Saturday, August 05, 2006
Wow, another hell of a week. I've read a lot about Arthur Lee's passing. Some of the rememberances are more notable to me than others, and that's all because of who I am, I suspect.

Jason Gross was determined to get a quote.

Malcom Lowry, Last Year at Marienbad, and Arthur Lee.

Just found Steve Rubio's "D.C. and me".

And this excerpt by Dero from Turn on Your Mind.

And Simon B's, which resonated with me because it was like a little jab (just a little jab, now, but not like another little twist of a knife in the heart), and his writing further sparked my memory banks (so I was a little opaque and incoherent in my remarks there). And since his departure, you can go nowhere these past few days without reading or being reminded of Arthur's passing. I've read on bulletin boards just how much Lee's "Forever Changes" has meant to people and how they'd just recently turned new people onto the music, their expressions of sorrow and loss softened with contemplations and wonderment how spirit continues to touch and inspire.

For me, it's not "Forever Changes", it's different (and earlier) music. I immediately thought of Ronnie and the Pomona Casuals, and remembered that fierce adolescent pride surging through me that the music from "our neighborhood" dancehall could not only be recorded but carried onto the radio, and Arthur was there helping to make it happen. He composed (and I suspect arranged) much of "I Want to do the Jerk" and hearing the song broadcast on local radio as I was riding around in the vicinity, I was very proud of him at the time for pulling that off.

Plus he was loyal in his own way ... I'm sure he had something to due with getting the Pomona Casuals on the same bill as the Byrds at some converted bowling alley a little bit later on. (8.12.06 correction, this was at De Anza Park in Ontario).

And snarky. He wrote a snippy song about Luci Baines Johnson -- the Johnsons, well, every paper was full of them at the time, and if you grew tired of reading about Lyndon and Lady Bird, you could read about the Johnson children (Luci Baines' daddy, now the President by murderous default, gave her a hundred dollars to spend as she wanted at a book store as a birthday present -- that ben franklin seemed like the fortune it was back then, as that amount paid out as weekly wages could support a family of four who were paying down a mortgage on their own home! But enough of high finance ... )

I guess I'll always remember Arthur as I knew him then, after all those are most of the firsthand memories of him I carry around. He was a very nice young man, really, and we both were very young at the time, and sometimes it's hard to believe I could ever have been that young. (Geez, look at the unbelievably youthful, well, absolute piefaces playing with Lee on the Dick Clark Show clip). But I don't have many anecdotes about Arthur or conversations to recount or quotes to drop. We just talked music.

Though we went to see a surf movie once (just to hear the soundtrack music), and a rare one or maybe as much as two times Arthur dropped by the house to listen to a few (as I only had one or two) of my Del-Fi surf albums. That was late 1963 early 1964. There was a little darkness swirling around him even then, as even thinking about the ocean can sometimes bring contemplations or reminders of a treacherous place beneath the inviting surface exterior. As I recall we one time discussed the instrumental "Church Key" and even though that was popularly regarded as a rhythm heavy "party" song (on 45 version backed I believe with "Six Pack") ...

OK, a feel-good party song called "Church Key" but that title actually reminded us both of a shark attack. That may have been due to recent published news or an article about a shark attack occurring somewhere in the world (certainly not where we were in the oceanless except in thought and music Pomona Valley, but that just went to prove how we each can carry our universe around within us, and the amazingly complex interplay and interconnectiveness of things and Rachel Carson was saying the same thing in her book on the ocean). "Church Key" reminded Arthur Lee (and me) of a shark attack because in a shark bite, each single razor sharp triangular tooth leaves a deep exact puncture that looks like you've punched open a quart of tomato juice with a church key. So you see, we were looking for a moment at least at what might be the real deal behind the never say die attitude of rhythm heavy party music.

And the next time I saw Arthur was 1965, and he was with a couple of girlfriends walking down the streets of Venice, one of those funny little streets near those beatnik coffee houses and I was surprised to see him. And I never went to any of the clubs to hear the Doors or Love nor the Byrds, I was just into another scene by then and travel to L.A. seemed a rather long commute even by L.A. standards.

Then that famous record of his came out in 1967 and I was half a state away from Venice by then, in a new turbulent geography with many profound, fascinating, and sometimes disturbing events taking place regularly if not nearly every day, which when combined all threatened to push any recent memories into the far distant past and labeled not so important as what's currently going on. You know what, it didn't really register that was the same Arthur Lee I had encountered previously, though I did catch on to that (everybody was beginning to look, act, and dress much different than they did a mere few years prior).

Then long about 68-69, and this is probably during the period that Berkeley after a lot of teargassing and nightstick beatings and smacking people down into the pavement and expressions of still irrepressible youthful defiance was under "martial law" declared by the governor complete with strictly enforced curfews (no one allowed to move about on the streets after sundown), and still the youth were irrepressibly defiant. About that time there, I read a newpaper article about Arthur's former bandmates getting into quite a bit of trouble for armed robbery to fuel their drug habits and looking like they were headed for San Quentin and I remember feeling very uneasy about that news and it was too late (even though I didn't know any of them) to feel anything other than disgusted, well, I just basically felt ashamed for them all.

Maybe that's also why I prefer to remember Arthur as he was, all those many years ago, rhythm junkie surf dude of the mind, pumping out r&b or whatever would catch hold in the real and fast changing world, a mover, optimistic, determined, talented, and just generally in love with music.

And brave. Think of it -- His was the only black face in an ocean of white faces at the high school auditorium where we watched that surf movie with little blond gremmies who because of their attitudes and expressions (upon noticing a stranger in their midst) whose combing habits that evening at least seemed to ape Adolf's famous waterfall cascade across the forehead.

And brave. Because in my small town, where nearly every little thing which seemed contrary to the prevailing status quo was deemed threatening or questionable and so was noticed, commented, and acted upon to squelch or punish. The local police force (all two or three of them, still rooted in the attitudes of the deepest South) would have to be informed and briefed by their superiors there were a few college students from Africa on campus and around town, you could recognize them by their dashikis and caps, for fear the foreign students would be mistaken for blacks and harrassed or worse, causing an international incident. Or certainly at the least they'd be guaranteed to be noticed, followed, timed, and given parking tickets. So I thought Arthur could be brave and courageous in pretty much the same way I regard people who knowing full well the ocean can be full of sharks and occasionally become a dangerous environment still insist on heading out to play in the waters.

[update 8.8: You can listen to Luci Baines right here)

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