Summer Ended Before It Began

Thankfully I read this week’s issue of Time Out immediately upon buying it. Had I not, I would have missed out on learning that All Tomorrow’s Parties is bringing Sonic Youth to The Roundhouse on 31 August 2007 to perform their classic 1988 album “Daydream Nation” in its entirety. It’s been one of favourite albums for as long as I can remember, so after reading the news that tickets were on sale, I was online buying one just as soon as I could confirm that I would have enough cash left over to avoid starvation over the weekend. It’s a good thing I acted fast, too: tickets have already sold out everywhere except for via the venue itself. If you haven’t already bought yours, try checking out www.roundhouse.org.uk and if they don’t have any, your only hope is your friendly neighbourhood tout.

ATP also has two more gigs in their Don’t Look Back series scheduled for later this year. On 22 August, Slint will be performing “Spiderland” while the 13th of September sees House of Love revisiting their first record for Creation. Both gigs will be at Koko and at the time of writing still have tickets available for purchase.

The night before learning about this ATP series, I was having one of my occasional looks around MySpace and learned of Throbbing Gristle’s 2007 schedule. I had no idea there were any TG live plans for 2007, so it came as a nice surprise. In 2004 I had the good fortune of seeing them live at the London Astoria. This time around I’ll hopefully be able to see both their 27 May tribute to Derek Jarman at the Tate Modern as well as one of their six planned recording sessions at the ICA between the 1st and 3rd of June. Full details are available at www.throbbing-gristle.com.

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UPDATE 22/2/07: Breaking news! Second Sonic Youth “Daydream Nation” gig added for 1 September 2007. Go get tickets now!

UPDATE 14/5/07: Third show added for 30 August 2007, which as of today still has tickets available for purchase. The other two shows are sold out.

One From Spain, Two From Japan, 20+ From Sweden

In retrospect, it’s easy to see the underlying Swedish themes appearing in past decade of my life. Shortly after university I had an imaginary electronic pop duo named Farmor and Farfar. To our credit, we aspired to move beyond the theoretical realm, but at the time I suppose I did as well. Then from 1998 – 2006 I lived in Chicago’s Swedish neighbourhood, Andersonville (w t f d). Living in Andersonville as a young indie rocker naturally meant that I drank at the indie-rocker-living-north-of-Addison’s pub of choice, Simon’s. Simon’s has a brilliant neon sign that only lights up for a few months each year. During those cold months, it proclaims “It’s Glögg Time!” and, once lit, anyone within a 5 mile radius feels compelled to enter and consume copious quantities of this Scandinavian mulled wine (w t f d).

Until recently I had been mostly unaware of the massive quantities of excellent pop music this country was producing. Lucky for me, my friend Martin insisted that I get the I’m From Barcelona album “Let Me Introduce My Friends”, which has quickly become a favourite of mine. Infectiously catchy, but with enough attitude thrown in to prevent sugar shock, it’s a new staple of my weekly musical diet. Once I’d fallen in love with this record, there was no turning back and I told Martin to let me know if they ever came back to England.

Happily, they returned to play a gig on 24 February at the University of London Union. Well, most of them. Apparently they have about 29 members in the band, but I only counted about 20 that night. Still, that’s impressive considering that almost constitutes chartering their own private plane for the occasion.

Focusing on their sheer numbers as novelty, however, misses what makes seeing I’m From Barcelona so special. It’s not just a quirky gimmick, it’s a necessary number: at all times it appeared as if there were a party happening on-stage. It mirrored the party happening off-stage, of course, in the crowd. In the end both threads wove together, as the band invited people up on stage and some of the band members wandered off into the audience. You could theorise all you wanted to about the line between the performer and the audience at that point, but it simply wasn’t there anymore. And it was great.


A few days ago Ryan Air announced a sale too good to pass up which will take Rin and I to Stockholm for the early May bank holiday. It feels like Sweden is bursting at the seams with quality indie pop at the moment, so if anyone has any recommendations of record shops, clubs or bands playing Stockholm gigs 4 May through 7 May 2007, do please leave a comment!

Breaking news! I just received an email from Martin telling me that I’m From Barcelona is returning to London again, this time just a few steps from my flat at Koko on Tuesday 27 March. See you there!

