THE ROAD TO RESTRAINT

I remember seeing a striking cover on shelves in the mid-70s… a slender wrist rises up, clasping a silver ingot like a futuristic advertising photograph. The skin tones are dull, muted, as the shot is taken against a bright white light, a small bright rising star behind the argent rectangle. Behind, surrounding all, a deep cerulean blue; a blue to mesmerize, hypnotize, a blue to drown in. Fighting the infinity of that deep space, clutch at the text, for there are words, or at least the imprint of letters. Hammered into the metal—surely not by that graceful hand?—punched deep into the gleaming skin, is the maker’s mark, the indentation of provenance and intent, a metallic passport stamp:

King Crimson USA 

King Crimson - USA

It is, without any doubt, one of my favourite album covers. And the strikingness does not stop there. Turn over the LP and the deep blue becomes deep red. The image, a silhouette, shows a thermal imprint of a hand (Robert Fripp’s?) held by a woman (the one from the front cover?) backlit by a small bright white light (the same sun?). It feels heavy with symbolism, but not in any language I can decode. Easier to understand is the text. Six tracks, three per side. Three from 1973’s Lark’s Tongues In Aspic, one from the recent Starless And Bible Black (1974), one improv (‘Asbury Park’) and an ‘encore’ of the iconic ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’. The quartet of Fripp, John Wetton, Bill Bruford and David Cross were on an extensive tour of North America in 1974 and it was during this epic road trip that the recordings were made. The cover is credited to Nicholas de Ville with photography by Willie Christie. And the Kirlian Photograph—ah, not thermal, but coronal discharge photography, or so-called ‘aura’ pictures—by a bunch of techno-boffins from Lamar University, Beaumont, Texas. 

King Crimson USA Back cover

I studied that back cover intently. Intense scrutiny for intense music. I wanted more and the only way to wring more out of the album was to devour the cover. So it was with some dismay that I reached the very bottom of the text and there, lurking just above the label logo, were three letters to chill a fan’s heart: R.I.P.

Yes, Robert Fripp was announcing the death of King Crimson. It was only a temporary demise, but we didn’t know that then. In fact, history suggests the disintegration was aimed purely at dislodging David Cross, as the violinist was the only member of the quartet not to appear on the next album, Red.

Road to Red inserts

More! The infant bellow of the addicted fan. A mate had a vinyl bootleg from the same tour. Heretic had only two songs over-lapping with USA. I borrowed it and made a copy (which was later transferred to CD-R; how’s that for dedication?). Then, in 1992, came the four CD boxed set, The Great Deceiver with even more music from the same tour. It was expensive, but too much is never enough. When I saw one on special, I snapped it up. Almost too much of a good thing with some five hours of the same basic set list, I never really grappled it to the canvas, and when the 30th Anniversary edition of USA came out in 2002, I traded the quadruple-disc set for an expanded single disc that added ‘Fracture’ and ‘Starless’ to the original USA song-list and as a result felt lean, keen and morally cleansed. Then promptly regretted surrendering the big fat box. 

As I’m writing this, the boy is sitting next to me at the dining-room table, grinding out a ‘persuasive text’ for his fifth grade teacher entitled ‘Too much money is spent on toys and games’. I’m offering some assistance as required, but really, if he looked at his Dad’s music buying habits, his essay would be short indeed: YOU CAN NEVER SPEND TOO MUCH ON TOYS!!

Time passes; other King Crimson music is acquired and enjoyed. But something of the mysterious magic of that time, of that tour, lingers. And not just for me, it seems. In 2013 I read of the mother of all USA archival releases. A boxed set of—wait for it!—twenty-one CDs, an audio DVD and two audio Blu-ray discs lavishly garnished with booklet, facsimile press releases, jottings, set-lists, a plectrum indented with Frippertronic teeth marks and one of Bill Bruford’s toenail clippings. It was monstrously expensive (fancy that) and absurd in every respect and I wanted it, wanted it, wanted it…

King Crimson CDs

Then one day just about a year ago, in the well-named Goldmine Records, what do I spy behind the counter but a second-hand copy of The Road To Red in marvellous nick, all shiny and black and into the red. Of course I hemmed and hawed; I have a Master’s Degree in Prevarication. I removed and checked all 24 discs—perfect. Ben offered to knock a bit off the price. I glanced between shop owner and Crimson box.

