Interview with David Cross in Circus-Raves

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Date Submitted: 5-Jul-1993
Submitted By: Francois Naud (fnaud at mlink dot net)

Circus-Raves September 1974 article by Sheila Spaier


It was only in 1974 that the general public was made able to accept the fact that there was a new era of witchcraft and occult dawning on earth. Yet in the haunts of rock and roll weird practices have been going on for some time now. Black Sabbath comes to mind most immediately-possessions of dark visions and spiritual power. The Stooges, too, took on untempered physical force, while the Stones' Mick Jagger danced with the Devil. Even Uriah Heep blasted away with some demons and magicians, and the strange symbolism on LP covers from Led Zep to ELP are becoming as common as stop signs.

Since astrology is a major topic of groupies, and things seem to happen magically in the world of rock and roll, it's a wonder that so few rock bands have dealt with the forces of darkness and occult with great seriousness.

There's one group, though, that consistently, through personnel changes and moods, has continued to tap the sonic cosmos. "King Crimson was perhaps the first of the 'up-tight British pop bands'," the Crimson King Robert Fripp once jested to a Circus Magazine correspondent. But the music King Crimson produces is one of the most distilled potions of magic-in-sound available to listeners sitting on the edge of the Occult Era. Their latest LP, Starless and Bible Black (on Atlantic Records) is a revealing glimpse into Crimson's alchemical laboratory.

Crimson has always been a band that delved into mystery. From the first LP, King Crimson, on, they peered into the void beyond what is readily visible. And Crimson is a band that's at home with coincidence. Lead guitarist and only original Crimsonite, Robert Fripp, has admitted that he is no more than "a coincidence in the band's development."

The right signs: After the band's last line-up, including singer Boz, Mel Collins, Andy McCulloch, Ian MacDonald, dematerialized, the next incarnation took form rapidly, as if by coincidence. Bassman and vocalist John Wetton actually forged the link with Crimson when the gas cap of his car fell off not far from Fripp's Dorset cottage. Realizing he was in the guitarist's neighbourhood, Wetton dropped by, and soon a pact was drawn up. The rest of the group fell into place almost as easily.

With the release of their fist LP under the new line-up, Larks' Tongues In Aspic, the new group (including David Cross, Bill Bruford and John Wetton) felt that the coincidence of their forming was powerful and accurate. "The fist King Crimson was a magic band," announced" Fripp, "but the new King Crimson is even more magical."

Crimson toured the States three times after the release of Larks' Tongues, and all of Europe. They polished their finished songs on stage and always tried out the new unexpected and coincidental. A result of these experiments and magic experiences, both live and in the studio, was put together in a LP and released under the name of a long improvizational track called "Starless and Bible Black."

Incantation: That title, according to Crimson's innovative young violinist, David Cross, was just the beginning of the magic which "Starless is still generating. "The title is a phrase from Dylan Thomas, from 'Under Milkwood'," David explained as he paced lithely around his New York hotel suite. "But we have two songs called 'Starless and Bible Black.' The one on the album is a long instrumental which came together very quickly. But the idea for a song was still very much alive in our lyricist, Richard Palmer-James's head. So he came up with something quite exciting, which is a different 'Starless' with lyrics."

"It just happened." David continued, turning off the TV which had been stationed on an old British movie. "It had to happen, even though you can't really want it to happen, because you don't want confusion. But it just forces itself to happen. It's obviously a widespread concept somehow-'Starless and Bible Black." It sparked a lot in all of us. It's a key to something wild and exciting. We're glad we used it."

The thought of the title song, with its intricate flowing, almost art nouveau passages, set his mind to work. He began to describe the album's evolution with the precision and clarity of a biologist discussing the growth of an amazing organism.

"Our music evolves slowly. It takes a long time to get it played properly. The first stage we're aware of, I suppose, is presentation, where an idea comes out and is heard by the people. Somebody says, 'I have an idea, and it goes like this.' Robert did that with the piece called 'Fracture". He said 'I have this idea...' and proceeded to play this incredible, complicated guitar solo. The rest of us sort of stopped and clapped. 'Oh very good!" David laughed.

"Eventually it turned into a piece. But it was difficult. When I went on stage the first time we played 'Fracture' I still had no idea what I was going to play. I had five alternatives for each section. It took me a month of playing every night, of walking on stage and not knowing what the hell I was going to play, and just going from there. Astounding. I think we've recorded it. And it's gone another step forward since we've brought it on the road again."

Instant bass riffs: Other numbers grew out of improvisation. "John often takes his bass lines and start playing something. He finds the stage a very creative environment-we all do-But when he's out there he actually produces amazing bass lines," David shook his head.

"We're lucky we've got somebody with an incredible musical memory. That's Bill. He'll tell John afterward, "Remember at that point where you started playing that line-ba-babababa-ba?' And he gradually gets out of John what he did play."

