Buddhist Bubblegum

Matt Marble

PD: APRIL ’21 • ISBN: 978-1-887276-30-6

Buddhist Bubblegum is a study on the role of esoteric Buddhism in the creative process of singer, cellist, composer, and producer, Arthur Russell (1951-1992). Largely ignored during his lifetime, Russell’s work has aroused mass interest in the 21st century. Tim Lawrence’s biography (Hold On to Your Dreams) and Matt Wolff’s documentary (Wild Combination) offer significant and well-researched insight into the artist’s life and work. Little attention, however, has been given to Russell’s actual compositions and musical notations, while his creative process is often reduced to allusion and mystery. After spending several years with the scores and notebooks in Russell’s archive, as well as interviewing many of his friends and collaborators, I discovered a large body of work strategically guided by Vajrayana Buddhism. From his teenage years on a Buddhist commune until his last performances in New York, Russell sought to directly apply Vajrayana techniques–mantra, meditation, visualization, sadhana rituals–to his music, which he called “Buddhist bubblegum.”