WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Never let it be said that Make-Up lead singer Ian
Svenonius sets his band's sights too low.
Make-Up -- practitioners of a vague, self-invented "liberation theology"
known as "Gospel Yeh-Yeh," which urges the masses to "get theirs" and "off
the pigs in all their forms" -- are hoping their new single will foment
revolution in the street.
According to Svenonius, the sparse groove of
Arthur Lee" (RealAudio excerpt) is actually a traditional folk song in
every way, shape and intention. "It's a protest song in the old fashioned
sense," said Svenonius, 28, speaking by phone from his D.C. home. "It's
harkening back to the days of 'We Shall Overcome,' and trying to create a mass
movement to free the man."
The song's title refrain refers to the one-time singer and guitarist for
the seminal L.A. band Love, whose 1968 album Forever Changes is
considered a classic of the psychedelic era (and the inspiration for the
cover of Make-Up's Sound Verite album). Arthur Lee, now 52, is
serving his second year of a 12-year sentence in a California prison for
illegal possession of a firearm. The severity of his sentence was a result
of the state's "three strikes" law (which streamlines incarceration for
thrice-convicted felons) and Lee's prior convictions on drug charges.
Make-Up's new single features a skeletal funk beat behind the band's pleas
to "Free Arthur Lee," as Svenonius offers a falsetto tribute to the
singer's artistic courage. Svenonius concedes that he doesn't know all the
facts surrounding Lee's particular case, but said Make-Up are concerned
with larger issues than the battle of one man. "We're not amateur
lawyers," he said. "He's a symbol. As much as we want this to help his
case, it's really an outcry against the whole judicial system."
Svenonius said he believes that an already unfair justice system has been
compounded by "three strikes" laws combined with an increasingly privatized
prison network. "The prison system is a private industry," he said. "It serves
their best interest. They get more money if they're incarcerating more people."
The singer added that he is convinced that race played a part in Lee's
sentencing. "Arthur Lee is a psychedelic hero -- but he's also a black
man. Nothing that he did was more abhorrent than the crimes of David Crosby or
Jerry Lee Lewis, but he's the one who's serving the time. He's the one who's
damned to live in the gutters."
Thus, with "Free Arthur Lee" as its rallying cry, the band hopes that
its fans will be motivated to write letters requesting a review of Lee's
case by California governor, Pete Wilson, and to hold benefit events to raise
money for a legal defense fund.
In the meantime, Svenonius suggested supporters keep Lee's flame burning by
playing Love's albums and remembering the singer's talents. "I saw Arthur
Lee a few years ago when he toured with [the New York punk band] Das Damen,"
Svenonius said. "It was a sublime experience. You'd expect it to not be so good.
You'd expect him to be sort of a wash-up. It was remarkable, and
his voice sent shivers up everyone's spine." [Wed.,
Dec. 3, 1997, 9 a.m. PDT]