arthur lee, the good humor man he sees everything like this

Soundtrack: Love, “Alone Again Or”
LOVE60s.png, arthur lee, love
Members of Love cica 1967 Arthur Lee (top), and left to right: Johnny Echols, Bryan MacLean, Ken Forssi, Michael Stuart-Ware

YouTube has been a great way to find footage of the musical groups that I like. Unfortunately, for me it was also the source of some sad news. I learned that Arthur Lee, the lead singer of the 60’s rock band Love, passed away two months ago.

Love was one of the greatest bands that most people never heard of. Like their East Coast counterparts The Velvet Underground, they were considered influential to many musicians in subsequent decades. Love was also one of the first American pop bands to have an interracial line-up, and was part of the same music scene that produced The Byrds and The Doors.

The title of this blog entry is from one of the song titles from Love’s 1967 album Forever Changes. It was regarded by many as one of the greatest albums of the 60’s, but at the time was overshadowed by other famous release from 1967, including the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper album, the Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow, and debut releases by The Doors (who reportedly opened for Love at least once on L.A.’s Sunset Strip), the Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix. (I “debuted” that year, too—as a newborn baby. But I wasn’t well known at the time. And I’m still not.) The original lineup of Love broke up shortly after “Forever Changes.” Lee put together another band, and in subsequent years, a number of incarnations of Love, as well as some solo efforts by Lee continued sporadically into the 1990’s, but not with the acclaim that the band had achieved earlier.

Lee had more than his share of hard knocks as well. In the mid-90’s he was convicted of threatening a neighbor with a firearm. Reportedly no one was injured and no property was damaged, but due to previous convictions, he was sentenced to twelve years in prison under California’s “three strikes” rule. However, he was released in December 2001 and an appeals court reversed the conviction due to the prosecutor at Lee’s trial being found guilty of misconduct.  Upon his release, Lee put together a new version of “Arthur Lee and Love” and played “Forever Changes” in its entirety before enthusiastic audiences in Europe and North America—often accompanied by a full string and horn section. However it was revealed earlier this year that he was battling leukemia, and despite aggressive treatment, died in August.

I chose the title for this blog entry because Arthur Lee had a rather unique way of looking at things. Like The Velvet Underground and The Doors, Love tended to write about darker subjects than what was common among the flower power folks, but their lyrics were also more poignant, personal, often funny, and hopeful. Lee’s lyrics had a strong sense of wit and irony, but it was never the detached, “whatever, never mind” irony of the 90’s angry flannel set. The music was an interesting and tuneful blend of 60’s pop, folk, R & B, rock, and the rapid chord changes in some of the early songs have caused many to describe them as a 60’s punk or “proto-punk” band.

One of my favorite all time songs is the first track from the “Forever Changes” album, “Alone Again Or” which I’ve featured in the video link below. (The song was actually written by band mate Bryan MacLean, who passed away in 1998.) The song talks about feeling alone due to not being able to be with the person he loves, but then gets philosophical about the whole nature of love and connecting with people. The video link below doesn’t quite do the song justice—on the album, the opening guitar interlude is one of the prettiest I’ve ever heard.

I was lucky enough to see an incarnation of what was billed “Arthur Lee and Love” in December 1989. At the time, I was living in Los Angeles and a housemate of mine kept on trying to get me interested in Love’s music. I was initially lukewarm about the band, but I let my housemate persuade me to go with him to see the band at a club in Malibu. We almost didn’t make it to the club in time—we didn’t know L.A. very well and thought we could take this little winding road from the Ventura Freeway down to Malibu—not realizing that we were crossing the Santa Monica Mountains. After 45 minutes of driving through hairpin turns, we made it to the club.

I don’t remember the name of the club. (A tribute website says that they played at the Trancas Club in Malibu on December 30, 1989–however I was in Chicago then.) Arthur was there with a completely different backup band than the one that had made the more well known albums from the late 60’s. It was rumored that a couple former members of the 70’s pop-punk band The Knack were in the band backing him. The opening band for Love did a tribute with a cover of Love’s frenetic version of Burt Bacharach’s “My Little Red Book.”

When I saw Arthur Lee for the first time, he looked like a cross between a blues musician and a wizened professor. He was probably in his forties and his face had its share of lines. He poured all his heart into his songs. At one point some young long-haired guys broke into a fight on the floor in front of the state while Arthur sang “Signed D.C.,” and the fight seemed to really upset him. At the end of the performance he exhorted the audience to turn to Jesus.

It wasn’t until a few years later, when I bought Da Capo”and “Forever Changes” did I realize how great a band this was, and I feel lucky to have been able to see Arthur Lee live. This video link below shows a performance from 2003:

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