6 August 2006
He set the scene
I once tried to explain away Arthur Lee as "America's Syd Barrett," but that was likely fair neither to Barrett, who died earlier this year, nor to Lee, who died Thursday.
Love, Lee's ever-changing band, could fairly be described, at least at first, as garage folk; nonetheless, Love's 1967 LP Forever Changes is justly regarded as a high-water mark in the sea of psychedelia, quite an accomplishment for a group whose first chart record was a robotic version of Burt Bacharach's "My Little Red Book."
In memory of Arthur Lee, here are two recollections by people who knew him. First, rock writer Ellen Sander, in her liner notes for a sort-of-greatest-hits LP called Revisited:
Love, more than any other group, was rock and roll L.A. Hung-up, strung-out, three sets a night in clubs with wall to wall freaks dancing and mobbing the stage. Ain't nothing in the world like California good-time music but there just wouldn't be California good-time music without California bad times, those inglorious L.A. blues and exhortations, where the whole dazzling universe is spinning the wrong way and there's nothing to do but hang out and look for folks worse off than you. That's the seamy side of pop L.A. where the losers are king and the emperors are dressed to the teeth. What the hell, the whole place is going to fall into the goddamn sea any spring now so who's got time for anything but living?
Lest this strike you as something of an aberration, here's Herb Cohen, L.A. pop-biz fixture, one-time manager to the Mothers of Invention, and, for a while anyway, the intermediary between Lee and Elektra Records' Jac Holzman:
They're all living in one hotel room, starving, and Arthur says, "I want a $5,000 advance to sign the contract cash." Jac says, "OK, meet me at the bank." Jac cashes a check. Arthur says to the band, "Go back to the hotel. I have to pick up something." And about four or five hours later Arthur shows up with a gold Mercedes 300 gull-wing that he paid $4,500 for. "Well," he says, "we need some transportation for the band, so we can get around to the gigs."
The Mercedes-Benz 300SL of this era seated two, making it remarkably inappropriate for transportation of a five-piece band, but what the hell: this was Arthur Lee, and in 1966, he was all of twenty years old.
Incidentally, Burt Bacharach hated what Love had done to his song. The fact that no one else got it even halfway up the charts didn't seem to matter.