Love: Forever Changes
Published: Jun 20, 2017
June 21. Officially summer. This month, if you’ve been paying attention, “summer” is often followed by “of love.” Meaning: San Francisco, with flowers in your hair. Monterey Pop. Hippies. Sgt. Pepper. If you were alive back then, if you remember all that, you’re most likely wondering where the years went. Maybe you’re getting nostalgic. Maybe you’re even thinking: “It was better then…” Nostalgia freaks me out. I won’t go there. But here’s the thing: Love’s “Forever Changes” is epic. Classic, but endlessly current. Shockingly smart. Buy it, play it at a party, watch as friends lean in and ask you what it is. And then, because you’ve read the following, talk smart….
“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.
Love? In 1967, this was a star-crossed group that was famous mostly in Los Angeles, but 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” is as “produced” as the Beatles classic — there are strings here, and horns. Like “Sgt. Pepper,” the record wasn’t easy to classify. Psychedelic? A bit. Mexican-tinged? That too. But in 1967, the last thing Young America wanted was Smart and Complex. [Fun fact: The album title comes from something Arthur Lee said to an ex-girlfriend. She: “I thought you said you would love me forever.” Arthur: “Yeah? Well, forever changes.”]
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. [To buy the CD from Amazon at a bargain price, click here. For the MP3 download, click here.]
Rock lyrics are often extraneous. Not these. “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.” “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…”
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?
And now here is ‘Forever Changes,’ re-mixed, even better, fresh as a spring morning in Los Angeles 50 years ago. Oh, dear. That long ago?
The entire album
Live at Glastonbury, 2003