Thursday, August 18, 2005

A Rant on Music . . .

. . . just so you know what you're in for.

I was thinking about King Crimson today. Actually, I think about King Crimson a lot. I tend to like art that claims no antecedents; but of course, NO art in this day and age is without antecedents. So when I try to build a personal canon of popular music (although, as I explain below, I object to broad cultural canon formation in this arena), I keep coming back to a handful of bands. And the one on my mind today is . . . King Crimson.

I not only dislike much classic rock, I fundamentally object to the concept. First and foremost it's an exercise in hubris to begin canon formation on an art form that's less than 50 years old. Secondly, the criteria for inducting most "classic rock" into the "canon" seems to be that some baby boomer who owns a radio station remembers copping a first feel or smoking a first joint to some song or another, and mistakes such nostolgia for a brush with the transcendant. If canon formation in rock resembled, in principle, the same processes in literature or film (which, at around a century old, is BARELY old enough to justify its canon), most classic rock wouldn't make the cut. Maybe Zeppelin. Probably Pink Floyd and Yes. Certainly Zappa. But the Eagles? God, no. Bachman-Turner Overdrive? Please. Bad Company? This conversation is over.

OK, OK, it's not over. There are many potential criteria, of course. Judgement on merits of technical prowess would include the induction of artists like Rush, Jeff/Tim Buckley, Fairport Convention, Zappa, Yes, and, for my favorites, Can, Neu, Brian Eno, Talking Heads, and King Crimson. If we look at issues of social importance, for instance, and/or effect on the aesthetic evolution of the form, my thinking is that we'd be looking at artists like The Clash, Patti Smith, Elvis Costello, Sonic Youth, Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, Captain Beefheart, U2, Black Sabbath, Bauhaus, REM . . . and, I daresay, Can, Neu, Brian Eno, Talking Heads, and King Crimson.

Robert Fripp does more than play a mean guitar: He CHANGES what the instrument is FOR. Other standouts in the rotating lineup: Drummer Trey Gunn--for whom the words "drum solo" mean not some meatheaded rock indulgence but a straight shot to post-jazz, post-rock nirvana (not to be confused with Nirvana)--and singer/guitarist Adrian Belew, both of whom contributed great things to the shape of the band. But I still love the lineups of the band that recorded "In the Court of the Crimson King", one of the two greatest prog-rock albums ever, and "Red" . . . the other one.

More than the musicianship, though, is that they managed to be art-rock without being unconscionably pretentious. They rock as hard as Rush, swoon as romantically as Yes and have all the bluster and theatricality of Peter Gabriel-led Genesis; but they do it all with an ironic wink and self-effacement that would later influence punk, and post-punk art school acts like the aforementioned Sonic Youth and Talking Heads.

If you're a real Crimhead, three acts worth checking out: Cobra High (provided you don't mind your prog-rock laced with a little new wave), Sleepytime Gorilla Museum (provided you don't mind it laced with a little world music, a little goth and a LOT of death-metal) and Turing Machine (provided you don't mind it instrumental with a bubbling momentum that calls to mind krautrock giants Neu). Actually, even if you're not a crimhead, I recommend all of the above (reviews will surely follow).


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