King Crimson I – 1969
An Extended Essay in Three Parts
As stated in part 1, we might see the primary cognitive act between a human baby and their socio-material environment is essentially relational, as it sets up a certain structural intention, which itself is infused with value principles of a given culture. All that we experience and describe has, at base, a neural-functional context that is the human brain, which set limits to what we can perceive in terms of sound and vision – more is going on than we can see, and part of the brain’s function is to allow ‘normal’ functionality as a means to promote survival. Humans can only ‘pick up’ a very small percentage of the wavelength spectrum – we cannot, for example, ‘see’ micro- or radio-waves – as this is conditional on the faculties located in the biological brain. Some, of course do ‘see’ music: synaethesia. Consciousness, as far as we understand it, only takes up a small part of the actual material brain space, and the vast majority of it is used for automatic regulation and functional specialisation.
We also know that the brain needs to be regarded in terms of distinct hemispheres: the Left associated with logical, conscious and language-based thought; the Right dealing with temporal and spatial awareness, as well as elements of creativity. In fact, there are also separate areas for logical and emotional thinking; and, even the simplest choice – say between one form of cheese and another – requires an emotional element as part of the process. This means that aspects of moral consensus – say, elective affinities on the degrees to which we converge or diverge with elements of both out material and ideational environments – still have a neural-functional aspect that has been ‘hot-wired’ in the formative years, and thus carries a specific socio-cultural ‘accent’. As I write, subject-object relations are, however, never value free, and indeed best regarded as embedded in actual, physical brain tissue and its underlying systems of ‘distributed memory’.
But, the psychology I wish to address in this section refers more to the conceptual in terms of actual relations to knowledge and the way they signify underlying processes of thought and creative activity. We begin with Freud.
From a Freudian perspective, the primary cognitive experience of which I write begins with a kind of empty void – no subject-object relation - from which object structures are sought in the world in order to develop a syncretic vision; that is, one that holds together vastly different objects analogous to each other. ‘Creativity’ for Freud is then a form of ‘daydreaming’; indeed, all creativity for him henceforth is an attempt to return to this primordial state. Some creativity can appear as fantasies, which function to mediate tensions between incongruent states – what is socially permitted and what is not. The problem is that, in the course of socialization, certain forms of thoughts, attitudes, emotions (structural relations) are perceived as not acceptable because they do not conform to socio-psychic norms and are therefore repressed as non-acceptable. For example, the incest taboo – sexual relations between family members – and its representation. There are, however, many more or less accented ones concerning relations, which simply express aspects of the orthodoxy and the unorthodox.
The associated problem is that repression, by definition, instigates its opposite - wish fulfillment of the prohibited. Art and creative expression, for Freud, are ways of mediating this incongruity between what is socially prescribed, and therefore internalised as normal forms of thought, and what is prohibited. Creativity here is hence seen as a means of correcting a dissatisfaction, or mismatch, between an individual psychology and a social reality with which they are confronted. Moreover, within this approach, artistic output can act in this way for both the producer and consumer of art.
So, in creating art, the artist (musician) is able to indulge their own repressed wishes; whilst for the recipient, it is a kind of escapism into a world which is beyond social sanction – indeed, ‘love of art’ might be seen as a denial of the here and now. There is then an implicit/ complicit parallel link between the artist/ musician and their audience: they share the same tensions, wishes, and need for fulfillment; this is why art-for-art’s sake was necessary both for the artist and the audience they appealed to. Art within this perspective becomes a form of compensation or comfort for what might, but could not, have been. Indeed, the alchemy between the performer and audience is critical in this form of creativity.
What of King Crimson I? We can see a certain tension that both audience and musician share. It is part of the nature of the ‘sensitive’ musician to pick up the conscious zeitgeist of the times and express it in art/ music. In a way, that is not simply to mirror what is going on but to embody and personify it. The being (ontology) of King Crimson was the being of 1969. Similarly, according to the same analysis, that created urge partly came from one of psychic disturbance at the heart of the musicians. I have argued that the new world was upon them; they were called – hailed, interpolated – to give it expression. Necessity was all – they could not act otherwise – too much was the art/ music prescient. No wonder ‘music just flew in the windows’ – but what of the psychology of the individual musicians?
Anton Ehrenzweig3 takes the link between psychology and art (music) one stage further in understanding the processes between the two. He begins by accepting the repressed nature of individual psychologies derived from Freud, almost by definition, as a natural product of the social construction of people; also the ‘indeterminacy’ of much mental processing – a mind in free range. For him, what is repressed under these conditions creates neurotic symptoms (mental disturbance) - anxiety, irrational fears, insecurity, depression – as a result of the conflict between inner repressed needs/ wishes and outer socially acceptable forms of behaviour (such forms might simply be existing artistic forms). The latter are always going to be stronger than the former, which only intensify them.
Pushed to an extreme, such forms of neurosis become psychotic; that is, leading to delusions, hallucinations and other mental disorders (of course, these too can be a source of creative expression!). In schizophrenia, for example, an individual may even be ‘split-minded’, losing touch with what is ‘real’, where an excess of individuality detaches itself from its surroundings. The resulting fantasies can also be a source of creative expression. Paradoxically, an inability to deal with incoming sensory data, autism for example, goes together with a heightened sensory sense - colours, sounds, touch, etc. become hyper real. Obviously, in extreme situations, such individuals exhibiting this state become psycho-pathologically unwell – no wonder some popular musicians took drugs to quell these impulses.
However, for Ehrenzweig, we all share this condition to a greater of lesser extent as an essential aspect of creativity. In other words, creativity for him inherently involves a process of managing the essential neurotic-schizoid nature of the human mind implicit in the mind-society – self/ other, subject/object - dichotomy. Actual Creativity – from process to product - is then a process divided into three distinct stages: Externalisation, Objectification and Re-integration:
In the first stage – Schizoid – stage, the creator projects fragmented (i.e. un-integrated, thus unresolved) parts of themselves into work (which is structured according to some logical form). That is, these forms – images, words, musical motifs – carry with them experiential fragments, some threatening, some comforting. This stage can be quite automatic and subjective. Thus, because the subject-object relationship carries with it a certain value (or values), which itself can be dichotomous and unresolved, it is firstly externalised into other created structures (artistic, literary and musical) where it maintains those relationships in hypostatised forms.
In the second stage, there is a kind of Unconscious scanning of the substructure of the artistic form (and the value systems expressed within them). This stage can also be experienced as a kind of manic depression as it also involves an awareness of and acceptance of imperfection. For Freud, there is a kind of self-disgust on the part of the child for what they have produced precisely because it is distinguished (experienced) as other – separate – and not as one - at one - from the source of origination.
A sort of ‘oceanic limit’ is eventually reached where all differentiation ceases: the inside and the outside world become the same, rationality stops and ego is lost (this state might be considered as similar in actual experience to the Kantian disinterested transcendence of ‘pure gaze’). In this state, which can be both active and receptive (musician and audient), all fragmentation is lost and schizoid separateness is healed – because all now is one. There is hence a resolution of separateness. No wonder this experience can be described as ‘spiritual’. It is not spiritual, but the relationship to it is.
In a third stage, there is then a kind of Re-introjection, where what has been produced is now objectified or solidified and re-internalsied: in musical terms, this is actual composition. In other words, the external production is now objectified as an ‘other’, which precipitates a reintegration of the now mediated forms. Creative products are consequently viewed as the result of the resolution of underlying schizoid-neurotic tendencies. To personify this scheme is the very essence of our twenty-first century schizoid man – here both as object and subject, product and process.
The process leading from Projection to Introjection is consequently conceived as an alternation between paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions. In the third state, there is a near post-coital experience after the creative act - and what is sensed - is cathartic; and may even give rise to a sense of fun, lightness, and laughter since there is the relief from psychic tension (although the psychological intensity required to fuel this process may inhibit it). Moreover, it can be seen as occurring very quickly – outside of time – and not being once and for all; quite the opposite and may be part of a continual process. In this way, Creative energy is sublimated into creative activity and output.
All the imperfections and fragmentations not seen in stage two now become painfully obvious and are accepted. We come down to earth. Part of the creative capacity is then to possess the strength to resist an almost anal disgust with the work that would make us sweep the whole ‘mess’ away. However, the work can finally be experienced at a higher near-conscious level of awareness, which can actually strengthen the ego. Secondary processes of revision then articulate previously unconscious aspects of the work, becoming part of art’s conscious superstructure. In this way, there is an exchange between the conscious and the unconscious components of the work as well as the artist’s conscious and unconscious levels of perception (all of which of course require the functional capacity or skills to actualise such revisions in practice – that is even Mozart had to ‘know’ musical form and notation and be able to play an instrument).
