Friday, August 04, 2006

Lyrics of the Day

Arthur Lee died yesterday at age 61 of leukemia. If you are not an aficionado of late 1960s rock and roll, you may not know him. But if you are, you probably revere Forever Changes by Lee's band, Love, as a psychedelic masterpiece. Indeed, it often appears on rock critics' lists of the top 100 albums of all time.

If the Beatles had come from the Los Angeles scene that spawned the Doors, perhaps Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band would have sounded a lot like Forever Changes. Flourishes of horns and strings supplement the largely acoustic instrumentation, creating a beautiful tapestry that contrasts starkly with the lyrics, which are often bluntly dark. This is not surprising considering Lee's frame of mind: "When I did that album, I thought I was going to die at that particular time, so those were my last words." Unfortunately for Love, their album didn't have nearly as much success as Sgt. Pepper, though it eventually went gold as a cult classic. While Lee managed to eke out an existence for almost 40 more years (including six years in jail), his musical output was sporadic and virtually unnoticed. The last song on Forever Changes, "You Set the Scene" could serve as Lee's epitaph:
This is the time and life that I am living
And I'll face each day with a smile
For the time that I've been given's such a little while
And the things that I must do consist of more than style
There are places that I am going

This is the only thing that I am sure of
And that's all that lives is gonna die
And there'll always be some people here to wonder why
And for every happy hello, there will be good-bye
There'll be time for you to put yourself on
Forever Changes is on my must-have list; it's one of the few vinyl albums I have replaced with a CD, the 2001 reissue with seven bonus tracks. I recommend that or Love Story, a two-disc set that includes Forever Changes in its entirety, split in the middle just like the LP. That collection also has the best songs from other albums, including a great cover of "My Little Red Book" (played during the credits in the movie High Fidelity).

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