Interview with Richard Palmer-James in Tylko Rock

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Date Submitted: 26-Nov-1997
Submitted By: Piotr Zlotkowski (mczers at sgh dot waw dot pl)

The Polish magazine "Tylko Rock" ("Only Rock") has published interviews with all the members of 1972-74 King Crimson personnel. Here is the most interesting one (in my opinion) - with Richard Palmer-James. It's re-translated into English, so only the essence of his words is authentic. And of course I'm an author of all possible bad grammar.


TR: How did it come to your collaboration with King Crimson?

RPJ: John Wetton and I were going to school together. It was in the sixties in Bournemouth. At that time we already made friends. And also in those days we came to know Robert Fripp. And later, in 1972, when John landed in King Crimson, he proposed me to try to replace Peter Sinfield who had left earlier, and to take upon myself writing lyrics for the group. He knew I had some experience, because I wrote the lyrics for the first album of Supertramp, in which I was playing for several months.

TR: What was Robert Fripp expecting from you when you were starting writing for King Crimson?

RPJ: I don't know. I wasn't living in London then, but in Germany, where I live till today. And I was communicating with the group via John mainly. I received from him the tapes with very rough versions of the pieces, which later was on the album "Larks' Tongues In Aspic". And I was writing the lyrics for them for a few weeks. And not before all the songs were recorded I had an occasion to talk about the fruit of my work with Robert Fripp.

TR: "Easy Money" seems to be a sarcastic song about the stardom in the world of rock and pop music...

RPJ: No, it wasn't to be the text about rock or pop star. It's more general thing, about all these people who are guided by the lowest motives in their lives. It's such a trifle, written by way of a joke. You know, usually King Crimson's output is received with excessive seriousness, whereas there was always an element of fun in it. Even on the albums "Larks' Tongues In Aspic", "Starless And Bible Black" and "Red", in fact incredibly gloomy ones. Also during the concerts. It was a surprise even for me, when I found that King Crimson live is not only something heavy, dismal and sophisticated but the great rock'n'roll show, as well. Maybe it's hard to imagine when you listen to the albums, but it was like this.

TR: It always seemed to me that the lyrics on "Larks' Tongues In Aspic" arose from the musician's experiences, but I see I was wrong. "Exiles" may be interpreted as a confession of an artist doomed to living on tours, but surely also in this case the source was different...

RPJ: Yes, indeed. I already lived out of England for two or three years then. And you know, it's strange, but a few years of stay out of Britain were sufficient to cut the umbilical cord binding me with it. At heart I already wasn't British, but European. It's so till today. I am not British at heart at all. Maybe I should add I'm not German, as well. I'm European. Of such reflections originated "Exiles" lyrics.

TR: How to interpret "Book Of Saturday"?

RPJ: It's a kind of a love song. There's something in it like looking over the book, in which you insert pictures, fragments of your writings, shopping-lists, memories, tickets. I don't mind that it's an enumeration of such things. Rather that particular scenes in the lyrics were seemingly recalled during the skimming over such a book. This song is like going back to the memories about yourself from the time when you were someone else.

TR: "The Night Watch" is of course about Rembrandt's painting. How did the idea of such unusual topic spring up?

RPJ: This painting always seemed to me to be something mysterious. You know, a few years earlier, yet at school, I spent much time on studies of it. And at that moment I was still trying to penetrate its secret. And the fruit was "The Night Watch", sort of a small essay on seventeenth-century Holland and Rembrandt's situation as a painter, and the tasks he had to undertake to survive. The problem with "The Night Watch" lies in the fact that I'm not sure if such considerations were suitable for a subject of a rock song. Besides, I must say I had an occasion to find that for many King Crimson fans "The Night Watch" lyrics remained something completely obscure.

TR: "Lament" is about fame...

RPJ: Yes, it tells outright about fame. "Lament" and "The Night Watch" are probably the only lyrics written earlier than the music. Because usually King Crimson compositions were first, and later I was fitting lyrics to them. Yes, "Lament" is rather melancholy reflection on everything connected with the things happening when you appear on the stage and entertain the audience with your music.

TR: As far as I know Robert Fripp is the co-author of "The Great Deceiver" lyrics...

RPJ: Yes, it's true. John called on me in Munich then and said: "Listen, Robert has written this verse and would like it to be in the lyrics of one of the pieces". And I replied: "OK, no problem". I mean the words which later became the chorus of "The Great Deceiver". As far as I know these are the only lyrics Robert has written for King Crimson. My duty was to create a setting for them, to add a scenery. And a satiric song was written, such an ironical comment on all commercial activities.

TR: Who is The Great Deceiver?

RPJ: It's the devil. After all the traces of the devil's presence may be detected in many King Crimson pieces.

TR: Even in the name...

RPJ: Even in the name.

TR: Is "Fallen Angel" a song about the devil, too?

RPJ: This one I have written together with John Wetton. At first we both prepared different versions of the lyrics, and afterwards integrated fragments of a few of them. It's a song about a big city, about nightmares it abounds with.

TR: In "Starless", the last piece on "Red", the last King Crimson album you were writing lyrics for, there are few words...

RPJ: Yes, this one contains only twelve lines. And that's why writing it was so difficult. I prepared five or six versions, each about something quite different. I showed them to John and he choosed some fragments, added something from himself and created a new whole. A very impressional lyrics came to existence. It seems that they say about a disappointment between two near friends, not only lovers. If "Starless" may be interpreted, it's about a break-up of a friendship.

TR: Are the lyrics you've written for King Crimson still a reason for satisfaction?

RPJ: Certainly. You know, I've written hundreds of lyrics since then. I'm a professional writer now. But those lyrics were in the writing in an exceptional situation. For the group ensured absolute artistic freedom for me. Today something like that doesn't happen. In any case, not with the groups which achieved a success all over the world.

TR: Was dissolution of King Crimson in 1974 great disappointment for you?

RPJ: O, yes. Since in my opinion the foursome Fripp, Wetton, Cross and Bruford were something extraordinarly exciting on stage. And in my view that King Crimson line-up had a chance to become the classic British rock group. And it was something what Robert was afraid of. And because I can respect his point of view I believe he was entitled to say: "Stop. Not a single step forward".