Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Tribute to Arthur Lee

This news originally appeared in an edition of the newsletter "On This Day In Led Zeppelin History."

"I feel like I've seen just about a million sunsets
She said if you're with me I'll never go away
That's when I stopped and I took another look at my baby
She said if you're with me I'll never go away
Because everybody's gotta live
And everybody's gonna die
Everybody's gotta live
Before you know the reason why"
So wrote Arthur Lee in the song "Everybody's Gotta Live," which is included on his 1972 solo debut, Vindicator.

Arthur died of leukemia this past Thursday. During his 61 years, he became a musical hero to many -- not the least of whom is Robert Plant. Arthur managed to inspire, to captivate and to influence the Led Zeppelin singer and lyricist, leading the band Love, for which he notably penned much of Forever Changes, the 1967 album Plant frequently calls his all-time favorite record.

It was in 2006 that Arthur Lee learned he had leukemia, a news account from EURweb.com states. "After three rounds of chemotherapy failed," it continues, "Lee underwent a bone marrow transplant in May, and was the first adult in Tennessee to undergo the procedure using stem cells from an umbilical cord, according to The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal."

Concert promoter Steve Weitzman put together a show in June to benefit Arthur Lee, who was facing not only an uncertain future but also overwhelming medical bills without any insurance coverage. Weitzman said he pitched the idea to Robert Plant that he should come to New York City to play at the concert. Weitzman said Plant readily and eagerly agreed to do it, insisting he would cover his own travel expenses and play with anyone who would be there. Saving production costs for the concert, including not flying over Plant's entire band from England, meant there would be more money for the cause, to benefit Arthur. As a result, Plant played with members of Ian Hunter's band and performed a full set combining five Love songs, four Led Zeppelin numbers, and a few other cover songs -- all on only two days' worth of rehearsals with the unfamiliar backing band. Weitzman said Plant and Hunter (formerly of Mott the Hoople) were old friends and that they enjoyed catching up and performing onstage together for the first time.

Weitzman said the concert raised about $50,000 toward Arthur's medical bills, which were reported to be about $100,000. Because these medical expenses still present an ongoing burden for Arthur's wife Diane and other surviving loved ones, contributions to the Arthur Lee Tribute Fund are welcome and should be addressed care of Wells Fargo Bank, 14855 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, CA 91403. The routing number for the fund is 122000247, and the account number is 6503287200. Arthur's estate also benefits from the sales of Love albums such as Forever Changes and the multi-disc retrospective Love Story 1966-1972. In addition, Weitzman said he is working to release recordings of live performances from the four-hour New York benefit concert, to continue aiding Arthur's grieving survivors.

Plant has long been vocal about his appreciation for the music of Love. The band was a product of the psychedelic music scene on the U.S. West Coast, and it managed to make a big impression on that singer from the British Midlands. Plant often speaks fondly of that style of music, recalling, for one, a Love concert he and Roy Harper caught at the Speakeasy in London. Arthur Lee was on both Plant's mind and lips in 1995 as he and the other members of Led Zeppelin were being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In performing Love songs at his own concerts, particularly over the past eight years, Plant has treated audiences to some recollections about how close to his heart he holds Love's music. At a concert I saw in person in 2001, Plant told the Philadelphia audience he has acquired copies of Forever Changes on every new musical format as it was introduced: originally on vinyl, then on 8-track and cassette tapes, followed by CD and eventually MP3.

Listening to Forever Changes, I can hear many things that would inspire most musicians. The guitars and the drums have a lot of appeal for me as a listener. The way the songs are written impresses me. The arrangements are also astounding with their layers of strings and brass on top of electric and acoustic guitars, bass, drums, and vocals.

Still, the lyrics throughout this album are among some of the most compelling words ever set to music. On one Forever Changes
track titled "Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale," Arthur sings the following stanza, which today reads like a message he could have released in anticipation of his own passing:
"When I leave, now don't you weep for me
I'll be back, just save a seat for me
But if you just can't make the room
Look up, and see me on the
The last track of Forever Changes, titled "You Set the Scene," contains one particular phrase that I believe directly inspired one of Robert Plant's lines in the Led Zeppelin III track "That's the Way." Compare Arthur's declaration that "all that lives is gonna die" with Plant's similar observation: "all that lives is born to die." Aside from this, "You Set the Scene" features what are probably some of the most poignant lyrics Arthur Lee ever scribed. I close with these words from it:
"This is the time and life that I am living
And I'll face each day with a smile
For the time that I've been given's such a little while
And the things that I must do consist of more than style
There are places that I am going

"This is the only thing that I am sure of
And that's all that lives is gonna die
And there'll always be some people here to wonder why
And for every happy hello, there will be good-bye
There'll be time for you to put yourself on"