King Crimson I – 1969
An Extended Essay in Three Parts
This essay begins with an account of a personal single instance – and expands out from it. It occurred in 1970 when I first saw the band King Crimson in concert. The experience was powerful - and on several levels. Indeed, it might even be described as an epiphany in terms of the emotional effect it had on me as one member of the audience at that time. The question underlying this essay therefore concerns what it is possible to say about what was occurring?
King Crimson 1 (KC1) as a collective was itself made up of individuals with their own biographies, dispositional traits, and trajectories: Robert Fripp (1946-), Michael Giles (1942-). Greg Lake (1947-2016), Ian MacDonald (1946-) and Peter Sinfield (1943-). The first and only LP record recorded by this line-up - In the Court of the Crimson King – might be seen as representing a distillation of these individual biographies and constituted personalities at one particular time and place. And, certainly, the impact of both the band and their first LP was immediate, quickly establishing a prominent profile for them in the world of contemporary rock music of the day. What can therefore also be said about their constitution and the power of their music?
In order to answer these questions, I set King Crimson I in the socio-cultural context of the day, exploring the music field and salient social trends as provenance for their music. This background is contrasted and compared with the biographical detail of the band members, together with both the professional and personal relationships they formed. Such is one response to the King Crimson I aesthetic. However, it only takes us so far, and there is more to be said about the way these social, personal and musical forces were mediated by other processes as part of the articulation of King Crimson in its first incarnation.
The essay is therefore structured on various distinct levels. At base, it is a discussion of the music field that King Crimson as a set of individuals entered and worked in and the way it related to society as a whole at the time. However, this discussion is intersected by accounts that consider other philosophical, psychological and even ‘spiritual’ angles of King Crimson I. In order to ground these accounts, I also include – in italics - exemplification from my own empirical experience; these are my personal reflections of the musical times set against a background of what it was like to be one individual living them.
In a way, the essay is an experiment to see what happens when we bring a set of scholarly narratives – sociological, psychological, historical philosophical and spiritual - to a popular musical vernacular; in this case, the example of King Crimson and In the Court of the Crimson King – together with a personal, empirical response to it expressed at a point in time. Similar data will be quoted and explored with respect to each of these narratives as a way of illuminating a range of underlying processes. I suggest that none of these takes precedent but are really ways of looking at the same phenomenon and, indeed, are even interconnected. The essay also invites a ‘reflexive’ reading since any response to its content similarly needs to be understood in terms of any one reader’s relationship both to King Crimson and the sort of treatments I give to the band in their inception.
The first part of this essay begins with the personal experience of seeing King Crimson perform in 1970 and the impact it had on me. From this account, I explore what might be called the ‘aesthetic response’ in the context of King Crimson – what might be said about this reaction to their music? Where does it come from? How is it experienced? Why? To answer these questions, I have recourse to the phenomenology of experience, which is exemplified from the case of King Crimson I. This rather philosophical account is then set against a more socio-cultural one in order to ground the former in a concrete social context. Both draw on theoretical ideas, which are quite sophisticated and indeed complex. Though not difficult in themselves, they require an engagement outside of the norm of everyday thinking, or indeed rock music journalism. Both are necessary, however, if we are to appreciate the interaction between individual artistic subjectivities and the objective environment within which their creative work is instantiated.
Briefly, my aim is to focus on accounts of intelligible relations, which are capable of making sense of sentient data. In this way, I seek to develop a reflexive understanding of the expressive impulse in trans-historical fields and the necessity of human creativity immanent within them.
At a certain time and place…
Some time in 1970, I went to the Colston Hall in Bristol to see the band King Crimson. They came with a ‘dark’ reputation: their explosion on the rock music scene was legendary - even as it happened. This is the band that had taken London by storm, had blown the Rolling Stones off stage in the famous Hyde Park Concert in 1969, had released the eponymous In the Court of the Crimson King (ITCOTCK) LP the same year. I bought the 45 rpm single of the title track which came out on the rock ‘avant-garde’ Island label and I still possess. The label’s its black logo against a bright pink background seemed to say it all. The band were already notorious in the rock press of the day: for the very concept of King Crimson, the jagged guitar, the lush strings of the mellotron, the fractured images of their songs. A dystopian nightmare of fragmentation; something my generation and I seemed to be experiencing personally – born in 1953, aged 16 in 1969; in sum, too young to be a hippy and, eventually, too old to be a punk. The band itself reflected this mood of destruction when three of its members left the group immediately after an American tour, which only added to their mystique and their pole position in the forefront of the new rock generation.
The second LP - In the Wake of Poseidon (1969) - incorporated both new musicians and members of the old line-up but seemed to carry on regardless with its mixture of rough rock, epic ballads and folk-like idylls. Then, there was the Devil’s Triangle: a piece whose reputation preceded it. Based on Mars from Gustav Holst’s Planet Suite with its menacing ta-ta-ta-ta ta ta-ta-ta repetitive beat, it was clearly designed to present – on stage – all hell being let loose. At the concert I attended, this piece was very much the high point of drama of the set. Beginning at the barely audible, the music descended into a cacophony of noise as its basic motif was blasted apart from playing seemingly coming from every direction. To my inexperienced eyes and ears, each band member increasingly appeared to be doing their own thing as the piece progressed. The players were then rendered as slow motion puppets through the use of strobe lighting, which I had never seen before. Next came the rising of red flames over the back of the stage care of the equally infamous ‘Light Show’ – again, a spectacle I had never experienced before. I remember thinking to myself, ‘my God, they are going to burn the house down’. The effect, on this sensitive, impressionable young man from the provinces, who had only ever been to London twice in his life (once for a football FA cup game and once on a school trip to a caravan exhibition at Earl’s Court) was, therefore, truly awesome. So, what was going on?
My memory is that pop/rock music was still very 45rpm based in the last third of the 60s – of course, some classic singles in various genres. What was the first ‘concept’ album? Sergeant Pepper? By 1969, certainly, the focus was shifting from singles to LPs, the titles of which seemed to describe a ‘theme’, if not a ‘concept’
I was aware of different record companies and how they seem to collect together musicians with a certain vibe: Track, Immediate, Apple, Island, Harvest, Atlantic; although this probably developed more in the first half of the 70s.
Island had their ‘sound’. The Sampler was important here. I had a copy of Nice Enough to Eat, the Island Sampler, and liked most of it. This type of record would be a guide for concerts; I soon discovered that the best tracks were often put on the Sampler, so there was no need to buy the whole LP! Important because I had so little money.
Apart from the discos, the main outlet for live music for me was the Bristol Colston Hall. This venue was obviously on the circuit for touring pop bands. The Beatles had performed there in the early 60s, but I did not go to any these shows – I was a child.
In fact, 1969 was probably the year of my first real concerts. But, the format of these was in a transition. The first ones I saw were built around a Variety Show approach: so there would be two ‘sittings’; and as many as six or more ‘acts’. I think I saw the Beach Boys and Gene Pitney in this sort of format. But, other acts on the same shows included the ‘top’ singers of the day: Joe Cocker, Bruce Channon, The Marmalade.
Later, the hall went to top-of-the-bill plus support. The Moody Blues concert in 1969, I remember, included two other signings to their Threshold label: Trapeze and Timon. There was a trend for some bands to follow The Beatles and form their own labels – most dropped the idea once they realised that they were not businessmen!
To see American groups in the provinces seemed very exotic – like they had actually come all that way!! Although few did in 1969, at least.
Another key venue in Bristol was The Old Granary – this was literally a former Granary in the heart of Bristol docks, which was run as a club. I believe KC1 played here, but I did not see them. The scene would have been late-night and avant-garde – out of my reach at the age of 15.
I think the Dug Out on Park Row was also going then; it spawned the Wild Bunch and eventually Massive Attack. But, I would not have dared cross the threshold – it seemed like a den of drink and drugs. I was far too young!
There was also a very strong folk scene – many pubs had an upstairs folk club. I always said that Bristol had more folk clubs per square inch than any other city. The so-called Troubadour was one of these. Al Stewart had lived in Clifton and had been influential. The Transatlantic Generation was also around: Gordon Giltrap, John Pearse, Ralph McTell, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn. The scene was quite strong with certain local musicians building a national profile - Fred Wedlock, the Pigsty Hill Light Orchestra, Adge Cutler and the Wurzels, Hunt and Turner, Ian Anderson (now Editor of Folk Roots) – but their horizons were very local/ regional. Village Pump was the local folk record label.
The Revolver Record shop opposite the university at the top of Park Street was influential and stocked all the latest recordings. Then, Virgin opened in the Centre: it was very exotic/ dark: airline seats (I had never been on an aircraft), free coffee, ‘discounted records’, attractive assistants. The scene seemed very ‘alternative’ – certainly different from hippy days.
There are many ways to describe what was occurring in the Colston Hall that night: a spiritual event, a piece of entertainment, theatre, divine creativity, a socio-cultural artifact, a personal epiphany. This essay sets out to explore some of these dimensions, and others, as a way of offering an in-depth response. To emphasise a point made in the Foreword of this essay, central to this response is a commitment to the principle that each of these perspectives are simply different facets of the same thing – looked at it from different angles. What each provides and omits is an important part of the discussion. Indeed, it is important to notice how we are looking at the event and why; how these ways of looking involve certain relationships to fact, and the values, which underpin them. So, the essay considers the way the social, personal, spiritual and aesthetic are all interlinked and mediate each other. Each requires a different vocabulary and theoretical rationales but, essentially, they all can be explained and interpreted with respect to one another. Some of these rationales are set out explicitly in extended narratives, gathered from my own personal and professional trajectories, and exemplified with empirical data. The discussion might be considered as a way of placing the various energy forces in the field out before us on the table, as a means to understanding their interaction and outcome.
Aesthetics and Creativity!
What happened in the Colston Hall, Bristol can be described as an aesthetic experience, as can any response when any one of us is faced with a piece of music, art, literature, or even fashion and environment. But, there is a problem in aesthetics in that how can we tell whether something is good or not? And, why do some aesthetic experiences seem stronger than others, some lasting a whole lifetime and others seemingly immediately evaporating? ‘Aesthetic’ is not so easy to define. Common everyday definitions refer to it as ‘concern with beauty’, or ‘the philosophy of art’; although this merely leads us to further questions of definition – what is ‘art’?, what is ‘beauty’? Moreover, we know that although one can have an aesthetic response to something in nature, very often it arises from something that has been created as in King Crimson and rock music. So, what is the relationship between the aesthetic and the creative?
Rob Pope writes of creativity as ‘extra-ordinary’, ‘original’, ‘fitting’, ‘full-filling’, in(ter)ventive, ‘co-operative’, ‘unconscious’, ‘fe<>male’, and ‘re-creation’. But, how does it come about? And what determines ‘good’ or ‘bad’ creative outcomes?
Some labour all day everyday at their creative craft. For Robert Fripp, in the early days of King Crimson, ‘music just flew in the window, we could do no wrong’. Other contemporary musicians – Brian Wilson and Keith Richards, for example – talk about just ‘plucking’ music from the air. For the English singer-songwriter Ralph McTell, all the music ‘comes out of the sound hole in the guitar’. I take these not as trite statements but sincere reflections on the experience of creativity. Yet, there is still a sense of wonder and mystery about what occurs, as in my description of seeing King Crimson in 1970. What more is there to say…..
Well, actually, quite a lot. For some, creativity is part of a mysterious process – a spiritual engagement; for others, it is only for the chosen few, the ‘talented’; for still others, it is the product of a certain psychology or, indeed, simply a socio-cultural artifact. Can all these be true? Well, yes….
1969 really represented ‘the beginning of the end’ of the end of The Beatles era. The White album had been released in 1968, but not until November. The whole vibe was clearly different: long hair – unkempt, jeans (no suits of flower power dress). Really, ‘white’ was probably a good metaphor of the time – as in ‘empty’ – used up – certainly, the 60s seemed to be!
Then, the Abbey Road LP appeared in September 1969 - fifteen days before ITCOTKC (a few days could make all the difference in those days).
King Crimson emerged at the tail-end of the 1960s and established a significant national and international profile very quickly. But, why them rather than one of the many hundreds of groups that existed at the end of the 1960s? Simply because they were better? Or, because they had what Max Weber called the necessary charisma (literally, a gift from god)? The members of KC1 were certainly all very accomplished musicians in their respective fields, but then so were many others who did not attain the same success. So, what makes that extra special something? The answer – or answers – must lie in the very nature of creativity and aesthetics itself. How so?
A Philosophical Response…
The father of modern day aesthetics was/ is the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). He is important because he attempted to set out how dimensions of creativity and aesthetics worked together: sensation, knowledge, imagination, understanding, and the form and content of art. Like every creative act, these were important parts of the creativity of King Crimson I.
Kant lived in a time that saw a division between the close fit that had until then existed between God and the world; the body and the spirit; king and country. Aesthetics, and indeed creativity, then, not that far from and often associated with spiritual and religious matters – certainly, many treat their favorite group almost as a religion.
In Kant’s day, there were two countervailing social trends. On the one hand, writers in the Age of Enlightenment who acted as the founders of modern day science and rationality. These gave rise to a social art. On the other, those within the Romantic tradition who sought to return to the realm of the emotions, sensation and individual experience; for example, poets such as Blake, Shelley and Lord Byron.
In the light of this dichotomy, there was an attempt by Kant to ground his philosophy in human experience itself. So, emotions and thought, rationality and feelings, although clearly connected to and derived from the physical world, were taken as separate, distinct and liable to be considered in themselves. Kant was very much interested in what lays beyond the physical world, in this case, the empirical facticity of a rock concert; indeed, the meta in metaphysics literally means ‘beyond’, that is beyond the physical world.
For Kant, aesthetics is not the preserve of art but actually relates to the Greek word meaning ‘sensation’ (the opposite being ‘anaesthetic’ – without sensation). One thinks of the sensationalism of those epiphanic moments of compositional and aural experience in encountering the musical voice of King Crimson. Kant asks what is needed for such experiences to be so – a priori? By ‘a priori’, he means what exists prior to the actual experience itself; in other words, what do we go into a King Crimson concert equipped with in terms of potential response? This ‘a priori’ is a determinate of direct immediate experience. Even objective, physical fact is perceived as sensation. However, this sensation is then interpreted, valued, and made sense of and, for this, we need knowledge and imagination.
These aspects of experience essentially represent a phenomenological process of the relationship between an individual subject and the object of their concern; for example, an audient and a musical performer. In any one individual cognition, there exists a structural relationship to the world of Self, Objects and Others. Such a relationship is formed as part of a mental process of control: control because in the interplay between fact and value (object and individual subject) a certain psychic equilibrium is at stake – to be disturbed and/or re-established. What does not ‘fit in’ is discarded – ‘I don’t like that’. What chimes with one’s own value system is embraced – ‘I love that’. Judgements are hence made through elective affinities and dis-affinities.
The music of King Crimson has often polarized opinion in this way, and is surely one of the characteristic aspects of what is artistically valued in a public arena.
But. let us look at this relationship further. A new-born child, it seems, is ‘pure and naïve’. However, in the process of maturation, and thus socialisation, it is a relationship, which is increasingly shaped by pre-existing socio-cultural values. Such values have an emotional content: they are consequently sensational - aesthetic. Therefore, any one, or group, relationship to the world – including material and ideational (art, music, etc.) – includes elements of fact, value and process, which are developed in the dialectic between individual cognition and the ‘external’ environment.
What I am getting at, is that the creativity of and response to King Crimson is not some sort of magical ex nihilo, or at least not only some sort of magical ex nihilo, but one predicated by a number of individually and socially influenced energies or forces, most of which go unrecognized in the aesthetic event itself. There are then valued processes of convergence and divergence between subject and object. As such, and bearing in mind the above, the essence of this affinity is the expression of a certain relationship to the world, formed at and in a certain time and space. There is, of course, variation between individuals with respect to consensus and dissent to what aesthetically matters, but these arise from commonalities and differences in formation, not necessarily in the things in themselves.
For Kant, it is ‘sensation’, which provides data to the mind, and is then taken up and made something of by the (structuring power of ) faculty of imagination. It is the form, which such data take that is most important. Music is form by dint of being structured, and the content of ITCOTCK is highly dependent on the forms it took – musically, lyrically, graphically - and the values which underpinned them.
As noted, what is necessary for aesthetic experience for Kant is that there should be a priori knowledge. In other words, we have some conceptual (structural) map to make sense of what is coming in. Such concepts are not only logical but include aspects of the nature of the world; for example, dimensions of Space and Time. These concepts are important in perceiving Form implicit in sensation. They are seen as being a priori to experience itself as they exist prior to the experience. The ‘a priori’ element in this account then points to what lies beyond (or before) immediate sensation (in the imagination); it gives rise to the essence of experience. In other words, King Crimson is not experienced with a clean sheet but with a certain set of a priori elements to interpret it, and in all sorts of ways – intellectually, emotionally, etc.
Kant contrasted the faculties of the Imagination and Understanding as a way of drawing a distinction between the structuring power of imagination and the actual power to form concepts itself. He ultimately investigated the process and constituents of how judgments of knowledge (Understanding) are made. It is again through a priori grounding concepts that Understanding knows: for example, concepts of Substance, Quantity, Quality, Relation, Position, Possession, Action, Passivity.
However, Kant subsequently set out to locate a higher form of feeling, which can also be said to be a priori in determining experiences of pleasure and pain, likes and dislikes; these are valued responses that are driven by an emotional content. He reasoned that issues concerning the experience of taste (value) cannot be based simply on concepts of Understanding since they give rise to an experience that appears transcendent of existing knowledge per se – beyond knowing in a logical, conscious way. Therefore, such feelings lie beyond interpretational concepts; otherwise, they would not have the capacity to carry emotional content.
To exemplify this issue, Kant makes a distinction between what is considered beautiful and what is pleasurable. By contrasting these two, he intends the difference between what is straight sensational Pleasure, simple sensual enjoyment (like and dislike) - for example, pop music – and the Beautiful – a realm of aesthetic experience that seems to lie beyond immediacy. The beautiful, he argues, arises when Imagination presents sensational data (in time and space) to Understanding. There is then the possibility of converting the sentient data via a priori concepts, but this cannot happen because of their emotional content. There are then two possibilities: either the data is simply accepted in it empirical form as sensational, and enjoyed as such or, since there are no a priori concepts to provide form, what is experienced is the power to form concepts in itself. Another way to see this is a consciousness without anything to be conscious of. As a result, what arises is termed disinterestedness (no identity between subject and object) since there are no concepts with which to interpret them. Kant describes this sublime state is one of transcendent aesthetics, or the pure gaze, which is essentially disinterested because it has no concepts with which to apply to it.
Clearly, subsequent logical statements of classification and interpretation are made, but the experience itself is literally out of this world because it is beyond any conceptual form with which to interpret it. This is the heart of Kantian transcendental aesthetics – the pure gaze – which is also the very experience of ‘high’ art and culture – the beautiful.
For Kant, much also hangs on achieving universal assent, on reaching shared aesthetic agreements; in other words, mutually valued appreciation by dint of common processes of rejection of sensation and the embracing of the beautiful. Such is a kind universal affirmation of what constitutes the beautiful or high art. It reflects a transcendental, ‘pure’ gaze in music and classical taste, as opposed to the merely sensational of the populaire.
So, what of King Crimson 1969? Immediately, it seems that its music and style is very firmly set within the sensationalism of the popular vernacular: from pop, dance music, jazz of the 1950s and 60. It is not a form of classical aesthetics (the pure gaze). However, that is not entirely true: three members at least – Fripp, Giles, MacDonald - had close associations with classical music in their upbringing, and two – Fripp and MacDonald – were trained in formal musical composition and arrangement based on both classical forms and popular styles which required a musical literacy (dance and jazz music). Neither is Jazz and dance band music ‘Pop’. Lake was also into classical music – Copland and Prokoviev. As with Fripp, he learnt guitar from a man who approached the instrument through traditional and formal musical morphologies – Don Strike. This involved, amongst other things, practicing Paganini violin patterns.
As a musical hybrid, we might say that this traditional classical musical legacy, therefore, collided with 60s pop – Giles (The Trendsetters), Lake (The Shame, The Gods), and Fripp (Jazz/ dance various) – and later period rock developments coming out of the summer of love, etc., perhaps best personified in the music of Jim Hendrix.
The ‘fin de régime’ period of the Beatles in 1969 – surely, an avant-garde nearing exhaustion (John Lennon sang ‘the dream is over’ on 1970 Plastic Ono Band LP) – offered a perfect space for a new musical world to define itself.
In essence, in Kantian terms, with King Crimson we have a mixture of the sensational AND the pure gaze combining to create a powerful range of possible aesthetic responses, to be experienced both at the sensational and transcendental levels.
So far, we can see the elements of the KC I as a musical hybrid and the sort of aesthetic responses towards which they pointed. But, there were other significant elements in the aesthetic of KCI and ITCOTCK. For example, we can add a liberal measure of literary exoticism in the form of Peter Sinfield’s poetic/faery vision based on his own background and upbringing, which contained elements of English romanticism, Irish Celtic, and Asian cultures. The very words/ concept ‘King Crimson’ - the icon, the concept – sum up both the form and the content in Kantian terms of their aesthetic raison d’être: enough of the pure gaze (this was a very musical accomplished group) but expressed in a wildly sensational rock manner (both musically and literarily). The potent and powerful content of poetic terms such as ‘Schizoid Man’, ‘Epitaph’, ‘Moonchild’, and ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’ seem perfectly realised in the accompanying musical forms: highly rhythmic, modal, spare, focused, epic, melancholic, foreboding. Indeed, many of the latter characteristics themselves can be seen as stemming from an English pastoral tradition that we might trace back to: the first folk music revival of the early twentieth century, the Pre-Raphaeilites, Elgar/ Vaughan-Williams (also taking inspiration from English folk song), and the English poetic voice in the tradition that stems from William Blake and further back to the fusion of Celtic and Saxon cultures that lay at the heart of the formation of England in the Dark Ages. There was therefore much for the potential audient of King Crimson to draw upon, both immediately in terms of modern musical and artistic vernacular and less evident socio-cultural tropes of English culture woven within their own cultural matrix. To this extent, and with the explosion of musical styles happening in the 1960s, which mostly drew on Black and American musical genres, KC1 was definitely the reasserting of English Music, albeit flavoured with exotic, blues tinges. Could they have acted otherwise?
Significant for me personally, was that I was 16 in December 1969. But, I was not alone –most of my contemporaries were also enthusiastic about KCI. We were a ‘lost generation’. As I say, ’ too young to be a hippy’, ‘too old to be a punk’.
In terms of my own musical experience, I had been aware of the Beatles from the beginning of the 1960s – their appearances on ‘Sunday Night at the London Palladium’, my sister’s comics (eg. The Valentine), which featured all the new groups. I even had a collection of Beatle Monthly magazines.
We could not really afford to buy records, but there were copies of recordings done by unknown groups sold in Woolworths. We bought these: copies of The Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas, Brian Poole and the Tremolos, Gene Pitney as sounding ‘as good as the real thing’. So, the radio was a significant source of first hand listening of original recordings – more than a record collection per se. Even so, something like John Peel would have been beyond me at this age - 1969: almost dangerous – a different (adult!) generation! He played things like Roy Harper, Tyrannosaurus Rex and Ornette Coleman – all of which I found faintly subversive!
Mid sixties and the ‘summer of love’ passed me by personally as I was more interested in football!
I had heard of Sergeant Pepper but did not engage with the phenomenon at this point. I always say that the first records I bought were Hey Jude by the Beatles and the Best of the Beach Boys Vol. 1. Both would have been 1968 – a kind of prelude to the White Album in 1969, which I also bought. Having said that, I also bought the Jimi Hendrix 45rpm of Voodoo Chile/All Along the Watchtower/ Hey Joe in 1968 along with a smattering of chart 45s. So, a pubescent becoming an adolescent, as it would have been in those days at least
I was aware of the Liverpool scene, but only as an idea (we had studied the Liverpool poets at school) – distinctions like Manchester and Birmingham meant nothing to me. London was another world – unknown. I had been there twice by 1969. Liverpool? The North? I had never been north of Watford until I was 29.
America was pretty much an unknown. I had heard of some of the bands but they did not interest me much. I saw the Woodstock film later in 1970, but still did not really relate to the American bands featured in it: exceptions – Ritchie Havens (who I also saw at the Colston Hall) and John Sebastian (both folkish). Around that time, I would also have seen the film of the Monterey Pop Festival, which was quite influential. Noticeable performances by The Who, Hendrix, and Simon and Garfunkel, but I remember it looking quite dated by then because it had taken place in 1967.
Again, the only money I had was a combination of pocket money and a wage from a paper round – so, records were few and far between.
I had bought ‘On the Threshold of Dream’ by the Moody Blues in the summer of 1969. This record dominated our listening in the autumn term of my final school year (I left at age 16). It was very romantic: I remember the refrain ‘if only everyone found the answer in love’; the suggestion ‘Have you Heard’; the mysterious ‘Are you Sitting Comfortably’, ‘The Dream’, and ‘Never Comes the Day’. Kind of post-hippy…
The Moody Blues’ To Our Childrens’ Childrens’ Children (TOCCC) came out in November 1969 (not long after ITCOTKC) – three weeks before my 16th birthday, and I saw (with my first girlfriend) them perform much of this at a concert at the Bristol Colston Hall virtually on my birthday – 14th December.
I loved the sound of the Mellotron (an instrument that played a series of taped loops to reproduce the sound of an orchestra – ironically, it had been invented as a cheap way for dance halls to provide orchestral sounds but was subsequently adopted by various groups – The Moody Blues, Traffic, Genesis, Barclay James Harvest – where it took on an altogether different character). All of the Moodies’ songs seem to feature the Mellotron. Out and In from TOCCC was a zenith of this sound; as they said, Mike Pinder had Mantovani (who specialised in popular melodies played by an orchestra featuring a large number of string instruments, and who I also saw – with my parents - in the Colston Hall) in his Mellotron. Quite significant, because some bands of the day went one step further and recorded with classical orchestras – Deep Purple, Barclay James Harvest, for example.
I was aware that my teenage group represented a bit of a clique. Other friends at school were into Reggae, which was popular then: especially Ska and Blue Beat. I neither liked nor understood this, nor the fashion and practices that went with it. Discos were of no interest to me at that time: there was a Top Rank in Bristol and ‘The Glen’ on the Downs. I guess skinheads were also around – again, I did not understand this.
My friends were more literary – into poetry; actually writing it rather than reading it!! Graeme Edge (drummer in the Moody Blues) would have been a model more than any of the established English poets though! The ones we did read were all very romantic: Yeats, Shelley, Wordsworth, etc. Lord of the Rings and the I Ching were only a short step away!
I could see most of the ‘rock’ bands around at the time at the Colston Hall in the 1969+ period as I was now working and had a wage: Ten Years After, Deep Purple, East of Eden, Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath. I enjoyed these concerts but did not really buy any of the LPs. I was really more into folk music: after the 1970 Isle of Wight festival, American singer-songwriters like Tom Paxton came to Bristol; Ralph McTell also was now performing concerts rather than folk clubs – as was Al Stewart and Roy Harper. Electric variants too: the Strawbs, Fairport Convention, etc.
I began playing acoustic guitar around the age of 15: I had the Bert Weedon ‘Play in a Day’ book. I had no patience to learn music, so I worked with chords and the early days of Folk Tablature. Fingerpicking folk was what I liked best since: a) more interesting than strumming chords; b) you did not need a band!
I never came across drugs much myself; I cannot remember anyone ever offering me any. LSD had a reputation but I never saw it used; lots of smoking of cannabis at concerts, but then I did not smoke.
Music certainly became my main passion. I worked in a hospital and did not really read books – this came later when I left to go to university in my early 20s. I was interested in poetry, though, and, after studying medical science until 21.30 for two nights each week, I signed up to do an A-Level English as two other night’s study – quite something with a full-time day job as well. I did have aspirations to study English; although, finally, I studied French at University when I went to London at the age 22.
Above, I juxtaposed, for theoretical purposes, the ‘pure gaze’ of ‘high art’ to the ‘sensationalism’ of the ‘popular’, noting that the former implied a certain transcendence, whilst the latter was characterised by immediate pure pleasure. Not just King Crimson, but the youth movement of the second half of the 1960s combined these in artistic terms. There was transcendence: a certain separation (opposition) to society as it stood and the values on which it seemed to be based; a drug and sex fuelled expressionism; a ‘non-English’ exoticism; a displacement of now with ‘elsewhere’ (everywhere). The social position of its next logical form was exactly the one that KC1 personified in its literary expression - world-weary, romantic, cathartic, post-coital, neo-gothic – and with music that was thus both of ‘the people’ and separate from them, thus ‘new’. A return to Earth but a very different one from the one that was left behind in the mid 60s, and one that appeared to be more reminiscent of former times.
It might be argued, in this case, and faced with these social forces around them, the band members of KC1 could not have acted artistically otherwise. Indeed, the new world was on their shoulders asking them to give it voice. In this sense, King Crimson was both object and subject of a generation. Sometimes, such Dionysian periods of exuberance give way to decadent forms – the Gothic revival in the light of the Romantic period being an example– when the light becomes dark, the yellow sun becomes red – or shall we say Crimson (the colour, let us not forget, of a dying star). It is difficult not to interpret King Crimson I, at least in its 1969 incarnation, in these terms. The next section of part I of this essay looks at a way to understand these social forces in a more systematic socio-cultural perspective.
Considering the Social Cultural
We can see that King Crimson I represented the collision of ‘the social’ and ‘the individual/ personal’ in that a certain number of individuals came together at a particular point in time and played music which must reflect it. As shown, the Kantian approach to art, creativity and aesthetics is predicated on a subjective phenomenology of the world, of metaphysics, of what lies beyond our objective environment. So, for him, the transcendental aesthetic, the pure gaze, is indicative of a certain way of being in the empirical world - indeed a certain relationship to it - as distinct from the merely popular and sensational.
For a social theorist such as Pierre Bourdieu, this distinction between the ‘popular’ and the ‘pure’ is also fundamental. However, in his case, he emphasizes the possible range of environmental socio-cultural relations to the world itself. So, for him, the transcendental aesthetic is not simply an emotional response but actually characteristic of an entire attitude to the world: one that is removed from practical exigencies – thus transcendent; in other words, for him, the bourgeois personified. The pure gaze is effortless, unencumbered by a search for social standing; indeed, to explicitly express such a search is itself evidence of its non-possession.
Bourdieu argues that this bourgeois aesthetic first arose at a particular period of time in the development of modern society; in effect, at a time that saw the move from feudal to bourgeois society, creating a class of men (and women) where the transcendental aesthetic was both needed and expressed.
In terms of fine arts, the critical dates would have been around the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, precisely when Kant was writing and there was consequently the rise of a different type of ‘artist’. Prior to this period, painters and musicians were artisans in the pay of their patrons. They were ‘craftsmen’, employed primarily to express the glory of the Church, the Monarchy, and their patrons. However, this changed during this period when artists and musicians began to assert their own independence, often at extreme financial cost to themselves. In classical music, there was the rise of the Romantic canon, of which Beethoven would have been a prime exemplar. From henceforth, the ‘artist’ was central to the work, and conveyed exactly an expression of their particular relationship to the world. In fine arts, the Impressionist painters of the 1860s onwards followed a similar course. The defining principle here was art for art’s sake, which was another form of transcendence that mirrored their bourgeois customers – claiming, implicitly, a transcendent autonomy within the social hierarchy. The ramifications of this phenomenon extend beyond this essay. What it does do as well, however, is raise issues of methodology in addressing our topic in this socio-cultural way.
Elements of Methodology
So, far, I have considered King Crimson I from a philosophical, aesthetic point of view, and referred to individual biographies and times to elucidate what was going on at the formation of its primary incarnation. I now want to go into more socio-cultural detail and with greater systematicity, as well as connect to the psychological aspects of creativity, which underlie the processes I describe. In this next section, however, I am going to consider the concrete reality of the individual members of KCI, their background and the social contexts within which they found themselves. First, I need to develop a certain methodological perspectives as a ‘lens’ or metanoia, which I subsequently will use to examine the case of King Crimson I.
Much of what I have written so far can be seen to highlight the dichotomy, or tension, between individual subjectivities and the objective environment within which they operate; for example, the interactions from which art arises. Bourdieu refers to such as the ‘opposition’ between the academic traditions of subjectivism and objectivism, and argues that as such they are ‘the most fundamental, and the most ruinous’ (1990: 25) to the discovery of scientific facts. For him, they need to be seen both as just different modes of knowledge and mutually constituting. It is, therefore necessary to go beyond them both whilst preserving what has been learnt from each.
For our case, King Crimson I cannot be reduced to simply an empirical, subjective phenomenon any more than an objective, social construction: we need an approach that both breaks with and builds on both as subjectively authentic in its existential representation and integrity whilst being open to interpretation in terms of objectively recognised influences that have some general applicability. This synthesis of oppositions is achieved for Bourdieu through a consideration of structure as a base generating principle. To quote Isaiah Berlin: ‘To understand is to experience structure’. But, structure in what sense?
In Bourdieusian epistemology, the basis of science is expressed through the simple fact of the co-incidence (literally) between an individual’s structural connection with both the material and the social world. Everything lies in this connection: here are the structures of primary sense, feeling and thought – the intensional (sic.) links that are established between human beings and phenomena – both material and ideational – with which they come in contact.
Everything we know about the world is both established and developed as a consequence of individual acts of (psychic) perception, which are, by their very nature, structural because they are essentially relational. However, these structures also have defining generating principles, which are both pre-constructed (coming from the past) and onward-evolving (futures-orientated-protension) according to the logics of differentiation found within the social universe. In other words, the generating principles do not exist in some value-free, Platonic realm; rather, they are the product and process of what already-has-been – values which serve the status quo and/or emerging social forms, and to which individuals converge and/or diverge.
This phenomenological, structural relation is, therefore, also a product of environmentally structural conditions, which offer objective regularities to guide thought and action in ways of doing things.
The objective and subjective bases to Bourdieu’s theory of practice can also be understood as ‘culture’, as being both structured (opus operatum, and hence open to objectification) and structuring (modus operandi, and thus generative of thought and action). In the case of King Crimson I, we see these structures as the relationships formed with and between individuals and their environments, and the values which underpinned such relations, including the structuring acts of creativity – literally, writing music and lyrics (which also can be understood in terms of their structured properties and the values they convey).
Ultimately, the task is to understand the content and form of the (structural) relationships between these different foci - the individuals involved and their personal (cognitive) profiles, surroundings (social and material) environment, and the body of work emerging from them – of which my narrative is an example.
To approach King Crimson in this way, we need to begin with empirical facts of the immediate formation of King Crimson I – when and where>? – and the biographical background of those involved. We then analyse the music field into which King Crimson entered: the relational structures of discrete elements within it and the positions held by individuals and agencies. Finally, we consider the relationships between this manifestation of the Music Field at the time and the larger field of power (this includes the political field, but also the field of media and commerce).
This approach is predicated on understanding that, at any particular time and place, changing structures and institutions can be analysed (an externalist objective reading) at the same time as the nature and extent of individuals’ participation in it (an internalist subjective reading). The two distinct social logics are then seen as inter-penetrating and mutually constituting, giving rise to both structured structures and structuring structures, which can be objectified and discussed as such in demonstrable relations – between individuals and their artistic pursuits.
The world is infinitely complex and it is impossible to represent the totality of complexity (see other analyses that take different approaches: philosophical, psychological, and spiritual). Yet, faced with this multi-dimensionality, there are various ways of tackling it. But, in what terms does this approach proceed?
Two of Bourdieu’s key conceptual terms in doing so are: Habitus and Field, each of which exists in a kind of ‘ontological complicity’ with the other.
Habitus for King Crimson I members is their biographies and consequent dispositions, as well as what they took into life in terms of knowledge, skills and experiences. It is the individual social identities of the original band members; including their outlooks and attitudes, shaping choices and actions (both professional and aesthetic). In sum, it is an expression of individual subjectivity:
Systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures, that is, as principles which generate and organize practices and representations that can only be objectively adapted to their outcomes without presupposing a conscious aiming at ends or an express mastery of the operations necessary in order to attain them. Objectively ‘regulated’ and ‘regular’ without being in any way the product of obedience to rules, they can be collectively orchestrated without being the product of the organizing action of a conductor’
(Bourdieu op. Cit: 53)
Fields on the other hand, are the particular social contexts in which King Crimson I members found themselves – for example, education, the media, politics, commerce, entertainment – and the identifiable values/ principles which exist within them. It is defined as the ‘objective’ elements of the social environment, and is defined as:
….. as a network, or a configuration, of objective relations between positions. These positions are objectively defined, in their existence and in the determinations they impose upon their occupants, agents or institutions, by their present and potential situation (situs) in the structure of the distribution of species of power (or capital) whose possession commands access to the specific profits that are at stake in the field, as well as by their objective relation to other positions (domination, subordination, homology, etc.).
(Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992: 97)
In our present context, field examples would be the Cultural and Music Fields in which King Crimson operated from the late 1960s and their links with the Commercial and the Media Fields. This ‘certain point in time and place’ clearly also has its antecedents in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.
As Social spaces are taken as being differentiated, and thus structural, in essence, Habitus and Field also need to be understood, therefore, as homologous in terms of structures that are both structured and structuring, mutually constituting.
One further analytic tool is also needed: Capital. For Bourdieu, it comes in three essential forms:
Economic Capital: Money wealth.
Cultural Capital: Culturally valued acquistuions; objects, behaviours, educational qualifications, symbolically powerful associations.
Social Capital: Social networks, who you know, and the extent to which they can be drawn upon for social advantage.
Within this Bourdieusian perspective, Capital is both the quantity and configuration of Capital holdings, which allow any one individual to navigate through social fields and, ultimately determines their position with in it. Indeed, different fields – music, education, financial – characterize themselves in terms of the dominant forms of capital to be found there. Capital always has value since it is recognized as such by other field members. Furthermore, it is the medium of field manoeuvres; it orchestrates what and how any one individual can do within social space.
With these ‘thinking tools’, the intent is to treat objects of enquiry as relational rather than substantiated; in other words, as networks of dynamic relations rather than things in themselves. King Crimson I is not an object, or even a person, but a living dynamic. The challenge is then to comprehend, grasp, seize even, something of the logic of this dynamic in terms of artistic activity: not a causal account but one of apprehension. This because the world is relational: what exist in the social world are relations, which act ‘independently of individual consciousness and will’. The focus here is on these principles in terms of aesthetics – artistic production - within a cultural field. Habitus and field are the base tools to create this lens; they are ‘epistemological matrices’ in that they are constituted in the process of socialisation of individuals and lay in the structural generative schemes of thought and action, which are activated in particular social conditions.
More next time………….