Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Fripp Comes Alive

I sat in my car in the parking lot of the [independent!] music store, shouting "Thank you, Kali! Thank you, Kali!" loud, loud, not caring who heard, who saw...and what musical offering could lift me to this height of felicity? The 2006 two-CD remastered version of Robert Fripp's Exposure, that's what, the album that in 1979 ravish'd me of my innocent dimwit view that all pop music was necessarily Top-40 music or "art rock." [Well, there was the cool stuff my parents listened to, when they listened to anything cool: Ennio Morricone, Miles Davis, The Beatles...but that was old stuff. Music wasn't great anymore, went the 1970s loser refrain...the 60s are over, maaan...]

Exposure, an album I bought solely because of its cover art, because it looked so weird and so against anything Casey Kasem or Don Kirshner stood for. No bright colors, just sickly, tranquilized, video-monitor blue-black. No artist logo or blocky, cocky typography, just some neurotic-looking "calligraphy." No song titles listed, so one couldn't tell if one were purchasing a lifestyle accessory that vaunted screwin', tokin', life on The Road, or the vague "protest" aesthetic of the day, itself a pale descendant of 1960s anti-war, anti-The Man rhetoric. No song titles, and the person on the cover had short hair and wore a--tie. He looked like a haberdasher, not a rock guitarist! My friend John Walker, an amazingly skilled guitar player himself and, like me, a staunch ROCK fan, said the guy in the background image (w/ the eyelashes) looked like Brian Eno, and "He's gay." Not normal-gay, you could tell from John's withering tone, not gay in some safely stagey Village People sense or some aggressively hip Bowie sense, but... gay... because...he...liked it....

The music itself ranged from parodic traditional rock n' roll to two-fisted King Crimson-esque prog rock to serene soundscapes to some of the most abrasive aural assaults I'd ever heard. It still holds up in the abrasive department: Tony Levin's cougar-growl bass; keening guitars that sounded like a rampaging pack of circular saws; unholy-sounding scales, often played demonically fast; a sampled family argument as vocal track to one song, containing the immortal line "You're carrying a baby and you don't know if it's a nigger, a spic, or a white baby!" The professional vocalists were even scarier: Peter Hammill, creepy and predatory on "Chicago," flipping out nearly to the point of glossolalia on "Disengage." Terre Roche, screaming like she's ten centimeters dilated on the title track, a performance that makes John Lennon's "primal scream" album sound, well, emo.

But then there were the elegaic, ballady numbers sung by Daryl Hall, Peter Gabriel, and a sweetly contemplative Ms. Roche...the variety of sounds, styles, and vocals on the record was itself another affront to the pop album as usual, which by 1979 had calcified rhythmically to the fast-slow-fast of the classical concerto. (Punk rock wasn't readily available in my hometown of Lower Podunk, pop. 16,000. Once in a while late at night you could turn on the radio and get a station from The City and hear tantalizingly bizarre tracks by Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, or the Sex Pistols, but the Fripp record had them all beat in terms of sheer, in-your-face, l'art pour l'art-ism. You could listen to the Sex Pistols and hear the Chuck Berry sonic DNA; you could listen to Costello and isolate elements of rock, reggae, surf, and country-western, but much of Fripp's music seemed to have no provenance other than a desire to shred the listener's stereo speakers and brain.)

I have always felt that, in a way, my life began when the needle hit the groove the first time I listened to
Exposure, or at least my lives as a hipster, an obsessive music fan, an alternative radio DJ, as someone who, in the words of Robert Fripp himself, knows what it's like "When the Muse descends," sensing "directly (one aspect of) the Creative impulse and its inexpressible benevolence." And I feel Kali's creative benevolence in this music, which is all I've listened to for several days...

but even that's not the great thing about this re-release of Exposure, if I may risk blasphemy (but not--for it is All Her Creative Benevolence--everything, everywhere--). The
great thing is, they've restored the above-mentioned vocal tracks by Peter Hammill. For you see, dear reader, the previous CD release of the album replaced that inspired snarling and caterwauling-- inexplicably, unconscionably, and well-nigh unforgivably-- with flat, affectless, demo-sounding vocals. The effect was similar to the other worst art disaster in my life--going to a movie called Blue fully believing I was about to watch the last film by Derek Jarman, in which he speaks of his AIDS-related blindness and impending death over an entirely blue screen--only to find, instead, a potboiler of the same name about some imperiled chick who cries a lot despite having an apartment most people would sell their siblings for. There I was, listening to The Album That Changed Everything (every music lover has one, supreme and inviolate, above all others)...and the two best songs had been eviscerated. I even emailed the head of the Fripp/King Crimson Fan Club in the UK about it, but he never replied. (Obviously he was as crushed as I was.)

I could go into a whole riff on the sampling alone: one hears Gurdjieffan guru J.G. Bennett; wild-man guru Shivapuri Baba; a backwards Monty Python snippet; Fripp's muse Joanna Walton; someone who might be the very gay Mr. Eno [who IRL is not gay] scoffing at an "incredibly dismal, pathetic chord sequence"; the arguing family, recorded out of Fripp's Hell's Kitchen apartment window; an hour-long lecture sped up 800 times so it's three seconds of static; a newscaster cut-up so he's announcing, "There's a new governor of racketeering, conspiracy, mail fraud, and income-tax evasion!" Sampling wasn't entirely new in 1979, of course, and neither was noisy, avant-garde music, but Fripp put together more than an album with
Exposure: he constructed a collaborative audio autobiography, a chaotic sensorium of Who He Was Right Then--a lie that told an immense truth, and told me that art was something I could do, too. If it doesn't sound too tribute-y, too emo: WiHW is my Exposure...


  1. Nothing like the thrill of finding old friends! I haven't screamed in the car yet (for news stories, yes; for music, no), but I should have pulled off the road when I heard Rautavaara's Cantus Arcticus on the radio for the first time. It simply overwhelmed me.

    Been writing fiction lately against the backdrop of Messiaen's Turangalila -- that and Prokofiev's Scythian Suite. We are not (*coughs*) talking about calm scenes here.

    Scythian is an old friend of mine. The first time I heard it, around 1970, I couldn't stand it. Then it grew on me. Exponentially. Turangalila had me hyperventilating right from the get-go.

    In the early 90s, my inability to find any cassette recordings of Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy drove me to purchase my first CD player. The LP I grew up with was a masterpiece of double-bill, with the Scriabin on one side and Rachmaninoff's Isle of the Dead on the other.

    And the LP cover? Against a white background, a simple but stunning arrangement of red roses in full bloom on the left, next to dead ones on the right.

  2. what an album cover! but you'd better watch it, that Turangalila stuff will blow your mind! (I'm going to get my CD of it right now!)

    I put on Vingt Regards instead...the cats are fighting on the piano! I have Cantus Arcticus somewhere...if I'm having this much trouble finding stuff before I move, who knows what awaits???

  3. david mccaslin11:17 PM

    yes hello i have a copy of the album the cheerful insanity of giles giles and fripp. some cool stuff. i love king crimson as well. my question is this record is on deram label dates 1968 on back. it is a u.k. pressing. i want to know if it's a first pressing or not. number on cover and label arespa 423 thanks peace