I sincerely debated with myself about putting this 1984 gem out there in the virtual world. The unpracticed musical minimalism, the melancholy tone, the pain it could cause people who are named Russell. Ultimately, I decided that the lack of absurdest music in our current state of pop culture makes it imperative to relive the past, if only to not repeat it. No, I mean, if Nicki Minaj is all we can manage for absurdism these days, then dammit, you can handle Everything Smells Like Russell.
To all who are named Russell, know that this song is pinpointed at a particular Russell who stayed at my shared flat for a week, many years ago. He was very, very strange—scary strange. My roommate knew him from a job she once had at an east coast natural-food commune (I never understood what this place actually was, but she worked there in her early 20s). She told him he could stay at our little San Francisco place while he was traveling through town on his way to...the woods. That's right. He was going to live in the woods somewhere north of us. I didn't understand.
But there he was, in our tiny living room and he smelled. He smelled like unwashed humanity, dirt, mold, and mushrooms. Technically mushrooms are a mold, but he was musty and mushroomy. That's all you need to know about his smell. I don't want to overload you with details. Oh, you also should know that his backpack was filthy and one day I came home and a snail had crawled out of it and into the room. Note that I have a phobia of snails and mollusks in general. It's not rational—what phobia is? But there was a snail, in my house.
Meanwhile, my roommate had skedaddled elsewhere. She stayed with her boyfriend the entire time Russell was at our place. I didn't have a boyfriend. So guess who had to deal with him? Every morning, the smell of Russell would hit me first as I came down the hall on my way to the kitchen. I passed him in the living room where he'd be intensely studying my social-psychology textbook—the dullest reading material in the house.
"Hello, Russell," I'd say, pleasantly.
He would scowl and grunt. He didn't believe in pleasantries, or conversation. He didn't believe in eye contact, washing, or leaving the living room ever. Oh, how I hated having him there. But I was barely 20 and had grown up around thoughtful, sane people. I didn't have the skill-set to combat a foe such as Russell. And I couldn't even ask my roommate when he was leaving because she wasn't around.
One unusually hot day during Russell's tenure, I came home to a new scent: beans. Russell had the biggest soup pot on the stove and it was full of beans, cooking and filling the flat with their smell. San Francisco gets, on average, three 80-degree days a year and no one has air conditioning to deal with it. Russell's plan was to cook from a 20-pound sack of beans every day that week, pack the cooked beans into plastic bags within cardboard boxes, then ship them to "The Woods," where he'd live off them indefinitely. He cooked all day and night.
The next morning they were still cooking. The flat was a bean sauna. I greeted him as usual, he grunted at me, and I sat myself down opposite him. It was time for conversation.
"So, Russell," I said, waiting until he finally made eye contact. "When exactly are you leaving?"
Surprisingly, he got my tone. "Uh, tomorrow...?" he guessed.
I slapped my knees and sprang up, "Excellent. Sounds good!"
The next day, I peeked into the living room and he was gone. Backpack, snail, beans, everything. But of course, the smell...lingered...on. When my roommate finally returned, she wouldn't speak to me for days. I heard from a friend that she was mad that I had been rude to Russell. But that's another story and another song. And now...
Everything Smells Like Russell by Not Now, recorded in 1984 in our friend Michael's attic bedroom with his drum machine. I'm kind of singing while plunking away on a pre-programed synthesizer. Jenny is doing backup vocals and playing a guitar made from a kit with the worst action ever. Thanks to Jim for digitizing this ancient artifact, only available on cassette tape.