Part of this may be the legend of Love that their elder rock friends (like me!) have spread, on those drunken nights late at the party when we’ve yelled “That’s Love, motherfucker, and you’d better LIKE this shit!” But I think what makes Love still work for the punk rock set, aside from its place in the historical evolution of punk, is that there is something menacing, even hard, set down there amidst the orchestration and syncopation, a snarl of anger down under the flutes and the violins, a middle finger amongst the marigolds.
And that makes sense, because Arthur Lee was the angriest of flower punks in the late sixties L.A. music scene. Typically, Angeleno artists were more cynical than their San Francisco counterparts–Frank Zappa wrote lyrics full of ridicule and sarcasm, and Jim Morrison screamed and ranted on stage like Howling Wolf on acid. But Arthur (and to a greater extent, his writing partner Bryan MacLean) was perhaps more a part of the flower power scene than either of the above, and yet still poignantly aware that this “giant mass deception” was a bubble that would soon pop, a macrame tower surrounded by blood and guns, and this adds a bitterness to the sound and lyrics of Forever Changes. Add to that that his bandmates had largely become junkies, and that he thought we was going to die soon, and I can understand why his mindset would lead him to create an album that haunts you with prettiness, only to fall apart into the horrors of a sixties sound more evocative of the Weathermen and the Manson Family than of Woodstock and Wavy Gravy.
And perhaps that is why this album is so perfect and complete, because more so than any Doors album, Forever Changes is truly “The End.” It’s an ending to Love’s classic line-up, and it is an album about endings, with a particular focus on individual song endings. Each song on this album ends subtly, but in an interesting way, wrapping and turning so that the next song in succession starts in the perfect place. And it was very touching to me that Arthur Lee ended his life with these words on his lips, spending his time touring Europe and the Americas with a line-up that played Forever Changes from start to finish, the words “I want my freedom!” ringing loud and true as all hell.
On a slightly unrelated note, there’s a Love Story documentary floating around that’s a definite must for all Arthur Lee and Love fans. In one scene, he gets to return to the Castle, Bela Lugosi’s old mansion and the place where Love members spent the years of their second and third albums. It’s a great literal home-coming and just a taste of how great the documentary was: