Friday, August 04, 2006

Arthur Lee of Love R.I.P.

Arthur Lee (March 7, 1945 - August 3, 2006)

It's been a bad month for eccentric veterans of psychedelic music. First it was Syd Barrett; now Arthur Lee of the legendary Los Angeles band Love, who passed away on Thursday 3 August 2006. The cause of death was acute lymphoblastic leukemia. I'm devastated, to say the least.

Love was a rarity among 60s rock bands: a multiracial unit, with the frontman Lee and guitarist Johnny Echols being both African-American. Love started in 1965 in the wake of The Byrds' "jingle-jangle" folk-rock sound but soon developed their own idiosyncratic expression, with Lee's enigmatic and elliptical song lyrics. The band was for a short time considered the biggest name in Los Angeles rock scene but their unwillingness to tour and their growing infatuation with rock lifestyle marred their potential progress. Jim Morrison was an eager early follower of Love, to the extent of Arthur Lee's dismay, who claimed Morrison copied just any move Lee made. Paul Rothchild, the producer for both Love and The Doors, claimed Arthur Lee ate LSD like it was candy. Finally the crown of LA rock was taken over by Morrison and The Doors.

The November 1967 album Forever Changes is considered Love's masterpiece but also their eponymous debut (May 1966) and Da Capo (January 1967) are well worth checking out.

Love includes among the more Byrds-influenced moments the band's nervous and edgy cover version of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's 'My Little Red Book'. Among the little Lee gems there are also the unnerving junkie ballad 'Signed D.C.' (dedicated to the band's early drummer Don Conka who had become seriously addicted), the atmospheric guitar instrumental 'Emotions' and a pre-Hendrix version of 'Hey Joe'.

Da Capo was a more jazz-tinged effort, with an extended line-up of Love. The exploding and fast, even a proto-punk type of single '7 & 7 Is' (which ends in a sound of the explosion of an atom bomb) is an undisputable psychedelic garage rock classic with its ultra-enigmatic lyrics -- can anyone explain me what these mean...?

When I was a boy I thought about the times I'd be a man
I'd sit inside a bottle and pretend that I was in a can
In my lonely room I'd sit my mind in an ice cream cone
You can throw me if you wanna 'cause I'm a
bone and I go oop-ip-ip oop-ip-ip, yeah!
If I don't start cryin' it's because that I have got no eyes
My father's in the fireplace and my dog lies hypnotized
Through a crack of light I was unable to find my way
Trapped inside a night but I'm a day and I go
Oop-ip-ip oop-ip-ip, yeah!
One... Two... Three... Four!

(the A-bomb goes off, followed by the slowing down of tempo and a strangely serene solo)

Well, I guess that's psychedelia for you. There's also the lovely 'Orange Skies' and the philosophical '¡Que Vida!': "Can you find your way / Or do you want my vision / It's dark there, they say / But that's just superstition" -- "My mind's not made of gravel", indeed. The B-side has only one track, the 19-minute(!) long jam called 'The Revelation' which Arthur Lee claimed The Rolling Stones ripped off for their 'Going Home' on Aftermath album (The Stones added an insult to injury when they used the phrase from another Da Capo track, 'She Comes In Colors', in the chorus of their psychedelic-era track 'She's A Rainbow'). Incidentally, 'The Revelation' is the one most people owning the vinyl version usually skip, and without which Da Capo would probably be an immaculate masterpiece.

Well, then the ONE, Forever Changes; the album which shows up frequently on all "The Best Albums of All Time" polls. With this one Arthur Lee was obsessed with dying, thinking his days were soon to be numbered, which was reflected in the bleak overall mood of his elliptical lyrics here; a strangely sore note in the lovey-dovey days in 1967. My own favourite songs here are 'The Daily Planet' on the boredom and repetition of everyday life:

In the morning we arise and
Start the day the same old way
As yesterday the day before and
All in all it's just a day like
All the rest so do your best with
Chewing gum and it is oh so
Waiting on the sun

Down on Go-stop Boulevard it
Never fails to bring me down
The sirens and the accidents and
For a laugh there's Plastic Nancy
She's real fancy with her children
They'll go far, she
Buys them toys to
Keep in practice
Waiting on the war

And 'The Red Telephone', in which there is just everything; like an absurd Beckettian play of the futility of human efforts and imminence of death, disguised as a pretty pop song:

Sitting on a hillside
Watching all the people die
I'll feel much better on the other side
I'll thumb a ride

I believe in magic
Why, because it is so quick
I don't need power when I'm hypnotized
Look in my eyes
What are you seeing (I see...)
How do you feel? (... you)

I feel real phony when my name is Phil
Or was that Bill?

Life goes on here
Day after day
I don't know if I am living or if I'm
Supposed to be

Sometimes my life is so eerie
And if you think I'm happy
Paint me yellow (white)

I've been here once
I've been here twice
I don't know if the third's the fourth or if the -
The fifth's to fix

Sometimes I deal with numbers
And if you wanna count me
Count me out

I don't need the time of day
Anytime with me's OK
I just don't want you using up my time
'Cause that's not right

And the eerie and paranoid "rap" at the end of the song:

They're locking them up today
They're throwing away the key
I wonder who it'll be tomorrow, you or me?

We're all normal and we want our freedom
Freedom... freedom... freedom... freedom
Freedom... freedom... freedom... freedom
(All the God's children should have their freedom)

The sound of this album is prevalently acoustic, with some tasty strings and also mariachi trumpets, as in the classic single 'Aloneagainor'.

Love had been badly in disarray already at the time of the recording of Forever Changes: living the rock'n'roll lifestyle, several band members had developed themselves "personal problems" but Arthur Lee managed to whip up some discipline to the band by threatening to replace the members with session musicians. This approach worked great with the album and the following one-off single 'Laughing Stock'/'Your Mind And We Belong Together', but this 7" (only included on Love compilation albums) remained the swansong of this classic line-up. From now on Arthur Lee was the only original member of Love in a series of changing and erratic line-ups which were to continue to the end of his life. Post-Forever Changes albums include some nice songs (like my own favourite, the hilarious 'Singing Cowboy') and I even kind of like Four Sail (1969), but these were no comparison to the classic trio of albums of 1966-68.

The rest of the days of Arthur Lee and Love were less than glorious. Alcoholism, drug addiction and even crime followed several band members, now dead or missing. Arthur Lee spent some years in prison, and only managed to revive Love a couple of years ago, with the help of the members of a band called Baby Lemonade. The revival was a short-lived one, though. Grab Love, Da Capo and Forever Changes to your hands now and remember the man as he should be remembered.

All Love lyrics at Torben Skott's site

Love: 'Little Red Book'

Love: 'A Message To Pretty'

Love: 'Your Mind and We Belong Together'

More Love & Arthur Lee search results @ YouTube


Love with Arthur Lee @ MySpace


Arthur Lee remembered:

  • BBC News
  • CNN
  • Pitchfork
  • WFMU

    Technorati search results
  • 1 comment:

    Juri said...

    Nothing to add, really, but just wanted to say that FOREVER CHANGES *is* one of the best rock albums ever.