Archive for the ‘Anecdote’ Category

“In the Court of the Crimson King: An Observation by King Crimson” (1969)

In the late 1960s, Deram Records served as a designer label for British giant Decca, showcasing higher-fidelity stereo recordings. Among its early successful rock-oriented acts were the Moody Blues, who recorded their orchestral hybrid “Days of Future Passed” for Deram in 1967, and the likes of Procol Harum, the Move and Ten Years After.

One not-so-successful Deram band was Giles, Giles and Fripp, a trio from the seaside town of Bournemouth featuring brothers Michael on drums and Peter on bass, and Robert on guitar. Deram released “The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles and Fripp” to sales of perhaps 500 copies, Fripp later calculated. The album serves as a charming artifact of Britain’s psychedelic era, featuring a variety of musical styles and spoken-word interludes in a manner that was meant to appeal to the relatively feel-good atmosphere of the era.

Later in 1968, the band was augmented by Ian McDonald, a keyboard and saxophone player, and briefly by Judy Dyble, who had preceded Sandy Denny as the female lead singer for Fairport Convention. Eventually, Peter Giles departed for a more financially secure career in computer programming, and he was replaced by guitarist Greg Lake, who switched to bass at Fripp’s request and took over as lead singer.

Meanwhile, McDonald recommended former bandmate Peter Sinfield as lyricist. One of his compositions was called “The Court of the Crimson King” and, with only one Giles now on board, the band was looking for a new moniker. And so King Crimson came to be.

The new quartet decided to turn up the volume while continuing to explore a variety of styles. The results wowed audiences as soon as the band debuted in April 1969, and King Crimson put itself firmly on the British musical map with a stunning performance at the free concert at Hyde Park in July 1969 headlined by the Rolling Stones, in front of perhaps half a million people. A recording contract with Island Records followed, and the band went to work on its debut album.

What resulted stands as the apex of what came to be known as progressive rock. “In the Court of the Crimson King” contains five extended pieces displaying a tremendous amount of skill and versatility on the musicians’ part, while creating well-suited soundscapes for Sinfield’s fanciful lyrics.

The first sounds of the album are of a railroad whistle, quickly followed by a primeval blast of heavy metal with the opening notes of “21st Century Schizoid Man.” Lake’s distorted vocals carry Sinfield’s uneasy visions of the present and future:

Cat’s foot, iron claw
Neurosurgeons scream for more
At paranoia’s poison door
21st-century schizoid man

Blood rack, barbed wire
Polititians’ funeral pyre
Innocents raped with napalm fire
21st-century schizoid man

Death seed, blind man’s greed
Poets starving, children bleed
Nothing he’s got he really needs
21st-century schizoid man

The musical accompaniment, composed by the core quartet, was unlike anything heard in the ’60s and still sounds advanced, combining a series of differing time signatures played at ear-splitting volume in a prime display of instrumental prowess. The middle section, titled “Mirrors,” features Michael Giles’ polyrhythmic drumming and Lake’s fluid base supporting Fripp’s sustain-laden guitar solo, followed by McDonald’s multi-tracked saxophones playing at a frenetic pace.

“21st Century Schizoid Man” quickly became a major selling point for the album, which jumped all the way to No. 5 in the U.K., and still stands as King Crimson’s most popular composition. It has been covered by such acts as Japan’s Flower Travellin’ Band, Canada’s April Wine and Voivod, and Ozzy Osbourne for his his 2005 album “Under Cover.”

On “In the Court of the Crimson King,” the pace slows down considerably for the second track, McDonald and Sinfield’s “I Talk to the Wind.” Rather than roaring guitars and saxophone, the featured instrument is McDonald’s flute, as he takes a lengthy, melodious solo in the middle, complemented by Giles’ creative percussion.

The lyrical themes of “Schizoid Man” return in “Epitaph,” which features McDonald playing Mellotron, an early version of the synthesizer, and Fripp’s acoustic guitar. Sinfield draws on concerns that still are pertinent today:

Knowledge is a deadly friend
When no one sets the rules
The fate of all mankind I see
Is in the hands of fools

The vinyl Side Two contains two extended pieces, although Fripp has done his best to abridge the first track, “Moonchild.” Rooted firmly in period psychedelia, the song starts as a relatively soft, melodic tale seemingly straight out of Tolkien:

Call her moonchild
Dancing in the shallows of a river
Lovely moonchild
Dreaming in the shadow of the willow
Talking to the trees of the cobweb strange
Sleeping on the steps of a fountain
Waving silver wands to the night bird’s song
Waiting for the sun on the mountain

Following the opening section is a lengthy free-form jam, lacking structure but notable for Giles’ use of alternation between his ride cymbals. At one point, Fripp quotes the Rodgers and Hammerstein standard “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top.”

At least, that’s what listeners of the original album hear. For the 1991 CD compilation “Frame by Frame,” Fripp jettisoned the entire free-form section, more than nine minutes’ worth. And in later reissues of “The Court of the Crimson King,” he eliminated about 2:30 of the jam. Today, the entire track can be heard as a bonus track on the album’s 40th-anniversary deluxe edition.

Closing the album is its title track, more or less, with McDonald’s signature Mellotron line carrying Sinfield’s lyrics about a mythical slice of royalty. “The Court of the Crimson King” actually was released as a two-sided single in the United States and reached No. 80 on the Billboard charts! Perhaps more improbably, the song was covered by “Tonight Show” bandleader Doc Severinsen for his 1970 album “Doc Severinsen’s Closet.” No word on what Johnny Carson might have thought.

The album cover for “In the Court of the Crimson King” is one of the most distinctive of the rock era, a nightmarish vision of abject terror created by a computer programmer friend of the band named Barry Godber. Sadly, he wouldn’t know of his artwork’s iconic legacy, as he died of a heart attack at age 24 shortly after the LP’s release.

To promote “In the Court of the Crimson King” in the United States, the band embarked on a well-received tour. As it wound down in December 1969, McDonald and Giles announced they were leaving the band. Also, Lake had made friends with Keith Emerson – keyboard player for the Nice, which shared the bill with King Crimson on several U.S. dates – and the pair combined with Atomic Rooster drummer Carl Palmer to write their own chapter in progressive rock history.

Fripp was left with King Crimson’s name but no band. Nevertheless, he went ahead with a followup album, “In the Wake of Poseidon,” which bears a stunning resemblance to the debut. Chipping in were both Giles brothers, with Lake providing vocals.

By the time of the band’s third album, “Lizard,” King Crimson had a completely different lineup. As it did for its fourth effort, “Islands.” And by the time of the fifth studio album, “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic,” yet another group of musicians called itself King Crimson, with Fripp as the only constant.

He dissolved the band in 1974, then resurrected it in the early ’80s, and again in the mid-’90s. King Crimson was active as a four-piece into the 21st century.

But even Robert Fripp acknowledges that his favorite incarnation was the one that closed the ’60s.

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Reboot: Exit0.0

Posted: September 14, 2012 in Anecdote

OK, I knew Steve Earle released an album called “Exit 0.” And I was well aware that Cape May, N.J., is home to Exit 0 of the Garden State Parkway.

But I had no idea that Exit Zero has become a mini-cottage industry down there at the beach, until my recent vacation. What with magazine publications, a couple of stores and sponsorship of a musical festival, among other pursuits, that name has been put to much better use than appearing on some random guy’s blog.

And so I’ve come up with a new title, with a nod to “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” of course. Plus I haven’t touched the blog for months because of other obligations, so it’s time to start over, I guess.

It’s also time to resume the list of my favorite albums. I made it 61 percent of the way through before the hiatus, which wasn’t bad, but I did promise a hundred. That being said, I compiled the list back in the spring and have probably changed my mind about some entries in the meantime. But what the heck. If I feel like making a revision, I will. And you won’t even know it …

Jimmy Buffett continues to be one of the most popular touring acts in America.

I haven’t seen him, despite several invitations. I have no desire to do so.

With no disrespect intended toward Parrotheads – hey, you can turn around and deride me as a Deadhead – I’ve had my fill of Mr. Buffett. I had my fill of him before many Parrotheads were born.

In 1979, I went to work making sandwiches at a bar called Mother’s at the Harrisburg (PA) East Mall. Don’t look for it. Last I knew, it was a Swatara Township Police substation. And the mall is called simply Harrisburg Mall now. And it was under reconstruction at one point, so the police substation probably is gone, too.

Anyway, a couple of guys worked there who were big Jimmy Buffett fans. I didn’t know much about him except for “Margaritaville,” so I listened.

And listened.

They’d hijack the record player whenever possible and put on such albums as “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean,” “A1A” and “Living and Dying in 3/4 Time.” Then Jimmy released “Volcano,” featuring such fare as the title song and “Fins.” That got a considerable amount of turntable play.

The following summer, I lived with the same guys at the beach in Wildwood, N.J. Hearing Jimmy Buffett a lot at work was one thing. Hearing him nearly 24/7 was another.

The guys did play some other stuff on occasion, including the Grateful Dead’s “Wake of the Flood,” thank goodness. And George Thorogood’s first album. But most of the time, it was Jimmy Buffett.

I don’t know if even a Parrothead could live through that and still want to listen to JB.

Again, no offense. But if I never hear “Cheeseburger in Paradise” again, I’ll be a happy man.

One of my college roommates was eccentric. Don’t get me wrong; he was a good guy. But we still tell stories about his distinctive behavior.

We ate a lot of spaghetti back then, and he used to make meat sauce in a unique manner. He’d form the hamburger into a huge patty at the bottom of the skillet, and as it fried, he’s insert pieces of onion by poking them into the meat with his finger. Maximum flavor enhancement, in his mind.

He also had a habit of making up slightly different names for everything.

“Gawd,” he’d say, “bunions are great in humbuggers. They’re even better than green peckers!”

Who can argue with that?

Speaking of spaghetti, he lived in our fraternity house one summer, back when there was a single, unlocked refrigerator in the kitchen. Instead of storing his leftover spaghetti in there and someone else eating it, he simply put the bowl in the closet of his room.

The next day, he pulled it out and started eating it.

“Gawd, do you want some?” he asked the horrified onlookers. “It’s warm!”

To my knowledge, though, he didn’t contract botulism. Must’ve had something to do with the “bunions.”

Associated listening: “Little Feat” by Little Feat (1971)

Last night I drove past the venue of my first Grateful Dead concert, and my post about that show received a good bit of feedback.

So how ’bout my last Dead show.

In the summer of 1992, I was pushing 30, which seemed to be ancient at the time. (Yeah, right.) The Dead was playing two nights at the Star Lake Amphitheater, a Monday and Tuesday. Because of job obligations, I could attend only Tuesday.

When I found out what the band played Monday, I was kind of upset because none of those songs would be played the following night: “Deal,” “Scarlet Begonias” -> “Fire On the Mountain,” “The Other One” and even a snippet of “Dark Star.”

Tuesday started in a promising manner with “Help On the Way!” -> “Slipknot!” -> “Franklin’s Tower,” and the first set ended with “New Speedway Boogie,” which I hadn’t heard live before. The second set, though, kind of leaned on some material I hadn’t heard before: “So Many Roads,” “Long Way to Go Home,” and “Corinna,” for example. In retrospect, I should’ve enjoyed the new tunes, but I was still irritated about not being present for “Scarlet-Fire” and the like.

As the band played a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time,” I could sense this would be my final Grateful Dead concert.