– photo courtesy of Paul Wilcock (best of luck with your move to Australia, sir!)

Fade to Grey

Rin just discovered my first grey hair. I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank all the assholes that gave it to me.

Only for the Hardcore UK Raver

Since I think I may have finally regained the ability to express coherent thoughts, I can contribute a bit of content to the internet instead of just staring blankly at the public Twitter timeline. (To my credit, I did have a semi-productive morning on Yoshi’s Island DS, clearing half of World 3 and unlocking Baby Wario, so I’m not a complete waste of space. And “finish World 3” is even a fairly high-priority item on my weekend to-do list.)

Richie Hawtin is easily my favourite techno DJ of all-time (no offence to my Docile boys). Always has been, always will be. His Detroit parties have consistently been the best events in their class, never failing to raise the bar with the bedtimes. Unfortunately, however, whenever he would come to Chicago to spin, it just…. kinda sucked. His Chicago appearances were capable, just boring – it could have been any DJ in that booth. The Detroit parties were special because they were hometown gigs, yes, but couldn’t just a bit of that have come with him to Chicago? At a Detroit Hawtin gig it was not uncommon to have the beats completely fall aside for a few minutes to give space for ambient noise and voices claiming to have called us when we weren’t there. In Chicago, it was always techno-by-numbers safety, or worse yet, tepid house music. Was it that Detroit was extraordinarily receptive to experimentation or was Chicago just more sonically conservative?

With no better way to answer this question than through empirical research, I attended the Minus Records night at The End on 30/12/06. This was my first foray into a club since moving to London, so I was well excited to break in the city’s nightlife. And despite the ticket-taker being a real cockgobbler (he dropped one of our tickets after we handed it to him, then insisted that I pick it up for him), we eventually made it inside.

The venue was impressive: just the right balance between spacious and intimate, with full bass warmth eminating from the sound system and easy access to the bar and toilets. As the night moved forward, intimate would give way to overcrowded and reaching the toilets would become a journey for which the George Cross should be awarded, but for now we were there early and the club was ours.

We did a fantastic job finding an almost perfect base camp for the night. I say “almost perfect” because it had a couch, a pleasant breeze (a fan or the bass wind, I wasn’t sure) and a friendly group of strangers by us, but it also was about a million miles from the nearest toilet. Clearly the place was oversold, but that wasn’t the problem here so much as the lack of basic common sense. I know, it’s hard to think on drugs, but trust me, standing or sitting on the stairs connecting the dance floor to the area with the bar/toilets is a rather bad idea. If you’ve consumed too much ketamine, there are some very nice stretches of floor near the speakers where you can have a sit down.

But the effort required to wee didn’t cramp my style completely. Quite the contrary, it gave you something to do, a good chance to take a break from the dance floor and buy another round of booze so that you could repeat the whole experience all over again in half an hour.

When not peeing, I danced. There was so much music worth dancing to. Magda’s set was at her usual level of brilliance. I can remember the first time I ever saw her. I had never heard of her before in my life, but she was warming up the room for Hawtin at a Detroit party that he threw sometime in the early 00’s. At the time I happened to be getting into a lot of old acid house records, so when she smoothly cooked up a set packed with 80’s Chicago-style treats, my night was made. Her set at The End was more modern, but consistently hard and funky, just like I like it.

By contrast I wasn’t sure what to make of Gaiser. Perhaps I was just too tired at that point, stuck somewhere between my second and fifteenth winds, but his music fell flat for me. It lacked the funk that Magda was able to bring, no doubt in part because she had several artists’ music at her disposal, hers being a DJ set instead of a live PA. The homogeneity hurdle can be a difficult one to overcome for an artist doing a live PA. Gaiser’s tracks are quite good on their own, but they weren’t enough to keep me awake when I needed it most.

A word about keeping awake: I was in it for the long haul here. This wasn’t a simple leave-by-5am Chicago club. Officially The End was open until 7am, and Richie wasn’t even starting until 4:30 a.m. My lame ass probably should have taken a disco nap in preparation for it, however I do think I slept standing up in the middle of the dance floor for ten minutes around 6:30 am. My apologies if I impeded anyone’s efforts to get to the toilet.

