Thursday, June 4, 2009
The Creation of Tarkus
At Left: Armoured Boredom
I think it went something like this...
Towards the end of the tour, nerves frayed, diets shot, psyches akimbo, final reckonings with a variety of social ailments leaving crusty residue and discomfort in the band members trousers (for they were young men, after all). There had been sniping just the night before in Dorsetshire about how much room in the mix the bass guitar warranted, and an ugly word or two when a particular camp follower bearing certain concoctions had been turned away on orders of one of the men about to have this discussion; he was in the room, calmly meditating, when the door was loudly rapped upon and opened, in barging the other, a furious young man aiming to have it out with his old mate. He hadn’t waited to be invited in following the knock; peremptorily, Greg Lake knew how this would roil Robert Fripp, though he cared not for the guitarist’s displeasure; something else had occurred on this tour, just days before, and young Mr. Lake aimed to address this incident forcefully and forthwith- he had no concern for Fripp’s legendary tantrums and pique.
“Greg, close the door, be a good chap,” said Fripp, from his position four feet off of the floor. It always disturbed Lake to catch him like this, and he knew that it was one of Fripp’s cherished tactics to be “caught” levitating in his room and thus immediately take control of the festivities. You couldn’t get him off of his ass on stage, there he sat for hour upon hour conjuring beauty from his stool while Lake, all alone, tried to make a “concert” a ***SHOW***, but here in his room at the grand old manse the band had rented in preparation for the recording of Poseidon he’d damn well float in the air like some bloody Hindoo fakir! How it peeved handsome young Greg Lake; immediately on the defensive, it was forever Fripp’s arena and he called the parameters of the discussion always and it’s somewhat difficult to argue with a man defying gravity, a full four-feet off of the densely carpeted floor.
“Robert, I’ve a need to speak to you, my good man,” said Lake, and thought- bloody show-off.
“Fine, fine- you know my door is always open to the members of King Crimson. But please- you know I can’t have the public seeing me levitate. My public adores me enough without having to explain my mastering qi gong and refuting the laws of Thermodynamics! I’d heard Lester Bangs was poking around- what do you think he’d make of that, Greg?”
My public thought the obtrusive guest, and images of murder swarmed his brain like purulent fog on ill-lit East End backstreets- You insufferable bastard! Lake slammed the door, and a gust of wind snuffed a line of candles and knocked incense holders flying to the floor. Still, Fripp dangled himself in mid-air, legs crossed in the lotus position and index and thumbs of both hands pressed together in an annoying contemplative pose belying the preposterousness of his little “parlour trick”, as an annoyed Peter Sinfield had referred to this habit of levitation. It used to amuse Lake, until he had been forced to see it “accidentally” several dozen times, coinciding (peculiarly) with when there had been an incident in the band and an audience was required with the great Robert Fripp; Lake could never forgive himself for demanding that a hula-hoop be passed around Fripp when he was airborne, to prove that there were no contraptions or wires helping him to defy gravity. When a visiting Steve Hackett had passed the hoop around the floating form of Fripp and fell to the floor in shock- afterwards forswearing all psychedelic palliatives for months, and getting his own stool for the stage and thus emulating “The Master”- an enraged Lake had stormed out of the room, the first time he had sent Fripp’s Eastern detritus flying to the floor- and Fripp had had his factotum and youthful manservant Chang-wa present Lake with a stiff bill for the destroyed candles and incense. Lake resolved to not pay the damages again, no matter what it did to band morale. It would likely not be an issue after today, anyway.
“Come down off of your cloud, Fripp, I’ll not talk to a man about business who is floating in the bloody air!”
“Gregory...” began Fripp, this interview, truly, in the Court of the Crimson King.
“My name is GREG, d’ya hear me? Me mum called me ‘Gregory’ when I’d filched a biscuit too much at tea, beastly habit hers, ‘Gregory, you’re going to get fat’ she’d say and she knew I’d always had these full cheeks...see here, Fripp, don’t you call me like me mum did when I’d pulled a bounder!”