Conscious knowledge can depend on craft and explicit functional knowledge, whilst the unconscious is mostly experienced in an intuitive manner. The unconscious also serves as a ‘womb’ to receive split-off and repressed parts of conscious self. Indeed, the external and internal processes of integration are different aspects of the same indivisible process of creativity.
This perspective is an essentially Freudian reading of creativity. However, more can be said about the relationship between an individual psychology and its social environment, which surrounds it. For example, in the case of Jung, it is important to understand the relationship between the psychological (individual) and the social (others). Jung was an associate of Freud but ultimately very critical of his version of human psychology. In fact, he argued that it was unnecessarily individualistic. For Jung, creativity existed more as a relationship between, on the one hand, a human being with a personal life and, on the other hand, an impersonal creative force (society) – the Collective Unconscious. A chief feature of Jung’s view of creativity is that a personal unconscious is not so much individualised as being the product of the social collectivity, which indeed has a life of its own superordinate to any one singular articulation. This aspect of his work distinguishes him from Freud; although even the latter saw human psychic states as coming from societal states. However, what Jung emphasizes is that such states have a life and structure (values!) of their own, which themselves can be transmitted and articulated, almost in an independent way, through an individual. Art might, therefore, be seen as constantly at work with itself, so to speak, educating the spirit of the age through individuals, calling (or, hailing in Heideggerian terms) them to join with it in its articulation.
Clearly, there is a dichotomy here between Freud’s rather individualistic approach – creativity as a way of resolving inner personal tensions brought through contradictions between personal wishes and what is prescribed and proscribed within the collectivity – and Jung’s commitment to the collective unconscious – communis imaginalis - as the source of individuals’ artistic expressions. Of course, both are equally possible in a form of dialectic that sees the individual as the point of instantiation; itself relative to a particular personal psychic condition and a collective source which, through constantly feeding and being fed by individuals, seems to take on a quasi-autonomous character and evolution of its own. So, creativity might indeed be seen as a way for fresh adaptation of individuals to and of their own circumstance; but the totality itself has a semi-independent trajectory and content that seems to have driven its own logical evolution - for example, the way painting and classical music – and rock music! - have developed over the centuries, each stage somehow (in retrospect) being auto-logically predicated on the antecedent (as individuals and society work out their psychoses?).
To sum up, from this psychological viewpoint, creativity is a basic human attribute that finds expression in early cave paintings, and enshrined in a range of philosophical and theological notions in antiquity. More recently, the discipline of psychology has come up with various theories which suggest that creativity should be seen in terms of relationships: between child and (wo)man, the subject and the object, the individual and society, and what is and is not integrated within a particular psyche. We can therefore question the notion of talent – in this scheme, we all are ‘creative’. It does nevertheless seem that certain individuals are more sensitive and responsive than others to what is described above. Some, by accident or birth, seem to possess certain skill sets, which allow them to articulate the outcome of creativity in a more socially conventionally acceptable manner; for example, the functionality of being able to hear music with perfect pitch or see visual perspective. Such sensitivities, it has been suggested, can even lead to big swings in any one individual’s mental stability.
In Touched with Fire , Jamieson 4 suggests that there is an overlap between creativity and manic-depressive states, and cites a number of individuals in history who were both very creative and known for their depressions. One thinks of Anne Sexton, Van Gogh, and Lord Byron, amongst many. Jamieson does not argue that all manic-depressives are successful artists, or indeed that being depressive is a prerequisite to being creative; rather, he suggests that individuals prone to manic-depressive illness respond in various ways, in which creativity is one. Creativity might therefore be seen as a personal therapy and social necessity.
Within this psychological realm, therefore, all creativity is driven by a mental process that is inherently manic-depressive, schizoid, and prone to paranoid reactivity. Some individuals evidently live out these processes in ways, which are less problematic than for others, where (artistic) sensitivity can lead to depressiveness. Certainly, some creative people are quite happy in their craft and seem to have no depressive characteristics at all, whilst others struggle with their art – the tortured genius. Finally, the question of the individual or collectivity as primary source of creativity needs to be answered in terms of ‘both’. A certain individual is creative, or is called upon to be creative, both from their sensible disposition and its development as a result of socialisation at a particular point in time, whilst the collective itself is evolving in a certain direction based on antecedents and what is logically necessitated by them at the next stage. The fact again that both sides of this equation needs to be seen in terms of health, expression, evolution, and refreshment draws our attention to the role that creativity plays in the human condition, both biologically and socio-culturally.
If one takes this perspective to King Crimson I 1969, it is possible to see what happened as a result of both personal and group psychology. Inherently, we can see creativity in forming and writing King Crimson into being as involving the processes set out above – more or less. And, the more-or-less is important here, since each individual group member arrived with different motivational forces inscribed in their psychological experience of the world, themselves and music. As noted above, maybe they recognised (converged social psychologically) each within the other and/ or what needed artistically to be done – necessitated – from the collective act of music by certain elective affinities, which remain implicit. In this way, musical prowess might not be ‘talent’ as such. Indeed, it might better be described as symptomatic of a certain psychic disequilibrium: the more dis-equilibriated, the stronger the music – assuming the functional skill to translate it into practice (which they possessed) and a prescient socio-cultural context that implied a certain mood, zeitgeist, and/or vibe.
Lévi-Strauss at one point describes (wo)man as a kind of bricoleur picking up fragments of language and culture to reformulate them and re-express them for current needs, and we can see the impetus for that being the Freudian tension at the heart of Ehrenzweig’s conceptualisation of creativity. Actualised in forms, what we have in King Crimson I is: folk music (now rendered misty and ethereal – I Talk to the Wind): the epic/ pastoral/ melancholy (In the Court of the Crimson King and Epitaph); the esoteric (Moonchild and the general lyrical content). Such is expressed also in the actual musical content and instrumentation: folk music – acoustic guitars and narrative forms; the epic, etc. - modal-minor keys, mellotron (now bleached of it dance-hall string performativity and rendered as bleak and emotionless); esoteric – searing guitar power based on jazz/ rock/ classical fusions (again highly modal), and lyrical poetic style (past-romantic-Celtic/faery-religious/myth-archetypical; all distilled, with clarity and definition, to a high level concentrate. This was the zeitgeist in pure form – no wonder the band took audiences by storm. This group of ‘voices’ became the vernacular, articulation and expression of a single voice – that of King Crimson itself; and, as visually personified in the album cover by Barry Godber. A cracked psyche of sorts on the road to repair (?).
For me, the name King Crimson is itself iconic and indicative of its music. It IS a defining voice. For me, it has echoes of something rather devilish, but not evil – rather the opposite. Beelzebub rather than Satan. For me, it is resonant with William Blake’s Devil in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: ‘The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God, and at liberty when of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.’ ‘Energy is eternal delight’! Red is hellish, but also the colour of blood. So, passionate, life giving, emotional.
King Crimson also seemed like Albion to me: a contemporary articulation of a certain English spirit/ malaise.
This was music that came out of the 60s, but was not really a 60s music – definitely 70s in that it was ‘end-of-party’ music: dark, troubled, rather than youthful and celebratory. As I wrote above, music for a ‘lost generation’.
For me, King Crimson certainly came from a tradition that goes to the heart of the English ‘voice’: pastoral, dark prosaic, visionary, radical. Sub-elements would include: Moors and forests (darkness, rain, mists, paths), Water (lakes, the sea), Epic and Drama (magnificence), Celtic and Anglo Saxon (patterns, riddles, numerology, symbolism, illumination), Spirit and Religion (mysticism, antiquarianism, Heroic, gothic, ritualistic), Emotional (poetic, fantasy, romantic, laments, pathos, nostalgia, melancholy).
When I look back at those early LPs, they seem to have three distinct sound centres: jazz/ brash; epic; folk/ ballad. What were the antecedents? Well, I guess others have already done a better job than I could at analyzing sources. One would have to look in great detail at the personal biographies (including musical) of the founding members. Clearly, there were elements of dance band, jazz, skiffle within the experience of the band – not to mention the influence of classical music, The Beatles and the expressiveness of Hendrix.
I said above that KC was a very English band to me – no blues influence. Clearly, this cannot be true since jazz was one of the elements, but it was certainly contemporary jazz by then – not strictly RnB – and so had gone through various modulations in its articulation (heavily influenced by C20 composers – Bartok, Webern, etc.)
To me, the period up to Red was one movement – everything is predicated in that first LP and is completed at the end of Red. Then, there were the 80s LPs – the KC voice purged by Punk and embracing New York. Thrak was an LP that most strongly reconnected with The Beatles – for me. I saw the Albert Hall concert with the California Guitar Trio – my first KC concert for almost two decades. Doing this certainly reconnected me to and rekindled my interest in Guitar Craft – I attended my first course in 1997.
Later music – The Construction of Light (2000), The Power to Believe (2003), Eyes Wide Open (2003) - seemed to combine all these elements: the lightness and intricacies of TCOL; the epic Dangerous Curves and The Deception of the Thrush; the lyricism of Eyes Wide Open, etc.
It has been said that KC is mostly a ‘live’ band, and I can see where that statement is coming from. Certainly, KC live is a powerful beast. When I attended the concert at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in July 2000, I found the experience completely disorientating: I came out in a daze, lost my wallet and train ticket, had to borrow money to get home. The music was like some gigantic Blakean Behemoth writhing around in the agony of the present condition of the world. Yet, I recognised that voice as the same King Crimson of those early days.
Level 2: Field Conditions
So far, I have discussed King Crimson I in terms of aesthetics from a Kantian philosophical view. I also set this discussion within a more sociological perspective derived from Pierre Bourdieu. The latter set out a methodology to consider King Crimson with a 3-level methodology: 1) the habitus of those concerned; 2) the field; and 3) the field within the overall field of power. Having given details of the first of these - biography/ habitus - I followed this up by connecting an essentially social philosophical approach to the members of the band, with a discussion of creativity in terms of individual psychologies and the link between the two.
There are other ways at looking at KCI – more mystical and spiritual - which I shall return to in a later part. In the next section, however, I address an analysis of the music field itself – the field conditions that surrounded King Crimson I in 1969.
At one point, Bourdieu writes that, ‘To impose a new producer, a new product and a new cultural style on the market at a given moment means to relegate to the past a whole set of producers, products and systems of style, all hierarchized in relation to their degree of legitimacy’5. Cultural trends are seen as generational, not in terms of actual age (although age is one determining factor) but in topical relevance and thus ascendency. The crudest example would be fashion: as established styles are challenged and replaced by new styles, the former instantly becomes ‘old’, ‘outmoded’, even irrelevant. This is so for all ideational and cultural products. However, some manage to hang around and live on within the cultural field as ‘consecrated’ forms: in other words, recognized as formal points of reference or legacy. Once established as an avant-garde, therefore, any cultural movement is susceptible to displacement; indeed, has to be by the very logic of the field.
This is expressed in the diagram below.
The diagram6 is an attempt to offer a graphic of the dynamic the cultural field of production, of which the music/ folk field is one manifestation. It demonstrates one possible way that artistic generations relate to each other and, indeed, the possible destinies of individuals who pass through the cultural field. It is predicated on six sorts of time. Firstly, there is actual time with a past, present and future. Secondly, these are accountable in terms of recognised dates: days, weeks, months and years. Thirdly, there is individual time: that any one person is born at one time and dies at another. Fourthly, is the presence of any one individual in the cultural field – inevitably linked, if only by association (or indeed, disassociation), with a certain state of the field at a specific time and place. Fifthly, is the recognised position of individuals at a point in time within the field. Sixthly, is the acknowledged significance of a particular individual or group within the field and across generations and their journey through them. The diagram is therefore conceived as expressing a state in flux, with a movement from bottom to top, with everyone – individually and/or as part of a group – acting for recognition, and thus valued value, within the field.
Generations are to be seen as moving from bottom to top; individuals as moving and existing on points along the diagonal lines. The ellipse is currently what is recognized in the present field. Individuals at the upper part of the diagram – especially the ‘rear-garde’ – have an established position: for example, in painting, this would include artists such as Rembrandt and Constable. They hardly move at all, therefore, on the diagonal line. This is less so for the Consecrated avant-garde and the avant-garde per se, where there is the risk of any one individual moving outside of the ellipse - that is ceasing to be recognized as culturally significant - and even more so for the new avant-garde where profile can be very transitory. The new avant-garde is a very unstable position and there may only be one individual who is very prominent ‘in the day’ but disappears quickly as their generation is displaced by another faction within it.
One further aspect of the ellipse diagram is that both between and within generational lines, time differences can expand and contract: years may pass by with little generational distinctiveness, or may contain many movements and sub-movements in a short period of time. Individuals may also be able to operate with a degree of inter-generational lassitude, or be closely defined according to a particular point in time. It is in the nature of the diagram that, at a time of dramatic change – the arrival of the punk movement in the 1970s, for example – changes in artistic practice are very time sensitive: someone ‘might miss the boat’ by being out by a few weeks or months.
Bearing all this in mind, we can see King Crimson as very much announcing a new avant-garde, and so, in 1969, would be placed in the vanguard on the bottom diagonal line of the diagram. Also, along this line for the period would be (with dates of inception): Roxy Music (1971), Emerson, Lake and Palmer (1970), The Nice (1970), Yes (1968) and Genesis (1967) – (these dates are nominal). Subsequently, this generation as a whole was given the title ‘progressive rock’; although, clearly, they do differ considerably one from another. In fact, many of the musicians within these groups took the form, if not the content, of King Crimson is defining themselves; indeed, many of them shared the same individual players or had previous (and future!) associations (for example, Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music auditioned for King Crimson).
In terms of popular music, the residing ‘avant-garde’ would be: The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Cream, The Who, Bob Dylan, etc.
The ‘consecrated avant-garde’ would then be: Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Carl Perkins, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, etc.
The rear-garde would be: Perry Como, Connie Francis, Vera Lynn, David Whitfield, Dickie Valentine, Alma Cogan, Ronnie Hilton, Doris Day, Paul Anka
This theory of avant-garde also suggests that the new generation can establish itself more by a trans-modification of what exists rather than a genuine ‘new’ art form; novelty is not innovation. The eventual power of an avant-garde member to become consecrated probably rests on this distinction. However, if something is completely new, it is unlikely to be recognized at all. An avant-garde therefore has to have enough in it for the would-be audience to recognize (have an affinity with), but served up in a way that appears new (beyond conventions). Once again, this aspect of aesthetics might be seen as a triumph of form over content.
As noted, King Crimson I in 1969 had a large ‘paintbox’ with elements of experience rooted in Jazz, Folk, Classical and Pop. However, it combined them in a way that also referred back to something much more ancient and indeed quintessentially English: Pastoral, Epic, Melancholy, Narrative, Magic. The energy infusions of jazz and pop/rock warded off temptations of extreme whimsy and indulgence: this was a professional band with high standards (gained from previous professional experience) of musicianship. All members had worked in semi-professional groups: dance bands needed a job doing, and players were expected to provide it; The Trendsetters, after all, recorded for Parlophone – the record company of the Beatles. As Lake commented, ‘everything was tight, every one knew if what you played was not ‘right’’.
This level of focus is congruent with Bennett’s view of creativity7; where a lot of conscious energy had been put into the preparations – the previous years. Now, it was time to unleash the creativity (more in part 3).
Returning to the diagram above, however, any band would still need backing/ support - financial, networking, symbolic, and cultural - what Bourdieu calls Economic Capital, Social Capital, Cultural Capital and Symbolic Capital.
King Crimson certainly had social capital (networking): initial financial backing (economic capital) was provided by the Hunkings – Angus and Phyllis. Phyllis was the sister of McDonald’s father (social capital) and married to Angus – a Northern industrialist (old, consecrated capital). Culturally, however, they also aimed high. As Giles, Giles and Fripp two KC members had already established a relationship with Decca by going directly to the top man (Hugh Mendl) (symbolic capital). This meant that social connections were already there to be drawn upon: from producer Wayne Bicherton (who played with ex-Beatle Pete Best) to Tony Clarke, producer of the Moody Blues (who were gaining a high level of prominence in the 1968/ 69) period (symbolic/ cultural capital). Indeed, one strategy of a new avant-garde is to associate themselves with the old one in order to make the break with it all the more evident, all whilst drawing on their consecrated capital. Clearly, there was resonance between the Moody Blues and King Crimson, not least in the use of the mellotron to simulate the sound of string orchestras. KC I worked with Tony Clarke but then abandoned the recordings – a kind of prise de distance – when it became clear that the latter (dispositionally) was turning them into Moody Blues mark 2.
Capital acquisition – social, cultural and economic – requires investment of the relevant resources. KC I had made the right moves: knew (some of the) right people (social capital), procured funds (economic capital), and established a line-up with recognized experience (cultural capital). They also did the rounds - in London: the centre of the cultural universe – strong symbolic cultural capital) – of the clubs with reputation (symbolic capital) within the music (rock) field: for example, the Marquee and Speakeasy, which brought them into contact with individuals with existing ‘capital’ holdings in the field. All this established their position within that field by recognition: acknowledged value by others with ‘the power to speak’ – other musicians and journalists. This symbolic capital paid off with a live concert in Hyde Park where they were on the line up to support the Rolling Stones. What better symbolic display than for the old and the new avant- garde to line up against one another? Although this was never going to seriously undermine the latter, KC1 blew the Rolling Stones off the stage as rock deity and therefore beyond displacement (consecrated avant-garde). Not quite a ‘royal flush’ for KC but very near it!
A further note with respect to the cultural field is the way various capitals are characteristic of certain groups within it; in particular, the avant-garde. So, for example, large-scale mass cultural products may accrue high monetary profits, but carry with them little cultural capital due to their popular appeal (lack of scarcity). Whilst the opposite is also true: small-scale, restricted market orientated goods may have little financial return but still possess high cultural capital due to laws of rarity and distinction: ‘art-for-art’s-sake’ is the typical stance of those producing at this level. So, the field of cultural production is itself subdivided by the field strategy adopted by producers: large-scale and popular (CE+ = high economic capital) or small-scale, restricted production (CC+ = high cultural capital). These juxtapositions between large-scale production (common e.g. pop music), and, small-scale production (rare e.g. bohemian folk), generate (and are generated by) structures within the field.
As a field strategy and positioning, everything about KC I in 1968/69 orientates them towards a large scale, mass production. The disposition to do this had partly been gained by doing the opposite: the collective experience of small-scale, restricted production. In brief, the band had individually gained professional experience to know the field and what mattered, what was valued in it, and who were the gate-keepers. These field manoeuvres were at a time when the previous avant-garde appeared decadent, used up, even exhausted. This and the internal chemistry of the band produced a unique hybrid of styles, which meant that history and art were on their shoulders. We might say that everything lined up: psychology, history, philosophy, aesthetics, culture, the spiritual. As I have argued, the voice of King Crimson in In the Court of the Crimson King became a necessity, and, locally, the band members had the individual and combined functional capacity to actually manifest it. As if the music just flew in through the windows, all they had to do was just ‘pluck it out the air’ – they could do no wrong (for a time at least!).
A full musical analysis of King Crimson is beyond the scope of this essay, and anyway, has been more than adequately undertaken by others8. A point to note in this context is that In the Court of the Crimson King was a musical beginning of sorts, in that it was the group’s first LP. However, it was a musical beginning that subsumed many other beginnings, some of which were brought to relief in this piece. Clearly, ITCOTCK was a response to the 60s in that it appeared at the end of this decade. But there was/ is a larger – across time and geographical – development going on….
Western classical music stretches back across centuries behind King Crimson: its development from Church music, Bach, and then the advent of the German romantic canon in the nineteenth century – Beethoven, Schubert, Wagner, etc. One reaction to this was the English pastoral music of the early Twentieth century – Vaughan-Williams, Elgar, Butterworth, etc., aspects of which can be seen to have influenced King Crimson, and which itself was partly inspired by folk-ballad songs of rural England. The influence of German romanticism spread beyond Germany of course, where it moved out into other directions. For example, the French Impressionist music of Claude Debussy (1862-1918), which followed on from the Universal Exhibition of 1889 in Paris and incorporated Javanese Gamelan music; a style that seem to inspire later incarnations of King Crimson music. Moreover, Debussy’s compositions were characterized by whole-tone and pentatonic scales, parallel chords, chromaticism, bitonality, fierce modulations and complex time signatures, all of which were also to feature in subsequent King Crimson music, disguised within a rock vernacular. Debussy’s Clair de Lune and String Quartet in G Minor – 1893 – for example, significantly used tri-tonality extensively for the first time – something which had been unimaginable before then; indeed, it was referred to as ‘the devil’s note’. Again, it features in King Crimson’s music.
