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Hold On to Your Dreams

9780822344667: Hardback
Release Date: 23rd October 2009

9780822344858: Paperback
Release Date: 23rd October 2009

85 illustrations

Dimensions: 156 x 235

Number of Pages: 448

Duke University Press Books

Hold On to Your Dreams

Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene, 1973-1992


Hardback / £88.00
Paperback / £20.99

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.

Illustrations xi
Preface xv
Acknowledgments xxiii
Introduction 1
1. Formations (1951–1973) 11
2. Explorations (1973–1975) 47
3. Alternatives (1975–1977) 83
4. Intensities (1977–1980) 125
5. Variations (1980–1984) 179
6. Reverberations (1984–1987) 247
7. Tangents (1987–1992) 293
Epilogue 341
Notes 359
Discography 377
Bibliography 387
Index 393

Tim Lawrence is a freelance music writer and Lecturer in Cultural Studies at the University of East London.

“[A] sensitive and thorough biography. . . . In a sense, Arthur Russell was so much a part of his times that he tended to disappear into them, blending in with so many different scenes that the camouflage seemed at times to have taken over. Lawrence notes, for example, how many previous accounts of the New York downtown scene fail to notice him at all. With Hold On to Your Dreams, the outline of an outstanding and prescient artist can now be more clearly made out.” - Ken Hollings, The Wire
“[W]hat makes this book valuable is that Russell’s shadowy ubiquity turns an ostensible biography into a first draft of that elusive comprehensive history of the downtown performing arts. Hold On to Your Dreams has to go everywhere, because that’s where Russell went. . . . [E]ven if you didn’t know about Russell and are not yet persuaded to pursue him further, this is still a book worth reading. . . . Psychologically, Russell emerges as indeed fascinating, more fascinating than his music, as a maverick without, Lawrence notes, the feisty self-righteousness such figures often embody. . . . Russell has inspired a book that helps us understand a thrilling twenty-five years of American cultural history.” - John Rockwell, Bookforum
“[An exhaustive, often spellbinding account of the life of one of music’s true maverick enigmas. . . . While the book provides many fresh insights into the 80s downtown hotbed, Russell emerges as a strange, fragile figure, in a monumental work. Hold On To Your Dreams is a captivating record of a true original’s all-too-brief life.” - Kris Needs, Record Collector
“The passionate, revelatory anecdotes collected here follow Russell through those liminal downtown nightclubs, loft spaces, and recording studios that made his life and music possible.” - Carol Cooper, Village Voice
“[A]n exemplary demonstration of exactly what a biography should do. In his rigorously researched investigation of musician and composer Arthur Russell, cultural theory lecturer Tim Lawrence effortlessly explores his subject and in so doing shines fresh light on the darkened recesses of both New York's downtown music scene and the popular cultural landscape of Russell's times. And despite Russell's relative obscurity, the book leaves you in no doubt as to how influential this maverick music figure has been.” - Martin James, Times Higher Education Supplement
Hold On to Your Dreams tells the story of an artist whose life becomes more intriguing with every turn. Inspiring and written with love, this book takes us to the roots of Arthur Russell’s music, from the streets of New York to the cornfields of Iowa.”—Jens Lekman, musician
“Tim Lawrence has written a fascinating and insightful biography of a sensitive and searching soul. Arthur Russell was a personal artist whose musical vision led him to coexist in seemingly incompatible worlds. Through the lens of Arthur Russell’s life (never clouded with material success or celebrity), Tim Lawrence gives us a sharp and singular portrait of late-twentieth-century American life. A fine read, with a depth and detail that resonate with Arthur Russell’s sparkle and wit.”—Peter Gordon, Love of Life Orchestra
“With rich and animated detail, Tim Lawrence tracks Arthur Russell’s insatiable drive to integrate so-called serious music and pop. This definitive biography is both an engrossing record of Russell’s musical ambitions and a compelling account of the fertile downtown scene that supported his admirable dreams.”—Matt Wolf, director of Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell
“[A] sensitive and thorough biography. . . . In a sense, Arthur Russell was so much a part of his times that he tended to disappear into them, blending in with so many different scenes that the camouflage seemed at times to have taken over. Lawrence notes, for example, how many previous accounts of the New York downtown scene fail to notice him at all. With Hold On to Your Dreams, the outline of an outstanding and prescient artist can now be more clearly made out.”
Ken Hollings
The Wire
“[A]n exemplary demonstration of exactly what a biography should do. In his rigorously researched investigation of musician and composer Arthur Russell, cultural theory lecturer Tim Lawrence effortlessly explores his subject and in so doing shines fresh light on the darkened recesses of both New York's downtown music scene and the popular cultural landscape of Russell's times. And despite Russell's relative obscurity, the book leaves you in no doubt as to how influential this maverick music figure has been.”
Martin James
Times Higher Education Supplement
“[An exhaustive, often spellbinding account of the life of one of music’s true maverick enigmas. . . . While the book provides many fresh insights into the 80s downtown hotbed, Russell emerges as a strange, fragile figure, in a monumental work. Hold On To Your Dreams is a captivating record of a true original’s all-too-brief life.”
Kris Needs
Record Collector
“[W]hat makes this book valuable is that Russell’s shadowy ubiquity turns an ostensible biography into a first draft of that elusive comprehensive history of the downtown performing arts. Hold On to Your Dreams has to go everywhere, because that’s where Russell went. . . . [E]ven if you didn’t know about Russell and are not yet persuaded to pursue him further, this is still a book worth reading. . . . Psychologically, Russell emerges as indeed fascinating, more fascinating than his music, as a maverick without, Lawrence notes, the feisty self-righteousness such figures often embody. . . . Russell has inspired a book that helps us understand a thrilling twenty-five years of American cultural history.”
John Rockwell
Bookforum
“The passionate, revelatory anecdotes collected here follow Russell through those liminal downtown nightclubs, loft spaces, and recording studios that made his life and music possible.”
Carol Cooper
Village Voice