Friday, February 16, 2007

Forever Changes

“They’re locking them up today.
They’re throwing away the key.

I wonder who it’ll be tomorrow, you or me?”

Years ago, I attended a record swap meet with the intention of acquiring copies of MC5’s Kick Out The Jams (then out of print) and Love’s Forever Changes. First, a bit of background – my adolescence consisted of haunting groove bazaars and bending the ears of long suffering merchants about the very nature of "cool music." Copies of Raw Power, Too Much Too Soon and White Light/White Heat were mustered. Inquiries concerning The Thirteenth Floor Elevators, The Gants, The Amboy Dukes, The Fugs and – of course – Love ensued.

The extremely freaky gent at the specialty booth sported a caftan and a graying Prince Valiant 'do. Although he had not seen a gatefold copy of Kick Out The Jams in several months, he assured me that it was, in fact, "cool." He did have, however, on the premises, several unopened copies of Forever Changes ("really cool") with which he would be willing to part. I had heard Love’s roiling "7 And 7 Is" and "My Little Red Book" on Rhino’s Nuggets reissues. Attracted to their Stone-d rancor, and by the conventional wisdom that Forever Changes was Love's masterpiece, I pegged the disc to be a punky brawl – one that spilled out of the garage into the street.

Immediately upon returning to HQ, I slapped my New Favorite Record onto the turntable.

Ahem…

It didn’t Rock. Not even in the very slightest. The GaragePunkSound was nowhere to he heard. Strings and frills fluttered, voices sighed, mild-mannered trumpets subtly trilled and the meek (not Joe Meek, either) inherited The Earth. Indeed, the record seemed to have a lot more in common with Les And Larry Elgart or The Tijuana Brass than it did with The Stooges. Foiled Again! After a few more half-assed listens, I swapped Forever Changes to my neighbor and its sad Muzak was marked as a scam run down on the smartypants intelligentsia. Nothing – nothing – on this platter seemed to matter.

Many years later, I was consuming a meal at The Kentucky Fried Chicken in Woonsocket. Bathed in fluorescent unholy glow, I became aware of a strange rooty toot toot sound floating over the Formica tabletops – something odd and familiar. Great Guns! The Colonel was beaming "Alone Again Or" over the speaker system. Between soporifics from The Doobie Brothers and Peter Cetera, Harlan Sanders had managed to slip a little Love. Moreover, instead of sounding slight and sugary, the music was now eerie and powerful. Such a perverse portent was unmistakable. It was necessary for me to give Forever Changes another spin.

Over the ensuing decades (!) Forever Changes has become a favorite listen. Its’ sinister sun baked vibes never fail to violate the imagination. I’m sure it holds an esteemed presence in the canon of many a hipster, most of who were equally bewildered upon initial encounter.

Forever Changes is thorny enough to dictate its own terms. It obstinately refuses to 'rock,' choosing instead to decorate its sound with oddball pops. The melodies are eccentric and the lyrics, when not obscure, are hostile. Punks find themselves at a sneering tea party where sharp chicks trade in-jokes. Those lonely fan boys who endlessly search for those extra-special girls wind up with blackened eyes and split lips. Arthur Lee was no-one’s pal. Try to follow his verses and he’ll give you headache. Attempt to speak his tongue and he’ll kick your ass. This would explain the time required for Forever Changes to work its’ weird glamour. Like Black Monk Time or Charles Laughton’s silver screen séance, Night Of The Hunter, Forever Changes demands capitulation from all. Man, that’s a scary thought.

One of the consequences of listening is the inadvertent construction of a new vocabulary. Forever Changes can serve as a template for dozens of styles of undiscovered pop – most of which lurk beyond Joe Hipster. The jaunty horns of "Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark And Hildale," act as conduits between both Strawberries – era Damned and Burt Bacharach. "Alone Again Or" enables the Tropicalia Collages of Os Mutantes to seem less intimidating to rookies. "The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This," all crystal plink-a-plunks, has obvious precedent in the works of Nelson Riddle. Finally, those who have withstood the muted menace of "Live And Let Live" will absorb the cinemelodrama of Jimmy Webb or Scott Walker without fear.

I’ll wager there are dozens of regulars whose unsuspecting minds were blown, sooner or later, by Forever Changes. I’d also be willing to speculate that mastery of such a bizarre work allowed for experimentation with soundtracks, EZ-Listening, Jacques Brel and mariachi bands.
"By The Time That I’m Through Singing
The Bells From The School Of War Will Be Ringing
More Confusions, Blood Transfusions
The News Of Today Will Be Movies For Tomorrow
And The Water’s Turned To Blood
And If You Don’t Think So, Go Turn On Your Tub."
PS -- In 1985, an uncensored copy of Kick Out The Jams materialized in the knock-off bin at the Cumberland outpost of Ann & Hope. It went home with yours truly for $0.89. Pursuit of The Dictators Go Girl Crazy commenced forthwith.

3 comments:

Peter Hennig said...

I believe one could start an entire forum dedicated to Forever Changes and the experiences people have had with this one album. Maybe someone has already done this?

It's good to hear your story, Guy. Although I didn't reject it at first listen, it was entirely different from anything I'd heard up until that point -- and it took more than a few listens to get up to speed on it's terms, as you mention.

I would say without hesitation that Forever Changes has consistently offered engaging listens too many times to count since first hearing it some 20+ years ago.

It's a rare, rare musical achievement.

Pete Bilderback said...

This brings back a lot of memories of searching for this and other Love albums back when they were out-of-print, and how I felt upon finally hearing the album after having read so much about it. Like Peter, I was more intrigued than turned-off by what I heard. But kudos to Guy for being honest enough to admit he thought it was crap.

Rather than blabber on and on here, I think I'll just do my own post on Forever Changes at some point in the near future. Peter you should do one too. It would be interesting to have multiple perspectives on the same album...kind of like record collector geek cubism.

Peter do you still have your copy of Reel to Real? It would be interesting to hear a track from that.

Pete Bilderback said...

One more thing...I once heard "Alone Again Or" in a McDonalds. Someday I have to do a post on "unexpected places where I've heard cool music."