“Don’t want no sorrow/ For this old orphan boy/ I don’t want no crying/ Only tears of joy/ I’m gonna see my mother/ Gonna see my father/ And I’ll be bound for glory/ In the morning/ When I go away.”
- Levon Helm (died May 26, 2012)


Love: Forever Changes

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: May 27, 2015
Category: Rock

CORRECTION: Yesterday I wrote about sunscreen. And created a screen of confusion. If you want Anthelios with Mexoryl, you want Anthelios 40, NOT 60. [To buy Anthelios 40 from Amazon, click here.] When Consumer Reports tested 34 sunscreens and gave a 100% rating to Anthelios, it was to Anthelios 60, which doesn’t contain Mexoryl. It’s a great product, obviously; why it doesn’t contain Mexoryl is a mystery to me. And a cause for error. The review is now updated. And, I hope, clear.
INFIDELITY: Esther Perel, the author of “Mating In Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence,” recently gave her second TED talk. Her thesis: “The typical assumption is that if someone cheats, either is something wrong in your relationship, or wrong with you. But millions of people cannot be pathological. At the heart of an affair, you will often find a longing, and a yearning, for an emotional connection…” It struck a nerve: 100,000 YouTube views in three days. To watch it, click here. Or find it on the review for Mating in Captivity.
BLACK MIRROR: We took the small person to Washington over Memorial Day weekend for a rite-of-passage American history tour. It’s unclear what she got out of it, but what I took away, at site after after site, was the chasm between rhetoric and deed. Especially at the Vietnam Memorial, a long black marble slab with the names of the 58,000 Americans who died there. Because it was Memorial Day, the memorial was crowded with veterans and bikers; along its base visitors had left photographs, notes, mementos. The marble reflects, and there you are, confronted not just with history but with yourself. I am of the Vietnam generation; standing there brought it home, fresh and wounding. And when we returned to New York, I thought of this music, released in a month when 881 Americans and 8,000 Vietnamese soldiers were killed…

“Alone Again Or” came on the radio as I was driving. I hadn’t heard it in so long it was like the first time, It was so good — I mean amazingly good, Beatles-quality good — that I had to pull over. And then I thought, as I often think about this overlooked masterpiece, that I wish I were filthy rich, so I wouldn’t have to convince you that you must, must, must own an album made in 1967 by a star-crossed group that was famous only in Los Angeles. But convincing you to spring for the music was only the beginning. You’d need a good sound system. And you’d want to wait until it’s dark, and the day fades, and it’s time to self-medicate and go inward. Yes, that’s asking a lot. But “Forever Changes has a lot to give.

People who have the history of rock music in their heads put “Forever Changes” in the pantheon. Arthur Lee — the band’s leader— thought it was his swan song; he expected his imminent death. That was not an uncommon fantasy that year. In fact, the band would fall apart and Lee would spend five years in jail on a gun charge, and then he’d regroup, only to die in 2006.

“Forever Changes” lives on — Rolling Stone ranks it 40th in its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Some critics place it higher: “the American ‘Sgt. Pepper.'” Which is ironic, because “Forever Changes” was huge only in the band’s native Los Angeles. It was ignored everywhere else. And not because of the songs: they’re smartly written and expertly played. But they’re also ‘produced’ — there are strings here, and horns. The record wasn’t easy to classify. Psychedelic? A bit. Mexican-tinged? That too. In 1967, the last thing Young America wanted was Smart and Complex.

And the emotion! Here’s high-altitude, late-night musing:

Time clarifies. Dust settles. Now no one cares who did what back when. Without expectations, maybe you can actually hear this CD for what it is. [The price of the CD on Amazon is ridiculous. For the MP3 download, click here.]

Rock lyrics are often extraneous. Not these. “The news today will be the movies for tomorrow” — that packs punch. And: “Oh the snot has caked against my pants/ It has turned into crystal/ There’s a bluebird sitting on a fence/ I think I’ll get my pistol/ Because he’s on my land…”

Yeah, I heard a funny thing
Somebody said to me
You know that I could be in love with almost everyone
I think that people are the greatest fun
And I will be alone again tonight my dear

Or this:

You’re just a thought that
someone somewhere feels you should be here
And it’s so for real
To touch, to smell, to feel, to know where you are here
And the streets are paved with gold
And if someone asks you, you can call my name

For all the romanticism, there’s plenty of paranoia. Lee recites, over martial drums:

They’re locking them up today
they’re throwing away the key
I wonder who it will be tomorrow
— you or me?

But in this song cycle about confusion and thwarted romance and the deep ache for wholeness, there’s a surprisingly upbeat conclusion:

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 is such a little while
And the things that I must do consist of more than style

At the end, Arthur Lee invokes the idea contained in the title:

Everything I’ve seen needs rearranging
And for anyone who thinks it’s strange
Then you should be the first to want to make this change
And for everyone who thinks that life is just a game
Do you like the part you’re playing?

Love didn’t. The group broke up.  Arthur Lee spent more than a decade in jail for a gun violation. And now here is ‘Forever Changes,’ re-mixed, even better, fresh as a spring morning in Los Angeles almost 50 years ago. Oh, dear. That long ago?


Short takes

Workin’ for the man ev’ry night and day

You pump your own gas. Check out your own groceries. Book your own plane tickets. Essentially, you work for large corporations — for free. How that came to be is the subject of “Shadow Work: The Unpaid, Unseen Jobs That Fill Your Day,” by Craig Lambert. I’m too conflicted to review this book: Craig’s not only a close friend and my editor at Harvard Magazine, but he thanks me profusely — too profusely — in the acknowledgments. I can assure you the book’s a winner because it’s reviewed on the front page of the New York Times Sunday Book Review by the estimable Barbara Ehrenreich. To read more about it, visit Craig’s web site. To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition. click here.

Surprise! I am reading a 531-page novel.

“All the Light We Cannot See” was a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award and a #1 New York Times bestseller. Despite the praise, I didn’t rush to read Anthony Doerr’s book — the last time I read a 531-page novel the author was Russian and dead. Then I saw this video — and immediately one-clicked a purchase. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.] Sometimes a picture-with–words really is worth more than just words. The Pulitzer committee thought so — “All the Light” won for fiction. Do watch.