Monday, October 28, 2013

In Thrall to the Crimson King

For the past several months, my obsession with King Crimson has pushed most other bands (temporarily) out of my line-up. I believe I've discussed Robert Fripp & Co. before on my blog, but I think I've finally figured out why I like 'em.

First, I have widely surveyed the field of rock music, and after more than 30 years of active listening, I guess I've just gotten bored with the traditional verse/chorus/verse format. I have nothing against a good formulaic pop song: Cheap Trick's "Tonight It's You" is one of my favorites, for example. But my growing sense of ennui with the sameness of much popular music led me, a few years ago, into jazz. After watching the Ken Burns documentary on the subject, I became enamored of older Herbie Hancock, Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, and Dave Brubeck. I also enjoy Duke Ellington when I'm feeling classier, and have recently begun to explore Coltrane and Miles Davis.

And yet I still love that loud, metal guitar. Totally absent in the world of jazz, of course.

That's why I like King Crimson - and I should specify here that I am specifically speaking of the so-called "Third Incarnation" of the band: the albums Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Starless & Bible Black, and Red (aka the John Whetton period) - because they give me everything I love about the jazz I've become accustomed to: that is, abandonment of the typical verse/chorus/verse structure, expansive free-form improvisation and intense dynamic swings from mellow to hard. King Crimson also gives me the heaviest metal there is, in tiny doses, when I want to hear it. It's really the best of both worlds for me right now.

I'm enjoying my initial explorations of the post-1980 Adrian Belew period, especially Discipline and Three of a Perfect Pair; I also like the pre-Larks' Tongues stuff, and am only missing Islands and In the Wake of Poseidon from that period.

After many years of playing in bands, I sort of "retired" simply because it was difficult for me to find much meaning or excitement in the types of bands I'd be likely to start. The KC music scene is very much awash in what I call "duh rock," and while I dig on that from time to time, it's just not for me anymore. I can't see myself, a 41-year-old man with a growing pot belly, leaping and prancing around on stage like some second-rate Jon Spencer. I've been there, done that. But I can see myself getting a bit artsy and esoteric along the lines of King Crimson, recognizing that "art rock" is still "rock."

So I've been toying with the idea of starting a progressive rock band - and I don't mean a throwback to 1970s art rock. What is the new prog rock? That term seems to have been appropriated by very heavy, math-y "nu metal" bands. I think the terms is broader, and I'm interested in discovering what "progressive rock" means to a post-punk, post-alternative world. If anything happens on that front, I'll let you know. Until then, I'll leave you with this:

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