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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 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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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 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.

30 review for Hold On to Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene, 1973-1992

  1. 5 out of 5

    robin

    that's us / wild combination i love arthur russell so much i can't really begin with how much his work has affected me, you know? this book just reinforces that even more emotions. ok

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    You'll spend more time looking up songs than reading, but this biography is superb.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Tom Thor Buchanan

    Really good, but in the epilogue he lets loose with the "I am reminded of Delueze and Guattari..." and "there's no reason to believe Arthur Russell ever read the works of Michel Foucault, but..." and it kind of kills the vibe. Congratulations Tim Lawrence, you played yourself!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    arthur russell is cool

  5. 5 out of 5

    Duke Press

    “Lawrence’s book is obsessively researched . . . [and:] his overriding thesis—that Russell’s boundary crossing was as important as the work he made—is sound, paying tribute to a man who was a connector as well as a spark.”--Michaelangelo Matos, Time Out New York “[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 ov “Lawrence’s book is obsessively researched . . . [and:] his overriding thesis—that Russell’s boundary crossing was as important as the work he made—is sound, paying tribute to a man who was a connector as well as a spark.”--Michaelangelo Matos, Time Out New York “[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 “Lawrence . . . is a wonderful writer, able to ruminate on music in a way that is deeply knowledgeable without ever losing the groove and the beat.”--John McLeod, Flagpole “Lawrence's writing style mirrors Russell's musical approach, fusing divergent disciplines and catering to different audiences in a single work. Serious scholars and academics will be pleased with the depth of research, and fans will enjoy the illustrations and anecdotes of Russell's life.”--Library Journal “I don’t have enough good things to say about Tim Lawrence's biography, which is thoroughly researched, well told, and which successfully pushes the envelope of what biographies can accomplish. One of the most impressive things that Lawrence does throughout Hold On To Your Dreams, is not only provide a sensitive and detailed rendering of Russell's life, but also the story of large and complex cultural confluences channeled by a single person.”--Thom Donovan, The Fanzine “[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 “Thanks to Lawrence's scrupulous efforts as interviewer and historian and critic, Dreams is the most fully realized portrait of Russell-the-man that fans have yet seen. . . . Lawrence's book offers a Russell with multiple dimensions: dreamy and obsessed, yes, but also venal, petty, caring, wounded, self-doubting, generous, and funny. . . . Finishing Hold On to Your Dreams, it's hard not to fall a little in love with the fallible human who produced this otherworldly sound, and to lament his early passing all the harder.”--Jess Harvell, Baltimore City Paper “[T]he most fascinating recount of the unfairly condemned-to-obscurity experimental musician. . . . Russell’s unprecedented genre-merging deserves this kind of exploration, and Lawrence approaches with a delicacy and direct intimacy reminiscent of the music itself.”--Oxford American “Written with crystal clarity but never overly dry despite Lawrence's academic background, this is a gripping portrait both of a unique artist and a time of spectacular cultural flux.”--Joe Muggs, The Word “Through meticulous attention to detail and chronology, Tim Lawrence's book manages to piece together memories, letters, and records to give a very real sense of who Arthur Russell was; while placing him firmly in the times and places he lived. . . . This book is a vital document of the man and the times he lived in. It is nothing less than justice being done.”--Bernard Keenan, The Quietus “[A:] deservedly serious, thoughtful treatment . . . . [An:] excellent biography. . . . Lawrence's writing is up to the task of telling this narrative in a way that makes the pathos of Russell's life a deeply compelling window onto the ‘Downtown’ music scene of the 1980s and 90s. Indeed, part of what makes the book so successful is Lawrence's insight into Russell's ongoing ambivalence toward this scene, especially its fascination with the machismo of grand modernist gestures.”--Gustavus Staler, Social Text “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 “Depicting with flair the short creative life of a near-forgotten musical visionary, this reverent study of an irreverent man is a sparkling fusion of serious scholarship, insightful analysis and colorful oral history.”--Richard Labonte, Q Syndicate “It’s a mark of the success of Lawrence’s book that even though it sheds new light on Russell’s life – filling in key details about the time he spent at a San Franciscan Buddhist monastery, his occasional sessions with Bob Dylan and his close friendship with Allen Ginsberg for example – it never destroys the alluring enigma that is key to the magic of the man.”--Stuart Aitken, Flux Magazine “Weaving threads of ethnomusicology, pop culture, race relations, bohemian celebrity culture, and the bedeviling schemes of monolithic midtown music labels, Mr. Lawrence’s breathtaking book informs and delights.”--Charlie Vázquez “[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 “Lawrence does an admirable job of explicating the scope of Russell’s activities and achievements and he does what a good biographer ought: marshals the facts, but allows the story to be told largely through the words of his subject’s family, friends, lovers and collaborators. . . . Lawrence is even better on Russell’s personal life, which, given his penchant for collaboration, often overlapped with his artistic life.”--Tim Howard, The Enthusiast “Tim Lawrence is ideally suited to tell Arthur Russell’s story. He knows the pople, music and places that comprised the creative world o lower Manhattan in the ‘70s and ‘80s. He has a good eye for details, his prose is blessedly free of trendy theoretical jargon, and the book is solidly researched. . . . Even for those previously unfamiliar with Russell’s music Hold On to Your Dreams will provide a fascinating look at the unique downtown cultural environment at that time. . . . Hold On to Your Dreams is certainly a worth addition to the legacy of this authentic, uncompromising and important sound experimentalist.”--Alan Waters, Signal to Noise

