“you set the scene” – love (1967)

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I recently moved to a new neighborhood.  For me, moving can sometimes be a stressful experience.  There is a lot that goes into the process of relocating.  It can be expensive when you factor in hidden costs, deposits, fees, and the logistics of moving all your stuff in one piece.  Moving can also be physically and emotionally taxing.  Carrying boxes and furniture for hours up and down stairs is never fun.  And the overall change can be difficult even if the change is good.

There’s been a lot of change lately in my life.  None of it has been bad, but the responsibility of managing it has required concentration and calm.  Change is the only constant we have in our life.  As I am getting closer to the end of my 20s, I still don’t think I am used to the idea of change as an overall concept.  Sure, I would like to think I like and accept change but I think it typically depends on what kind.  Some things are harder to accept than others.  But then again, does one ever really get fully accepting of change?

I am now done with unpacking and getting my apartment settled.  While I was sorting through boxes and trash, I listened to a lot of music.  Not only did it make the task more fun, but it also kept me calm and not too overwhelmed.  I hated my new apartment at first.  And I know what you’re thinking.  Bradley, why would you move there if you ended up hating it?  Well, it wasn’t that I hated my apartment or that it was terrible, but rather my judgment was clouded by not accepting change.  Everything is in its place now and I feel better about that, but it has taken some time to get settled in and become comfortable.

While organizing and sorting, I took time to relisten to albums that generally made me happy.  Not all of the albums were specifically filled to the brim with joy, but other an experience that I find enjoyable even if not relaxing.  One of my favorite albums I revisited after several years was Love’s 1967 classic Forever Changes.  I wanted to wait until next year to dissect this album for it’s 50th anniversary, but the themes of the album were calling out to me.

Besides the obvious title, the album is about change and was derived from a conversation between the band’s lead singer and a friend.  And the concept of change is found throughout the album.  A psychedelic rock band, Love was never really a band that fit in with the hippie movement.  With the band originating in California, it was certainly close to the epicenter of that movement.  However, the album skims the surface of darker themes and doesn’t fully adhere to the philosophies of the flower people.  There is a lot of introspection in this album that doesn’t necessarily mesh well with the wide-eyed optimism of the era’s counterculture.

There are so many amazing tracks on this album.  Every single one is a winner and to discuss only one song does the album a huge injustice.  However, this being a song analysis and discussion blog, I can only explore one.  And as I think about the change in my life, the change in other people’s lives, and what change means for the human condition, the one song that captures all of these ideas is the album’s final track “You Set the Scene.”

Closing out the end of the album and running nearly seven minutes, “You Set the Scene” is a masterful blend of psychedelic rock and folk pop.  In the lyrics, the album’s themes are explored with one of the greatest examples of American songwriting.  Written and sung by Arthur Lee, “You Set the Scene” beautifully explores change with reflections of doubt, acceptance, and curiosity.  In this song, Lee is wrestling with the idea that nothing stays the same and that the only thing he can do is live each day with a smile while people around him ask why.  Waxing philosophic, Lee sings “everything I’ve seen needs rearranging / and for anyone who thinks it’s strange / then you should be the first to want make this change / and for everyone who thinks that life is just a game / do you like the part you’re playing?”  Lee is calling out the people around him and you can either see things his way, or keep putting yourself on.

Musically, “You Set the Scene” is incredibly rich and textured.  With an array strings and horns arranged with a jazzy pop flare, the tracks never cease to excite the listener.   It is the kind of track that warrants repeat listenings on a high fidelity system as there are new things to discover in the patchwork of sound in every spin.  While the whole album sounds beautiful and complex, “You Set the Scene” is the perfect conclusion.  It always confounded me why Love doesn’t get the same radio air play or cultural recognition as other bands from Los Angeles at the time like the Doors.

There are so many nuggets of wisdom in this song.  Lee sings “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 consist of more than style.”  How incredibly profound.  As much as I try to not let change bother me and live to be more in the moment, it takes a lot of work.  Everyone struggles with this, though some more than others.  However, it should a goal that is attainable for everyone and something to strive for.  We all deserve peace, happiness, and closure.  This song is something I can think about during the tougher moments.

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