Wayne Bradshaw has been enjoying Robert’s Exposure album which he won in our recent giveaway. Wayne writes:
“Just to let you know that I have received my shiny new copy of Exposure, much appreciated it is too. I was doubly lucky to get it; lucky to win the competition, then lucky to receive it as I managed to put the wrong postcode on my e-mail entry (serves me right for doing private e-mails from work).
It was always an interesting album, seems to sound even better listening to it now. With hindsight you can clearly see where Fripp was going on his next step of his musical journey.
I have a stunning photo of me holding my prized prize, not looking self-conscious at all."
Staying with the Exposure theme, here’s an interview with Robert around the time of the album's release. Full interesting items for the long-haulers amongst us.
Robert Fripp: The Small Mobile Intelligent Pest Of Rock 'N' Roll
Don Snowden, LA Reader, 19 August 1979
IT SEEMS peculiarly appropriate that, on my arrival at Polydor Records' West Coast offices on Sunset Boulevard, virtually everyone is engaged in a frantic search for a safety pin to keep the cuffs of Robert Fripp's blue pinstripe pants from tumbling down over his shoes.
Appropriate because it's just about the last situation I would expect to encounter when going to interview a rock musician – but then Fripp has never fit into the conventional "rock-star" mold. He has largely operated on the fringes, a pesky gadfly who enraged some labels to the degree they refused to allow their artists to perform on his records for fear of damaging their commercial viability. One RCA executive was even driven to threaten Fripp with libel suits in order to shut him up about RCA's refusal to release Daryl Hall's solo LP.
Fripp, of course, rose to prominence during his tenure as chief mentor and lead guitarist of the British progressive rock band King Crimson. Born in 1946 in the village of Wimbourne, England, Fripp cut one album as part of the Giles and Fripp trio before forming Crimson ten years ago.
Crimson's stormy five-year existence was marked by a constant shuffling of personnel that saw many highly successful and/or influential musicians – Ian McDonald, Greg Lake, Boz Burrell, Mel Collins, Bill Bruford, and John Wetton among them – pass through the band. The shifting lineup may have been the main reason Crimson never duplicated the commercial success of Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, but their following was large and fanatically devoted and Fripp was himself a guitar hero of the first magnitude.
During the latter stages of the Crimson era, Fripp struck up a friendship with soon-to-be cult hero Brian Eno, adding guitar (including the spine-chilling solo 'Baby's on Fire') to most of Eno's earlier solo albums. The duo collaborated on a pair of albums, Evening Star and No Pussyfooting, that marked the first use of Frippertronics – Fripp's unique style of electronically-treated solo guitar.
But one day in July, 1974, on the night before Crimson began the Red LP, Fripp decided to leave the band after having a very strong personal experience that, he said, "blew the top of my head off." He enrolled for a ten-month basic course at the International Academy for Continuous Education, a school in Sherbourne, England, founded by Gurdjieff-Ouspensky disciple J. R. Bennett. Early in 1977, Fripp reimmersed himself in the music world through projects with David Bowie, Eno, Hall, and Peter Gabriel. His latest outside project was producing the Roches' debut album.
Originally intended as the final instalment of a middle-of-the-road trilogy with Gabriel's second solo album and Hall's unreleased opus, Fripp's current album, Exposure, now stands as the first step in the Drive to 1981, Fripp's three-year involvement with the affairs or the marketplace, to be concluded musically with the release of the Frippertronics and Discotronics albums. His recent local appearances at Tower Records and Madame Wong's – part of a world-wide "antitour" of record stores and other unusual locales – was marred when Wong's gouged ardent Frippophiles for $18 advance tickets. (That included dinner and drinks but still...) Fripp made his displeasure known before performing and when I remarked how much Madame Wong's has changed since becoming the latest hip spot for the polyester leisure-suit set, he drily observed, "I sense Madame Wong is intent on cashing in."