  6. 4 out of 5

    David Ashley

    An incredibly well researched and insightful book that is absolutely essential for getting a grip on the elusive Arthur Russell. Arthur's musical output is a bit of a tangled mess and hard to really experience in a linear or historic fashion but this book makes it easier to understand some form of chronology. The book is written with an incredible amount of detail and without the typical conversational mode some other biographies can fall in to. It remains a serious investigation through-out. I onl An incredibly well researched and insightful book that is absolutely essential for getting a grip on the elusive Arthur Russell. Arthur's musical output is a bit of a tangled mess and hard to really experience in a linear or historic fashion but this book makes it easier to understand some form of chronology. The book is written with an incredible amount of detail and without the typical conversational mode some other biographies can fall in to. It remains a serious investigation through-out. I only have three very slight criticisms but none really detracted too much from the overall enjoyment. One, their are so many names to keep track of, it becomes very difficult at times to remember who is who (I guess that's just testament to how much Arthur was a community driven collaborator at heart). Two, although the cold hard facts are really really well delivered it would have been nice to have even more warmth to set the scene and give a sense that Tim has an emotional attachment to Arthur's music. You don't really feel it that much but maybe that's a good thing. Three, although the chapters are in place to set some form of chronological arch or 'chapters' in Arthur's output there is often a lot of bleed, sometimes a chapter will start by talking about music Arthur was working on almost ten years prior which feels strange. It's like the chapters are like overlapping tectonic plates which can make getting an overall picture of Arthur's developments a little hard at times. Overall an incredible book, these three 'issues' are only very minor. Looking forward to reading more by Tim in the future.

  7. 5 out of 5

    james l. smith

    This is an excellently researched and enthralling profile of one of my favourite musicians and composers. I took my time reading it so I could listen to the music referenced inside as I went along and discovered a lot of new artists and bands. A must read for any Arthur Russell fan. Lawrence goes into depth about many aspects of Russell's life; from his various musical projects, collaborations and recordings to the more personal, ideological and private sides of his character. Even in the more p This is an excellently researched and enthralling profile of one of my favourite musicians and composers. I took my time reading it so I could listen to the music referenced inside as I went along and discovered a lot of new artists and bands. A must read for any Arthur Russell fan. Lawrence goes into depth about many aspects of Russell's life; from his various musical projects, collaborations and recordings to the more personal, ideological and private sides of his character. Even in the more probing sections it never feels voyeuristic and does well to create a broad portrait through interviews with friends, family and collaborators. After reading this, I felt I could begin to understand some of the motivations and philosophies held by this bubblegum buddhist pop composer singer-songwriter mutant disco polymath. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who appreciates Arthur Russell's diverse musical output or wishes to gain more knowledge about some of the fringe and underground musical movements happening in the NYC Downtown scene during this era.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Zach Burba

    We're so lucky to have this deep record of Arthur's life to accompany the music. Listen to all available songs, then read this book and you will have a new best friend in Arthur Russell. You're gonna weep.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    A brilliant biography and a fascinating portrait of 70s & 80s gay & underground NY A brilliant biography and a fascinating portrait of 70s & 80s gay & underground NY

