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Posted: 1969 12-31


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Cassady and Kerouac in the Court of the Crimson King

One of the most musically accomplished of all rock quartets, this King Crimson line-up didn't just read music.

1982 was the year Jack Kerouac's fortunes began to turn around.  It's too bad he'd been dead over a decade.  Long dismissed as a juvenile one-hit-wonder, a summit organized in Boulder Colorado that year to celebrate the 25th anniversary of "On The Road" brought together more of the Beats and their progeny than ever assembled in one place before or since and began the scholarly acceptance of Kerouac as a major American author. Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Ken Kesey, Abbie Hoffman, Timothy Leary and scores of other first and second generation Beats including yours truly assembled in an idyllic mountain oasis to celebrate the novel that did for literature what "Johnny B. Goode" and "Rebel Without A Cause" did for their mediums.

1982 was also a year a lot of diverse musicians started working the Beats into their music.  Especially the Brits!  Van Morrison released "Cleaning Windows" with its dramatic climactic-verse tribute to Kerouac's importance to that Irish Soul.  The Clash included Allen Ginsberg on "Combat Rock."  And King Crimson released an entire album dedicated to the most musical generation of writers ever published.

Written from the perspective of the car, "Neal and Jack and Me" opened the collection and was sort of "the hit" — such as King Crimson ever wrote one.  Like, for instance, there's no chorus.  Beat that.  But with songs inspired by Kerouac, Cassady, Ginsburg and Burroughs, they were a new generation joyously exploring what The BEATles, Bob Dylan, The Doors and others had earlier embraced as a source of passion, poetry and playfulness.

In what turned out to be the longest-lasting of all Crimson line-ups, this featured a rhythm section to rival any in the history of rock.  And it wasn't just new musical styles that Tony Levin and Bill Bruford were constantly adopting and manipulating, but instruments as well — with Levin playing a new ten-string Chapman Stick and Bruford on an electronic drum kit.  Many a lesser player might see these as sneaking around the traditional instrument, and indeed electronic drums would soon fall into the hands of players who shouldn't be holding sticks in the first place, but for two cats who had already revolutionized their instruments, taking on the challenge of the new form is what pioneers do.

And then there's "the professor" Robert Fripp sitting down to play his 30-pound prototype Roland midi guitar, and the relative newcomer and frontman Adrian Belew who can play and sing his ass off but clearly hasn't spent a lifetime in the white-light heat of the television spotlight.  Despite his own personal sauna he still manages to play that crazy complex pattern while powerfully carrying the song on vocals. 

And I love me some good polyrhythms — and this song has any number you can follow.  And dig the tension just waiting to snap!  I'm happy they wrote lyrics about my literary heroes, but let's face it, King Crimson is about the music.  And this kind of unidentifiable sound is what makes listening interesting.  Is this really rock music?  Is it jazz?  Funk?  World beat?  Electronica?  No — it's a wild combination of all that and more.

And I smile to think that the album Bruford made before he left that band to join this one was "Close To The Edge."  "Yes is just not progressive enough," I can hear him saying to his friend as he's thinking about leaving.  "I gotta get with some better musicians than these hacks."

Enjoy the joy in the faces of these players as they play.

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