In terms of English popular music per se, much of it in the twentieth century grew out of music hall and street song. Increasingly, however, this was overshadowed by American show, dance, and band music: Rogers and Hammerstein, Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra. 60s pop evolved as distinct from these styles – a new music for a new generation. Skiffle was important, and so was Rn’B, and behind this was ‘the Blues’. The Blues itself developed from African slaves taken across to America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. By the twentieth century, it took various directions: Jug Band Music, Ragtime, Jazz, Country Blues. Gospel became its religious expression. All of these styles mixed with the popular styles as musicians mixed and matched for entertainment purposes. Country Blues, in particular, was popular amongst individual – often blind – itinerant musicians, who again mixed it with folk songs and ballads; for example, Blind Willie McTell. This tradition fed into American popular Jazz and Soul music of the 1940s and 50s, which had a direct impact on English popular song. In London, and transatlantic ports like Liverpool, sailors brought back record from the US. The Beatles were heavily influenced by American Rn’B, as were rock bands generally during the 1960s. And, behind it all was singer Muddy Waters who moved to Chicago in 1943. Waters had been recorded by folk musicologist Alan Lomax as a Country Blues player in 1941. Lomax went on to escape McCarthy America and become an influential figure in the second English Folk Revival in the 1940s and 50s; a style which emphasised roots music sung acoustically and unaccompanied. But, Waters had plugged in and gone electric in Chicago – a pivotal point that opened the door through which so many English Rock Bands passed from the 1960s including, in 1969, King Crimson. The Jazz of 21st Century Schizoid Man has its derivatives in this tradition.
So, as we can see, ITCOTCK and King Crimson were an original articulation of various styles, a hybrid of sort and, in typical avant-garde style, combined enough of what was original with what was a pre-given to become noticeable and successful.
It is possible of course to set the whole KC phenomenon within a Dionysian account of the 1960s: the spontaneous outpouring of emotional, sensual aspects of the post war younger generation – and it does fit. What I did not realise at the time is that it had all happened before – for example the artistic generation after the first World War and indeed the Romantics of late C18/ early C19. It does seem that once there is this outpouring, this exuberance, there is a catharsis where the same emotions go ‘dark’, even decadent. So, the power and expressiveness of the Romantic period was followed by Gothic horror and the macabre. KC could certainly fit within this post-dionysian analysis as partly representing the hangover of the 60s excesses, now turned inwards and more darkly expressive.
That being said, ‘the dark’ had certainly been there in the 60s as well: assassinations of John and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King; the nuclear threat; the Vietnam War; campus protests and student deaths. Also, the issue of civil rights and struggles for colonial independence.
1968 did not mean that much to me personally at the time: Paris/ France; the beginning of the Troubles in Northern Ireland; the invasion of Czechoslovakia; Poland; Enoch Powell. However, there was certainly this ‘us’ and ‘them’ atmosphere, with ‘us’ being youth (just about because I was still really a child) and everything that conformity defended. This was increasingly expressed in the latter part of the 60s.
I do think that the relationship between the folk (people), art/ music, and commerce changed considerably in the 1950s, going into the 60s and 70. Honour and time are involved – and commerce. One might even argue that music was a way of aestheticizing capitalism; although what seems to have happened is the other way around – capitalism commercialised aesthetics, big time. This has led various individuals – especially within a post-modern perspective – to argue that ‘art’ is ‘not possible’. Blake certainly wrote of those who ‘destroy’ art by the price they put upon it. One finally, has to conclude that true art/ music can only exist within individuality (and to do this is must do it creatively/ actively) if there are no commercial exigencies. Guitar Craft is one expression of such. But, this argument does not hold up if one is still committed to the redemptive quality of music – its adulteration and rehabilitation is exactly the point of redemption.
So far, my field analysis of King Crimson I has covered two levels: individual biography or habitus (including the psychological) and features of the actual music field itself. Of course, all this went on against a particular time period – Level 3, or Field within Fields.
Part 3 takes up the story from this point.
3 Ehrenzweig, A (1967) The Hidden Order of Art. London: Nicholson.
4 Jamison, K. R. ( 1993) Touched by Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament. New York: Free Press.
5 Bourdieu, P (1996) The Rules of Art: Oxford: Polity Press. P. 159-160.
6 Based on Bourdieu, P (1996) Op. Cit. p. 159
7 Bennett, J. G (1968) Creative Thinking. Santa Fe: Bennett Books.
8 Keeling, A ( 2009) Musical Guide to In the Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson. Cambridge; Spaceward Publications