You can never spend too much on toys.

King Crimson - The Road to Red

*

APPENDICES

JUSTIFICATION I — LISTENING AND WRITING

I realised immediately that the best way to rationalise this ludicrous purchase was to write a post about it. A similar strategy served well when I presented radio shows on 3PBS; the outgrowth of the hobby can, via some temporal jiggery-pokery, be used to justify the continued growth of the collection. Just so. I started taking notes as I listened, not only in support of an eventual blog article, but to help focus attention. The listening notes reproduced below will hopefully give a little insight into the actual music. They also show where I am in the marathon journey along the North American Crimson Road, some twelve months on.

Page 1 r2r v3

 

 

r2r p2 v3 jpeg

JUSTIFICATION II — HOW THIS ARTICLE CAME TO BE

Locations: Melbourne and Egypt

Time: Earlier this week

VIN: What should I write about?

VIC: More King Crimson!

VIN: I’d welcome an excuse to write another Crimso post. Any particular period/album/slant?

VIC: A buddy gifted me the four-disc The Great Deceiver set of concert recordings from ’73-’74 when he moved up to some crazy 20/25-disc set from the same era. I have been unable to make the effort to listen/compare all the various improvisations and unique renditions or even to really dive in at all, to be honest. Would you be able to write on any live Crimson from that era?

It’s that Lark’s Tongue, Red, Starless and Bible Black period that I’m most familiar with (and really love), so I’d enjoy your take on that stuff. Another option however would be to be introduced to anything post-1974 you feel especially enthusiastic about.

So there’s too many options for you. Being a glutton, I look forward to all of them…

VIN: Tapping out that query/invitation line to you just before bed last night, I found myself musing on the options as I cleaned my teeth and wondering whether I had a KC story. This is what came to me…

I bought The Great Deceiver 4CD set back in the day, and for reasons similar to what you described; sold it; regretted the loss… Years pass, I see the ‘crazy 20/25-disc set from the same era’ in a shop, decide I MUST HAVE IT then wonder what the fuck to do with this overwhelming box of overlapping music… Needless to say, this line of thought resulted in difficulty sleeping.

VIC: That, my friend, is some serious cosmic synergy/synchronicity. I’m a little scared…

*

R to R pic

This borrowed image reveals that the VC set contains neither the coasters nor the guitar. Damn!

 

39 comments

  1. Thom Lieb · · Reply

    Very entertaining! Saw them in Pittsburgh on that tour and have the Great Deceiver box. Was a great show. Also saw them on the “Larks” tour, with a little-known band named Genesis opening for them in an ice arena.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fantastic. What a double!

      Like

  2. My absolute favorite Crimson record is ‘Red’. The first one I ever bought was, well, the first three were the early 80s incarnation because I was already a huge Belew fan. But about ten years later I picked up ‘Red’ on CD and was so blown away by it. I couldn’t get over how dark that album was. “Providence” gave me chills. Everything about that album was perfect. Wetton, Fripp, and Bruford to me were the premier line up, and every album they were all on together were just about perfect. But ‘Red’ is the masterpiece. That boxset is quite beautiful, too.

    That paper your son was writing…records, toys, and comics don’t count.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pretty much in total agreement re ‘Red‘, JH. Although I started at the beginning, the trio album remains my enduring favourite.
      But that 80s trio of albums is brilliant in a different way. As VIC suggested, worthy of a post…

      I’ll pass on your deep wisdom to the boy.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Nutter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a bench-marking service I provide to Collector’s world-wide.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I did wonder, when I red about this box (see what I did there?) who, on earth would invest in it. I love Red, really do, but this much Red?

