A Study in Crimson
What a joy, to see King Crimson in beautiful Paris! The stench of my vile president's visit a few days ago has barely left the air, and while the world feels increasingly shattered and divided, witnessing this group's exquisite precision, its uncanny union of independent and fiercely creative minds, gives me immense joy, and reminds me of the human capacity for ensemble.
The most important thing I can say about this incarnation of King Crimson is that they have revived the drum battle in a quite unexpected and breath-taking way. At 13, I saw Buddy Rich perform with Louie Bellson in Boston. The two drum gods played separately with their own big bands, then took the stage together for an amazing "drum battle." Incredible! Now, can you imagine Gene Krupa ascending the stage with Buddy and Louie, and playing with them? Can you imagine the wit, the rapport, the menage a trois (that's the extent of my French, sorry)? Sadlty that never happened. But hearing and watching Pat, Gavin and Jeremy play Indiscipline is every bit as thrilling and transcendent as such an encounter would surely have been.
KC has undergone many personnel reconfigurations over the years. Of the eight band members now on stage, only one person has permeated all of KC's configurations -- Robert Fripp, a visionary composer, a guitarist of astonishing accomplishment, and arguably the primary conduit of King Crimson's 5 decades of beautifully tortured imaginative brilliance. In pre-show talks, Fripp good naturedly compares the band's videographer to Dr. John Watson, from the Sherlock Holmes stories; the guy who asks the dumb questions that we, the stories' readers, need to ask in order to keep up with Sherlock's genius. Yet actually, I think Mr. Fripp has in a certain sense become an even better Dr. Watson.
Here's what I mean. In pre-concert talks, Mr. Fripp expresses dismay that so few women attend Crimson concerts. This is an accurate observation; women are a tiny minority at most Crimson shows.
For the flagrantly presumptuous advice that follows, let me offer you some very raw data: For the last year, I have been taking my ten-year-old daughter to concerts in the L.A. area (sadly, she had school this week, so I could not bring her to Paris to see KC). We've seen about 20 bands. While it is not inevitably the case, quite often, she responds most strongly to bands that have female members. Now: KC has had at least 22 members over the years (though if you count Chris Gibson, who added so much to the band's performance in Dallas, Texas (and I'm sure other places), the total is 23). All of them were men. Moreover -- correct me if I am wrong -- not a single note of music on ANY King Crimson album was either struck, plucked, pounded or sung by a woman.
King Crimson is a band that has evolved in astonishing ways in its almost half-century of vibrant life. It has shattered definitions, mocked the boundaries of critical terminology, and utterly defeated the misconception that free markets reward creativity with money. Yet it has strangely resisted female creativity.
Look, Dr. Watson: The band is awesome. It really is. I've travelled from the U.S. to Europe repeatedly to have KC blow my mind, and it reliably does. But if you want a more female audience -- which is something your fans would enjoy as thoroughly as you would -- maybe, just maybe, you should add a few women to the band. (The notion that women can't play the parts -- which I conede no one in KC has EVER claimed -- is silly (but then, why the men-only rule?). For instance, I cannot praise Mel Collins enough -- the beast managed to add a woodwind part to the song Discipline, for goodness' sake! -- but really, are there no female flute players in the world? Are there no female keyoardists? And while we're on the subject, if KC wants radicalsim, throwing three drummers to the front of the stage isn't 1/2 as radical as throwing three FEMALE drummers to the front of the stage would have been. Am I right?)
I am almost 50 years old, just like King Crimson. I hope that when I am 90, the band is still playing live. And I hope that when they push my aluminum walker up to my front row seat at L'Olympia in 2058, I will gaze up at the stage . . . and see women. Women ripping up Fripp's solo in Requiem (which they don't seem to play live -- maybe because they lack women's brilliance), women demolishing Gavin's already unhinged amazingness in One More Red Nightmare...
Growth is good.