Finally the time was here to get the proper techno treatment that I came for. Hawtin was getting ready to spin and one of my friends suggested we make a move closer to the DJ booth, just to shake out some of the laziness bred by the comfy sofa we controlled for the past few hours. Sounded like a good idea to me, so off we went into the sea of people.

Have you seen the “Dawn of the Dead” remake? You know the part where they say fuck it and just leave the shopping mall on a school bus to try and reach that one dude’s boat and find some island? Yeah, it sort of felt like that side of an ill-conceived equation once it was too late to return to our shopping mall in the corner. It was so fucking overcrowded. I thought I was going to get eaten by mutant zombie ravers.

Thankfully, my flesh remained intact, though my beer did not. I was stupid, but too tired to fend off morons anymore. Some chick asked if she could have a sip of my beer and I just gave it to her. Now I’m no germ-o-phobe — I’ll share water and drinks with people I know. But some random girl hanging out with some random guy at a club? I think I’d rather everyone just kept their backwash to themselves. The best part was when she took a sip of my beer, then handed it to the guy that was with her. After he took a sip, he passed it on again to one of his mates who then gave it back to the girl. I was really entertained with the whole scene, wondering if they had so much nerve as to just keep the beer. Unfortunately, they didn’t. She returned the beer to me with a polite smile moments later. A few moments after that I discreetly left it in the corner without taking another sip. (In all honesty, I’m sure she did me a favour in the end, sparing me a hangover on the morning of New Year’s Eve.)

Up close and personal with the DJ booth, we were ready for the main event. I still wasn’t sure what to expect. Would I get a proper Detroit techno night like all signs were pointing to or would I be disappointed with a phoned-in club set? Happily, I got a lot more of the former than I’d hoped for and none of the latter. Richie slammed it hard and played it weird, pulling out stops that he wouldn’t even bother wasting on a Windy City crowd. I even got a replay of his favourite Lil Louis sample from “I Called U”.

It wasn’t Detroit-quality, but that would have spoiled the legend a bit, wouldn’t it? Of course I really didn’t care so much about the differences between Detroit’s and Chicago’s ears as I did to suss out London’s. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that I’ve relocated to more of a techno town than I’d originally given it credit for being. I’ll be back for more, but first, a bit more sleep.

End of weekend update:

I did finally finish World 3 of Yoshi’s Island DS. I am even well-into World 4, with or without that fickle Baby Wario!

The Day The World Turned Day-Glo

Since I live equidistant from both the Camden Town and Mornington Crescent tube stations, unless I need the Bank branch, I avoid Camden Town crowds and opt for everyone’s favourite game and Belle and Sebastian song instead. Hop off the train a bit sooner, ride the lift upstairs and maybe even stop off for a pint and some Thai food on the way home. I love you, Mornington Crescent!

This, however, was not an option on Boxing Day, when limited London Underground services were running, so Camden Town it would have to be. (Note: Don’t get me wrong, I love the Camden Town tube station for the amount of life that oozes from it and I feel fortunate that I get to use it on a daily basis instead of some boring quiet stop. I just avoid it sometimes on the weekends when large quantities of life-ooze are likely to make me ooze violence.)

As I emerged from my little transport capsule, I initially felt that something was off, but quickly came to see that something really was quite on. Paint was everywhere. On the ground, on the tiles, across adverts, covering tube maps and even electronic signs. A grin spread across my face as I realised that Camden Town tube station got massively graffiti bombed!

Of course this was the rare occasion that I wasn’t carrying my camera, so I raced home to get it. Fifteen minutes later, I was back underground taking loads of photos. My favourites?

The initial shock of seeing this familiar daily sight turned on its head when you first come down the escalator:

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Its close-up counterpart:

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The melting acid swirl that once was a plain instance of familiar London Underground iconography:

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The funny aside to Mr. Christ (apologies for, and to, the guy who is picking his nose):

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These wishes of a good Christmas:

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The punk prankster’s reminder that this is not a socially acceptable way to celebrate:

xmas fuck up

Most of the graffiti was text, not drawings. Brixton, however, got treated to a cute rendering of Buster and Babs Bunny along with a manifesto. And who doesn’t love a little manifesto, especially with a side of cute? (Certainly I would rescind at least a portion of my hatred for Matthew Herbert if he would draw bunnies in the margins of his rants.)

