An open letter to Robert, and his response

Date: Fri, 4 Mar 94 13:01:36 GMT
From: Toby Howard <toby at cs dot man dot ac dot uk>
Subject: An open letter to Robert, and his response

Robert has sent some correspondence he's exchanged with a number of people, for inclusion in the newsletter. Here's an open letter to him published in "Input" magazine, followed by his response.




I've been a big fan of King Crimson for many, many years and like a lot of
other people, the unpredictability of the music is why I enjoyed it.

But now I hear you are reforming the band yet once again (goodl) and you ar
using Adrian Belew and Tony Levin (bad!) in the "new" lineup. I'm sorry if
I step on some toes here, but your collaborations with these guys have
already been thoroughly exhausted LONG ago. I realize the 80s version of
the band was exploring minimalism but that doesn't mean you need to get

"Beat" and "Three Of A Perfect Pair" were contractual obligations and
though they had their (few) moments, they just took the music from
"Discipline" and beat it to death. So it baffles me why you would reform
the group in this format.

Also the new band is to include Trey Gunn who may be a nice guy but quite
frankly has little to offer. I saw him play solo chapman stick and SURPRISE
he played it EXACTLY like Tony Levin on "Discipline" (as do most Chapstick
players) . And as a student of yours, he has shown himself to be a fine
CLONE but free of any originality. And Jerry Marotta does not have a
reputation as the most creative drummer in town, so I question your desire
to work with him.

I understand that you are putting the band together to make some quick cash
to pay your bills but the reality is that lf you toured under the name "Kin
Crimson" with a group of completely obscure musicians, you'd still draw a
huge crowd especially since Crimson has had such a wide influence on so
many different genres and music fans. So I do not comprehend why you are
playing it VERY safe and going with the tried-and-true (albeit talented)
Belew and Levin.

Certainly there are plenty of musicians you can work with that would make
for a more compelling lineup. From Fred Frith to Vinnie Coliatu (?)  there
are lots of creative musicians to choose from in both the rock and
avantjazz worlds. Many current rock bands are trying to cover some of the
ground you forged, such as The Jesus Lizard, Primus and so on. Surely you
could ask around and try out some fresh blood, Or move back to New York
City because there is a lot of amazingly inventive and skilled musicians in
the Downtown scene who've arrived since you left.

Plus with the conservativeness shown by your lineup choices, I'm afraid you
won't tackle anything but that 80s sound you already produced. I'd like to
see you subvert the very technical speed metal or industrial metal that
arose after the last Crimson disbanded, Everything from goth music to house
has learned a bit and could learn a lot more from Crimson. With some new
blood, you could subvert hip-hop and techno structures, or the recent
reemergence of funk and other very rhythmic musics, You could really kick
the crap out of world beat, new age, grunge, or modern classical stuff.
You could even get into the "unplugged" sweepstakes. But nooooooooooooo.
You just want to rehash?

Wake me up when YOU wake up.         CX Brodeur 63 Pitt St #5f, NYC 10002


Robert's response:

January 22nd. 1994.
PO Box 1490,
NY 10573.

Dear Input,

In your January Input you include an open letter to myself from CX Brodeur
of New York, which prompts comments general and specific.

General Comments:

1. Thanks to CX for taking the time and having sufficient interest to
comment on King Crimson. It's heartening to find passion for music.

2. I do not believe that CX is as stupid as he/she purports to be.

3. The aroma of cynicism wafting from the letter is excusable,
understandable, but unacceptable. Public debate is currently appallingly
naff and won't improve if we accept discussion at this level.

Cynicism is too high a price to pay - it closes us to music - and, for a
musician, cynicism is death.

4. I have sympathy and time for punters who get frequently stupped and hand
over hard-earned money, often prised deceitfully from them (like with bad

So, I respond to CX's letter seriously, but not respectfully.

Specific Comments:

1. CX understands "that (RF) is putting the band together to make some
quick cash to pay your bills but the reality is that if you toured with a
group of completely obscure musicians you'd still draw a huge crowd".

CX is misinformed. Although I have no objection to paying my bills King
Crimson is not, and regrettably never has been, a way to make quick cash.

i) The group shares the money. No one person in a group gets rich quickly
this way, if at all. (This is how to tell whether a group is a group, or
not: a real group shares the money).

ii) Any new concern in whatever business takes several years to establish
itself and setting-up costs are immense. The running costs of KC on the
road I estimate at $70-l00,000 per week. This is for theatre-level concerts
- a good standard basic but no frills.

iii) If I did tour with a group of obscure musicians perhaps l could keep
more money, but "RF + Obscurities" wouldn't be King Crimson and the tour
would be dishonest. And no punter would be able to trust the name of King
Crimson again. Quite apart from ethical considerations, I consider that bad

Right now I hope Crimheads and general punters, with the possible exception
of CX, could go to any King Crimson show and relying on getting Crimson and
its best shot (although it might not be what was expected). I consider that
good business, although I don't anticipate getting rich, slowly or quickly.

iv) My musical choices are made for musical reasons. Music appears in the
world despite the music industry, not because of it. The life of the
professional musician is pretty wretched and the only payment musicians
ultimately receive is the privilege of music occasionally leaning over and
taking them into its confidence. For that privilege we pay a very high

The challenge for any artist, probably the supreme challenge, is to work in
the market place while not being governed by the rules of the market
place. I don't myself play music for money, but I take money for the music
I play. Given the choice between a piece of work which pays and a piece of
work which doesn't, I generally do both.

v) The only time I made a lot of money from KC was for 2-3 years after the
group "ceased to exist" in 1974: the bills stopped and the records
continued to sell, but breaking up does seem a rather radical strategy to
make money from a group!

I invested that money buying time during which I tried to figure out how a
professional musician might work in an industry dominated so completely by
business, the frailties of musicians and the demands (not always
courteously expressed) of the public.  My work since, both in and out of
the public arena, has been based upon the research work done in that

As a point of interest, the KC musicians received no wages for live work
between 1969-74: the management view was that the musicians got paid from
record and publishing royalties.

vi) The current members of King Crimson are planning to support themselves
for the first year by work outside KC, and this is not the first time. I
can earn more from one week of solo concerts in Argentina than one month on
the road with Crimson, and sessions for Adrian and Tony earn them far more
than Crimson wages. In this outfit, the musicians pay for their opportunity
to play!

2. CX writes: "With the conservativeness shown by (RF's) lineup choices..."
and "You just want to rehash?".  These are two impressively dopey comments.

i) When have my line-up choices been conservative?  Crimson personnel must
be the most radically varied and discontinuous of any rock group which
claims continuity of identity. The suggestion has even been made that KC
has no continued identity (although I would disagree). And that's just

ii) When was the last time I "rehashed"? Here is a brief overview of
1969-94: Crimson to Crimson to Eno to Crimson to
Retreat-from-the-music-business to NYC - Gabriel - Bowie - Blondie - Hall -
Roches - Frippertronics to League of Gentlemen to Crimson to Guitar
Craft/League of Crafty Guitarists to Sunday All Over The World to Orb to
Sylvian/Fripp to Crimson (with each of the Crimsons different)? Have I
missed something in here (and I've left a lot out) where I was repeating
myself more than in any one year?

3. "Beat and Three of a Perfect Pair ... took the music from Discipline and
beat it to death".

Actually, and as a point of musical fact, that's incorrect - although I
wish it were true.

At the end of 1981 and the Discipline touring I felt KC had found a
vocabulary and approach worth developing and taking a lot further, but the
other guys felt differently. So, effectively, we abandoned the 1981
approach without, in my view, replacing it with another coherent aural
vision. So, at the end of the period of professional and personal
commitment, we disbanded in 1984.

I don't tell the other guys what to play, although I usually have my own
sense of which direction I believe KC should take, and make musical
suggestions. Historically, other Crims seem to go along with my suggestions
for about a year and then we disband under the pressure of
disagreement. Nearly everyone who has ever been in Crimson (and I am in
regular contact with nearly all of them) really enjoyed being in the band -
several years after they left. It seems to take time for the Crim-penny to

CX realises "the 80s version of the band was exploring minimalism"...

This is a simplistic, facile judgement which might have come from an
English music comic. It misses the point where the real action was

5. "Certainly there are plenty of musicians you can work with"...

... and perhaps some of them would like to work with me! CX makes good
comments and suggestions on how CX might choose the current Crimson
personnel. And it's a good shot.

But there is a simple and basic difference between CX and myself: CX's view
of how Crimson might be and my own. And I would rather follow my own sense
and picture of Crimson. This is how it happened:

i) Around 1987 music began to appear under my fingers which only Crimson
could play. When music appears which only Crimson can play, then it's time
to begin thinking about putting Crimson together again.

ii) One afternoon about 18 months ago, driving past the village church one
afternoon, a picture of how Crimson should be in its present incarnation
flew by. In Guitar Craft this is called "a Point of Seeing" - direct,
immediate, irrational. And this Crim was not what I was planning nor

For the past 18 months I've been trying to fit together the music and the
picture of the personnel, and two weeks ago they came together. It may well
be the craziest Crimson yet.

CX closes the letter: "Wake me when you wake up".

This is both rude and intentionally insulting. After 36 years and 1 month
of playing guitar, 32 years and 6 months of climbing into the back, front
and both sides of vans setting off for gigs, and producing, interviewing,
recording and playing on four continents over a period of 26 years, I don't
feel the need to alert any ill-mannered commentator on my life and work to
where the action is, however enthusiastic they may be for Crimson past or

Robert Fripp.

Mike Stok