Saturday, August 05, 2006

Bummer In The Summer

Arthur Lee (1945-2006)

No, life is not fair. Arthur Lee was on the road back to revelation, if not riches. Out of jail, making music. A man who was the fulcrum of one of rock music's pivot points, an album called "Forever Changes," that is on everyone's list of the greatest rock albums ever made.

The band was called Love, and the music that arose out of the internecine tension among the members ignited Sunset Strip for several years in the mid-sixties. In the twilight of their dissolution, "Forever Changes" emerged unexpectedly, another rung on the ladder of brilliant pop that included "Sgt. Pepper" and "Pet Sounds." I remember huddling around the stereo speakers in my friend Joel's apartment, all of 15 years old, as the acoustic flamenco guitar intro of "Alone Again Or" echoed in my brain for the very first time.

Ironically, in most respects, that was the nadir of Lee's musical career. But unlike most, I continued to listen. I rushed to the Fillmore East not to see the headlining Grateful Dead, or the 1st national tour of the opening act the Allman Brothers, but to watch my rock hero Arthur Lee with his reformed Love struggle to win over a crowd either wowed by a doomed guitar virtuoso named Duane Allman, or else impatient for Jerry Garcia and company. Over the years I never failed to find the obscure solo albums Lee released periodically on equally obscure labels. I signed petitions protesting Lee's draconian sentence on a brandishing weapons charge. And I celebrated his release from incarceration and joyous live recording of the entire "Forever Changes Concert"at Royal Festival Hall in January 2003.

"'Forever Changes' were my last words of Love," he told Creem magazine in 1981. "My last words to the world, only I've been here ever since. Just like a guy saying goodbye, and you look out your front door, and he's still there 15 years later."

But now, he's gone for good. No, it was not drugs and hard-living that finally took "the original black hippie" down. It was incurable leukemia. Arthur Lee died on August 3, 2006 in Memphis, Tennessee, the city where he was born.

"Yeah, said it's all right
I won't forget
All the times I've waited patiently for you
And you'll do just what you choose to do
And I will be alone again tonight my dear"

No comments: