King Crimson, In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)
An observation by King Crimson, and a brilliant one at that. The first time I heard King Crimson‘s 1969 debut, In the Court of the Crimson King was on the flight home from my honeymoon. I was 23, and while by some standards that was late to encounter the record, it’s a setting I wouldn’t have traded a decade for, returning from my first time out of the country, The Patient Mrs. sitting next to me as I loaded the disc into the bulky CD player I’d continue to use for years afterwards — 23-year-old me is a little disappointed every time 33-year-old me plays a song on my phone — the swells of the closing semi-title-track “Court of the Crimson King” matching the puffy whites and greys of clouds outside the aircraft window. It’s an association I’ll always have with the first King Crimson record, and that may well be part of why I consider it among the best albums I’ve ever heard, but sentiment aside, I think even the most objective observer would have to be taken aback by just how much ground the UK band — the lineup of Robert Fripp (guitar), Michael Giles (drums, backing vocals, percussion), Greg Lake (vocals, bass), and Ian McDonald (flute, clarinet, sax, keys, harisichord, piano, vibraphone, backing vocals, etc.) — were able to break on their debut release. Out through Island Records in the UK and Atlantic in the US for its original pressing, its 44 minutes continue to serve as a blueprint for the founding consciousness that typifies nearly every strain of progressive rock. It’s the higher consciousness that all those acid-heads were trying to attain.
King Crimson are probably more known for 1974’s Red, or their 1981 post-hiatus return, Discipline, which in many ways set the tone for everything that followed it, but In the Court of the Crimson King makes for an even more striking listen because it’s as much about its melodies as its experimentalism. From the jagged insistence of “21st Century Schizoid Man” — a landmark in itself and a defining moment for the band — through the closer’s spacious roll and minimalist interplay, King Crimson were beyond just freaking out. Every texture in the mellotron-infused “Moonchild,” and every pseudo-militaristic drum stop in “Epitaph” has its companion sense of melody, and the work as a whole is as gorgeous as it is complex. The dreamy wisps of “I Talk to the Wind” are much stronger for it, and while King Crimson would ultimately become more of a show of technicality and genre-defining progressive rhythms under various lineups incorporating the likes of guitarist/vocalist Adrian Belew, bassist Tony Levin and drummer Bill Bruford — nothing against that band, those players or anyone else who might have “I played ‘x’ in King Crimson” on their resumé — this earliest incarnation of the group was unafraid to complement all that distinguishing class with simple sweetness, and that was something that they’d never quite do in the same way again. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, listen to the early part of “Moonchild.”
Of course, that’s not to belittle the band’s subsequent accomplishments or what Greg Lake would go on to do with Emerson, Lake and Palmer, or what Fripp continues to do with the modern version of King Crimson — which if I recall correctly featured no fewer than three drummers on their most recent US tour; I was sorry I missed it — just to highlight the fact that In the Court of the Crimson King is something special and it was a shortlived moment in the band’s ultimate trajectory. I can’t imagine this post is anyone’s first time hearing it, but if it is or if you’re just revisiting, fair enough. I can’t imagine this version posted on YouTube will be there all that long before it gets taken down, so if nothing else, consider this a recommendation to take your copy off the shelf — CD, vinyl, whatever it might be — and give it another look, or if you don’t have a copy, to get one. It’s one of those records that goes a long way toward making a house into a home.
Either way, enjoy.
I’ve been thinking this week about the idea of curating. Announcing that I’m putting together that all-dayer for next August in Brooklyn has got me thinking about the various ways in which we curate our existence, the choices we make, the little things we do every day. My conclusion? I’m way fucking in favor. You know what the tradeoff is for all the privacy we’ve thrown out the window in the last two decades, all the data we’ve let be gathered and sold back to us, all the compromises we’ve made on our relationships to media and the relentlessly-cloying-yet-somehow-also-all-controlling corporatocracy in which we live? The tradeoff is the “I don’t want to see this” button.
It’s not quite my favorite thing in the world, but it’s definitely on the list. Imagine a real-life bullshit detector. I used to abhor willful ignorance, as though everyone should make an effort to expose themselves to everything, all the time — the least realistic of expectations. Our brains would explode. Fuck that shit. Life is short, and yeah, you should get out and see the world, but when you come across something you just know is garbage, “I don’t want to see this” comes in real, real handy.
The Patient Mrs. asks me all the time if I’ve seen this or that floating around, the latest horrific thing some Republican candidate said or did. There was a time where the answer would be yes, but now? Not a chance. I barely even pay attention to mass shootings, suicide bombings, war, greed, corruption, etc., anymore. Not when there are show flyers to check out! Is my being interminably beaten down by the needless cruelties we perpetrate on each other going to fix them? Nope. Am I improving myself by being upset by these things? Nope. Okay then.
I’m not saying compassion has no value — unless we’re measuring in terms of pure real-world productivity, which in most cases it does indeed have no value — or that the news isn’t worth keeping up with, but I’m saying that, like the news organizations, we’re fortunate to live in an age in which we’re also able to engage in what media studies calls “agenda setting.” I don’t know what Donald Trump said about Mexican immigrants. I don’t know how many people were blown up today in Baghdad. I do know Baroness have a new album coming out, and I know that the new Graveyard record kicks ass. And I’m perfectly okay with that balance. My agenda has been set.
Perhaps complemented by the revelation of a somewhat troubling tendency to gravitate toward ’90s television (Star Trek spinoffs, MST3K, etc.) and videogames, being able to curate my own life has proven a massive win, and it’s made me more conscious (again, for better and worse) of my decisions and habits, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. The rest? Well, I don’t know about it, because I choose not to know. Other people can fret over the fact that nobody’s willing to do anything about climate change, that people on the internet say, write and do stupid, racist, sexist shit, and so on. Other people can protest wars like that’s ever going to stop them. It’s not like meaningful debate is a thing that exists or anyone’s interested in having. So yeah, beat your head against the wall of someone else’s dumbassery. Let me know how many years that adds to your life.
Next week, stay tuned for a Funeral Horse track stream, an initial announcement from Desertfest, reviews of Thera Roya and Uncle Acid and an interview with Monster Magnet‘s frontman, the inimitable Dave Wyndorf. There’s copious news already to go up on Monday about a new record from Saviours and the Melvins‘ next European tour, and I hear there’s an announcement coming from the Borderland Fuzz Fiesta as well, so stay tuned. Much goodness en route.
And if this site is one of the things to which you choose to expose yourself on a regular basis, please know you have my thanks and best wishes.
Great and safe weekend. Please check out the forum and radio stream.