        I salute you.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. And the best bit, is that there is no ‘Red’ music on it. It’s the road TO red (see what they did there?) with the music primarily from the previous two albums (Starless and Lark’s).

          Liked by 1 person

        2. You’re on the road to restraints!

          Liked by 1 person

        3. I’ll have the red velvet ones please.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. A typically thorough review of an exhaustive…and exhausting…box set, Bruce. As much as I love King Crimson I haven’t been able to justify the expense of these collections, but fortunately I have a fellow proghead friend who buys them all…and then happily copies all of the CDs & DVDs for me. I miss the packaging but I’m thrilled to have the music. Yes, there is much repetition throughout but it’s hard not to be blown away multiple times on each disc. Not sure I have a favorite KC album or era…I really do love them all…and it’s hard to decide which of the mammoth box sets gives the best bang for the buck, but you made an excellent purchase regardless of the number of times you’ll listen to the whole thing.

    More Crimson, please.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers Rich.
      I like the idea of a mate who passes on copies of the more absurd boxes; somehow it seems to both contain the madness and share the joy.
      Yes, I think there will need to be more KC. I really want/intend to write about the trio of albums from ‘your’ era. Just waiting to find a vinyl copy of Discipline…

      Like

      1. Although I’m currently blogging about 1986, I’m sure you know that’s only one of many eras I’m passionate about. I get equally excited about In The Court Of The Crimson King, Red, Discipline, Thrak and everything in between.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Ah the Road to Red, I have managed to not get involved other than borrowing a copy, lusting after it and realizing a divorce may happen if I bought it. I saw the latest incarnation last year and it may be the best musical experience I have ever had, I still have not been able to fully digest it and Fripp was at the merchandise not interacting with anybody just standing there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Somehow that image of Robert Fripp, present but in absentia, seems to summarise his attitude to the music business. “I’m here but I’ll not be tainted with grubby commerce. And please buy my stuff.”

      PS> I convinced Ms Connection that the set being secondhand made all the difference. She’s a trusting sort.

      Like

      1. The odd thing is the obsessive fans gathered around respected that distance and restraint. His sister however was very welcoming.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. No Toyah in sight?

          Like

  6. I hope you make it out alive, buddy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! Thanks comrade. Only eight more discs.

      Like

  7. That is a serious listening project you have on the go. Your post has made me make a mental note to dig out ‘USA’ for a listen this weekend. That opening bit of crowd noise, Bruford press roll and Wetton sludge-bass on ‘Asbury Park’ is one of my favourite sections of Crim music.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In the right mood, there is nothing like Crimson in full flight. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the revisit.

      Like

  8. Thanks VIN. Listening (finally) to the first disc of The Great Deceiver now. Not taking notes, kinda doubt I’d ever be able to write about this music as the King Crimson listening experience seems uniquely “internal” to me. My favorite descriptors from your spreadsheet are “melds supplication and resignation,” “lonely, bereft quality,” and “breathtaking and exhausting.” Feel free to repeat those as you add to your KC posts portfolio!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Really enjoyed the story/confession of your obsessive compulsion, by the way. Glad I could play a role in your coming out … (smile). And don’t worry, you are among friends; there is no judgement here… envy maybe, but no judgement.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Phew. I mean, I know that we’re all consenting adults, but in polite society and all, some things still don’t get talked about, do they?

      BTW, I kept thinking of other titles for the post after the event:
      The Road to Recidivism
      The Road to Redaction
      The Road to Reparation

      Like

      1. The Road to Redundancy
        The Road to Redux

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Both apposite, particularly the first.

          Like

  10. Great article, Bruce! I just picked up the remastered CD of `USA’ recently, and I’ll confess I’ve never heard it before (and this particular CD was part of the same reissue line that all my other KC CD’s are from, so the OCD in me was screaming `You better get this one!’).