  10. 4 out of 5

    Piotr

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. The bio facts in/of themselves are awesomely curious: Born under a full moon, a first-day Gemini (as cuspy as they get). Buddhist from Iowa. Minimalist cello-player/disco-dancer/pop-lover/folky. Escaped hippie San Francisco for whatever Capital-D downtown NYC was evolving into. That his music is one of late 20th century America's most unique and under-utilized pleasures for me, was the primary reason I decided to read this book. (That, and the supreme confidence in author Tim Lawrence.) And all The bio facts in/of themselves are awesomely curious: Born under a full moon, a first-day Gemini (as cuspy as they get). Buddhist from Iowa. Minimalist cello-player/disco-dancer/pop-lover/folky. Escaped hippie San Francisco for whatever Capital-D downtown NYC was evolving into. That his music is one of late 20th century America's most unique and under-utilized pleasures for me, was the primary reason I decided to read this book. (That, and the supreme confidence in author Tim Lawrence.) And all this was handled with panache. But here's the thing, Arthur's story is not just his, it's New York's at a particular time and headspace; a story of how art is not made by linear genius, but by a collective consciousness that feeds upon the contributions of many. (Eno's dubbed the idea, Scenius!) In his search to capture the moment, and then neurotically choose which moment to spotlight (or, often, an inability to do so), Arthur unconsciously proved the impossibility of perfection. Such choices create the narratives of lives - not making them, created multiple threads and a harder lives. It's a 20th century tale, with many beautiful sounds, an incredibly diverse cast, and a central tenet that pursuing the sublime in the fleeting can be heart-breaking even when the results are transcendent.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    When I read "most important but least known" about someone, my gut reaction is "why?" All too often, it's because they weren't the most important, hence the least known. In the case of Russell, that seems to be true. Russell (according to this book) was always on the verge of The Big Break: almost had a contract with Columbia, almost became the fourth Talking Head, almost... almost... The reason always appears to be that he was good, but not quite what was wanted, or a little too not-quite-a-goo When I read "most important but least known" about someone, my gut reaction is "why?" All too often, it's because they weren't the most important, hence the least known. In the case of Russell, that seems to be true. Russell (according to this book) was always on the verge of The Big Break: almost had a contract with Columbia, almost became the fourth Talking Head, almost... almost... The reason always appears to be that he was good, but not quite what was wanted, or a little too not-quite-a-good-fit for the others. Hence the "least known" part. As for "most important", it depends on your definition, I suppose. If you count as important those who know a lot of people, can drop a lot of names, and Were There When, Russell qualifies. Did he ultimately have a huge influence on the careers of the others whose lives he touched? That's debatable. Tim Lawrence has certainly done his research, but at times I felt he was dropping names to impress upon the reader exactly How Important Russell Was (which, if it were true, wouldn't then lead to pages of non-Russell material). It's also a bad sign when people are introduced and reintroduced in each chapter, almost as though the author assumes we won't be able to keep track of, or care about, them from before.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Finnell