I must confess that my interest in Fripp stemmed not from his music but from an article in a British music weekly where he theorized about developing a parallel network of small, mobile intelligent units (one musician with a Les Paul and two Revox tape recorders playing in record stores, for example) as an alternative to the dinosaurs, i.e., a parallel to the large corporations with small brains and large, bureaucratic bodies concerned only with megaprofits. At a time when concert promoters were only concerned with seeing how many heads or human cattle they could herd into baseball stadiums, the implicit criticism was right on the money and seems positively prophetic in the wake of the recent club boom.
Intense, polite, neat, Fripp has a severely ascetic look about him and certainly ranks as the most philosophical rock musician I've ever encountered. His conversation proceeds in a remarkably logical fashion, revealing a cohesive world view frequently laced with a lacerating dry wit.
How have things been going, aside from lightning hitting next to stages you've been playing on?
It's been an interesting process – the education I thought it might be.
In what ways?
I've learned that in Europe, one sells records between lunch and dinner, and in America, one has no lunch and dinner in order to sell records. That would be one way of expressing it – that America is an incredibly commercial culture, even to the point of losing, prohibiting from existence, any possibility whatsoever for a qualitative involvement in its normal life. Whereas in Europe, one is far more concerned with a reasonable balance and a reasonable approach to life.
I've also met lots of very nice, ordinary people with a strong commitment to music, young people of eighteen or nineteen who work in record shops purely because they love music. They're often far more effective in selling records than a record executive or person in a position of authority within the record company who's more concerned with his expense account and sitting around drinking Chivas Regal by the pool while I'm doing interviews.
Also, the tour has been a remarkable validation of several ideas and principles that I consider important. A number of ideas that seem right, through incorporating them in my day-to-day life as a very effective means of testing them, have been substantially justified. One idea, for example is the idea of the parallel organization, the small, mobile, intelligent unit. If one took the example of Robert, a single musician playing in a record shop – if I can do it, so can anyone else. At one swoop we'd find that there was an alternative series of concert halls throughout America. If record shops opened one night a week for local musicians, we'd have an alternative series of concert halls, a growth in local cultural entertainment, and fewer unemployed musicians. It's quite possible.
Have you found that the people who have been coming to see you have been people who were into your work with King Crimson, or are you attracting more punk or new-wave sorts who may have heard you through your work with Bowie or Eno?
It's a wide cross section that includes all of those you've mentioned and a few other people who have been caught accidentally while buying records in the stores while I was playing there, which I must say I was very happy about. A middle-aged housewife who, seeing me playing, was sufficiently intrigued to listen further and to, as they say, get turned on. She bought the record and went home with it.
We've seen an interesting progression in Los Angeles because, after a long time of having few places for local bands to play, all of a sudden this whole network of clubs has sprung up.
Small, mobile, intelligent units – a parallel network. And it'll increase. I find it very heartening indeed. The strength of commitment I saw in young musicians, in the whole burst of energy from England, the so-called punk-rock explosion, gave me strength and energy to keep going. Many musicians of my personal acquaintance are playing what I call mortgage music, music to pay the mortgages on large country homes – maybe butlers – and I'm not intrigued by that....What is your personal interest in my work?
What actually sparked it was reading an interview you did with, I think, Melody Maker a long time ago when you came out with your theory about dinosaur culture. To me, it seemed so appropriate. Then I was intrigued by 'Baby's on Fire' and 'Heroes'', basically. I wasn't that much into Crimson outside of '21st Century Schizoid Man', that era.
I'm very pleased that people are approaching me from backgrounds other than King Crimson because, although I'm very proud of a lot of my work with Crimson, it only indicates one particular area, the more formal, structured one.
Do you ever feel there are areas you didn't cover with Crimson?
Yes, obviously Crimson couldn't handle Fripp and Eno, couldn't handle Frippertronics. It was a situation where I was one of four men playing in a band. But being a member of a democracy, being a part of a small dinosaur if you like, was restricting. For me, it was always a question of, how can I remain mobile? It would seem that, viewing my unconscious behavior, I always had an instinctive understanding of this idea of being small, mobile, and intelligent – or, one could say, of being aware of the Peter Principle, that one rises to the level of one's incompetence.