But often, after the original outpourings, a song died a quick death. "We store it away and forget it then. We get carried away with whatever else is going on. Later it will come to us again and someone else will have a new idea about it. Or we'll change the tempo a bit. We've gotten used to the fact that things can disappear, because they'll always come back in a different form."

"The Great Deceiver," a hurtling surreal song along the lines of a Crimson classic like "Twenty-first Century Schizoid Man," was a tune that went underground and then resurfaced. "Originally it was one of John's bass riffs," David explained. "Then Robert had a tune of an entirely different nature. The song was a very slow tempoed, joyful thing to begin with. Then it gathered a kind of rushing paranoia. It's simply taking two different ideas and finding that in conjunction, they work an entirely new way."

Band from four corners: "I think that's what our band's about," David smiled. "Because there's no kind of dictatorial system. So I never present my idea and know it'll be played totally the way I want it. Everything continually changes. Bill and I are conscious of this. We talk about it-how we ended up in the same band from such completely different avenues. It's fascinating to discover how differently we listen to music."

There are four very different kinds of people in King Crimson. And they don't spend that much time talking together about their music. "We don't talk well as a group," David admitted. "We tend to confuse each other. We have to do it through music. It's the difference between talking about life and living it. The outcome is more organic. We never know what is going to happen when we go on stage. When we do, it'll be time to pack it all up."

Crimson expects the unexpected all the time. "It feels that way when you're playing," David smiled and ran his hands through his wavy blonde hair. "As if you're waiting to grab the sound right out of the air. The track called 'Trio' is one of those occasions. It was all improvized. When we played that, it was completely magical."

That magic moment: "Trio" was recorded at a gig in Amsterdam, the last date of their European tour, when Crimson had to wait through three front bands before hitting the stage. When they finally stepped before the spot-lights it was two AM and they rushed and bolted through their set. "Then suddenly, it was as if time had stopped," David recalled, his voice lowering dramatically. "We played with such energy trying to keep awake, that, when we got to that point, we had no idea what to do next."

"Everything just stood still and we started to play that tune. It was one of the few moments of complete peace we've ever achieved as a band. I would wait a year for another moment like that. It was worth it-especially for the audience-the whole audience was into it. There was an incredible responsibility to play the right note. It was beautiful because you knew you were up to it, and everybody else was too. If someone in the audience had stood up and yelled 'Boogy' it would have blown it. But they didn't you know." David sat silently while a moment of seriousness ran through the room. Then he laughed.

King Crimson doesn't feed on the energy of harmonious vibes. There have been moment of vigorous disagreement. For David his main gripe is with his mellotron. "I hate mellotrons," the Crimson from Plymouth declared. "It was innovative for a time, but there was such a rash of bands using mellotrons ceaselessly. The mellotron is good in its place-but it's an awful instrument. It's terrible to tune," he complained. "The thing I like doing best to mellotrons, apart from throwing them in the rivers, is winding them up and down, having them snarl and make weird noises. I can't really treat them with any respect. The mellotron on 'Night Watch' is great on the album, but try to do that on stage. I really have to pretend a lot on that one-pretend there's a string section somewhere, I feel like I want to sit on top of a desk and wave my arms like a conductor."

"Night Watch" is a lyrical story-painting. It's about Rembrandt, the famous Dutch painter's depiction of the bourgeoisie. "Maybe the mellotron's right for that song," David admitted, "But I wish somebody else was playing it. You see, Robert has a kind of love-hate relationship with his mellotron, but mine's not in my bloodstream, I'd willingly part with mine except there's nothing to replace them with yet. I still say hello to my mellotron, though," he confessed with a smile. "And kiss it good night when I go to bed."

"The Mincer" is another song with a disagreement behind it. Paced like a sinister synthesizer stalking the sound track to a monster movie of the future, "The Mincer" is a link between side one and two of the LP. "I love the beginning of it," David offered. "It comes out of 'Trio.' The violin goes up like this." He raised his arm diagonally. "While the mellotron goes up like that." His arms arched in a parallel design.

The song's ending is especially unique. It seems to dribble off the vinyl, as if the music pushed the groove as close to the center label as possible and then crashed out. "That ending," David remembered fondly. "We had such arguments about that. Bill didn't like it at all. It really upset him. He wanted it to stop properly. Or fade out, or anything but that. John wasn't too keen on it either. But Robert and I really loved it as an ending. It's actually the tape running out. It's terrific."

The force field in the room increased. David spoke dramatically about the psychic effects of being on the road. He talked about numerology and the destiny he had charted for himself via the coincidental number of letters in his name. He revealed designs created by scratching out entries he had made in his journal. He talked about the future.

"About the band? We never know until the right time. 'Starless' leapt out at the last minute. That's what I mean about 'Starless,' it seems to have given birth to a whole creative force. Just key words. We're all feeling the effects of it. And it's happening all around us too. Wherever we're about, there's this new lease of energy. It's very relaxed, not neurotic. It's a magical focus of creative energy that's going on."