    Library Journal Review: Lawrence (music culture: theory & production, Univ. of East London; Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970-1979) brings to life this advocate of avant-garde pop music, one of the forgotten innovators of the New York dance scene. Arthur Russell's journey from Oskaloosa, IA, to New York reveals the musical, mystical, and artistic influences that formulated his pioneering sound. Allen Ginsberg, Philip Glass, and David Byrne are a few of the notabl Library Journal Review: Lawrence (music culture: theory & production, Univ. of East London; Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970-1979) brings to life this advocate of avant-garde pop music, one of the forgotten innovators of the New York dance scene. Arthur Russell's journey from Oskaloosa, IA, to New York reveals the musical, mystical, and artistic influences that formulated his pioneering sound. Allen Ginsberg, Philip Glass, and David Byrne are a few of the notable artists with whom Russell collaborated. He died at 40, but his prolific body of work is awaiting discovery by a new generation of fans--the 2004 release of two of his albums along with the 2008 documentary Wild Combination have revived interest. VERDICT Lawrence's writing style mirrors Russell's musical approach, fusing divergent disciplines and catering to different audiences in a single work. Serious scholars and academics will be pleased with the depth of research, and fans will enjoy the illustrations and anecdotes of Russell's life.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    Seriously best biography I've ever read. Tim Lawrence provides so many great contextual details, especially through interviews - no detail is too small for the author to include. At first I found some of the editorial comments about what Arthur Russell might have been thinking or feeling a little annoying or over-analyzed, but eventually I found the meticulously researched book that delves into a musician's passion as well as linking it to the broader music scene and the political and cultural c Seriously best biography I've ever read. Tim Lawrence provides so many great contextual details, especially through interviews - no detail is too small for the author to include. At first I found some of the editorial comments about what Arthur Russell might have been thinking or feeling a little annoying or over-analyzed, but eventually I found the meticulously researched book that delves into a musician's passion as well as linking it to the broader music scene and the political and cultural context was really irresistible as well as inspiring and makes me feel like I found a missing puzzle piece. I really couldn't put this book down, which is very different from most biographies I've found. Although there is no climax I felt totally fulfilled.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    To write a biography of Arthur Russell is no small feat. Although incredibly productive during his life, Arthur Russell never reached the commercial success he expected and instead faded into obscurity. He navigated so many musical genres and scenes that even his contemporaries often didn't appreciate the diversity of his talent, and Lawrence neglects none of Russell's directions or projects. This is an incredibly in depth biography, both personally and musically. Highly recommended reading for To write a biography of Arthur Russell is no small feat. Although incredibly productive during his life, Arthur Russell never reached the commercial success he expected and instead faded into obscurity. He navigated so many musical genres and scenes that even his contemporaries often didn't appreciate the diversity of his talent, and Lawrence neglects none of Russell's directions or projects. This is an incredibly in depth biography, both personally and musically. Highly recommended reading for anyone interested in the history of dance music, modern composition, or New York in the late 70's and early 90's.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kurt Reighley

    I love music biographies, good ones and rotten ones alike. (Mediocre ones I can do without.) Tim Lawrence's loving overview of this underrated genius is definitely in the former category. Arthur had a very mercurial aesthetic and unconventional life, and Tim does an excellent job of capturing it via an impressive number of detailed interviews. Highly recommended - but be careful, if you're not already a big Arthur Russell fan, you'll vanish down the rabbit hole of his discography quickly after r I love music biographies, good ones and rotten ones alike. (Mediocre ones I can do without.) Tim Lawrence's loving overview of this underrated genius is definitely in the former category. Arthur had a very mercurial aesthetic and unconventional life, and Tim does an excellent job of capturing it via an impressive number of detailed interviews. Highly recommended - but be careful, if you're not already a big Arthur Russell fan, you'll vanish down the rabbit hole of his discography quickly after reading this!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Patty

    This book has been on my nightstand for a while, and a cross-country plane trip finally afforded me the solid time to finish it. The more I learn about and hear Arthur Russell the more in love I am with him and his music. I'm also a big fan of Tim Lawrence's writing and his style and his comprehensiveness. Great photos, beautiful design, fantastic book!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Oliver

    Exactly what I was hoping it would be -- a comprehensive account of Arthur Russell's life -- and much more: a great deal of the book involved describing the downtown music scene, and I learned more about Phillip Glass, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and La Monte Young than I expected to. Really fantastic work.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    whoa - I've been a fan of Arthur's work since the long ago day my girlfriend dropped the needle on Dinosaur's Kiss Me Again, randomly plucked from a bin of promos. I might need to sell off some records to pick this up.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    inspiring, maybe tragic

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    780.92 L423 2009

  21. 4 out of 5

    Bill Hsu

    The stories about Russell and the downtown scene are great, but I got very tired of Tim Lawrence's elaborations. I couldn't finish the epilogue.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Justin Tyner

    I mostly listen to Arthur Russell. Before I read this book I listened. Now I listen really. Create on the full moon and edit on the new.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jan Michaels

    lovely and well researched........very inspiring!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Eric

  25. 4 out of 5

    Rob

  26. 4 out of 5

    Esra Efe Laborde

  27. 5 out of 5

    Olivia

  28. 4 out of 5

    Brandon Spaulding

  29. 4 out of 5

    Nedduh Simonson

  30. 4 out of 5

    Paula Clavin

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