Saturday, April 1, 2017

Love at Bido Lito's

Bido Lito's
Funny there should be missing pieces in modern times, yet the history of contemporary music is sketchy at best. The pieces are scattered, lying all about, and I find myself stumbling onto information that once seemed cohesive. I re-posted an article about Zappa (somewhere down below) and his first flirtations in Hollywood, far removed from the rock scene on the Sunset Strip. This part of Hollywood wasn't about the clubs; the seedy neighborhood surrounding Sunset and Vine was more about the last days of NBC's Radio City (the beautiful art deco building that was replaced by Home Savings in the mid-60s), and Wallich's Music City (a record store that featured listening booths). In 1963 a new focus turned our sights away from an old Hollywood crumbling before our eyes: the Cinerama Dome.

Aside from Cosmo Alley, the jazz/strip/Zappa affair, around a corner and down Cosmos Way, was another surprisingly popular (at the time) nightclub/dive bar - Bido Lito's on Ivar Street. The Doors would become the house band at the London Fog and then at the Whiskey, but many a night was spent, even after "Light My Fire," at Bido Lito's. This was where (circa 1965) Pamela Courson (Neil Young's speculative Cinnamon Girl) first met Jim Morrison (others say London Fog). Pamela was among the first to witness Morrison dive into a sea of fans. Speaking of Bido Lito's, she said, "He just let go of himself and careened into the black hole, knowing the masses would hold him up. HE came to US, like no one had done before, and no one would do again." Bido Lito, despite its relative obscurity (hardly anyone remembers or has even heard of it), was also home base for both The Electric Prunes and Iron Butterfly.

More than any others though, it was Love who would find their success hidden within Bido Lito's. Arthur Lee, Love's frontman, singer/songwriter was born in Nashville and relocated to L.A. in 1964. Several unsuccessful bands followed until he met up with high school friend Johnny Echols to form The Grass Roots, following in the style of The Byrds and moving away from Lee's bluesier beginnings (Manson Family member Bobby Beausoleil was the bands off and on guitarist). The band, upon learning that the moniker was already in use, and after trying on names like Dr. Strangelove, Asylum Choir and Summer's Children, finally decided on The Love and then, simply Love. Lee and Love began to attract an audience dotted with rock stars and celebrities, including Mick Jagger, Dylan and old friend Jimi Hendrix. Love's music was a gritty mix of blues and country rock, but it had a sinister off-putting vibe that created a mystique that fit with Bido Lito's back-alley demeanor. Rock critic of the time, Lillian Rossen said of Lee, "Arthur Lee produced one of the most amusing paradoxes in rock - a Negro, he came on like Mick Jagger, a white singer who built his whole style around accurate imitations of Negroes." The politically incorrect analysis is no less accurate today.

Lee, at 22, had an unhealthy fear/fascination with death and by the band's third and pinnacle LP, Forever Changes, Lee was convinced his life, both literally and figuratively (he felt that the Summer of Love was simply the beginning of the end, rather than the beginning of the Age of Aquarius) would end in the wink of an eye. But it's this obsession that gave us "The Red Telephone," a chilling track that would close the first side of the LP, a calliope flavored chord progression that evoked an L.A. carnival creepiness. "Sometimes my life is so eerie," the lyrics proclaim, "and if you think I'm happy/ Paint me white." Equally paradoxical is Lee's overdub in which he sings "yellow" simultaneously to "white," conjuring up images of cowardice or happy faces, or yellow sunshine, a variety of LSD. Or maybe, as a political protest, yellow represents the Viet Cong. Forever Changes was an ode to paranoia, and one of the most underrated LPs of the 60s. Love played music that was simultaneously crude garage rock and ultra-sophisticated chamber pop.  Forever Changes manages to rock like hell while rarely touching upon any of the key elements of rocking like hell. 

"I really wanted a Love band, a Love thing. I wanted to be The Beatles, The Stones, a real unit. But everybody had different behavior patterns. One guy was this way, one guy was the other way, and I'm not Atlas, man. I can't hold up the world." But Lee wasn't a public figure; he didn't fit in with the crowd, which only exacerbated his paranoia. "Jim [Morrison] used to sit outside my door when I lived in Laurel Canyon. He wanted to hang out with me, but I didn't want to hang out with anybody." Once he moved up to Mulholland Drive, at the crest of the Hollywood Hills, his actions were those of a recluse. His elusive ways may have been the component that keeps Love a mere obscurity today.