And as I heard the first notes of “Brokedown Palace” for the encore, I started walking toward the exit, muttering about how many times I’d heard that one.

Then … I couldn’t find my friends anywhere, and it started to pour down rain. I hitched a ride to where my car was parked. My friends showed up eventually, lambasting me for disappearing. Can’t blame ’em.

Kids, that’s what life was like before cellphones!

Anyway, I should have appreciated what I was witnessing instead of focusing on the negative. Three years later, it all was over.

At least I have the memories.

Associated listening: “Singles Collection: The London Years” by the Rolling Stones

When Jerry Garcia was 40 years old, he pretty much looked like he was 40. Sure, there was a little bit of graying in the beard. But the rapid aging process that characterized his last decade or so hadn’t kicked in yet.

When Jerry Garcia was 40 years old, I saw my first Grateful Dead concert. That applied to most of my friends in my hometown of Harrisburg, PA, and my college, Indiana University of Pennsylvania. We converged on the Coliseum at West Virginia University for the Dead’s show on April 10, 1983.

The concert was on a Sunday, and we departed the night before, for reasons I can’t remember. I do recall hooking up a couple of decent-sized speakers in the back of my VW Rabbit and listening to, among other fare, “Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake” by the Small Faces. The cockney narrative during the “Happiness Stan” saga really blew our friend Ed’s mind …

OK, enough with the esoteric ’60s psychedelic references.

Anyway, we arrived at our fraternity’s house at WVU, and the brothers said we could sleep in some kind of TV room. It was freezing cold, but fortunately someone had left behind a sleeping bag to spend the night elsewhere (young lady?), so I didn’t suffer from hypothermia.

We killed time prior to the concert the next day by watching television … hey, we didn’t have to move. Dudley Moore as “Arthur” was on HBO. Wowee Zowee.

Finally, we made our way over to the coliseum and discovered why, indeed, there was nothing like a Grateful Dead concert.

Among the songs the band performed was “Touch of Grey,” for only the sixth time, as far as I could tell. Jerry and the boys kind of butchered it, as later listenings to the show reveal, but we thought it was great! I remember my old roommate Mike and I discussing how, if the Dead released that tune as a single, it just might be a hit.

Four years (and one Garcia diabetic coma) later, our prediction came true.

Part of the song’s success was the associated video, which gained heavy airplay on MTV and revealed Jerry to have way more than a touch of gray in his mid-40s. I remember some high-school kids at the time saying something to the effect of, “There’s this 80-year-old guy singing, ‘I will survive!'”

Anyway, I happened to be driving through Morgantown this evening and took a quick shot of the old Coliseum just as the light was turning green. It’s a more than a little fuzzy … but so were a lot of people back on that night back in ’83.

Associated listening: “In the Dark” by the Grateful Dead (1987)

Uncle Sam Blues

Posted: January 4, 2012 in Anecdote
Tags: , , , ,

If the federal government seems to waste a lot of money these days, don’t think that’s anything new.

In the summer of 1981, I had a temporary job working at the Army supply depot in New Cumberland, PA. I made good money for the time, something like $3.85 an hour. They stuck me in something called the bill room, where several people would open envelopes containing shipment orders and put various papers in various places. Remember, this was back when most computers still filled up whole rooms and could handle less information than a cheap Flash drive.

One day, two of the women who worked in the bill room announced they had to seek some paperwork at a building called The Laundry, which once was a laundry but later became a repository for nothing but paper. The ladies told me to accompany them, in case my 6 feet, 3 inches were needed to reach materials on top shelves.

“OK, what are we looking for?” I inquired innocently when we reached our destination.

“Sit down,” they told me. “Sit down!” Once we were comfortable, they proceeded to produce a cigarette, one that looked as if it contained something other than tobacco. And on the government clock … well, let’s just say it wasn’t the most productive activity.

Thank you, Uncle Sam!

Associated listening: “Hot Tuna” by Hot Tuna (1970)