Today we honour Arthur Lee – the African American protest singer, metaphysical poet and leader of LA’s pioneering psychedelic refuseniks Love – who quit this planet on this day in 2006 after an arduous battle with cancer.
Like Lou Reed, Arthur’s work was almost entirely ignored in the ‘60s because he was too at odds with the zeitgeist – thereafter gaining popularity not with black-power audiences but with white intellectuals and psychedelic freaks who found themselves drawn to his highly erudite, overly wordy and wholly apocalyptic world vision. And therein lies the irony in his legacy: at the peak of the civil rights movement, when other black musicians were celebrating their afros and skin colour, Arthur Lee was making his personal revolutionary statements in a style that was quintessentially white. By the time he pitched himself into black consciousness, even fewer people were listening. None of this, however, changes the overriding fact that Arthur Lee was a total genius and a supreme psychedelic motherfucker.
Arthur Lee had moments of genius , wrote great songs and some of the best gigs i’ve been to. RIP
I’m so glad I had the good fortune to see Arthur when he toured around 10 years ago. He definitely still “had it” and was not some tired old musician going through the motions with a lackluster performance of his back catalog. The word genius gets bandied around quite a bit, but it definitely is not hyperbole in this case.
As memory serves, I saw Arthur Lee and Love at the Fillmore East in 1971.
They were the middle act between the headlining Grateful Dead and the opening Allman Brothers. This was the series of shows that provided the molten material for the Allman’s 2-LP release, “At Fillmore East”. Mr. Lee and his group performed admirably and were well received, but under the circumstances they were akin to a sonic champagne sorbet, well suited to cleansing the ears and gray matter in between the Allman’s incendiary Thai-Peruvian ceviche starter and whatever food analogy suits your taste with respect to the Dead.
Notably (for some of us), the marquee outside read from top to bottom: Dead Love Allman…
Aye, he was a great turn