The International Writers Magazine: Comment

James D Evans

here are parallels - so they say - between Syd Barrett, who died 4 weeks ago to this day, and the musical west coast maverick that was Arthur Lee.

Syd Barrett

Both were very obviously severely talented musicians, both were prone to increasingly eccentric behaviour, both were handsome (indeed I have taken sartorial leads from them both) and both led their respective bands to the forefront of their local music scenes, but then both somehow couldn't push beyond that, a failure more often than not attributed to their own personal follies. With Syd the situation is more clear cut. The received wisdom is that after he suffered a drug induced breakdown followed by two timid stabs at solo artistry before seemingly rejecting everything the world had to offer, he then traipsed (quite literally we're lead to believe) from London back to his maternal home in Cambridge. In the classic tradition of leaving your audience wanting for more Syd has been in great demand ever since, a fact that I assume he cared little for.

Arthur's story is different though. There exists a tale of him loosing a shoe only to break mid gig to try and find it and then not being seen by anyone for a number of weeks but it's hardly comparable to the road to Damascus young Syd seemed so determined to dredge. Lee seems to have been a character prone to impetuosity, a man who'd go missing to get his head straight but always with the attention of coming back stronger, fitter ( 7 albums to Syd Barrett's 3 almost testify to as much). But the point is Lee would return no matter what, in spite of jail sentences, debilitating illnesses and personal upheavals, you couldn't keep the good man down. The key difference was that Syd was lost to the world a long time ago where as Arthur has constantly fought whatever inner demons he has - both physical and mental - to bring to the world the music he spun so delicately during the latter half of the 1960's.

Arthur Lee
Indeed to compare Lees' opus Forever Changes with Syd's equivalent manoeuvre The Piper at the Gates of Dawn would be churlish to say the least. Where as Syd's offering to the world was a sonically ambiguous affair steeped in English eccentricity (the title of course being an alluding to Kenneth Graham's The Wind in the Willows) Forever Changes was a baroque masterpiece replete with brass fanfare and Spanish guitar. The moods induced from listening to either are very different and where as Piper probably triumphs in terms of sheer innovation you'd be hard pushed to find an album more beautifully refined or emotionally provocative than Forever Changes, and it is because of this that I find the loss of Arthur Lee the harder to take.

I was introduced to Love some 12 years ago by college friend and their first three albums consequently became the soundtrack to my second year at University. When I had my first regular job 'Forever Changes' was the first album I bought on vinyl which I already had a copy of on tape. After my cousin hesitated with her wedding invitations I refused to try and sell my ticket to see Arthur Lee play the gig which coincided with her nuptial celebrations, my justification being that I may never get the chance to see him play again.
I didn't.
© James D Evans – 04/08/06

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