International Writers Magazine: Comment
SYD & ARTHUR
James D Evans
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.
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.
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.
© James D Evans 04/08/06
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