Photos:

Camden Town Tube Station Graffiti Bomb: 26 Dec 2006 (my Flickr set)
Photos of the Brixton graffiti bombing (courtesy of Alex Buchanan)

Blogs:

London Underground Tube Diary – Going Underground’s Blog
rodcorp: Graffiti taggers vs British Transport Police
Camden station graffiti bombed

News:

Graffiti gang defaces Tube stop
Police target graffiti vandals

Update (1/1/07):

I moderate the comments on this blog due to the sort of harassing rubbish I’ve been getting from quasi-stalkers here and on Flickr. I’m not silencing dissent: I’ll gladly post a comment that disagrees with me if it can do so with even a mild degree of intelligence and avoid threats to me and my (landlord’s) property. I happily let-live a comment on my Flickr site that so eloquently stated, “it’s a piece of mindless vandalism by a group of low life scum”. A bit blunt, but that’s his/her opinion.

I like open debate, I just don’t like trolls. Thanks again for stopping by.

Alive and Well and Er, Um, Okay, hmrphh…

My poor blog. It just lays here sadly dormant while I go off trotting around the globe…

It’s not all been a pleasure trip, though. The last few months have been hard work, but never has there been a dull moment (well, okay, there was a rather relaxing coach ride from London to Oxford that qualified as pleasantly dull and then there was that other dull moment when I went to Sainsbury’s and only had to get peas). There have been ups and downs, but as I said in the last post, you didn’t come here for the life story. Well, okay, you kind of did, but we have to wrap that story within another story because I’m too old to keep a LiveJournal and too young to write my memoirs.

Suffice it to say, we arrived safely in London on 23 October 2006 and I started my new job on the 25th. Many adventures followed (including one involving hiding our cat away in our cheap hotel room for over a week – not my highest moment, though not my lowest either), much questing was done and high hilarity ensued until at long last our hero, heroine and cat finally came to call Camden Town home.

Our shipment of stuff from the States, including my record collection and some furniture, arrives next week. I hope we can fit it all into our flat. It should be fairly surreal to again see all these material possessions that I have learned to live without. I started to feel very liberated from them, though it will be ace to have my vinyl, our bookshelf and books, our vintage bar/booze cart and booze and our pink shag rug back in hand. How I do miss that pink shag rug! In January, if you need to find me, I’ll be at home sitting on my pink shag rug drinking copious amounts of mezcal.

It’s just over two months into our English life and we’re over the roughest bits and ready to settle in and enjoy life again. As soon as the 4 p.m. sunsets are swallowed up by summertime and we can spend weekends walking in parks without overcoats, that enjoyment should come rather easily.

From London with love…

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LDN

Some of you already know this and some of you don’t, but I have one more big life change happening this year in addition to my wedding. Need a hint? It has a population of approximately 50 million and an average daily tea consumption of just under three cups (though either that statistic is either seriously flawed or my friends are dramatically raising the average)…. give up yet? It’s England! And I’m moving there!

Okay, so technically it’s not one more massive life change, but really two. The reason why I’m moving to England is because I recently accepted an offer from a fantastic social software company in London, where I will continue to work with ColdFusion and potentially Ruby on Rails as well. I’m tremendously excited about this new opportunity as well as the move to London.

I’ll finish work at my current job in approximately two weeks. Shortly thereafter, Rin and I leave for our wedding/honeymoon in México. We’ll leave for London soon after our return from our Mayan adventures, and I’ll start my new job within a day or two of my arrival.

This blog will, of course, hibernate while we are in México, but I’ll probably post again as soon as we return, with regular posts resuming once we’re settled with a flat in London. I’m having my studio monitors shipped over, so I’ll also follow through on my promise to give you a new DJ mix before the year’s end. I’ll also be expanding the focus of my writing to include my stories and observations of the UK.

I try to avoid discussing my personal life on my blog, so I’ll wrap this up now. Thanks for reading and I’ll catch up with you soon!

