Date Submitted: 28-Apr-97
Submitted By: Robert Cervero (robertc at uclink4 dot berkeley dot edu)
For the second time in six weeks, I got to experience the Epitaph playback and meet members of the original band. (By sheer coincidence, and perhaps rubbed by the charm of KC's "Good Fairy", I was in New York that week on business.) I'll leave the review of the playback to others. What nearly floored me was Fripp's response to an audience-band Q&A and what it could imply. After standing in a queue that snaked through the basement floor of the HMV store on NYC's upper east side for an hour (and with perspiration levels noticeably rising, sauna-like), the band members (minus Pete Sinfield) stepped in through a rear exit door to a thunderous applause, then proceeded to take their seats at an autograph table. Fripp invited folks to ask band members questions (though only if of "burning importance"). I was unfortunately far from the stage, so I couldn't hear all of the questions. Midway through, someone asked "what were the chances of the original band getting together again and recording". Ian McDonald responded first, saying something to effect that this had been discussed on an occasion or two among several of the members and anything was possible. I believe Mike Giles chirped in a brief comment as well, but I couldn't make out what he said. What was a stunner, however, was Robert Fripp's reply. He talked about there not being "a" King Crimson, but rather many King Crimsons, with each incarnation having importance and expressing itself in its own way. He noted there is currently a working King Crimson (to an loud applause) and that he's heading to Nashville after the playback to continue working with the Double Trio on a new release. He went on to say that there's no bad feelings among the original members and that they all remain good friends. And then he said something to the effect (not an exact quote), "so far as getting the original band together again, all I can say is the rest of the members know my telephone number; all they've got to do is give me a call". Woooooooa!! I was stunned. I thought, maybe this fantasy about the original band re-grouping that's been lingering in the depths of my psyche for a quarter-century or so isn't so nutty, so far-fetched, so outlandish after all!
Is it possible, or desirable for that matter, for two or more King Crimson's to co-exist? Why not? King Crimson has always been a vehicle (some might say a revolving door) for Fripp to express his musical proclivities and test uncharted waters in the prog and rock idiom. Having two active bands of the same name would be a first -- being first, of course, is a Crimson trademark. This is a band that has always reveled in challenging musical orthodoxy and, through the hubris of its leader, resisted all temptations to sell-out to the commercial music industry. Why not two bands, or even three? There could be a King Crimson Mach I (original line-up), Mach II (Wetton-Cross era -- remember, Fripp and Wetton guest-appear on Cross's forthcoming release), and Mach III (Double-Trio).
I talked to David Singleton of DGM about, what only months earlier would have been utterly inconceivable, the 1969 band reforming. He mentioned the idea of the original band getting together again had been discussed in the past, and the view was that everything had to be perfectly in synch for this to happen. He then said that Ian McDonald strongly believes now is the right time for the original band to reconstitute itself -- there's the right celestial alignment. Evidently Mike Giles is also game -- hell, he even auditioned for the open drummer's slot in the Double Trio formation. And now Fripp makes a public statement that suggests he's receptive to the possibility. The big question mark is Greg Lake. He was conspicuously mum on the question about the band regrouping. In light of ELP's underwhelming success at regrouping in recent times, maybe even he'd consider it a chance to recharge his batteries and take on a new challenge (recall Lake's brief stint with Asia, proving he's not wedded to ELP). And then there's good ol' Pete Sinfield -- he's been busy tunesmithing for the likes of Celine Dion, so why not pen some poetry for his old chums? (My guess is that he'd be relieved of strobe light duties.)
The idea of two or more KC's operating in parallel might sound heretic to some. Die-hard enthusiasts of the Double-Trio formation no doubt would view the other KCs as distractions. And I'm sure some would find the idea of multiple bands using the KC moniker to be unsettling. Of course, it's not the name that matters so much as the music -- so I frankly wouldn't care what they called themselves. [Maybe they could follow in the steps of "The Artist formerly known as Prince" and call themselves "The Artists formerly known as King Crimson". Or since several former members seem to have a fondness for using surnames for their bands (Giles, Giles, and Fripp; McDonald and Giles; ELP), maybe the reconstituted band could be called "Fripp, Lake, McDonald, Giles, and Sinfield", or for short, FLMGS, or better yet, FLaMinGoS, or how about, instead of the Crimson King, the Pink Flamingos?....o.k., I'll stop.]
Since I was only one of a handful of folks to attend both playbacks, I'll close by comparing the two. Besides the absence of Peter Sinfield and those wonderful "little beasts", the New York gathering was quite different in its ambiance. The London occasion was, for want of a better word, rather "civil", in a proper British tradition. Everyone sat politely and rather demurely through the playback and, as a result, there wasn't much of an exchange or a give-and-take with the band. Instead, attendees heard about how Epitaph, the CD boxset, was digitally resurrected, which wasn't really discussed in New York. In polar contrast to the Brits, the New York crowd was, well, much more New York-like -- hooting and hollering, shouting questions, engaging the band members, and much more varied (noticeably more women and more teens). And to my great surprise, a lot of folks, myself included, were openly snapping photos of the band, including close-ups of Fripp. Unlike in London, where he asked a photographer to stop taking photos while standing at the podium, Robert seemed resigned to that fact that bands appearing in the public are fair game in the Big Apple. Another difference. After the London playback, some 20-30 loyal fans assembled in a nearby pub to continue the celebration into the wee hours, and we were even joined by Mike Giles. There was no such after-event gathering in NYC that I could tell.
Even though I was already in New York City that week, I harbored some doubts about whether doing this again was such a great idea (though my rational self kept reminding me that if I could fly all the way to London for this, I sure as hell could take a short subway ride to partake one more time). I'm now I glad did. The two playbacks were quite different, each providing a different and entertaining glimpse into what made up this original band. For me, it wasn't like seeing the same movie twice; rather, it was more like taking the same thrill ride at two different theme parks.
Maybe it's still hopelessly wishful thinking that the original band will regroup. But then again, maybe it's not. I for one would love to have two King Crimsons. For me, the more, the merrier.
I can just see it now -- the subtitle of the reconstituted King Crimson's first release in some three decades: "An Observation by the Flamingos".
All photographs courtesy of Robert Cervero