Love hurts

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Forever Changes, released in 1967, frequently lands at the top of best-of lists as one of the finest rock records ever made, but it's a wonder it even exists. By late 1966, the effects of minor-league fame--the money, the groupies, the drugs, the distractions--were beginning to suck the life out of the band. By the time recording started on its classic album the band was a wreck, strung out, either emotionally or physically (it's said that Echols was battling a heroin addiction), and 26-year-old Lee thought the Grim Reaper was right around the corner.

"I thought they might be my last words to this world-life," he says. "They were droppin' all around me."

Bronson thinks that hanging-by-a-thread feeling fueled the twisted insights and profound strangeness of the record--"That's one of the reasons why it turned out so spectacular"--as did Botnick, who co-produced the record.

"Arthur was talkin' about stuff people hadn't thought about," he says. "But we went into the studio, and the band couldn't play. Bryan, Snoopy, and everyone else were sitting on a couch in the control room, crying their eyes out." The album was only completed because the Wrecking Crew--a famous group of local session musicians--were brought in to play. Soon after the record was cut, Lee broke up the band.

The album delivered a minor hit, the flamenco-guitar-laced, MacLean-penned "Alone Again Or" (which also became a low-level hit in 1987 for the U.K.'s The Damned). The record encapsulated the disenfranchised feeling of many rebel youths: "If you want to count me," Lee sang on "The Red Telephone," "count me out." Couched within the symphonic strings of that same song is an eerie premonition: As the song surges into a nursery-rhyme-like rap, Lee chants, "They're locking them up today, they're throwing away the key. I wonder who it will be tomorrow, you or me?"

Lee's dark prediction of his own early demise never came to fruition, and many speculate that's precisely why his legacy isn't greater. "Think of Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison," says 23-year-old Kevin Delaney, a fervent connoisseur of Love factoids who moved from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles solely to write a book about the band. "Arthur lived."

Imagine Arthur Lee as a less privileged Brian Wilson: a tremendously talented artist and an operating drug-era casualty, without the big money and the controlling psychiatrists. If no one took an interest--however cynical or self-interested--in Wilson's preservation, it's possible that he could be in some kind of institutional holding tank, like Lee. Wilson, however, is the introspective, wounded '60s casualty; Lee, if you believe the police reports, acts out.

After the original band broke up, they dispersed. Forssi and Echols were arrested and jailed for heroin possession, prompting another chapter in the Love myth. According to legend, the pair had been robbing donut stands, prompting their nicknames "The Donut Robbers." Eventually, Forssi became an artist, forging decorative house sculptures. MacLean attempted a solo record, but it was never released. He later went on to pen songs for half-sister Maria McKee's band Lone Justice, one of which, "Don't Toss Us Away," became a hit tune for Patty Loveless. Pfisterer hit the road, and Echols dropped out.

Lee kept plugging away at music, turning away from the white rock world he'd been immersed in for years. Changing his tune drastically, he reached out for the Black Power movement, soul, and metal-tinged R&B. He made a never-released record with Jimi Hendrix, and put out spotty records, most under the name Love, including one more for Elektra (Four Sail) that was accepted with lukewarm respect by critics. Occasionally, he hit the rare songwriting high, but they were few and far between.

Like his music, Lee hasn't weathered the times well. Though he continued to tour and record, assembling a different pick-up group of musicians as "Love" through the '70s and '90s (with a hiatus in the '80s), he is reported to have fallen into bouts of drug abuse and alcoholism. Former bandmate Rozelle claims that he once saw Lee shoot quantities of cocaine that "would have killed a normal person. He had a constitution like a horse." (Lee denies or deflects all drug-related questions; he even denies at one point that he ever took LSD--period--something contradicted by most people who knew him in the '60s.)

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Sara Scribner