Plastic Smiling Zombies

There are few things cooler in this world than ninjas. While that short list also includes lightsabers and Ruby on Rails, above even these are zombies.

After about 9 or 10 years of geek living on this planet, puberty’s early stages set in and my nerd know-how began to grow past Star Wars action figures and the burning desire to launch global thermonuclear war from my Commodore 64. While my junior-high loser colleagues were busy securing their social pariah status with comic books, I found a love for horror movies. Freddy made me want to sleep in and Jason had me wishing that my parents would send me to summer camp in nearby Crystal Lake. But as soon as I discovered an old black-and-white film called “Night of the Living Dead“, all these slasher slackers would soon be forgotten.

Maybe it was the way black-and-white left so much to fear hiding in the shadows or in the tar-like blood. Perhaps it was the charm of its low-budget simplicity providing my 1980’s over-stimulated senses with much needed room to breathe. And no doubt Romero’s powerful direction, the everyman cast and the politically-cold commentary all played a part in my obsession with the film as well. Nah, I may have been supremely nerdy, but I don’t think I was intellectualizing it that much as a kid. It was probably just the awesome premise of the dead reanimating with the sole intent of feasting on the flesh of the living. Oh, and that little zombie girl near the end eating her parents. Holy crap that was fucking cool!

Awkward family moment

My parents generally exercised poor censoring judgment. They let me watch “The Shining” on TV when I was like 8 years old. I was already having trouble talking to the ladies but that pretty much sealed the deal. Every time I would look at a girl in my 3rd grade class, the phrase “come play with us forever and ever and ever…” echoed through my mind. I probably would have had a goddamn heart attack if I ever saw twins. But I digress…

The poor job my parents did of filtering objectionable content from my impressionable senses led me to acquire what soon became a prized-possession: my very own VHS copy of “Night of the Living Dead”. I must have watched it at least twice weekly. Soon I not only was able to do a pretty good zombie walk, but also an uncanny recitation of the film’s classic line, “They’re coming to get you, Bar-bar-a!”

As the film wove itself into my cultural DNA, I eventually hungered for more. There seemed to be an overabundance of slasher movies, but why the criminal neglect of what was obviously the best horror subgenre in existence?!? Then one day, while voraciously devouring the latest issue of Fangoria, I saw that George A. Romero was making a sequel to… “Dawn of the Dead”? Reading on, the article noted that “Dawn of the Dead” was his amazing follow-up to the classic “Night of the Living Dead”. Okay, I could handle that there was one sequel soon to debut, but there was one before it which I missed? So this will be a trilogy? All this time I was savoring my new hope, oblivious to the knowledge that not only had the Empire already struck back but that the Jedi was soon to return!

In the end “Day of the Dead” was a bit of a disappointment, but I still cherished it. More importantly, much questing through bleak poorly-stocked video stores eventually led me to a copy of “Dawn of the Dead” and I quickly had a new favorite in the zombie realm. Growing up semi-suburbanly on Chicago’s Northwest Side, shopping malls were familiar terrain so this helped transform boring outings to JC Penney’s into potentially valiant missions to rid the Brickyard of cannibalistic hellspawn.

Years went by, decades in fact, with nothing more to see. Romero seemed to disappear just when I was hooked. I got older and finished high school, went to university, traveled the world, got jobs – all of that daily people stuff we all do – and just really gave up on any more zombie movies worth my time ever seeing the light of day. I had the classics to revisit, my sturdy old trilogy, and I grew to be okay with that. The Playstation even brightened my day along the way with the “Resident Evil” series, enabling me to spend late nights getting scared out of my socks while blasting undead baddies in the dark. Yes, the 90’s were low on zombies, but there were a few bones thrown here and there for fans to gnaw on.

Fortunately the tide was destined to turn in the 00’s: zombies were back big-time! I should make it perfectly clear now that I’m not one of those zombie snobs that kicks “28 Days Later” and the “Dawn of the Dead” remake out of bed for eating crackers (or humans, I guess): I can equally appreciate fast and slow zombies. Fast zombies are scary! Sure, it doesn’t make much sense that they can run, but it’s not exactly a compelling argument that a space satellite crashing to Earth could reanimate the dead in the first place. And yes, technically, the “28 Days Later” lot weren’t really zombies since they were the living infected with a virus, but that virus made them act a hell of a lot like zombies, so that’s good enough for me.

