INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Rolling Stone DECEMBER 6, 1973 - by Cameron Crowe
"MUSIC'S JUST A MEANS FOR MAGIC"
Los Angeles - Robert Fripp, the only original King Crimson member left after four years, is a complex and clinically cerebral personality, not unlike the band itself.
"The reason King Crimson had had so many members over the past few years," he confides, "is simple instability. You might take that to infer that I'm unstable, but most people would disagree with you... myself included."
"I am very fascinated," he explained over breakfast at a Berkley restaurant, "in a way musicians work together as a unit. You see, I view King Crimson as the microcosm of the macrocosm. If one can't operate successfully with three other musicians, it stands to reason that one would find it difficult to work well in a larger unit."
"I form bands, but I'm not a leader. There are far more subtle ways of influencing people and getting things done than being a band leader, it's not a function I cherish. Who needs it?" Fripp's solemn devotion toward his music is shared by bassist-vocalist John Wetton, violinist David Cross and drummer Bill Bruford - the three other members comprising King Crimson's newest and jazziest incarnation.
It was 1969 when the classically trained guitarist Fripp rounded up the original King Crimson line-up. Settling on Ian McDonald to man the keyboards and mellotrons, Greg Lake on bass and lead vocals, Michael Giles on drums and Pete Sinfield as lyricist, the group went on to record In The Court Of The Crimson King. The LP is still their most commercially successful effort to date.
"The band died in December of that year," Fripp recalled, "while we were staying in Los Angeles. With all the pressure finally off, the group ran around the room in glee. I couldn't do the same. I had realized that King Crimson was too important to let die. That particular band was especially good, perhaps because we shared an intense frustration and animosity towards the world in general and ourselves in particular. We were very creative, most definitely because pain and frustration lends itself to such a fruitful artistic state."
"I read an interview the other day with a very rich and successful English pop star who started off saying the only reason he kept recording and touring was that he didn't want to became a vegetable. He spent the rest of the interview talking about his velvet carpets and drapes, the fishing at his lake and his well-trimmed grounds. I found it alarming that the gentleman had failed to realize he had already become a vegetable. It's a paradox that artists tend to be rewarded with fame and fortune. The prosperity almost always dissolves the squalor that spurred them on to creating in the fashion they became rich and successful for."
A string of itinerant musicians, most of them loosely assembled for an LP session and a quick promotional tour, came and went in rapid succession. Left behind were three albums, In The Wake Of Poseidon, Lizard and Islands.
The three-year period between the dissolution of the original band and the present Crimson is time Robert Fripp would like to forget. "The time was spent preparing for the present, I suppose," he said. "This band is right for the present, just as the first band was right for its own time. The interim period was something I wouldn't want to undergo again."
The current band was formed around an almost mystical character, percussionist Jamie Muir, now a monk in a Scottish monastery. Muir was on Crimson's fifth and newest LP, Larks' Tongues In Aspic, where he was responsible for a multitude of off-the-wall percussion techniques as well as the title. Asked what the instrumental piece the group had just recorded reminded him of, Muir responded immediately, 'Why, larks tongues in aspic - what else?"
"I had been hearing of Jamie Muir for several years with remarkable frequency," Fripp said. "I knew it was inevitable that one day I would work with him. When I finally phoned him up, we talked as if we'd known each other for a long time. He expected to be in King Crimson and had been waiting for my call."
Fripp, then added ex-Family member John Wetton, free-lance musicians David Cross and, from Yes, Bill Bruford. "It was my desire to progress that led me to join this band," says Bruford. "I had played with the same musicians for four years, and that's quite enough for any young musician."
"There were a number of levels on which I decided to leave Yes and join Crimson, none of which, to correct Nikki Squire [Rolling Stone, June 7, 1973], were born out of pure fantasy." They included the chance of working with Muir, who represented to him "the world of free jazz and inspiration. I'm an exceedingly logical person, and it was entirely logical to me that I should move on. I've been very happy I've done so, too."
Muir crops up often in Bruford's speech. It is obvious that Muir provided a special source of inspiration for him. "It's too bad that Jamie doesn't want to be a musician anymore, but it doesn't matter. I'm sure his contribution to the world will be as good, if not greater. It just doesn't matter to Jamie. He'll make a mark. He'll alter things."
"The nature of his leaving was extraordinary. We were playing two nights at the Marquee Club in London, which were dates we booked for pure enjoyment and relaxation away from the very tense situation we were in. Jamie's entirely experimental percussion work was causing all of us to get on each other's back during Larks' Tongues sessions. The sessions were exasperating; they took an awfully long time. Although they were eventually gratifying, it took an enormous amount of the band's time and energy. All four of us were intent on keeping Jamie in a creative spirit."
"So the first night at The Marquee everything went fine until Jamie dropped a gong on his foot. The following night Jamie didn't show up at the sound check; his foot had become very swollen and he couldn't make the show. I immediately assumed the show would be canceled because I thought Jamie was too fundamental to the band. Everybody else in the band wanted to go ahead and play that night, though, so we did. I was very nervous. I had been depending enormously on Jamie and couldn't quite grasp the possibility of playing without him. I didn't like the show that night, but the others assured me it was fine."
"Robert will tell you it was no coincidence that Jamie didn't show up that night. He would explain it in terms of a magical event.. that Jamie wasn't there for a reason and the reason was that it was required we play as a quartet. We didn't have any more dates after that one and Jamie left soon after that night. We've been a quartet ever since."
Beginning with the forthcoming LP, a live presentation (sans applause and stage patter) of new material, the band will present the lyrical works of young writer Richard Palmer-Jones. His work is laden with imagery and magical concepts, and that's all right with Robert Fripp.
"I'm not really interested in music," he states quite matter-of-factly, "music is just a means of creating a magical state."
Fripp was asked if he often employs magic in coping with band matters.
"One employs magic every day. Every thought or act is a magical act. You don't sit down and work spells and all that hokey stuff. It's simply experimentation with different states of consciousness and mind control."
You often say that you feel King Crimson is a way of doing things.
I gave that to you as your key. That's your key to the core of the band. King Crimson, you see, is a magical act.
In what way?
Every act or thought is a magical act.
You seem to tell many interviewers that Crimson is a way of doing things... what?
Then why don't you simply say that King Crimson is a way of being?
It's that as well. I'm not interested in being pegged down with narrow definitions. I'm not interested in defining anything too closely. As soon as one defines, one limits. I don't want to limit what King Crimson is. I'd rather use some vague terms and let you do the thinking.