Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980–1983

Duke University Press
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As the 1970s gave way to the 80s, New York's party scene entered a ferociously inventive period characterized by its creativity, intensity, and hybridity. Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor chronicles this tumultuous time, charting the sonic and social eruptions that took place in the city’s subterranean party venues as well as the way they cultivated breakthrough movements in art, performance, video, and film. Interviewing DJs, party hosts, producers, musicians, artists, and dancers, Tim Lawrence illustrates how the relatively discrete post-disco, post-punk, and hip hop scenes became marked by their level of plurality, interaction, and convergence. He also explains how the shifting urban landscape of New York supported the cultural renaissance before gentrification, Reaganomics, corporate intrusion, and the spread of AIDS brought this gritty and protean time and place in American culture to a troubled denouement.
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About the author

Tim Lawrence is Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of East London and the author of Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970–1979 and Hold On to Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene, 1973–1992, both also published by Duke University Press.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Duke University Press
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Published on
Sep 9, 2016
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Pages
600
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ISBN
9780822373926
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Language
English
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Genres
History / United States / State & Local / Middle Atlantic (DC, DE, MD, NJ, NY, PA)
Music / Genres & Styles / Electronic
Social Science / LGBT Studies / Gay Studies
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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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 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.

From one of the most interesting and iconic musicians of our time, a piercingly tender, funny, and harrowing account of the path from suburban poverty and alienation to a life of beauty, squalor, and unlikely success out of the NYC club scene of the late '80s and '90s.

There were many reasons Moby was never going to make it as a DJ and musician in the New York club scene. This was the New York of Palladium; of Mars, Limelight, and Twilo; of unchecked, drug-fueled hedonism in pumping clubs where dance music was still largely underground, popular chiefly among working-class African Americans and Latinos. And then there was Moby—not just a poor, skinny white kid from Connecticut, but a devout Christian, a vegan, and a teetotaler. He would learn what it was to be spat on, to live on almost nothing. But it was perhaps the last good time for an artist to live on nothing in New York City: the age of AIDS and crack but also of a defiantly festive cultural underworld. Not without drama, he found his way. But success was not uncomplicated; it led to wretched, if in hindsight sometimes hilarious, excess and proved all too fleeting. And so by the end of the decade, Moby contemplated an end in his career and elsewhere in his life, and put that emotion into what he assumed would be his swan song, his good-bye to all that, the album that would in fact be the beginning of an astonishing new phase: the multimillion-selling Play.
 
At once bighearted and remorseless in its excavation of a lost world, Porcelain is both a chronicle of a city and a time and a deeply intimate exploration of finding one’s place during the most gloriously anxious period in life, when you’re on your own, betting on yourself, but have no idea how the story ends, and so you live with the honest dread that you’re one false step from being thrown out on your face. Moby’s voice resonates with honesty, wit, and, above all, an unshakable passion for his music that steered him through some very rough seas.
 
Porcelain is about making it, losing it, loving it, and hating it. It’s about finding your people, your place, thinking you've lost them both, and then, somehow, when you think it’s over, from a place of well-earned despair, creating a masterpiece. As a portrait of the young artist, Porcelain is a masterpiece in its own right, fit for the short shelf of musicians’ memoirs that capture not just a scene but an age, and something timeless about the human condition. Push play.
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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