    King Crimson is a band I have a lot of trouble with. Not a personal favourite of the vintage prog-era for me, yet all of their albums are superb, even if I don’t listen to them frequently. Oddly, `Islands’ is the one I most enjoy and play the most, and I’m well aware how divisive that one is in their fanbase.

    Ha, as for `spending too much on toys’, my life is a blur of over-spending on music (I’m sure you know this all too well by my binges at the Camberwell/Box Hill record fairs!), sadly on any moments of single-dom these days I resort back to selfish splurges on records and CD’s! I say selfish and sadly yet love every bit of it!

    And I also recently literally `spent too much on toys’, I spent $140 on an extravagant Optimus Prime Transformers toy…after just turning 40, clearly my literal `mid-life crisis’ has officially begun!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Friend, you are in good company here. Splurging on oneself now and then is excellent therapy, IM-not-so-HO!
      As for KC, although I wouldn’t claim for a moment to have tapped into more than a sliver of your prog predilections, I think I have detected an enduring fondness for what we could call the more Romantic styles (Italian and/or key-driven, melodic). And KC -especially live- is kind of the antithesis of this, don’t you think? Whatever, hope you enjoy USA – it’s a terrific re-issue.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. aussiebyrdbrother · · Reply

        Very possible, Bruce, certainly the romantic stuff is very special to me. I always describe KC’s music as frequently very…`icy’ and metallic, without meaning those as negatives in any way, if that makes sense? I will say, I’ve never actually heard a KC album I didn’t like, and that includes much of `The ConstruKCtion of Light’.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Makes perfect sense, Michael.
          Having just spun ‘Pros and Cons’, I’m now heading for ConstruKCtion. Thanks for organising my playlist mate!

          Like

  11. Yikes! I tip my hat to you, Bruce – this is quite something. I dare say if it was a band that I’m mad about I could have justified the purchase, too. No question. Good luck, sir …

    … and you know what? You can never, ever, spend too much on toys.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That seems to be the general consensus around these parts. Funny that. I wonder if the collected partners might have a different perspective?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, I’m sure they’d agree … right?

        Liked by 1 person

  12. King Crimson are and always will be my fav band. I have all the boxes and happy to have so much. You can.t have too much! I was disappointed in the remix of USA as it removed the Eddie Jobson overdubs and was more representative of the live experience. My USA is as how I heard it back in 1975 and the mix decisions that Fripp made were right, or maybe it’s just what I have got used to hearing over all those years. The Improv “Asbury Park” is still a magical piece of music that never fails to set the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. A great article on a great period of music making for this spectacular outfit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep. No argument about the greatness of King Crimson in all its’ manifestations. Seems to me that a huge KC archive is a mark if true class and style!
      Thanks Barrie.

      Like

  13. I remember listening to King Crimson in 70s but haven’t heard any of their albums in over 30 years. Must try and find some downloads

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Should be pretty easy to locate. KC still have an active (perhaps even rabid) fanbase!

      Like

  14. CB really doesn’t know what to say. Where I was at the time, “Larks’, ‘Starless’ and “Red’ did not get any play on the radio etc. It was hard to find this music or find anyone who actually listened to this band. I was fortunate to have a good friend turn me onto it. So it kind of blows my mind that others (You) were into it as much as I was and write pieces about it like you Bruce. This is real good music from a special group of musicians that struck lightning. You popped over to CB’s place for my take on ‘Larks’ and told me this was coming. Fantastic Bruce! I guess it’s one of the reasons I enjoy your stuff. The intro from the first album in this trio is embedded in my head for ever. Indulge away. A few of these mega projects are justified.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks CB. More mega indulgence than project, and not even remotely justifiable, but I deeply appreciate your endorsement of my folly. Cheers, fellow KC-er.

      Liked by 1 person

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