AN APPRECIATION1965, the Strip and Arthur Lee
Love's singer was a man in style and substance ahead of his time, a rock hall of famer recalls.
By John Densmore, Special to The Times
August 7, 2006
It was 1965 when I rushed down to the Whisky a Go-Go to stand out front and listen to a group called Love. My band, the Doors, was playing in a dumpy club up the street, and we were on a break. I craned my neck past Mario, the doorman, to get a glimpse of a band that was so far ahead of its time, the public still hasn't caught up.
The first time I saw Love, I was shocked. They were bizarre. Arthur Lee, the African American lead singer, wore rose-tinted granny glasses, and they had a guitar player whose pants were so tight, it looked like he had a sock stuffed inside his crotch. It was a racially mixed group who seemed to be friends. After experiencing Love, I knew I had a ways to go before being hip. Wearing leather capes and pin-striped pants, suede moccasins, paisley shirts and jackets with fringe everywhere, I wondered if they went out on the street like that. Not that they were fashion without substance; as Lee told us all: "And the things that I must do consist of more than style."
This was a revolutionary band, way before Jimi Hendrix. No black man had crossed over from "soul music" into rock before Arthur. I desperately wanted to be in this band. Arthur clearly had tons of talent and charisma, a quality that our singer, Jim Morrison, hadn't developed yet.
When we finally became the house band at the Whisky, Arthur graciously suggested to Jac Holzman, the president of Love's record company, that Jac check out the Doors. Due to Arthur's jump-starting, we got a record deal.
Jim and I would drive down from Laurel Canyon to the Chinese restaurant next to Greenblatt's Deli to get egg fried rice for breakfast. On one of those excursions "My Little Red Book" came on the radio, Love's cover of the Burt Bacharach-Hal David song. "If we could make a record as good as that," Jim said, "I'd be happy."
Love went on to make several albums for Elektra Records, one of which, "Forever Changes," is a masterpiece (and, it should be noted, was produced and engineered by the vital Bruce Botnick). This album defined the '60s and is the "Sgt. Pepper's" of the West Coast, the "Pet Sounds" of psychedelia. One title from that album, "Maybe the People Would Be the Times, or Between Clark and Hilldale," reflects the street life on the Strip, the Whisky being located on Sunset Boulevard "between Clark and Hilldale."
And oh, the music is so loud
And then, I fade into the … crowds
Of people standing everywhere
And here, they always play my
Wrong or right, they come here
just the same
Tellin' everyone about their
Forgive me now, for copying a slew of lyrics from this brilliant record, but better to quote a genius than wax on with helium upstairs.
Around my town
Here, everyone's painted brown
And if with you that's not
Let's go paint everybody gray
I've been here once, I've been
I don't know, if the third's the
fourth, or the fifth's to fix
There's a man who can't decide
If he should fight for what his
father thinks is right
Prophecy (Arthur spent some time in jail years after this was written):
They're locking them up today,
They're throwing away the key,
I wonder who it will be
tomorrow, you or me
This is the time in life that I am
And I'll face each day with
For the time that I have been
given, such a little while
And for everyone who thinks
that life is just a game
Do you like the part you're
Sitting on a hillside, watching
all the people die
I'll feel much better on the other
Arthur, I hope you're sitting on that hill … in fact, the Doors' lead singer is waiting to show you where that hill is … and I'm sure you'll feel better.
Unfortunately, Arthur smoked so much herb that he was reluctant to leave his house. "Forever Changes" became a critical and chart-topping monster in England, but Lee wouldn't cross the pond. For those of you who are new to the importance of this band called Love, please check it out.
When I heard the news that Arthur died Thursday, I lit some white sage given to me by Native American musician friends, in honor, and to help Arthur Lee with his crossing. He was an extremely talented, tortured artist, not unlike Jim, and the two of them are sitting on that hill.
"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
— Howard Thurman, African American mystic and activist
Densmore, author, essayist and drummer for the Doors, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
(Apologies to the L.A. Times, but I felt the need to reference the entire article. I'm not sure why, but it's more comforting to be back in the day at the moment, rather than in the moment where the world has found itself today in 2006. Don't worry, and don't be so impatient, you folks born later and carrying all your sets of experiences and memories and more recent history will have your turn with this, too.)