Friday, August 04, 2006

Arthur Lee passes away, age 61

It's with a truly heavy heart that I report that Arthur Lee, leader and co-founder of the seminal psych band Love, passed away yesterday at the age of 61. He had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and several benefits had been held to help defray his medical costs. He died in Methodist Hospital in Memphis with his wife, Diane, at his side (You can read more here).

For me, Lee was a gateway to a different side of music as primary author of Forever Changes -- the much-heralded, but still very weird album that, as a pretty young guy, my dad first played for me. I got some of it then -- the catchy melodies, quirky lyrics, blending of musical styles, but the album's a grower if there ever was one, and it's lived quite a life in the musical history (so to speak) of my family. "Maybe the People Would Be The Times, or Between Clark and Hilldale" was my instant favorite, and I specifically recall my dad asking why I liked it, maybe the first remembered occasion of stopping to consider what made a song great.

Either way, Forever Changes was a far cry from Love's self-titled debut, featuring a blistering cover of Burt Bacharach's "Little Red Book" that once featured prominently on a mix I made for my girlfriend in high school, more proto-punk with a tinge of jangle than anything else. They're perhaps most familiar for their inclusion on the Nuggets compilation with the song "7 and 7 is", which includes the memorably goofy chorus "Oop-ip-ip, Oop-ip-ip, yeah!" set to more emphatic proto-punk. This, of course, was in 1966.
A dynamic band, but not hard to see why they never really made a commercial breakthrough.

A classic argument against Lee is that his work hasn't aged well. The spoken word bits, the late Sixties paranoia, the weird psychedelia...none of it seems as appropriate now. I'll grant that to an extent, but for me, Arthur Lee and Love are one of the bands that altered my musical landscape a little. Forever Changes closes with it's best song, "You Set the Scene", looks death in the face with a sly smile and wink. A lyric quote about life and death would be appropriate, but I'd rather not be so heavy-handed here. Instead, scour your local used record store for a cheap version, download it from the iTunes store, borrow it from your pop's record collection. If Lee's insistent fadeout "This is the time and this is the time, and it is time, time, time, time, time, time, time, time..." isn't a poignant farewell, then I'm not sure I know what is.

Love - Your Mind and We Belong Together (Demo)

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