This week's history lesson-Love
I think it was when A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul started sampling all of the psychedelic soul breaks sometime in the early to mid 90s that I really re-discovered Love. I say re-discovered because my first encounter with Arthur Lee and his group Love was way back in high school staying up late with my best friend listening to his mom's old records (which were mostly very good and not as Fleetwood Mac'd out as you might expect). Even then Love's songs struck me as being unique for being what i termed "freedom rock" but as I grew older I would grow to cherish them even a I pitied (and even loathed) the actual person Arthur Lee. Here was this hipper-than-hip black cat living in Hollywood, contemporary of Hendrix and just like Jimi playing with his all white band. Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin to this day say that Arthur Lee & Love were the primary reasons they formed one of the most successful (and successfully sampled) pop groups of all time. Despite being by-far the most popular band in a Los Angeles scene that also boasted the Beach Boys, the Doors, and the Byrds and being the first group signed to the ultra-cool (at least at the time) Elektra label the group never connected with commercial success while making some of he most important pop music of that era. Some have blamed it on Lee's refusal to tour, which would have confined him and his music to the same racially divided America of yesteryear affectionately known as the "chitlun circuit" the same circuit Hendrix bolted from for Swingin London and thus finding much greater success. While Love struggled in L.A it was Jimi's success in Europe that led to his own undoing just as it did for another of Lee's disciples- Jim Morrison of the Doors. The Europeans have always expected more of their artists and I s'pose were more than nominally letdown when they found out their revolutionary pop heroes were mere (and in same cases less than) mortals. However affection for Lee has always been cultish and from afar especially in England where kids seemed to have a deep affinity for his dark and mysterious soul music transfused through some warped vision of Brian Wilson. Something in those lush and melancholy string arrangements must've fueled groups like Echo & The Bunnymen, Jesus & Mary Chain (that was Jim Reid in a Love t-shirt in that video oh so long ago-don't be embarassed you know the one...), and even the Ramones who admitted that "7 & 7 Is..." was the type of primal aggression they were trying to bring back to a world filled with Gentle Giants and giant douche bags like Elton John. Mazzy Star even covered one of Arthur's later compositions "Five String Serenade" back in 1994 to great effect. Proof positive that the dude has had some staying power despite limited commercial success. Personally what I think held the group back was the gritty tales of heavy drug use in many of their lyrics. Songs like "You I'll Be Following" have the same visceral impact as Lou Reed's Velvet Underground street jive but wrapped up in charming, hook filled flower children arrangements instead of John Cale's primal skronks from the beyond to perhaps lessen the blow. However, I don't think "Signed D.C" was too far from the real life these guys were living because by the time I had met Arthur he was a down-on-his-luck dude who had lost his way due to heavy drug use and probably some mental instability. In the late 80s and early 90s he was known around town (unfortunately like a lot of other washed-up pop stars) as a woman beater and was even arrested for waving a pistol in a grocery store. He did some time for that one and I pretty much wrote the guy off. Well Arthur got out of jail and much to my surprise became a man possessed. Sadly the other driving force in Love, guitarist and singer Bryan Maclean had died of a heartattack while Lee was incarcerated so the true reunion Lee had dreamed of never came to pass. He did however form yet another version of Love built around the core of a very talented (and young) LA combo called Baby Lemonade. They toured to packed houses all over the world and there was even talks of a new album. But like a lot of the people I have worked with or looked up to as mentors in this business called entertainment he got a horrible disease (leukemia) and died late last year. It's sad and I miss him and can now only think of what might have been and listen and re-listen to the handful of great albums he gave us. No song remains more etched in memory than "Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark And Hilldale". Clark & Hilldale are the streets that the legendary Whisky a Go Go on the Sunset Strip can be found which crystallizes my own personal memories of Los Angeles and working in the business while capturing the divided nature of a man with one foot in the world of lilly white pop and the other in the black music of his Memphis roots. In that grey area "between thoughts and expression" was where the true genius of Arthur Lee & Love rested and continues to make the band relevant even today.