King Crimson – Red (1974)

Writing this post feels like jumping off a cliff. Prepare for a terribly, possibly unbearably biased write-up, because King Crimson is without any shadow of a doubt my favorite band ever. I feel simultaneously crushed and elated when I listen to them, and I get so lost in their music that I’ve developed a certain prudence when the old urge seems to be rearing its head, because it almost always leads to at least a week of nothing but King Crimson. I’m going to take a little vacation of about a week, because right now I’m in my hometown for the holidays, mostly cut off from the bulk of my music collection, save for the essentials – like King Crimson, which gives me the convenient excuse of immersing myself in their discography one more time. Besides, I need some time to recharge my batteries and reconnect with my music collection on a more personal level, I feel I’ve been treating some of the albums I’ve been writing about in terms of “likely candidates” for the blog, which I think is unfair and slightly demeaning. So, before the little break, this immense, overwhelming album.

Robert Fripp – the guitarist and mastermind behind King Crimson – is a very odd person. He’s been called the intellectual of rock. There are a hundred little anecdotes about him and his little quirks, such as the fact that he plays in a tuning of his own devise, he never plays guitar standing up, he doesn’t like lights on him on stage, and treats playing guitar almost like a religion. And all this, while proclaiming that he feels he has no natural talent whatsoever, that everything he does comes from focused work and training, as if he’s a sort of monk on a quest for enlightenment. And I believe it, odd as it may seem. Not the part about the lack of talent. The part about treating the instrument religiously. It transpires in this music, although how I could explain it is just beyond my reach. Let’s just say he didn’t call one of King Crimson’s incarnations “Discipline” (which later stuck as the name of the first album issued by that incarnation) in vain. King Crimson has possibly been, since its inception, the most disciplined, focused, dangerously single-minded, overpoweringly driven band in the history of rock, because of Fripp.

I read in a book about him that he believed the original line-up of King Crimson to be nothing short of miraculous in his experience. Keep in mind that this first incarnation only produced the very first “crim” album – “In the Court of the Crimson King”, which… if I have to explain anything about that album, it’ll have to be another time, I’m not ready to tackle that one at the moment. However, after that first short explosion, the original line-up disbanded, and Fripp felt shredded. He continued nonetheless, trying his best to recapture a feeling which he mentions as a sort-of creative flow capturing all the members of the band and making them simply produce the music, letting them project it as the sun projects light and heat, unknowingly and without effort. Red was the last in this line of albums trying to “get there again”. The line-up of the band had changed considerably and many times since the original crumble. By the time Red came out, they were basically a trio – Robert Fripp, Bill Bruford and John Wetton (guitar, drums and bass/vocals respectively). And that’s what’s special about Red – it has a certain desperation about it, as if it’s the last emanation, as if it’s the last writhe and breath before oblivion.

The music is so urgent, so raw, it’s almost hard to believe it came out in 1974. Not even Led Zeppelin were this personal and this shockingly intense, at least in my opinion. The bass growls, the guitar cuts through the air leaving gaping wounds, the drums are, as always, elegant and yet disjointed, pulsating to some insane rhythm and the vocals are illuminated by a fading glow, a sickly red lambency, especially on the final track – Starless.

How could I possibly describe Starless? Picture being frozen and aware on the Voyager probe, leaving the “familiar” solar system for the vast blackness. Frozen and aware. There it is. There’s the entire album, in these words, its entire emotional intensity and its downfall into psychotic calculation and mathematics, into perfect, untraceable, convoluted irrationality made music. The end of Starless (and thus of the album, not by chance) is an apocalypse, a paradox, a helix of deconstruction, escalating as it negates perception, reason, function, until all that is left is the frozen, maddeningly aware scream of the guitar, after which nothing matters, after which there is no structure to speak of.

Red goes by in a heartbeat, it hardly seems to be there, it just explodes and fades away, almost instantly, although for some reason the numbers lie and say it’s over forty minutes long. After this, Robert Fripp tore the band apart for about seven years, to gather himself. I feel as though Red is nothing short of a supernova in this sense – so much anxiety, so much frustration, so much expectation and dogged desire to capture that elusive, overwhelming feeling of clarity and… flow… Fripp talks about had accumulated up to this point, that Red was a final, grand effort, after which came seven years of silence. I make it sound somehow biblical, don’t I? I guess that’s how it feels to me, completely larger than life. I told you I’d be unreasonably biased.

In any case, I leave you with the whole album, blessed be YouTube in its most generous of moods. I wish you people jolly holidays, red or otherwise, and an end to the frustrations and problems of this year, in a supernova of merriment! See you in about a week, give or take.

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