(Top photo by Dean Stockings)
For someone who swore he was done writing about King Crimson, they keep finding their way onto my radar. When that happens, I feel obligated to say something. But this is different, because this really might be the last time.
On December 8, King Crimson concluded their 2021 tour in Japan. Upon its end, Robert Fripp posted a cryptic, yet clear message about the band he founded in 1969:
“Shibuya Bunkamara Orchard Hall, Tokyo; Wednesday 8th. December 2021 I… Onstage at 18.40, doors held for ten minutes to allow the audience to enter. A full house.The first set: one hour and three minutes. Overall length: two hours and twenty-four minutes.King Crimson’s final note of Starless, the last note of this Completion Tour in Japan, moved from sound to silence at 21.04.”
If that wasn’t enough, music journalist Sid Smith — King Crimson’s official biographer — added these thoughts shortly afterward:
“On this day in 1972, my life was transformed after seeing King Crimson in concert. On this day in 2021, King Crimson played their final note onstage. It’s been an incredible journey. Profound thanks to all those who’ve taken part in the adventure & made it so special.”
Upon reading these words, I reached the conclusion that we have, indeed, seen the last of King Crimson. And while Robert has brought the band back from retirement more than once, this feels final. There’s no more to prove, no more to say, no more notes to play. That, as they say, is that.
My immediate thought upon receiving the news: Okay … let’s move on.
That sounds like I’m hating on the band I constantly refer to as one third of my musical Holy Trinity. But nothing can be further from the truth. I give Robert all the credit in the world for knowing it was time to step off the stage, legacy intact. When I decided to retire from the police department after a “mere” 25 years (less than half of Crimson’s lifespan), more than one person asked me why. I quoted Michael Stipe, who said when he decided to end R.E.M., “The most important thing about going to a party is knowing when to leave.” It doesn’t get much more profound than that.
There’s nothing sadder than a band or an athlete overstaying their usefulness. Aging athletes often say, “I’ve got one more good year left in me” as their skills continue to erode and they become shadows of themselves. Hell, I did it after 11 years of playing tennis, albeit on a much lower level. Bad knees, a new career, and other factors began to eat away at the time I could dedicate to the game (which wasn’t too shabby), and it was clear that I was nowhere near the player I was in my “prime.” Yet I actually uttered those words. I actually believed I had one good year left. Shortly afterward, I tore my rotator cuff while serving. My tennis career ended shortly afterward.
Bands that stay too long at the fair tell themselves they’re doing it for the fans, or because they’ve still got “it” and feel they can still bring that thing onstage. Fans may be happy to see their favorite band up there, doing what they did for many, many years before. Chances are, they’re temporarily blind to the fact that the singer can’t hit the notes he once could, the guitar and drum pyrotechnics are not what they once were, and any new music presented just doesn’t hit home the way the classics once did. Fans aren’t seeing the band they loved. It’s almost like they’re seeing a cover band containing the original group members. Frankly, it’s sad.
Robert knew it was time to walk away. At age 75, he no doubt has other things he’s eager to accomplish without dealing with the rigors of touring with a band. He took the band out the way he wanted to take it out. Good for him, I say.
I’m getting older. The RAM in my brain feels like it has been greatly reduced. I have to make room for what’s new and exciting in music. I can’t remain stuck in the past with 50-plus year old bands. There are legions of young and talented musicians making their way through the ranks.
Fogies like me need to let go of what was and embrace what is. Of course, this is much easier said than done when it comes to some of the music fans I know. Getting them to sit still to take in a new band on CD (let alone anywhere near a stage) can be like pulling teeth. In the end, I simply decide to go on without them. Perhaps they’ll catch up sooner or later.
I did enjoy having Crimson around, since I was too late (or not strategically placed) to experience Miles Davis or Frank Zappa before they left the stage. There was a time when I didn’t even think I’d see Crimson, since I didn’t learn about them until 1985, a year after they disbanded for the second time. Their return in the 90’s allowed me to make a live connection after all. I treasure each concert I attended. Each was special for a reason, including the last one, which I wasn’t planning on attending.
And now it’s over.
King Crimson will always hold a special place in my heart. They opened the door to a vast musical world I continue to explore. Without them, I might not have been able to grasp Miles or Frank. Crimson was about possibilities … always pushing forward, rarely looking back (until this last incarnation of the band, anyway).
They took advantage of the technology available — electronic drums, guitar synthesizers, beat boxes and samplers, or whatever — to push their sound into previously unexplored territories. Next to nothing was off limits. The music went where it went, damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead! I couldn’t help but admire that, and I was rarely disappointed with what came forth.
Crimson gave me my musical idol in Adrian Belew, who I’m bow fortunate enough to consider a friend. The kindness I’ve received from other band members like Pat Mastelotto and Tony Levin will never be forgotten. I’ve even managed to have a couple of quick social media encounters with Robert, to include finding a copy of my book on his reading table (which still makes my stomach flutter). I found the right band to deify, even if there’s a good chance the guys would bristle at such a thought.
What more can I say? I’ll always have the records and CDs. The box sets I swore I would never purchase have all found their way to my media shelves. Any time I feel sentimental, I can head there and relive those precious moments. As much as I hate to say it, I’ve been given a gift that keeps on giving.
In the end, all I can say is this: Thank you, Robert and everyone who was a part of one of my favorite bands of all time. Enjoy the next adventure!
You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (cirdecsongs) My book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears, is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine book dealers. I’m currently working on my next book, The Wizard of WOO: The Life and Music of Bernie Worrell.
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I missed that announcement. (Must have been asleep.)
I share your feelings. I was privileged to be at KC’s first big gig in Hyde Park, London way back in 1969 and the world changed for me then and there. You’ve chosen the right track to sum up their career, too. When I saw them in 2019 I said to my friends, “As long as they play Epitaph and Starless, I shall be happy”. They did, and I was. Ecstatically.
King Crimson will never really die. They will live on in their recordings and our memories. Long live the King!
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