Crimson could have been an infinitely more successful band but it wouldn't have been as good. It seemed that whenever it got very near being successful or getting structured or stuck beyond an interesting point, it would get knocked on the head which, of course, was not to the understanding of anyone within the industry. My professional and personal life has always seemed to be working at the interstice of seeing the contradictory elements.
You never seemed to be the "rock star." You've always seemed to be a bit at odds with it.
What is a rock star? I suppose that, given the technical definition that I'm a musician with a certain measure of attention within a specific industry called rock 'n' roll, I would be considered a rock star. But, of course, these things always also imply internalized values that I clearly have some association with but don't wish to perpetuate.
I am, if you like, a rock star. Which is fine. It enables me to do certain work that is appropriate for a rock star. I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing, except that there are risks in being a rock star that you don't face if you are a carpenter. You can generate more income for other people as a rock star than you can as a carpenter and therefore, the more one can be manipulated, the more income you can make for other people...
How has Polydor reacted to your ideas, as far as the concept of the three-album Drive to 1981 and the anti-tour?
There's a gentleman within Polydor in New York who said Fripp will sell 30,000 with Exposure. We did so within one week and I've earned his grudging respect. The latest figure is now 76,500 shipped, and that's very good, considering the format-radio situation and the gas-shortage constriction within the industry generally. I'm continuing to pump out 3,500 records a week purely by hard work.
I think words are cheap, so if one tends to have seemingly interesting ideas, unless one can incorporate them in one's behavior, they're not really worth much respect. Since I do seem to incorporate them and I do get out there and work, it becomes a little more difficult to put those ideas aside, particularly since two to five years afterward they seem to become validated and become part of the conventional wisdom of the industry.
I've had a theory for a long time that the American music scene runs about five years behind the times.
It substantially has to do with the internalized values of people who are supposed to be in control. The personal taste of a record executive, what he will think is commercial, is two to five years behind what is commercial. There are a number of interesting approaches to this. One is to say that if one is commercial, one will not be liked by top record executives in the company, and therefore, because you're not likely to get the budget you often need to establish yourself, you may not be commercial. The other interesting point is that if one is liked by high level executives within the record company, this means you're an anachronism. It's the kiss of death.
So there's this interesting paradox: In order to remain alive and viable, it's almost inevitable that one will not be liked by people in positions of authority. Since new ideas inevitably have a mobility that seems to implicitly threaten a rigid structure, it means there is an implicit threat to someone in a position of fixed authority by anything mobile or with intelligence. This needn't be, but these are the sorts of things I discover in my day-to-day life without, may I say, becoming cynical, which I think is a remarkable accomplishment.
Other record companies certainly seem to view you as a threat to the commercial viability of other artists.
You're thinking about this firm here, aren't you (pointing out the window to the RCA building just down the block)?
Yeah, that would be the main one.
They seem to be very stupid. For one who has any insight into the inner workings of that particular company, it's quite difficult to understand how anything like that could have taken place anyway. Unless one spends time on high floors in skyscraper buildings in whatever city, the expense-account business is terrifying. It removes you from normal day-to-day contact with the earth.
My feeling is that if one's head goes into the clouds, one's feet should come down more firmly on the earth. So I have three disciplines. The three disciplines of the potential rock star: 1) Do your own grocery shopping. 2) Do your own laundry. 3) Ride on public transport whenever feasible. I didn't launder this shirt but I did press the tie. Rather than carry my own valet, I carry a portable plastic iron.
Of the four songs you wrote with Daryl, were some of those going to be on the album?
No, there were two particular projects. One was Daryl Hall's solo album and the second was my solo album. His solo album is not being released. With mine, I had to take Daryl off thirteen minutes and, on the remaining two tracks, RCA will receive higher royalties than I will. There's an interesting quote here that Daily Variety just managed to get from a vice-president of marketing or business affairs from RCA on the West Coast: "We are happy to release Daryl Hall's solo album whenever he would like it."
