever tragic. The waste of it, primarily (though I suspect there’s something ontologically suspect about saying death is a waste, unless we mean in the sense of a “wasting away,” which it sounds like Russell’s was; but I’ll leave that for now). Other, more specific reasons: the killing hindsight vision of Russell as an artist who worked as though he had all the time in the world, puttering, planning, and too often withdrawing from projects. And most of all, perhaps, the parents left behind.
“’The last time we saw him in New York, his hair was falling out,’ says his father, Chuck. ‘When he was little he had a temper and I used to say, ‘Charley, you’re a poor sport.’ In the hospital I was combing his hair and I said, ‘Charley, you’re a good sport.’ He said, ‘Are you sure?’ Two days after he died we got a letter from a cousin of mine with a write-up about Arthur from The New York Times. We said, this kid was well thought of.”
Yeah, that’s the part that got me, with its implication of inevitable strangeness, the unreconcilable distance that would allow his parents – who, it seems, loved him, and were loved in return – not even to know he was “well thought of.” (If they didn’t know then, I’m sure they’re about to figure it out, between the Soul Jazz and Audika releases.)
I eventually went back to my writing, or tried to, anyway. Threw on a recording of Sense Club’s MUTEK Chile performance, trying to put myself in the mindset to finish an article on the festival. I was looking for the bit where Villalobos plays the Violeta Parra a cappella that he’s been caning lately (if anyone can identify this track, please let me know!), but another voice jumped out at me from deep in the folds of a mix with DBX’s “Losing Control.” It was almost gone before I realized it, little more than an echo in my mind. I rewound, and there it was: the briefest of samples of Russell’s voice, a quick little upturn twisted into a never-ending loop. I can’t place the track, though the production is almost certainly from Another Thought; given the placement over DBX, I’d like to think it’s “Just A Blip”. But maybe that irony would be just too cruel. Be careful how you title your songs: they’ll all be epitaphs someday.