My iPod is still MIA and I’m resigned to the fact that will probably never see it again. I suspect foul play but have no evidence. It is the perfect crime and one that has left me perfectly pissed off.

So now I plod around the neighborhood listening to songs I load onto a digital recorder. The device doesn’t offer the iPod’s plethora of tunage but it’s easier to just throw on some new songs on it without going through the whole sync process. As silver linings go, though, that one’s pretty weak.

disciplineBefore heading out into today’s cold and frosty morning I loaded up one of my favorite albums of all times, King Crimson’s Discipline. It came out in 1981 when I was a senior at the University of Southern California. A guy I had met who was going to film school at UCLA but hailed from Brunswick, Maine, was a big Crimson fan. So was Brad, the friend who lived across the hall from me. One of them bought an import copy of Discipline before it had even been released in the United States. When they heard that the band was going to be playing the Roxy on Sunset Strip they immediately decided to get tickets. I knew little or nothing about the band (I had then, and still have now, woeful gaps in my musical knowledge) but I figured what the hell. They got me a ticket, too.

That night at the Roxy still remains one of the great live performances of my life. We stood right in front of the stage in the little club. Guitarists Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew played intricate, interlocking guitar parts that sounded like the audio equivalent of the Gordian knot on the Discipline album cover. Belew seemed to be having goofy fun. When he wasn’t weaving guitars with Fripp he was tearing off his fat, feedback-drenched guitar solos. Between songs he bowed to the audience while holding his fingers arched over his head in a diamond shape (and appearing delighted when audience members bowed back the same way). Fripp perched on a stool, always professorial, even as he tore into his solos. Bald and mustached Tony Levin, looking like a Turkish assassin, played his bass parts on the Chapman stick, which he cradled to his chest like a child as he made it moan, groan, mumble and sigh. Buford propelled everything along with his drums, emerging from behind his kit to rap out the percussion part for “The Sheltering Sky.”*

The show was so amazing that Brad and I went to see the band again when they played Perkins Palace in Pasadena. It must have been right around Thanksgiving**, because before the show we fortified ourselves with eggnog that we mixed with Bacardi and downed at a nearby Burger King. We had standing room tickets, which meant we were forced to watch and listen from an enclosed pit right in front of the stage—actually, more like below the stage. We had to crane our necks and peer up to see the band, not exactly the best setting for someone who had consumed a bit too much nog and rum. Periodically I had to clamber through the people crammed into the pit so I could sit by a partially opened exit door and get a little fresh air. Then I’d climb back to my place in front of the stage. Once again Fripp was sitting on a stool but I can recall how his professorial image cracked when he attacked his guitar during “The Sheltering Sky,” nearly falling backwards of his stool, the veins sticking out on his neck from the effort.

Discipline became one of the staple albums my little group listened to that fall and winter, back when listening to records was still a communal experience you did with friends. (The other great album from that fall and winter was David Byrne’s The Catherine Wheel. Adrian Belew was on that one, too.) Every song was great—and we loved to jump and thrash around during the freak outs of “Indiscipline.”

The more I look at it
The more I like it.
I do think it’s good!
The fact is . . .
No matter how closely I study it,
No matter how I take it apart,
No matter how I break it down,
It remains consistent.
I wish you were here to see it!
(freak out)

 

I still love the album. It sounds fresh even after more than 30 years (!), unlike previous incarnations of the band. In fact, I just can’t emotionally connect this version of King Crimson with the prog-rock groups that recorded things such as In the Court of the Crimson King and Lizard. It’s like seeing a picture of an aged celebrity and trying in vain to discern traces of the young person in the older face. I just can’t hear any of the old Crimson in the newer stuff. The groups share a name and a couple key players (Fripp and Buford) yet they sound like completely different bands.

I later interviewed two members of the band. I talked to Belew in Boston, where I met him for breakfast at the Howard Johnson’s on Kenmore Square. He was appearing at the Rat in support of the Twang Bar King album. I was a young writer who was lugging some huge Dictaphone because it was the only tape recorder I had handy. If Belew was taken aback by my equipment he didn’t show it. He was very engaging and friendly, patiently answering my mundane and pedestrian questions as he ate his eggs and toast. I brought along my copy of his album The Lone Rhino and asked him to sign it. It was the only time I ever asked the person I interviewed for an autograph. Not only did he sign it, he added a few things on the back of the album. He drew a word balloon over the rhino. “hello tom,” it said. He drew another over the bird on the rhino’s back. It said, “meow.” His own word balloon read, “ARF.”

Lone Rhino

My autographed copy of The Lone Rhino. Belew’s signature is along the bottom, in the grass.

I interviewed Bill Buford on the telephone in support of King Crimson’s Three of a Perfect Pair album. He was very pleasant, low-key and self-effacing. He told me his list of drumming rules, which included “Don’t repeat yourself” and “Don’t do the same thing twice.” That made me laugh.

I saw King Crimson on its next two tours, for Beat (at the Greek Theater in Hollywood) and Three of a Perfect Pair (the Orpheum in Boston). They were excellent concerts, too, but not quite up to the level of the show at the Roxy, when the music was new and it all felt like I was making a discovery.

*I was thinking the show must have been in 1980 but a quick Google search corrected my shaky chronology. The King Crimson website offers a downloadable concert that was recorded at the Roxy on November 23, 1981. (I must get that show. I simply must.) That forced me to revise my memories of my circumstances at the time and informed me of the entire set list.

**What would we do without the Internet? A quick search found an eBay auction for an unused ticket from that show. It was on November 25, 1981—Thanksgiving Eve—and it cost a mere $10 ($69.99 less than the seller wanted for it in 2012.) The Roxy show was a relatively expensive $12.50.

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