Buddhist Bubblegum: Esotericism in the creative process of Arthur Russell by Matt Marble
Buddhist Bubblegum: Esotericism in the creative process of Arthur Russell by Matt Marble

Buddhist Bubblegum: Esotericism in the creative process of Arthur Russell by Matt Marble

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Raised in the cornfields of Oskaloosa, Iowa, Arthur Russell (1951-1992) would become a visionary cellist, singer, composer, and producer in Lower Manhattan’s “Downtown” arts scene during the 1970s and 80s.  Russell’s enigmatic music blended and transcended genres as disparate as Indian raga, Americana folk, avant-garde composition, and disco. He actively infused popular music into Manhattan’s avant-garde art scene, while bringing a Buddhist-inspired experimentalism into American popular music. As poet Allen Ginsberg recalled, “His ambition seemed to be to write popular music, or bubblegum music, but Buddhist bubblegum; to transmit the dharma through the most elemental form…”

 Following Russell’s premature death due to AIDS at age 40, composer Philip Glass reflected, “Arthur was very, very ahead of his time.” And while a few of his dance singles would remain underground classics, Russell’s work would be significantly neglected for over a decade. However, through the archival releases of Audika Records, a documentary film (Wild Combination) and a biography (Hold On to Your Dreams), Russell’s fearless creativity and radical vulnerability have found an admiring audience in the 21st century. Today, celebrated artists–from Kanye West to Arcade Fire–as well as emerging musical generations are breathing new life into Russell’s music and praising his name. Nevertheless, he has remained as mysterious as he has become accessible.

Buddhist Bubblegum dives deep into the mystery of Arthur Russell and offers an unprecedented exploration into his lifelong Vajrayana Buddhist practice. Author Matt Marble charts Russell’s spiritual path, from his early life as a Buddhist monk on a Bay Area commune to his maturing engagement with Japanese Shingon and Indo-Tibetan Vajrayana traditions in Manhattan. Along the way, we learn how Russell creatively adopted traditional methods of mantra, mandala, meditation, astrology, numerology, and more. Through extensive archival research, personal interviews, and musical score analysis, Marble highlights Russell’s major works and shows how esotericism and aesthetic theory strategically guided his creative process. The writing is supplemented throughout with numerous archival images, featuring Russell’s original scores, notebooks, and photographs. Marble’s work is indebted to the Arthur Russell Estate/NYPL, Audika Records/Steve Knutson, Tom Lee, and Russell’s friends and collaborators, as well as to the pioneering work of biographers Tim Lawrence and Matt Wolf. Hailed by the New York Times as “groundbreaking work,” Buddhist Bubblegum reveals how one of America’s most visionary artists uniquely fused spiritual and musical disciplines.






Matt Marble (b. 1979, Mississippi) is an artist, author, and audio producer currently living in Greensboro, NC. Both creatively and through historical research his work explores the inspired intersections of art and spirituality and the intuitive disciplines they mutually employ. Matt is the author of Buddhist Bubblegum: Esotericism in the Creative Process of Arthur Russell ("groundbreaking work," New York Times), published by Coolgrove Press. He is also the host of Secret Sound, an audio series revealing the influence of esoteric spirituality on marginalized voices in American music history. Matt's visual art and music are often rooted in his own dreamwork divination practice--the Astramira or "Wondering Stars"--which has been featured as a solo art exhibition at Greensboro Project Space. Matt holds a BA in Speech & Hearing Science from Portland State University, a PhD in music composition from Princeton University, and a totemic black rattlesnake from his dreams. Explore more here: