Saturday, September 20, 2008

the day of the locust

Forever Changes. After I moved to L.A. in the spring of '92, I bought a used CD copy of Love's Forever Changes at Rockaway Records on Glendale Blvd. This was in the days when Silver Lake was already hipster central, but the neighborhood had not yet become yuppie-hipster central... It's an important distinction. Gelato cups have since replaced the spent syringes that adorned the gutter at Lafayette Park Place. Back then, I used to ride my bike in Griffith Park everyday. I taped Forever Changes and would listen to it on my Walkman as I pedaled up the steep hills, accompanied by raccoons, coyotes, snakes, lizards... I have very sweet memories of that time in my life because I was still in the early stages of learning my way around town, and everything seemed so wide open and ready for discovery. Whenever I play Forever Changes now, my mind drifts back to that time and a wistful smile comes to my face. The haunting acoustic guitar that opens "Alone Again Or" transports me to those hills in the park. Griffith Park is the most breathtaking public park in the world, more gorgeous than even Hyde Park in London or Central Park in New York. To experience this crown jewel for the first time is like hearing your favorite record for the first time or finally leaning in for the first kiss after days or weeks of anticipation. The dry smell one is treated to at the park's higher elevations is so distinct. It's phantom redolence still mingles in my mind today with Arthur Lee's plaintive voice. 'And I will be alone again tonight my dear.' I recall coasting down Mount Hollywood, my long golden locks (RIP) flapping out the bottom of my crash helmet, the late-day sun reflecting off the Hollywood sign back behind my shoulder as I zoomed through the dried-out palms lining the park's roads. Then I'd arrive at the Observatory, where the vistas looking out over the vast expanse of Los Angeles make even the most skeptical among us feel as if we're part of some infinitely divine plan... The sonic psychedelia of Forever Changes - replete with Spanish horns, Bolero guitar flourishes, and drammatic strings - is the perfect soundtrack for this humbling experience. 'And if you see andmoreagain, then you will know andmoreagain...'

To listen to Forever Changes is to relive the moment when the spiritual tectonics of Los Angeles shifted under the weight of the Great Collapse. The record conjurs up an image of this city quite similar in parts to Nathaniel West's conception of L.A. as a place perpetually teetering on the brink of infernal apocalypse. I believe it was Paul Kanter who once quipped that Love should have called themselves 'Hate'. He was referring more to Arthur Lee's prickly personality than to the band's music, but Love's L.A. is still light years from the utopian vision that Jan and Dean and The Beach Boys presented in their early days. On Forever Changes, Los Angeles is a place of creepy violence and macabre hallucinations, a lurid paradise caving in on itself. More confusions, blood transfusions/the news today will be the movies of tomorrow...

I love Love as much as I do because they are the embodiment of noir juxtaposition in music. The songs are beautiful and highly evocative, yet they often refer to ugliness in the world (Sitting on a hillside/watching all the people...die/I'll feel much better on the other side'). The music is white, so to speak, but it takes a black man to pull it off in all its tragic vulnerability (And if you think I'm happy, paint me white). Forever Changes is, in one sense, the apotheosis of the Sunset Strip beatnik hippy vibe, but the same music gives expressesion to the deterioration of L.A.'s 60s countercultural dream...

Down on Go-Stop Boulevard
It never fails to bring me down
The sirens and the accidents
And for a laugh there's
Plastic Nancy
She's real fancy
With her children
They'll go far
She buys them toys
To Keep in practice
Waiting on the war

I put Forever Changes in the same thematic category as the jazz of Chet Baker and Art Pepper, the movies of Fritz Lang and Samuel Fuller, and the novels of Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy. Love was that good. God bless 'em.


Molly Stevens said...

That top sunset picture looks like Iraq!

I just loaded Love to my itunes.

Max Stevens said...

Yes, there are parts of L.A. that look like Baghdad before the surge. ...Hope you like the record.