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Columns > Patrick Buzby

Published: 2008/08/22
by Pat Buzby

The Return (and Withdrawal) of the Crimson King

Each summer brings its share of reunion tours. This summer, one of the more tempting outings came from King Crimson.
For anyone who cares about the experimental side of post-Beatles rock, and especially for those of us who have tried to write and play in that style, it is necessary to keep track of King Crimson. The fact that I covered one of their songs while auditioning for the first band I joined after college is evidence of that.
That said, if I had to lose all of my music collection except for ten bands, I dont know if Id save my Crimson discs. Thats not to say that I havent connected in a big way with some King Crimson music, sometimes only for individual songs (21st Century Schizoid Man, Red) but sometimes over the course of entire albums (_Discipline_ or Exposure, the solo record by their one constant member, guitarist Robert Fripp, that most resembles a Crimson record). Often, though, their explorations of new frontiers in gear, arrangement and meter end up being technically impressive, as reviewers of experimental rock like to put it, but not moving.
This is one reason why I did not check out their three-night stand at the Park West. Another was that the advance word was that there would be no new music, although there would be a new lineup. (Fripp and two recent KC regulars, guitarist Adrian Belew and drummer Pat Mastelotto, would share the stage with one returned veteran, bassist Tony Levin, and a newcomer, drummer Gavin Harrison from the KC-influenced Porcupine Tree.) The main reason was, as reviewers of recent U.S. politics like to put it, the economy, stupid.
Fripp was ready for the age of the Internet before the Internet existed. Even in the glacially-paced 70s and 80s, he often published diaries of his projects (sometimes capturing details most publicists would have advised him not to share) and took the time to reprint and rebut the words of his critics. So its no surprise that although I wasnt at the shows, he and his bandmates have put in an effort to make me feel like I was there, via blogs, video updates and the like.
However, they also made one move in the opposite direction. Last week, King Crimson joined DIMEs not allowed bands list.
When I checked in with the rumor mill, the word was that this may have been new member Harrisons doing. However, many in that community have taken it as a new excuse for discussion of Fripp, which is not surprising. For all his readiness for the Internet age, he has also railed against aspects of it mainly the fact that the artist has lost the ability to determine when he starts and stops being on display to his audience, both as a person and as a musician. Its odd that the DIME battle took so long in coming, although it may have something to do with the fact that Crimson last toured in 2003. Back then, it was still a surprise when a show recording appeared within a day of the band leaving the stage. Now, it is astonishing when it doesnt happen. (Well, somewhat astonishing. I can think of a few fine shows I saw in 2005 that still exist only in my memories.)
Earlier this summer, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman declared that we are all the Grateful Dead. Like some more Dead-like bands such as the Allman Brothers and Hot Tuna, King Crimson are no longer the Grateful Dead. Its a shame, but also a bit of a relief. As someone who can get interested in just about any music put in front of him, I dont always mind when someone makes me think a bit harder before adding more of it to my archives.

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