INTERVIEW: Fripp interview in Rock & Folk (Part 1)
Date: Wed, 19 Apr 95 09:23:22 CST
From: "DANIEL A. KIRKDORFFER" <E#KIRKD at ccmail dot ceco dot com>
Subject: INTERVIEW: Fripp interview in Rock & Folk (Part 1)
Fellow Parleurs en Elephant!
The May issue of the French magazine "Rock & Folk" has a interesting 4 page
interview with Robert Fripp about himself and King Crimson. It includes an
arty photograph of the new band. Az iem shorr mozst eeetee ridders arr nit
fluint whiz ze languige Francaise, I thought it would be good fun to
translate and transcribe this interview into English for y'all (and to
practice my very rusty French).
(Disclaimer: The following is an example of what you get when you translate
English into French and back again into English (especially when I do the
translating!). I have tried as best I can to choose words that Fripp would
most likely have used when translating, but at the end these are as much my
words as they are his, so I question the value of quoting any of this -
paraphrasing would be more appropriate. Still, it is an interesting
interview that I hope ET readers find was worth the effort to translate -
beaucoup d'heures et quatre dictionaires.)
Following the usual interview introductions and habitual musician's bio,
and an explanation that Fripp was against doing interviews but that he was
making an exception here, Fripp begins (note: all ellipses are copied, not
Fripp >> I began playing guitar December 24, 1957. My mother and I were
shopping the day before Christmas, in a little town near Wimbourne, and we
qfound an Egmond Brothers. A lady had returned this guitar to buy another
more expensive one. It was a terrible instrument, and impossible to press
the strings beyond the 7th fret. It demanded a colossal physical effort
that I had to integrate into my technique. I took me more than 13 years to
get rid of the damage that could have been forever irreparable. The
beginnings were primordial. One year with this instrument was enough to
mess up my playing.
Don Strike, my future teacher, lived only a few minutes from my home. If I
had known him earlier, he would have found me another instrument, but
unfortunately the shop keepers were only there to make money. After three
months of self-teaching, I met Kathleen Gartell, a Christian woman in the
Salvation Army, who ran a music school to keep young children with nothing
to do busy. A few weeks later I had already mastered everything she could
teach me, and she recommended Don Strike to me. Three years ago, I
received a letter from her, following the death of her husband, to
congratulate me on my marriage to Toyah.
At 12, I changed guitar to a Rosetti a little less atrocious. Don then
taught me the basics of the guitar, since Kathleen being a pianist, could
not teach me any technique. Don's teachings were based on the Big Bands of
the 20's. A multi-instrumentalist, he also mastered Hawaiian guitar,
banjo...His wife would often appear in a flashy skirt to do a little
hula-hoop...A real character who taught me a great deal by connecting me to
tradition. One can only learn the guitar alone, all good teachers know
that. But a good teacher puts an apprenticeship in an historical
perspective. I remember from the very beginning having developed the
technique of cross-picking, that no one was using at that time. At 14, Don
Strike told me it was time I played in a band, and the Ravens was my first;
since then I've spent 33 years and 9 months on the road. I also started
giving guitar lessons at the age of 13 at Mrs. Gartell's school. At 17,
another music store asked me to give guitar lessons. There was a convivial
aspect, with all these musicians gathering at Don's home, discussing
things...He then asked me if I would like to handle all his students.
At the time, the importance of this request didn't seep in. He was a very
proud man, and what he had just done must have cost him. From the age of
16 to 19 I worked with my father in real estate. At university I learned
economics, political economics, history and political doctrines. To
survive I played in a Jewish hotel in Bournemouth. Andy Summers had just
left this big band to play with Zoot Money. At 20, I realized that I had
to make the decision to become a professional musician and to dedicate
myself completely to it. I played with The League Of Gentlemen in the
region of western England. I'd close the office at 6 and jump in the truck
for some far off town. At 8 we would be on stage, playing our takes of the
Beatles and the Four Seasons, complicated instrumentals of the "Orange
Blossom Special" type by the Spotnicks. I ignored the fact they had sped
up the tape and tried to play as fast...I was rarely at home before 2 in
the morning. On the way back I'd practice my technique, diatonic arpeggio
exercises, I'd fall asleep and often wake up with my hand still in the
process of playing...
