Sunday, July 25, 2010

May 13, 2010: Psychobabble recommends ‘Forever Changes: Arthur Lee and the Book of Love’ by John Einarson

Love was the greatest American band of the ‘60s to never score a national hit. Arising from an LA scene that spat out superstars like The Byrds, The Doors, and Buffalo Springfield, Arthur Lee and company were widely regarded as the godfathers of the Sunset Strip. Jimi Hendrix admired Lee; Jim Morrison worshipped him. Even the Stones borrowed liberally from Love (although the reverse is true, too). Love’s first three albums, particularly 1967’s Forever Changes, are regarded as a triptych masterpiece even though each section is completely unlike the others. Yet Love has not endured as their contemporaries have because Lee refused to play the major label game. He hated flying and being jarred out of LA— where he lived in a castle, was regarded as royalty, and the mixed-race nature of his band wasn’t a major issue— so he refused to tour. His controlling, stubborn, angry, paranoid nature alienated many of the people who most wanted him to succeed. Eventually he became a serious coke addict who hypocritically chastised his bandmates for their drug use. Of course, Arthur Lee was also a genius by pop standards, and his complications have earned him a cult similar to those that revel in every eccentricity of Brian Wilson, Roky Erickson, Syd Barrett, and Peter Green. Forever Changes has topped many a “greatest album of all time” poll in the UK, where Love enjoyed far greater success than they did in the U.S., and its timeless beauty has inspired a horde of later-generation artists, including Led Zeppelin, The Damned, XTC, The Soft Boys, Belle and Sebastian, The Shins, and The Soundtrack of Our Lives.

John Einarson’s new authorized biography Forever Changes: Arthur Lee and the Book of Love (Jaw Bone Press) captures all sides of the Love polygon, acknowledging Lee’s brilliance without skimming over his belligerence, self-indulgence, and unpredictability. Although Einarson spends ample time poring over Lee’s less desirable qualities, he remains objective by structuring his book as a near-oral-history with the majority of quotes coming from Lee’s unpublished autobiography. The rest of the book largely consists of interview excerpts Einarson collected from 60 subjects, including many surviving members of Love’s various line-ups. Johnny Echols— the vastly underrated guitarist who drove the group’s revered first albums with his fierce, stuttering leads— is particularly enlightening, helping to dispel many of the myths surrounding the band. Although Lee is the chief focus of the book, all supporting players are adequately profiled. Bryan MacLean, who composed “Alone Again, Or”, the most enduring track on Forever Changes, is represented by interviews conducted before his death in 1998, as well as conversations with his mother and his sister, Maria McKee (later of Lone Justice). Einarson’s clean, cohesive prose glues it all together seamlessly.

Forever Changes becomes a bit of a heavy read halfway through when Lee’s drug-issues really take over and he becomes an increasingly less sympathetic figure— smacking around girlfriends, firing bandmates for failing to kiss his ass adequately, etc. — but it’s all part of the Love story. Lee would experience better times after being released from prison following a weapons charge in late 2001 and taking Forever Changes on the road to massive success. The onset of leukemia, which took his life in 2006, brought a sad end to this resurgence.

Buy it here: Forever Changes: Arthur Lee and the Book of Love
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