Music from the minds of madness

Arthur Lee
Post-folk proto-punk: Arthur Lee and Love’s album Forever Changes may have been ignored in its time, but today it’s ranked among the most important albums of the 1960s.

Marc McCloud loves movies.

Well, duh, of course he does. His movie store, Orbit, is said to have the largest selection of DVDs in Western North Carolina, with more than 10,000 titles on its shelves. But on the eve of the store’s third birthday party, McCloud willingly confesses his relationship with cinema is not a monogamous one: “I’ve always loved rock ‘n’ roll.”

The concept for the celebration, a joint fete with neighboring Beauty Parade Salon, stems from that love of the rock. “Since two of my musical heroes, Syd Barrett and Arthur Lee, passed away, we thought we’d do something different this year,” says McCloud. He was soon planning a tribute show — a Halloween tradition in Asheville — to the two iconic rock stars, who both hopped on that big tour bus in the sky earlier this year.

Barrett, who died at age 60 from complications of diabetes, was best known for his early work as the original front man for Pink Floyd. He was the driving lyrical force behind its debut album Piper at the Gates of Dawn and went on to release spun-out, but brilliantly crafted, solo albums.

Arthur Lee passed away at age 61 after a long struggle with leukemia. Lee was the enigmatic singer and lyricist for Love, the L.A.-based band variously categorized as “psych-rock,” “folk-rock” and “protopunk.”

Syd Barrett
Still shining: Syd Barrett’s unhinged genius was legendary even before his death.

McCloud is certainly not the only one to elevate these fallen rockers to hero status. Both of them have been cited as influences by a wide variety of performers such as Led Zeppelin, Robyn Hitchcock, REM and Pearl Jam.

On the roster for the show are local acts Sidney Barnes, Green Fields, Night’s Bright Colors and Suttree. Suttree guitarist and singer Chad McRorie readily acknowledged his debt to both musicians: “I came from a real punk rock type of background. Love was one of the first bands that made me realize you could use strings and melody … the whole idea of psychedelic, orchestrated songs really spoke to me. [And in Lee’s songs], he walked this line where he’ll be talking about blood dripping from the faucet, then in the next sentence he’ll be saying something really profound.

“And those early Pink Floyd albums I really dug,” McRorie continues. “Syd’s more whimsical pop songs always spoke to me, but it always seemed like there was something darker, not quite right, like cracks in the plaster.”

That “something darker” that pervaded both singers’ lyrics were products of the emotional and psychological issues that plagued them. Barrett and Lee’s mental instabilities and turbulent behavior have, sadly, gained them almost as much notoriety as their music ever did. Barrett’s mind succumbed to drugs early on in his career, leading to his replacement in Pink Floyd by Roger Waters (who went on to become a bit unhinged himself). Lee’s violent nature eventually led to a stint in prison for illegal possession of a firearm.

“I always felt really sorry for Syd Barrett and Arthur Lee,” says McRorie. “Here you had these two creative individuals that could just barely function. Arthur Lee had a really abusive history. He would do things like threaten to pistol-whip people. And Syd Barrett was just a total acid casualty, and I felt sorry for them. You would rather see them maintain the creative process instead of having to stop so young. I know that Arthur Lee was getting the Love stuff back together at the end there, but then the cancer got to him.”

Barrett and Lee’s troubled natures were only one reason McCloud decided to put proceeds from the tribute show toward mental health issues. Recent headlines also influenced McCloud: “North Carolina is 43rd out of 50 for mental-health funding,” he explains. “And with the biggest mental-health facility in WNC closing down [New Vistas-Mountain Laurel Mental Health facility, which serviced 10,000 patients, will close its doors on Halloween], I thought an advocacy group would be the best route to go to raise awareness.” McCloud’s charity choice stems from his personal life as well: “I’ve had friends descend into drugs and mental problems who end up getting committed and just bottoming out.”

“Bottoming out” mentally is, of course, an all-too-frequent occurrence among artists. From Rimbaud to Van Gogh, from Harry Nilsson to Brian Wilson, creative thinkers have long been known to teeter on the tightrope of sanity, with plenty of obstacles — namely, drugs and alcohol — to trip them up along the way.

“Anytime someone is really creative,” says McRorie, “there’s that level of insanity that goes hand in hand. You know, [country-folk singer] Townes Van Zandt drank himself to death. He could write songs that would make the world stop, but he couldn’t take care of his family.”

McCloud says bands, particularly acoustic acts, still interested in playing should contact him. Also, if a night of mind-rattling psych-rock tributes for a noble cause isn’t enough to get you down there, the Orbit/Beauty Parade birthday bash will feature a costume contest with a grand prize of three months of free DVD rentals at Orbit and a haircut, facial and manicure compliments of Beauty Parade. “Also,” McCloud says with a gleam of excitement in his eye, “I’ll be making my singing debut. But I don’t know if you should list that. It might scare people away.”

[Freelance writer and cartoonist Ethan Clark is a regular contributor to Xpress.]


The Grey Eagle (185 Clingman Ave.) hosts the Pink Floyd and Love tribute show on Friday, Oct. 27. $5, or $3 if you’re in costume. For all ages. 232-5800.

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