I wonder therefore why, when Daryl Hall's article in Rolling Stone appeared recently and contained an entirely moderate statement of Daryl's frustration with his solo album not being released, why did they receive a strong [and unfavorable] personal letter from Robert Sumners, the head of the New York office. I wonder, if this is the official RCA position, if that can be seen to explain in any way statements that the album is not being released because "there seem to be contractual problems." Or, "No, there are no problems with the album's release. There are just discussions to find a convenient time for release." Or another RCA quote, this to the Soho Weekly News in New York, "This is an old matter to us." Or Daryl's manager telling the head of E.G. Records in New York that he had received word from RCA that Daryl Hall's solo album "will never be released." All of these I find contradictory.
AT THIS JUNCTURE, Fripp checks his watch and invites me to tag along to a college-radio press conference. In the following, Fripp responds to questions posed by those in attendance. One inquiry prompted a story about an Italian concert marred by violence and a ticket scam.
Fripp: We returned to the dressing room after playing one encore and received a message from the police that they didn't want to turn either their batons or their machine guns on 15,000 people who were rioting downstairs. The crowd had just pulled out our power cables and were about to destroy the entire building. Would we return for a second encore? This seemed like an entirely reasonable request and we returned – 1-2-3-4 – and off we went again because they'd pulled out all the power cables.
At this point, a young gentleman who had followed me up to the dressing room followed me on the stage, seeing vistas beyond the paranormal. The promoter's young assistant hit him very hard and his blood hit the stage before he did. He wasn't allowed there and therefore it was a good excuse for the promoter's young assistant to punch someone out.
The crowd's mood was ugly. There was no power. There was a bleeding happy hippie. There was a ticket scam. There was a rejuvenated promoter who had been fucking a thirteen-year-old teeny-bimby on our dressing room table. There were angry ticket receivers. That was the situation I was facing, standing in front of 15,000 people with no possibility of playing to them. It was a creative opportunity I never wish to have again.
My proposition here is that some relationships are governed by size. One or the criticisms I meet is, it's all right you going round playing these small situations but think of all the hundreds of people who would like to see you. I respond that wouldn't it be nice if on my wedding night, in addition to my bride, I brought along all her old boy friends. It would keep more people happy – wouldn't it? – because the same rationale would apply in that area as well. Obviously, I would reply, leave your old boy friends behind. Some relationships are governed by size.
The second reason has to do with our frustration, as members of the audience, about participating in any genuine way in the musical event. We turn up and there is the star in satin trousers or leather boots or whatever it might be, prancing around the stage. How can we become involved in this intriguing situation? The other side to that is, of course, we don't expect to. As the audience, we don't accept responsibility for having ears and having work to do ourselves. It's rock music as spectator sport.
Thirdly, there's the vampiric relationship between audience and performer and, in return for indulging the artist's very worst pretensions and conceits, we expect to vicariously live this style for ourselves. We expect to capture graven images of the artist for ourselves so we don't look on him as a human being, although seeing his activities it's very difficult to make the connection anyway. This is where we use photography and a number of sometimes-insidious techniques in taking part of the artist for ourselves: slim Japanese tape recorders that slip unobtrusively under shirts with elastoplast holding them to hairy, sweating chests and microphones in jackets of suits or legs of trousers. So Frippertronics is one approach to that situation and that, in an overall view, would be my answer to King Crimson.
Could I ever expect to see Robert Fripp performing in Los Angeles with a band of the caliber of the bands he's played with in the past?
Here again, we're working with expectations. If you came along expecting me to be in a band "as good as the one that I saw before," there would be no possibility whatsoever that the band would be as good to you. Even if it flew up and shouted with 2,000 watts in each of your ears, you wouldn't be in a position to deal with it. There's a nice story here that makes the point well.
You have a monk who so wanted to see God that he would sit in his cell going through all his tomes, all his prayers, all his rituals. "Dear God, Dear God, Dear God...." And God saw this man working away so furiously and thought, "Yeah! This bloke's no turkey. I'll go along and say hello." God tapped him on the shoulder and the monk turned around and said, "Fuck off! Can't you see I'm doing my prayers?"
Have you ever considered writing a book or have you?
Yes, I am. I've been doing these interviews for the past three months and the photostats have been coming back. I have no natural musical talent. All my natural talent is literary and my training that of a businessman to take over my father's small real-estate firm so I don't find it to be a grubby experience to be in the marketplace. I consider it a discipline.
Weren't you going to work with Blondie on one track for Exposure?
Yes, they were coming in to record Donna Summer's 'I Feel Love' until Chrysalis forbade them permission the day before.
Would you comment about Discotronics?
Yes, Discotronics is defined as that musical experience resulting at the interstice of disco and Frippertronics.
And do you feel that being confined to a 4/4 time signature you will still be able to express yourself?
(Fripp prefaces his reply by getting half of those in attendance to clap their hands at approximately 126 beats per minute, the other half to handclap a snare-drum part. He then claps his own part over it.) I can stay very happy conventionally within a 4/4 beat, but why use traditional instrumentation to perform it? This is the idea of environmentally generated sound, that art is not something to be locked up in a museum. It can be seen, and should be seen, as part of normal day-to-day living, like in record shops, canteens, offices, and Madame Wong's.
So, if art can interact with the environment, why shouldn't the environment interact with art? So instead or the bass drum, why not the car door slamming? Instead of the rhythm generator, why not the engine running? No, I don't think I'll be bored.
Do you see it as something you could hear at Studio 54 when it's released? Do you think it will have that kind of appeal?
I know that I'll be able to dance to it. In terms of Studio 54, I visited it on two occasions because I was interested to have a look at it. I found it to be so emotionally cold it was terrifying, a very nasty place to be. Distrust anyone who goes regularly to Studio 54. They have pretensions of the very nastiest kind.
How would you compare recorded music to live music, as a performer and as a listener?
They're different media. It's the difference between conversation and books in print. To be able to capture, in terms of recording, what is possible for the good performer in a performance situation is analogous to translating Goethe from German into English and making it as valid in English poetry as it is in German. I think the only time I've actually managed to succeed in doing it was with the Roches. On a live gig they're better than on the record...but only on a very, very good gig.
Do you feel a sense of accomplishment in that the musicians you have played with have gone on to bigger and better things since you were the mentor of King Crimson and that they may have been schooled in the Robert Fripp school of music.
I don't look on it in that way, although I find it an interesting paradox that two Crimson musicians would be in two of the largest heavy rock bands in America – Ian McDonald, a vital element of the first King Crimson, with Foreigner, and Boz Burrell with Bad Company. I find that fascinating.
My own personal experience with Crimson was that it was such so much a sense of relief getting away from it that I can understand anyone else doing anything at all, from buying a bicycle and cycling through southern Ireland with a violin, which is what David Cross did, to becoming a monk, which Jamie Muir did, to getting married, which Michael Giles did.
Do you find that your collaboration with Brian Eno has enabled you to really expand your own direction in music?
Yes, Brian remains one of the very, very few who encourage me to be myself. Brian gives me the kind of support and encouragement I would like to think I give people that I work with. I like him immensely.
We seem to examine the same kind of areas from our own points of view. There seems to be something in the Fripp and Eno that neither Fripp nor Eno really understand. We work together well – we have a way of working not only freely but with structure. Few people I've met have an intuitive understanding of how a fairly fixed structure can nevertheless be floating as well.
Do you have any idea of what you're going to do after the Drive to 1981?
After September 11, 1981, when the Drive to 1981 will cease, the second three-year campaign begins. This is the Decline to 1984. Small, mobile units, in my opinion, have about two-and-a-half years to get into position. Then it will be incredibly difficult because the situation will become increasingly conservative in every sense.
Do you see that system changing?
Yes, hopefully with intelligence, otherwise through necessity. My point is that if we can approach it with intelligence and manageability in the next two-and-a-half years, you will have a sense of order showing in the autumn of 1981 that will bring home to a middle-aged taxi driver in Chicago that his cultural milieu has irrevocably changed. Then there will be three years in which consolidation is possible but increasingly difficult. That's the Decline to 1984.
In my specific situation, it's to do with finding premises for a guitar school in England and getting it working. For me, as far as I can tell, in the Drive to 1981, the watchword is human contact. That certainly won't be banned from the Decline to 1984 but I think the word will be consolidation.