Rock & Folk >> In your life as well there has been a need for a break, when
in 75 after the dissolution of King Crimson you declared: "the time has
come for mobile units..." Is it really possible to start from scratch in
Fripp >> Why guitar lessons? Because I had the time to give them. I gave
them at age 13, 17, 21 and 28...I know I will give more lessons or reform
King Crimson. Every 7 years there are some changes in my life, it is
irrational but it happens in music too. Two things allow us to
characterize these changes. The effect of surprise: "how could that have
happened?" And the sense of the inevitable: "how could that not have
happened?" One recognizes the change by the sense of surprise, the
rationality then constructs a notion of inevitability. At certain moments
in my life, I pulled back from the noise and the confusion to allow the
future to present itself and it has always worked.
When King Crimson finished touring in 84, I isolated myself for 3 months.
The result: I met my wife, a wonderful surprise, and the Guitar Craft
seminar, another wonderful surprise. People asked me, "Why did you propose
to marry this woman?" Well, because I knew it was my wife. "How did you
know?" How could I not have known, there is a resonance...I proposed to my
wife who very kindly, and generously accepted, and May 16 1986, the day of
my 40th birthday, we were married at the Fripp family church where my great
great great grandfather died in 1752, and my father is also buried, joined
by my 92 year old mother...Since 86 until 91 when Guitar Craft played in
Europe, I only dealt with personal affairs, I was not making any money from
my record company. In 91, EG, my own label, took me to court and menaced
me...I've spent these past 4 years in judicial battles with BMG and Virgin
Publishing, and with my management, EG, who betrayed all of its artists by
selling its catalog without compensating any artist with royalties.
Four years of my life on the brink of bankruptcy, because my record company
EG was also my manager since 69, a judicial aberration that could not happen
today. These people had access to everything related to myself and totally
controlled my interests. My tour with David Sylvian in 93 was a breath of
fresh air, the first in many years. In July 93, my dear mother passed away
while holding my hand. Following that I put King Crimson back on its feet.
Bill Bruford still being managed by EG, I had to wait until he was
freed...That was four years of darkness, of nights spent faxing the world
until dawn, of holding together with coffee...I made it through thanks to
Discipline Global Mobile, my new label, putting into practice my theories
>from 20 years ago...When I spoke of leaving the prehistoric world, of the
need for new mobile units, of reducing production and distribution costs, I
was hoping that EG would understand that I was also addressing myself to
them...But there you are, too bad...My label doesn't have the money to do
promotional work, but one of these CDs can, by selling for 10 times less
than a disc produced by Virgin, bring in as much money. Furthermore, the
artists on my label give me nothing, they pocket 100% of the earnings...
Rock & Folk >> "In The Court Of The Crimson King" was a real stepping stone
in the agonizing pool of Swinging London. What was that monster on the
Fripp >> Barry Goldberg was not a painter but a computer programmer. That
painting was the only one he ever did. He was a friend of Peter Sinfield,
and died in 1970 of a heart attack at age 24. Peter brought this painting
in and the band loved it. I recently recovered the original from EG's
offices because they kept it exposed to bright light, at the risk of
ruining it, so I ended up removing it. The face on the outside is the
Schizoid Man, and on the inside it's the Crimson King. If you cover the
smiling face, the eyes reveal an incredible sadness. What can one add? It
reflects the music. I was never impressed by heavy metal. Nobody at the
time sounded like us in concert. For me "Schizoid" was the first heavy
metal track, that sound of an electric saxophone going through a Marshall
amp...As for Michael Giles, he was a phenomenal drummer. No rock drummer
could touch him in 69.
Rock & Folk >> What was rock like back then?
Fripp >> I was a young man without work signed to Decca. I arrived in
London in 67 with Sergeant Pepper's bubbling inside of me. Hendrix, Bartok
string quartets, an experience of passionate music...That was the power of
rock in those days, without money, without the support of record companies.
We were punky, like each new generation. It was the time of the student
demonstrations in Paris, of Vietnam...Rock music spoke directly to youth.
There was a sense of community, not yet of distance between the public and
the artist...It didn't survive 1970.
Rock & Folk >> Did you know that Kurt Cobain was a big fan of your album
Fripp >> I found out through John Wetton last year. The producer of the
first Nirvana records told him: "I saw King Crimson in 74, I was 16 and I
thought I saw God." He told John that "Red" was an important record to
Rock & Folk >> Why did you release "Vrooom" on a small label?