The gem of the new crop of zombie films, however, was not a remake nor a film filled with the technically-still-alive, but a romantic zombie comedy from England. “Shaun of the Dead” succeeded as not only a genre satire, but also as a quality entry in the genre itself. With the winning team of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright behind it, how could it fail?

Previous to the RomZomCom film that garnered them international attention, Wright directed the brilliant Channel 4 comedy “Spaced“. Written by co-stars Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson, “Spaced” followed the lives of a small group of North Londoners stumbling through their late 20’s. Equally hilarious as it was kind and insightful, “Spaced” captured what it felt like to begin your quarter-life crisis at the end of the century. This was a “Friends” for the fuck-ups and we loved it.

Sadly “Spaced” was destined to last only for two short seasons, as most of the cast quickly moved along to greener pastures. There have been long rumored stories of an eventual third season or perhaps an hour-long television special, but that remains to be seen. It’s no matter, really, as the moment has passed in some ways. I’m not sure much how a 30-something me would like seeing a 30-something Tim and Daisy anyway, but if anyone could pull it off with style and poignancy, it would be Pegg and Stevenson.

I lived through a drought of zombie films, so I can survive the current dearth of Pegg-Wright comedy. To hold me over, I made a trip to my local comic book store recently to procure an item that I deeply coveted ever since it was announced earlier this year: the NECA Cult Classics Series Shaun of the Dead action figure!

Standing approximately six inches tall, this menacing bit of plastic is sure to strike fear in the hearts of the miniature undead everywhere. He’s currently standing atop my external FireWire hard drive, looking like he’s about to take a cricket bat to my PowerBook. My PowerBook, happily, does not appear to be fear-stricken. (If it did, it’s kernel might panic! Wakka wakka wakka… geek jokes: I got a million of ’em!)

And just so Shaun wouldn’t feel lonely, I bought a zombie friend for him to attack from NECA’s Series 3: Zombie Flyboy from the original “Dawn of the Dead”! He looks a bit green in the face and is rather blood-soaked as well. And Shaun thinks he’s got red on him?! Hands off the PowerBook, Shaun – worry about that other classic horror icon creeping up behind you instead!

I’ve taken a few photos for your enjoyment and I’ll leave you with them. If your DVD player can handle Region 2 DVDs and you haven’t seen it yet, buy “Spaced”. If Simon Pegg is reading this, congratulations sir, you’ve finally made it to the top of the geek heap: you are immortalized in plastic! Hey!!!

Slip Slip Away

I refrained from posting about Syd Barrett’s death just less than a month ago. I always found his music enjoyable and the only capacity in which I ever liked Pink Floyd involved Syd at the helm. Nonetheless, I held back from posting because I knew five million other bloggers would. I cringed as blog after blog told that “crazy diamond” to “shine on”, as I certainly didn’t see that lyrical reference coming. It’s a curious role that blogs occupy in the online body of news. Often they supply a completely fresh perspective that you don’t hear anywhere else, but just as often they mimic mainstream media and fall prey to its clichés.

This morning, however, I woke up earlier than usual and began to read the news with blearier eyes than usual. I hardly believed it when I learned that a man whose music touched me far more deeply than Syd’s had passed away yesterday: Arthur Lee of the 1960’s Los Angeles psychedelic pop band Love.

Lee’s lyrics, combined with his ability to deliver them either tenderly or ferociously depending on the situation, never failed to leap out of the speakers and linger in my head for days. Sometimes even months after having last listened to a Love album, suddenly a song fragment would appear in my head: “I’d go slip slip, you’d go slip slip, away….” In those moments, I’d almost always fill with an uncontrollable need to spend the next hour or so listening to old Love records.

I think the first Love song I ever heard was their Bacharach and David cover, “My Little Red Book”. At the time I didn’t know it was a cover, so I just assumed it was their original song. No matter though, it may as well have been considering how much they made it their own. This was Lee softly vulnerable while screaming from the center of his broken heart. With each return to the end-of-chorus line “there’s just no getting over you”, you feel yourself getting over all the heartbreak you thought you’d never let slip away.

