A letter to Arthur Russel

Dear Arthur Russell,

Let’s pretend it didn’t happen. That it just… didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good documentary and all. I enjoyed the whole thing — the flannel, the fluorescence, the frustration. Your parents and boyfriend are adorable and the clips of you playing guitar in that puffy winter jacket — black and white bliss, my man. But I’d rather wipe the mnemonic slate clean.

Let’s pretend that I’ve never known anything about you, that my first and last encounters with you are Another Thought spinning humbly in the dark. That I know nothing of your beatnik exodus from Iowa, nothing of your camaraderie with Allen Ginsburg, nothing of your disco prowess, nothing of AIDS, nothing of nothing. That all I know, not just of you, but of the whole world, is this supine posture — lying face up — is this cello echoing and squealing into the shadows, is your voice lilting and reverberant, sure as soft cotton on bleeding skin.

Let’s pretend that there is a city even Italo Calvino, the famous writer, hasn’t conjured, one where your lyrics are law, where your melodies are weather, where your atmospheres are public housing policy, where your four-track is the key to the courthouse. Let’s pretend I’m bedding down in the tenement of your sadness and hope. Let’s pretend the headline of the “Russell Daily Register” says “Lucky cloud in your sky, Brother.”

Let’s pretend I still listen to music more than I catalog it. “The birth of the moment is never ending.” Let’s pretend I believe that because it’s you saying it, singing it in loops of noise. Voltaire said that the only things too stupid to be said are sung. I want to be stupid with you.

Let’s pretend it’s the ghosts who have to believe in us for us to be real. Let’s pretend it’s you listening to me. Let’s pretend it’s you reading this letter, you smoothing the creases of this with your palms, you smearing newsprint into the whorls on your fingertips.

This is how we walk on the moon.

-Split Foster

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