Multi-racial, psychedelic cult band Love mourned the death of their frontman, Arthur Lee, in 2006. Love Story, SIMON SWEETMAN writes, tells the tale of their music, their influence, and their heart-breaking latter years.


Love Story tells the tale of cult L.A band, Love. A band, much like Spirit, who seem to be forgotten when compared with the likes of The Byrds and The Doors, but were very crucial to the West-Coast sound in the era of the mythical Summer of Love and leading up to the post-Woodstock decimation of the hippie dream. Love were fronted by the charismatic Arthur Lee, a space cowboy long before Jamiroquai dreamed up (and diluted) the notion. Lee was Hendrixian on the one hand, but a sensitive folk-pop crooner also. And the band, a multi-cultural melting pot were the folk-roots equivalent of Sly And The Family Stone; less overtly political but just as culturally significant in an era where music was still largely segregated. Unlike say, The Average White Band, a group of whites attempting black music (funk), Love were fronted by black singers, but played rather white-sounding music – imagine the jamming instincts of The Grateful Dead merging with the sweet folk-pop melodies of The Byrds. And there was the inventiveness of The Beach Boys also.

First time directors Mike Kerry and Chris Hall tell the story of Love via talking head interview snippets, mixing in some great archival footage. The era is beautifully evoked, hazy and dreamy – with John Densmore (drummer for The Doors) adding an outside-but-related perspective. Love Story is not quite as personal as The Devil And Daniel Johnston (from 2005’s festival) or the splendid Roky Erikson film from last year – but it’s a similar story; one of a musical act falling apart at the seams. Kerry and Hall, British filmmakers, do not really get at the dissipation of the band – the drug issue is raised – and though this never falls in to total hagiography it is intended to be a loving portrait of an important, but overlooked band.

Love’s influence has been felt over the wider alt-country genre (bands from Wilco to Calexico certainly embody the spirit and sound, as do the nu-wave of Canadian groups like Broken Social Scene and Stars) but their influence was always profound in Britain. Critically adored there, much the same as The Beach Boys have always been, when Arthur Lee was released from jail to re-launch the band and tour behind their iconic third album, Forever Changes, the Brits went barmy.

But to those who know the band, and the story, this version of Love Story is nowhere near as heart-breaking as it could have been. It’s wonderful that Lee is caught in all of his mad glory on tape (Sly Stone-meets-Lee Perry?) while still alive. (He passed away last year after a battle with Leukaemia). But I think this film only manages to hint at the reference, when a real understanding could have shown this to be every bit as devastating as the fictional Love Story from 1970; Arthur Hiller’s classic romantic drama with Ryan O’Neil and Ali MacGraw. Still fans of the band – or indeed the late-60s scene – will enjoy the lucid madness caught and preserved on film.