Forever Changes by Andrew Hultkrans
2003Publisher: Continuum Books
y Forever Changes – when I did that album, I thought I was going to die at that particular time, so those were my last words. I was 26. I’d always had this thing about when I was going to die, man, or physically deteriorate, and I thought it would be about 26…something like that. I just had a funny feeling.” – Arthur Lee
In fact, Arthur Lee was 22 when he and the rest of Love recorded Forever Changes, the group’s third and final album together. However, this made no difference to him; if he felt he was going to die, then death was surely coming for him, and he had to alter the course of history before it stopped him short. This is the way of a prophet, it seems; with little grip on reality, yet a mammoth purpose in sight, Lee recorded Forever Changes, an album that would have immeasurable impact on the music world.
Andrew Hultkrans’ contribution to the 33 1/3 series, Forever Changes, describes the multitude of reasons Lee was convinced of his (and the world’s) impending doom and analyzes the landmark album as a document of the enigma that excluded himself from every revolution except his own beautiful one, Forever Changes. Hultkrans begins the book, however, by making plain his own connection to the album: “as an only child who lost his father early…and perennially suffers from low-self esteem…as someone who…has been prey to the terrors of severe hypochondria…[and] as a person who has been gripped by paranoia” (and he goes on), Forever Changes has been invaluable to him.
Of course, most listeners have not suffered the same issues with self-esteem, hypochondria, and paranoia that Hultkrans has, and for many, it is difficult to relate to Forever Changes on a personal level. This difficulty stems from the general ambiguity of Forever Changes’ lyrics, which are often hampered by irrelevant detours (e.g. “You Set the Scene”’s shift from “I’ll face each day with a smile” to “I need you so-wo-oh”) and/or melodramatic, vague punchlines (e.g. “The Red Telephone”’s “And if you think I’m happy/ paint me white/yellow”). However, this book is especially rewarding for those who are frequently disconcerted or irritated by the lyrics, as Hultkrans actually clarifies a great number of them, and frequently explains their origins.
Hultkrans’ analysis of the album towers over the previously widest available literature on the album, Ben Edmonds's poorly written and surprisingly uninteresting piece on Forever Changes for the album's 2001 Rhino reissue, which distressingly skirted away from discussion of the album’s many nebulous moments. Hultkrans’ Forever Changes, however, is more than a mere improvement on Edmonds’ description of the L.A. scene as it affected Love. It is an impressively deep psychological study of Arthur Lee, which incorporates a number of philosophies (running the gamut from existentialism to Gnosticism) that consciously or unconsciously impacted Lee.
The result of Hultkrans’ primary focus on Lee’s psychological state and relation to late ‘60s L.A. society, fortunately, is a book that explains Forever Changes to a phenomenal extent, with interpretations based on extremely diverse examples that are engaging and relevant. Hultkrans supports his thesis – that Lee saw the dark side of the ‘60s counterculture and had the burden of prophesying this doom to the world – with quotes from virtually every imaginable source, and the great majority of references donate something novel and essential to Hultkrans’ analysis. Furthermore, Hultkrans performs the standard functions – the “pocket biography”, the discussion of the music’s features, the interviews with friends of Lee – with exceptional discern, including little but the essential and the fascinating.
Hultkrans’ lyrical analysis is generally quite brilliant, if somewhat insufficient. He certainly clarified many seemingly nonsensical lyrics for me, although many still remain illogical in my mind. For example, Hultkrans unveils the “escape from the chain of being” Lee hints at during “The Red Telephone” (I’ve been here once/ I’ve been here twice/ I don’t know if the third’s the fourth’s/ Or if the fifth’s to fix), which I hadn’t picked up the first time around, yet his attempt to explain the same song’s “I believe in magic/ Why? Because it is so quick” is scanty at best.
More importantly, though, he deciphers the general mood of the lyrics very clearly, approaching the album’s themes with great precision and detail. If there are some moments of Forever Changes I still doubt, I at least realize why I doubt them; Hultkrans provides a solid explanation of not only the specific ambiguities, but also the reason for the album’s general inscrutability.
The exploration of Lee’s place in a “flower-power” culture is the crucial and extraordinary aspect of Hutkrans’ book, as the reasons for Forever Changes’ anomalous nature are exemplified by Lee’s total isolation in a culture of pointless and self-defeating revolutions. Moreover, Hultkrans defines Forever Changes’ uniqueness through Lee’s psychological and spiritual aversion to “going with the flow”, as so many hippies did, which further supports his argument that Lee was “‘not of this world’”, as Elektra boss Jac Holzman put it.
Hultkrans’ Forever Changes is a paramount achievement, the type of book almost every music obsessive hopes to write. It makes me want to learn more about Forever Changes. It makes me appreciate the album in a totally new way and forces me to consider its lyrics with more care and emotion than I have since my first listen. It reveals a history and psychology within the album that casual listeners are sure to have missed, and even Love obsessives might not fully grasp. It is totally worth your $10.
By: Kareem Estefan
Published on: 2004-01-02