Arthur Russell was a polymathic musician and composer in New York’s Downtown music scene of the 70’s and 80’s. He collaborated with seemingly everyone who stepped foot beneath 14th street during those years, including Phillip Glass, Julius Eastman, Allen Ginsberg, David Byrne, Larry Levan—even a young Vin Diesel!—while making music that blurred the lines between avant garde compositional music, disco, singer-songwriter folk, and so much more. With only a few releases under his belt by the time he passed away in 1992 from AIDS complications, his discography has multiplied in decades since thanks to posthumous compilations featuring previously unreleased songs from his extensive archives. Iowa Dream, the latest of those compilations, is out today, and includes tracks from demo sessions with the legendary Columbia Records producer John Hammond and Mercury’s Paul Nelson.
One of those tracks, “Barefoot in New York,” sounds like someone feeling his way around the city for the first time and kind of losing it. (Russell himself was new to New York at the time he recorded the song.) He gets stuck on his own words, mumbling and stumbling around at dawn. A chaotic backing band urges him onward with the horns, hisses, and forward motion of an express train.
“I’ve always disliked the Rolling Stones since I found up what they are up too,” Russell talk-sings over the beat. And what were the Stones up to anyway? Well, when Russell was a teenager, he would play the Rolling Stones at a low volume when his parents were sleeping to “reprogram them” to like rock music. Listeners of "Barefoot in New York" might find themselves feeling reprogrammed as well.