After my fascination with “My Little Red Book” and its neighbor on Love’s eponymous debut album, “Can’t Explain”, my elder music geek friends at the time told me I had to hear Forever Changes. Widely regarded not only as Love’s best record, but one of the greatest rock albums of all time, this 1967 album deserves every accolade heaped onto it. You can preach to me about Sgt. Pepper and his Pet Sounds all you want, but if I had to take only one late-60’s lysergic pop gem to the proverbial desert island with me, this would be it.

Arthur’s gentle love of life is still here, but it dances with fear and doubt throughout. The optimism and the turmoil of the decade in which these songs were conceived can be heard in almost every one of their lines:

  • “And I’m wrapped in my armor, but my things are material. And I’m lost in confusion, ’cause my things are material.”
  • “I know the old man would laugh. He spoke of love’s sweeter days, and in his eloquent way, I think he was speaking of you. You are so lovely, you didn’t have to say a thing.”
  • “There are people wearing frowns who’ll screw you up, but they would rather screw you down.”
  • “By the time that I’m through singing, the bells from the schools of walls will be ringing. More confusions, blood transfusions, the news today will be the movies for tomorrow. And the water’s turned to blood, and if you don’t think so, go turn on your tub. And if it’s mixed with mud, you’ll see it turn to gray. And you can call my name. I hear you call my name…”

These are mushroom trips taken in the shadow of the mushroom cloud. Acid dreams forming and promising a brighter tomorrow, then slowly melting away. When I first heard the last quote I listed above in “A House is Not a Motel”, its fast delivery, unwavering certainty and sense of being alive all made me question exactly when the song was recorded. Was it really that long ago? Certainly someone made this last week! I will listen to this album as soon as I finish writing, but right now in my mind’s ear I can hear Arthur singing fiercely, “go turn on your tub”. The short stab of the word “tub” is giving me shivers and the record isn’t even playing.

My favorite song on Forever Changes is probably an odd choice, considering it’s not the classic “A House is Not a Motel” or the oft-quoted “The Red Telephone”. And I always forget about my favorite, as it sits nestled just inside the second half of the album. I can’t extract one single quote that can explain why I love “Live and Let Live” so much, because there isn’t one that would do the song justice printed here away from its musical accompaniment. Just go buy this record if you don’t already have it, it’s great, trust me. When you get to this pretty little song, I hope you smile.

In the last few years of his life, Arthur Lee went back out on tour, sometimes playing Forever Changes in its entirety. Although he played in Chicago a few times, I never took the opportunity to see him. I think initially perhaps I was afraid that the gig wouldn’t be very good and that I’d see a master off his game. I’d heard so many reviews to the contrary, however, that I don’t think that was the case when he came through town again.

I think that perhaps my relationship with Arthur Lee’s songs was so personal, it just wasn’t something I could share with strangers in a bar. I’m the anomaly among my music-loving friends because live music doesn’t usually matter to me as much as its recorded counterpart. Arthur’s songs came into my home via vinyl, and they came to live with me there. They moved with me wherever I went and now they are a part of me. I don’t care so much that I never got to see Arthur Lee play live, as I wish there was some way for me to tell him how much his songs meant to someone so far removed from him, someone he’d never meet.

The power of music – art in general, too, really – to form these connections across time and space is amazing, remarkable stuff. But that’s why we love it, right? It’s like life. Thanks, Arthur.

I’ll leave you with more lyrics. Appropriately they come from the closing song on Forever Changes, “You Set the Scene”, and impart some of the life wisdom that Arthur Lee had acquired by the age of 22.

“This is the only thing that I am sure of
And that’s all that lives is gonna die
And there’ll always be some people here to wonder why
And for every happy hello, there will be good-bye
There’ll be time for you to put yourself on

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?”

Look out, Sun, it was nice to have met ya!

According to the latest World Health Organization report, the sun kills 60,000 people each year. I, for one, was shocked to learn this. No doubt it is America’s responsibility to respond with merciless force against this luminous terrorist threat, just like we did with that crappy old moon: