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3.06-¡QUE VIDA! (Love)

Arthur Lee
Arthur Lee

LISTEN

With pictures and words
Is this communicating?
The sounds that I've heard:
The growling voice then fading.
And yes my heart was beating
Or was it just repeating?

With nickels and dimes
You soon will have a dollar.
Am I in your time?
I see no need to swallow
Or catch a plane to travel--
My mind's not made of gravel.

[Break]

Can you find your way
Or do you want my vision?
It's dark there, they say
But that's just superstition.
And in my last inspection
Is this the right direction?

I once had a girl.
She told me I was funny.
She said in your world
You needed lots of money
And things to kill your brother
But death just starts another.

[Coda]


The song ¡Que Vida!, or What a Life! in English, is a simple round of identical structure with, except for the break, almost identical instrumental passages between each verse following the exact same melody as the lyric. It reminds me, in its revolving pattern and instrumentation, of the Zombies’ Changes from the Odessey and Oracle album, released over a year later. The baroque rock sound of ¡Que Vida! is dominated by chordal organ playing and a flute along with acoustic guitar, and moves (like the Doors, Break on Through) to a bossa nova beat. The song begins and ends with a popgun sound—an ironic allusion to war? Sleigh bells close out the record.

I admit the lyrics are difficult to make coherent sense of. Though I ‘get’ the expression My heart was beating / Or was it just repeating? as an existential LSD quandary, I don’t understand why Lee sings that his mind is not made of gravel. Like Jim Morrison, Arthur Lee seems to have a dark vision, but he sloughs off the listener’s fear by calling it merely superstition. (Morrison meanwhile would mine what Lee called “superstition” for mythic symbology.) The last verse, by way of pronouns, seems to suggest that it is the listener who needs lots of money to live in a world that kills “your brother” and starts more wars. But I’m not entirely sure that the “girl” isn’t addressing the singer with “you” and that the words following She said shouldn’t be in quotation marks. In any case, this equating of greed with war would become a frequent point of protest against the Vietnam War in the months to come.The last line seems to imply a Hindu / Buddhist perspective that desire leads to endless suffering through a constant cycle of birth and death.

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