Fripp >> The deal with Virgin simply wasn't signed yet. We recorded our
rehearsals and we have already sold 50,000 copies in the States. The major
labels are dinosaurs, a big body and a little brain. Virgin is headed by
someone I admire and who is a little more human than the others. The
problem is that it doesn't do any good to promote the music, you have to
let it speak for itself and make it available...There will be other new
King Crimson records on my Discipline Global label..."Thrak" released on
Virgin is my best record since 79. But a live record will soon be out of
the band recorded in Argentina. Since people like bootlegs, let them at
least buy a good one, recorded and mastered in digital in three weeks by
Robert Fripp and David Singleton...I started recording our concerts in 72
with magnetic tape...
Rock & Folk >> Why was "Thrak" recorded in Peter Gabriel's Real World
Fripp >> It's the only place in the world that I like recording. The
studio was built with thought to the quality of the music and it shows.
Gabriel spent 5 million pounds on this studio. Thank you Peter Gabriel.
Rock & Folk >> What will the new live show be like, will there be a
retrospective dimension, inasmuch as "Thrak" renews a lot of the 70's
Crimson sound?...As if one shouldn't be ashamed any longer of being
Fripp >> In 81 I had a very clear idea of the way that Crimson should have
sounded, but at the end of a year of touring, Bill and Adrian wanted to make
changes. I asked Bill to use an electronic drum kit and to no longer hit
the cymbals. As for Adrian, I asked him to modify his approach to the
guitar...But at the end of a year, the cymbals had reappeared...Some people
say Fripp is a dictator, but see, I've always made concessions, and in any
case you can't tell musicians of that stature how they should
play...Especially since the money is split equally by each member of the
band. As for your question about being progressive, during the 81-84 period,
there were in fact some things that one couldn't envisage anymore. Certain
prejudices against the word "progressive" (which is not one for me and that I
never use) have since disappeared. When we started we didn't say that we
were punky, but in 77 that became possible, the same is true concerning
The act of musical performance in a commercial context is quasi impossible.
No book exists to address the complexity of this question. If I walk on
stage with the idea that I am in the process of promoting my latest record,
then the music is already dead. The same goes for interviews. I cannot
conceive of interviews as a means to promote my music. All that matters is
the quality of the performance, which involves a number of things. If I'm
in a classic 3000 person theater hall, how do I play knowing that I don't
hear the musicians well, that a part of the audience is too far away to see?
Not to speak of the people on the sides who can't hear well...The
traditional post-napoleonic theaters were created to separate audience and
artist, so as to ease the idea that the artists are gods, but also to make
distinctions within the audience itself. The rich in front, the poor
behind, the very rich people with mistresses in the little boxes above. The
traditional theaters were created so that nothing and no one communicates.
Rock & Folk >> That leaves drugs...
Fripp >> They open the door an instant, but afterwards that door closes
itself, the musicians know the price they must pay, the public does too...
Rock & Folk >> You still have no idea what you are going to play in less
than a month. Of what you would like to play/not play, will there be more
>from "Red", more psychedelia, more world-fusion?
Fripp >> These past four years I negotiated. These past 18 months, Virgin
treated me like I was an enemy. I went to the USA in a bad state, to give
one week of guitar classes and performances. I came back with lots of
music, and then Virgin demands that I spend days and months doing
promotional work in the USA and Europe. I put my guitar down and I haven't
touched it since...I said to Virgin: "There's a price to pay. Do you want
a new King Crimson record in 18 months? Well there won't be any way that
will happen if you continue to harass me." There's a whole lot of new King
Crimson music that we won't be playing on this tour because I'm currently
doing an interview with you today. King Crimson has never done a Greatest
Hits Tour. Will it ever? No. King Crimson plays music that is governed
by three essentials: the time, the place and the people.
Rock & Folk >> Will there ever be a reunion of former members of the band?
Fripp >> I'm constantly getting calls from former members of the band due
to legal affairs with EG. Every former King Crimson member has always
expressed the desire to work together again. In theory nothing would
please me more. In reality I already have new musicians and my idea of a
reunion of former King Crimson members would probably not suit them. These
people think that they were part of the only real King Crimson. I have my
own ideas as to how we could use these former members of King Crimson, but
I have other priorities...
Rock & Folk >> Have you heard "Testing To Destruction", the new David Cross
Fripp >> No...
Rock & Folk >> What do you think in general about contemporary guitarists,
>from The Edge to Steve Vai?
Fripp >> I never comment on other musicians. There is however an
extraordinary rebound of the instrument...In 69 there was a great hostility
and great prejudice toward technique and intelligence in music, as if one had
to be stupid and incompetent to matter in British rock. Today it's like
athletics, where people are ready to lose a competition to make money. The
athletic spirit is dead, the guitarists, although more and more technical,
play only on the surface...But there are some extraordinary young
Rock & Folk >> There is a big return to the idiomatic in music, blues,
country, forms of expression simple and "pure", that you have never
encountered in your 25 year career...
Fripp >> I've never thought in terms of categories. "Starless And Bible
Black", "Red", "Larks" don't sound like the blues...
Rock & Folk >> Unless one considers the sometimes fretful nature of your
playing as a personal interpretation of the blues?
Fripp >> The vocabulary of the blues is very limited, but some musicians
with a great expressive ability know how to live with it. Take for example
the English language. There are a thousand ways to pronounce the same word
by using different accents. The same with words of the same
sentence...This is also true of the blues. In 67, I wondered more what
would have happened if Hendrix had interpreted Bartok's string quartets, or
Stravinsky's "Rites of Spring". Hendrix with his power, his distinct
style, his cutting edge in a totally different framework. The merging of
the Afro-American culture, the blues and jazz, and the tonal harmonic
European system. For me, "Larks Tongue's in Aspic" tried to answer this
question: later I tried to enlarge the framework of African music with
"Discipline"...So, o.k. I'm not a blues guitarist, but I think I've met the
Spirit of the blues several times...
Rock & Folk >> Do you at least play the blues at home, to relax?
Fripp >> No. In 73 I was good friends with Robin Trower. He played me the
blues, made me tapes...He educated me in the blues vocabulary, that I
adore. Clapton, Mayall with the Bluesbreakers...But that's not my path.
Rock & Folk >> An idea comes to mind. Would the solo on David Bowie's
"Fashion" not in fact be the most bluesy thing you ever recorded?
Fripp >> Yes, that's a wonderful example. There's blues-rock played with a
contemporary grammar. Yes, a very good example, thank you.
Rock & Folk >> Krishna-Murti, Gurdjieff...?
Fripp >> I don't know any of these people, their names say nothing to me...
Rock & Folk >> Of course, of course...Has the gurdjieffian theory of
multiplicity not modified the question of harmonic intervals, and your
scales in half key?
Fripp >> If the question is to know if I have a discipline of life, the
answer is yes. But I don't see things in categorical terms...
Rock & Folk >> We know that you are sensitive to the oriental way of
thinking, not centered around a subject that represents the world...
Fripp >> Yes, exactly...Let's take the example of karate. Is it something
that each time is new and different? Yes. If I don't think that each
situation is different I lose the fight. A lot of people in Guitar Craft
have done martial arts. As for me, a little tai-chi...The question is to
know if one is interested by a consciousness of this discipline, no? You
must not think during the confrontation, discipline is always present
within me, all those names that you mentioned to me as well, but I must not
think about it...
Rock & Folk >> Will you ever write about your method of playing?
Fripp >> No. Everything that I can think of that would seem important to
me does not give me the impression it could be recorded in a book.
Rock & Folk >> Hyde Park in 69 with the Stones, rock in its satanic sense,
does that say anything to you?
Fripp >> There were a lot of people (laughs). It was a big event, and it
was free. If the estimated 700,000 people had paid for their tickets it
would have been a disaster, with riots, etc. Since it was free it left the
door open, people didn't expect much of anything, and were ready to
graciously welcome the unknown. Rock was a way to reunite people. We
could be considered as spokespersons.
Rock & Folk >> Is this quasi religious vision of rock dead, and do you
Fripp >> The spirit of 69 never made it to 1970. But to say that rock is
dead, certainly not. Every day there are young musicians of all ages that
continue to play rock. The spirit of this music is alive. Even if the
industry has closed a lot of doors to the music. The means and possibility
that music can still be produced in this commercial culture has been very
reduced, with all that conspires so that the music cannot be produced.
These interviews that I'm forced to do, risk to compromise future concerts.
But everything can still happen. I am here.
------------ Fin ------------
e#kirkd at ccmail dot ceco dot com
- ...In the way that that is the way, that is the way it is, that is, it is
the way... ("I may not have had enough of me but I've had enough of you"
Robert Fripp) -