Fripp smiled, offering a smile both serene and contemptuous. “Well then, Gregory...I’ve a name too, good sir, and it is ‘Robert’. Robert Fripp. NOT ‘Fripp’, like an insinuation, hardly a query worthy of my station- something you’d bark at that classless retinue of harlots you parade into the tour bus night after night...this isn’t a training camp and you’re not my sergeant-major. I shan’t be spoken to like a convict or a common tramp...Gregory.”
Lake eyed the room with all of its pretense and gadgetry, a score of guitars and framed correspondence from several heads of state (all rabid fans) and a cuirassier’s breastplate supposedly worn at the battle of Blenheim by one of Fripp’s ancestors- a general, of course, not some common soldier, who won the day and died beautifully and thus saved all of England for all times- for how could it be anyway else for a Fripp? None of it made a fitting weapon for the plans upon Fripp’s head Lake nursed like a work-gang convict eyeing a particularly nettlesome rock. “All right...Robert,” Lake spat, and despite his self-made promises not to pay for candle and incense damages, he began to clean up after the mess his door-slamming had caused.
“Thank you for your common decency...Greg,” Fripp said, and slowly descended to the floor, only stepping out of his lotus after a prolonged kowtow to no one in particular, though Lake did note that a picture of Fripp was on the far wall, taking up the whole of the section from the door to the antique bureaux. My god, thought Lake, surely he’s not worshipping himself, is he? Who the bloody hell was he pressing his head to the floor over, then?
Fripp got to his feet, and stepped into a pair of slippers made for him in Baghdad by a legendary blind-cobbler who reputedly had no name that could be pronounced by Westerners and used chakras to “see” his work with his fingers; Fripp told the story at the most inopportune moments, and Lake had always thought the ungainly looking man only bought the exotic slippers to cock-block him when a particularly lovely girl had come backstage to chat with Greg or the equally handsome Sinfield; Bruford could accept seconds, but for Robert Fripp, it was the tastiest morsel for him alone or everyone would starve. Spite was worth that to Fripp, Greg thought, as a pair of thousand-quid slippers was no more an extravagance than a certain item of his own, which had been insultingly damaged the other night and was a large part of the grievance Greg brought to this impossible boor Fripp. Lake had come to despise his arrogance and longed to burn the slippers and their “chakras” to cinders, ash and smoke.
“Please sit, Greg,” Fripp said, and began preparing tea. He rang a small bell and the Chinese houseboy Chang-wa instantly appeared from behind a silk curtain, whose egress Lake had never quite ascertained; it was almost like the smooth-faced Chinese was kept in his own little corner, constantly on duty, ever ready to appear with guitar strings or fresh pics or, such as now, with a lovely plate of petits-fours and cucumber sandwiches, and several splendid looking hard-boiled eggs. As the houseboy entered, a small Calico cat snuck in beside him, its tail raised as always, entering no doubt to begin a usual round of mischief; Lake shot the animal a murderous look, to which it responded by immediately coming over to his chair. Eyeing him with what seemed to be a smirk, the cat flitted her tail back and forth, slowly, contemplatively, almost like the way her owner could antagonize a man simply by the seeming desuetude of his humanity; Fripp and his bloody cat were perfect partners in hauteur and misanthropy.
“It’s very important I speak to you today, Robert,” Lake began, as the cat continued its picket duty at his feet. He thought of kicking it, but that would be extremely ill-advised considering Fripp’s seeming command over the force of gravity; who knew what he might send flying through the air.
“So it is, and I’m glad you’ve come- see here, would you like an egg?” Fripp asked, holding up a perfectly boiled brown egg, something Lake had a weakness for dating back to his working class childhood; no matter his riches, boiled eggs and baked beans would be his breakfast, lying in silk sheets in a Parisian hotel with a naked French model purring next to him, they could keep the ritzy fare and fancy coffee and ripe fruit, Greg Lake was still just a simple English lad underneath all of the rock star trappings. It was something Fripp knew, and which he used mercilessly against the man.
“I would fancy an egg, yes I would. You wouldn’t have an extra cup of tea for your old friend, now would you?” Lake said, and suddenly was very sentimental. His hate disappeared in the simple act of sharing tea with a man he’d known for years.
“Greg, of course I have a cup and saucer here for you- Chang-wa, repair to the storage and secure Mr. Lake an excellent cup for his tea, would you?” And the boy vanished with celerity and returned equally so, a fragile cup in his translucent palm, soon filled with steaming tea which he offered to Lake. Still the cat sat at his feet, staring and waving its tail, like some kind of furry interrogator.
