INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Rolling Stone JUNE 1993 - by David Fricke
THE RETURN OF THE CRIMSON KING
Robert Fripp and company rejoin forces for the first time in ten years
Robert Fripp knows it's time to re-form King Crimson because... well, the music tells him so. And that, he insists, is all the reason he needs.
"If a musician has a good sense of timing, he can't really explain to why he has a good sense of timing," the guitarist explains in a clipped, chipper English accent, like a friendly schoolmaster indulging an earnest but confused pupil. "They just know it's time. When music appears that only Crimson can play, that's the time Crimson is going to re-form."
Oh, there was also a phone call that Fripp got back in 1990 from former Crimson guitarist/vocalist Adrian Belew, which led to a meeting over tea and discussion about rejoining forces concrete evidence, to Fripp's mind, that the music wasn't just talking to him. "We've been coming out of one particular period: Adrian has been doing his solo things, I'm coming out of Guitar Craft," Fripp says, referring to the guitar school he started in 1985. "W'e seem to be operating synchronously right now. At the same time, there is the music. Which is waiting to get out."
So here it comes. After an almost-ten-year hiatus, Fripp is officially reactivating King Crimson, the seminal English art-rock band that he founded in 1969 and tenaciously piloted through its three acclaimed, main incarnations - the original Mellotron-drenched version, the blazing heavy-metal combo of '73-'75 and the limber, early-'80s four-piece wifi Belew - as well as several fascinating transitional line-ups.
This time around, Fripp has retained Belew and Tony Levin, who plays bass and Stick (a mutant, combined guitar-bass axe), from the last crew, adding drummer Jerry Marotta and Trey Gunn, an alumnus of Guitar Craft who also doubles on the stick. An introductory EP will be cut in August (Levin is locked into a Peter Gabriel tour until then), with an album later this year and shows in '94. But just based on his formative rehearsals with Marotta and Gunn, Fripp - who turned forty-seven in May - gleefully describes the new sound as "Crimson, harder and rockier than you've ever heard".
The timing couldn't be better. The knotty rhythm tricks and abstract riff-shriek of many new punk-metal bands and grunge wanna-bees are a distinct by-product of the mid-'70s Crimson's brainiac bravado. Fripp notes with pride that guitarist Vernon Reid of Living Colour is an avowed fan of that lineup, which featured drummer Bill Bruford, bassist John Wetton and violinist David Cross. After Reid told Fripp that one of his favourite Crimson tracks was The Great Deceiver, from the '74 LP Starless And Bible Black, Fripp included it on the lavish '91 box set Frame By Frame and named a second, more recent box - a four-CD live bonanza documenting the incendiary stage magic of the Starless-era band after it.
"That the guys in Living Colour are all Afro-Americans and Crimson was quintessentially Anglo-honkie is a wonderful irony that would appeal to anyone of the Crimson mind-set," Fripp says, chuckling. But the real ties that bind, he argues, are not just musical: "A new generation of musicians is playing with honesty and commitment and has not yet been led off course by the concerns of the industry. R.E.M., Nirvana, Living Colour - they sell records, but they're not making them to have hits."
Nor did Crimson. "The question that came up again and again," Fripp recalls dryly, "was 'You want to have a hit record, don't you?' The answer is that this is the wrong question. The concern of the musician is to play the music. It is there demanding to be given sound to."
The '70s quartet did that with a vengeance, as The Great Deceiver (culled from more than eight hours of previously unissued concert tapes) vividly testifies. In the set's opening segment, a stunning June '74 show recorded in Providence, Rhode Island, Crimson wilfully shifts gears from spooky, high-tension rave-ups, flying without a net in free-improv space for nearly a third of the performance. Indeed, at its most daring, King Crimson had more in common with jazz adventurers like the electric Miles Davis or The Art Ensemble Of Chicago than it ever did with nominal art-rock peers like Yes and Genesis.
"If you go back ro the band in '69, it was born fully flowered somehow, remarkably powerful," says Fripp. "But if we listen to it today, it probably sounds dated in a way that The Great Deceiver doesn't. There, you hear the band looking for the moment, and it's in the moment that it works. Some of the time is negligent; there are bad notes. But as a part of the overall, it doesn't matter."
Even now, Fripp isn't just waiting for the new Crimson to put pedal to metal. Three fifths of the new band - Fripp, Marotta and Gunn - have recorded an album with David Sylvian that features the former Japan vocalist's breathy, hypnotic singing over, as Fripp purs it, "a bedrock of very rocking Crimsonesque stuff'. Fripp has also been in the studio with Brian Eno, finishing a long-overdue follow-up (a mere eighteen years) to the pair's '70s ambient milestones, No Pussyfooting and Evening Star, although he insists the result - due later this year - is not just e return to old dreamscapes.
This is "Fripp and Eno with a dance beat," Fripp says. "You have to remember that the last time I worked with Eno, mastering a barré chord on guitar was considered an act of virtuosity for him. Twenty years later, the carrot can actually play things! Eno was actually strapping on a Fender bass and rocking out. The keyboards still have things marked on them, KEYS TO HIT and so on. But the boy is up bopping.