“Excellent tea,” Greg said, and began peeling his egg. It was now or never. “Robert- do forgive me but I’ve something to say. I’m sorry, Robert, but...I’m leaving the band.”
On cue, the cat jumped into Lake’s lap, turning its hind quarters to his face- where, with it’s forever raised tail, Greg Lake now had the Calico’s fully exposed anus directly thrust in his face. As she moved on his chest, the cat’s behind brushed against the lovely egg, of course just as Lake finished peeling it.
“You’re leaving the band, is it? Well, this is serious- but first, aren’t you going to eat your egg? A splendid egg, I must say.”
“Not now- your cat’s gone and got its arse-hole all over it and...get the bloody hell off of me, you miserable cunt!” Lake screamed, and sent the cat flying, Lake then firing the fouled egg in its direction and cursing a particularly foul set of imprecations upon puss’s continued good health.
A slight frown crossed the permanently becalmed brow of Robert Fripp’s head. “Greg...that was a very...uncouth thing to do,” he said, and immediately called for the cat- “Come now, Moonchild, come on, puss, puss...” Fripp said, and finally the traumatized animal appeared, sitting in his lap, purring as if her mission had been accomplished, while Fripp fed her bits of his own egg. Feeding, the cat stared across the room, directly into Greg Lake’s eyes; there was something horribly unnatural about these two, both of them insufferable, arrogant, and always seeming to be putting their ass in your face.
“Uncouth...Robert, will you please stop with this show of yours? The press isn’t here- it’s me, Greg Lake. You’ve known me since our school days. And I’ve known you. And all of this business is...what’s the word...affectations. All of it! You’re so full of yourself! And you’re killing my ability to make my own music! I’m sorry, Robert, but- between your arrogance, that cat’s...rectum, and several other things...I’m leaving the band, effective the end of this tour.”
“Tomorrow night, then?” Fripp said, gently stroking Moonchild, not even raising his voice.
“Yes- tomorrow night.” And as angry as he had been, Greg Lake felt an incredible urge to cry.
Fripp knew Lake’s sentimental side and counted on it to force him to his bidding. “But Greg...this is madness. We’ve got this new album to think of- you’ve been well compensated. The shows are going splendid. Your voice has never been in finer form. Tell me...you don’t just leave King Crimson...you’ve been lured, and I’d like to know by whom.”
Then this was the moment, wasn’t it. “Robert...I’ve been talking quite a bit to Keith Emerson since The Nice have been opening for us. What a splendid time we’ve had touring together, haven’t we? Well, I need room to grow- I need to be able to let my creative side fully...erupt,” Lake said, and Fripp stood so quickly from his own chair the Calico barely had time to flee to the floor.
“You’re leaving me for...that ridiculous little man?” Fripp exploded.
“He’s a tremendous musician!”
“Gregory- he wears fur-lined capes and Cossack boots...on stage!”
“His soloing is truly of a virtuoso- it’s like playing with Horowitz, only the chance to combine with rock music and...and...change the bloody world!”
“You want to leave King Crimson to play with a magniloquent dwarf who makes love to his synthesizer on stage every night, and forces his ‘groupies’- how I despise the word- to call him ‘Mr. Emerson’ while he urinates upon them? An utter cad, for god’s sakes he thinks Aaron Copland is in the same stratum with Bach! Pshaw! I’m stunned, Gregory...stunned.”
“For bloomin’ cripes sakes...you didn’t just say ‘Pshaw!’, did you? NOW do you see why I have to leave this band! Your pretentiousness is crushing, Robert- crushing! And what do you know about Keith’s sexual habits, anyway?”
Fripp finished his tea and ostentatiously turned his back to Lake, to the far window, done in crushed purple velvet crepe and rumored to have once hung at Versailles. Pondering his opulence, Fripp spoke in a quiet voice to the source of these awful rumors- “Ruined girls have fathers, you know,” he began, earnest and sad, “and some say knives have edges.”
“Don’t go quoting Shakespeare about some tart who got peed on, Mr. Fripp! So Keith enjoys a little risque fun- a bit of the old waterworks, indeed! We’re rock stars, Robert! This is what we do! I spent years inside while my mates were out playing football, shagging the bits of stuff back home...while I missed out on all those birds, all of ‘em I gagged over, oh how I longed to get in their kits...you certainly remember that part, don’t you, Robert?”
Fripp turned around, stung by the vulgar low-blow. “Mr. Lake, I’d like to remind you why King Crimson was formed- or have you forgotten how disgusted we both were when that last Donovan record came out? My intentions were to take popular music in wholly different directions, liberate musicians from by-rote chores of writing, free them from three-chord dogma, utilize all the musical history the West provides us...and it would seem you were merely here to pop fannies and go off with some miscreant midget who confuses the loo with his latest Lu-Lu! Keith Emerson! As if you don’t have enough musical freedom here, with me!”
“But I don’t, Robert- and you know that! I’ve already spoken to Keith about that idea of mine for an album that will truly tell a story...”
“Not that bloody lunacy about the hedgehog, is it!” Fripp roared, throwing up his arms in despair.
“It’s an ARMADILLO, Robert- not a bloody hedgehog! Bleedin’ cripes! Do you ever listen to anything I say to you? Any idea I come to you with?”
“I do, oh yes I do, Greg Lake,” Fripp began, and commenced a serious and frightening pace across his lush room’s carpet, "and whatever it is, this business about a creature hatched from a volcano and being like a half-track but also having a snout...good lord, what have you been smoking, Mr. Lake! I’ll have nothing to do with such lunacy!”
“You’ll have nothing to do with’...you see, you see! Always about you, and what you’ll have truck with! I think it’s a revolutionary idea! I’ve spoken to Keith and Carl Palmer and he happens to know a first-rate artist, and it’ll be like Wagner always dreamed...not just the music, but the art and the whole production! This will be remembered as the beginning of what made rock SERIOUS music!”
“A half-tracked armadillo blown out of a volcano and fighting creatures from Godzilla movies is going to make rock music ‘serious’, then, is it?”
Lake, suddenly confronted with the madness of his scenario, couldn’t dare blink now- “Yes,” he said, quietly, solemnly, with all the gravity of a surgeon proposing to crack a skull open and tear through an entire personality to get at a rampant tumor.
“You, young man, are mad,” said Fripp, and opened his liquor cabinet for a bottle of Brandy recovered from Bonaparte’s personal effects upon Helena. Such extravagance was the only way anyone could ever tell that this sublimely- indeed, inhumanly- calm man was, in fact, rattled utterly to his core.
“Well, we’ll see who is mad...Robert,” Lake said, certain that for once he had withstood the withering insouciance Fripp wielded like a matador facing a mad bull. But there was one more injustice to give vent this day, one more issue before Greg Lake left this house and went off to become part of the greatest show that never ended...at least until the rampant excess of Prog hatched from his half-tracked armadillo and other imponderables killed said golden goose, many years from this day.
Fripp’s cat had climbed the furniture and jumped into his hands. Once again facing the window, the great guitarist slowly stroked the beast and she purred even louder than before; in the corner, from behind that velvet curtain, the nasal-sounds of an Oriental Zhonghu could be heard, like a dirge for some decayed mandarin’s final moments upon the Middle Kingdom, the quiet as long as the solos festering in Keith Emerson’s brain now that he had the perfect accomplice for his frenzied dreams of creation. A quiet that was just that pronounced, just that insuffereable. Lake wondered again, for the final time, precisely what arrnagements had been made to bring this smooth Asian boy into Robert Fripp’s service, and what infernal contract had been signed in whose blood to make it stick.
“Then this is the end, is it, Greg?”
“’Tis,” said Lake, sadly, as the Chinese music reached a maudlin crescendo.
“This is something you will regret,” said Fripp, and it was enough to snuff Lake’s pity, and remind him of what had pushed him past the boiling point nights before.
“I should think not!” Lake said, and stomped his foot such that the Calico was startled and dug her nails into Fripp’s chest...and a crease of pain thus barely threw askance his formerly placid features. From behind the velvet curtain, the Chinese noted his master yielded in this moment a smile as well- but such a smile as only one from his kingdom could ever espy. The near-hairless lad’s pulse raced with excitement as he pondered his master beyond the slit of the purple crepe, like a god glimpsed through an aperture and in an imperceptible reverie to the triumph of loss and pain.
“Then we shall see...Gregory,” Fripp said, and the grinding Chinese melody stopped as the boy popped the lone string of his instrument in what a more lyrical-minded writer might describe as quite frankly...ejaculatory.
“There is one more thing before I take leave of you, Fripp,” Lake said, returned to hostility and not fearing any more repercussions for this temerity of speaking to his bandmate so “commonly”. “There was an incident the other night when we played here in London- and it’s to do with that damned furry terrorist you’ve clutched to your chest.”
Fripp turned quietly, modestly, his rage a mere rumor behind the facade of cloying civility. “Moonchild, Gregory? You’ve yet another issue with who is, after all, my...only friend?”
“Stop the self-pity, Robert. You’ve friends aplenty- if you’d only to stop to acknowledge they were worthy of your august presence, that is. Yes, you’re damned sure right there is one more issue I’ve with you, and this time I’m not backing down.”
“Speak, Mr. Lake- your preamble to your peroration stultifies and confuses...”
“It’s that damn cat of yours- she came into my room the other night and...she peed on my carpet, Robert!”
Fripp merely arched his eyebrows, and scratched the cat more forcefully behind her pointed ears.
“It’s true! There is but one cat in this house, and it is that...bloody thing in your grips, and there was a puddle of urine on my rug and that wretched fluffball is to blame!”
“Your rug, Mr. Lake? Enlighten me; I don’t keep up on former bandmate’s trinkets and baubles.”
Lake turned red with fury, wondering if the cat or the guitarist deserved to die more. “Baubles? Why you smug and supercillious cunt! YES- my rug! My Persian rug- you’re not the only one with agents flush with cash across the former Mandate, Fripp- my Persian rug that cost me a small fortune, and which I use to keep from being electrocuted on the stage!”
“And it’s not for any other purpose, then, is it?” a sarcastic Fripp asked.
“Well, when I’m not on stage...it does remind me of home, I should say,” Lake said, recalling a bevvy of young strumpets from Manchester to Amsterdam who bedded down on his carpet and found that they could be “magic”, after all. Now it was rank with piss, cat’s piss no less, and perhaps fit only for the bonfire. Fripp would pay for the rampant bladder of his nefarious tabby, yes he would.
“Moonchild has her box, and she is civilized perfectly well to pass her water therein, and therein alone,” Fripp said, and then offered what to him was an obvious counter-explanation. “This Calico is civilized. Which is more than I can say for your new friend, the midget Mozart. Perhaps you should speak to him about the source of your ‘wet-spot’, eh Mr. Lake?”
“What are you implying, Fripp?” Lake roared- although he hadn’t thought of this explanation, and only rejected it so as to not yield a final time to this imperious twaddle of his erstwhile bandmate.
“I’m merely pointing out the obvious- a certain keyboard-humping vulgarian with an appetite for humiliating schoolgirls obviously has had access to your thoughts, so why not your room? He’s marking his territory, Gregory; and one might say he’s formed ‘Emerson’s Lake’ right on your very own rug, you traitor.”
“Your arrogance has no bounds, Fripp,” Lake said.
“Though not as boundless as your folly, Mr. Lake,” Fripp said, and released the Calico to the floor, where she dissapeared behind the curtain.
“I didn’t want it to end like this, Robert,” Lake said, already figuring out the cleaning bill that somebody was going to pay for his beautfiul Persian rug.
“Please, your emotionalism is unbecoming, Mr. Lake. Waste not your energy on sentiment when there are half-tracked armadilloes and their adventures to conjure.” And Fripp poured himself another glass of Napoleon’s own Brandy, of a significance gleaned only by the lone, young, hairless and frightened Chinese hidden behind his curtain, deep within Fripp’s closet.
“I’ll see you in the Top 40, Fripp,” Lake said, and turned to leave.
“I don’t think you’ll need to worry about that, Mr. Lake,” Fripp said, and downed the nectar in a gulp, certain that the delusional boy having left his company would never understand what riches he was giving up to go make records with Keith Emerson. - TR