King Crimson I – 1969
An Extended Essay in Three Parts
The previous two parts of this essay offered a range of readings of King Crimson I: their music as an aesthetic experience; biographical fact and possible psychological dynamics which underlie their creativity; and how these might be shaped by a socio-cultural framework which seeks to articulate the relationship between individual subjectivities and the objective social environment within which they find themselves - how lives are lived from the inside out, but also created from the outside in. This exploration has also been interspersed with personal (naïve) recollections of my own – of another habitus, another psychology in time and what it was like to live it.
Part 2 included two levels of a Bourdieusian Field Analysis: the habitus and personal dispositions of those involved (level 1) and an account of the music field of the day (level 2). This part 3 initially covers the third level of such an analysis, Fields within Fields, and looks at the general socio-cultural conditions in Britain, which led up to the events of 1969.
Level 3: Fields within Fields
A consideration of the formative years of the members of KC1 needs to include a range of economic, social and cultural events, most of which are linked, and all of which shaped the zeitgeist of ITCOTCK. Briefly, therefore, this section includes an analysis of the general socio-political conditions of Britain in the 1950s and 60s. As a period, it is generally typified socially as ‘post-war’, and as one of industrial decline and decolonialisation for the United Kingdom. At the same time, it was a period that took in the explosion of culture – in all shapes and forms – of the 1960s (mostly delineated by The Beatles’ first and last LPs – Please, Please Me (1963) and Abbey Road (1969)). These were years of creative exuberance, on the part of the younger generation at least; and, yet, they were also politically troubled years, including war, assassination and civil unrest.
The music of King Crimson I was clearly not politically orientated, say, in the way that some Folk music was. And, it is arguable that its members took inspiration from worlds – both musical and literary – which immediately preceded the 196os, albeit hybridized into new, contemporary avant-garde forms. Nevertheless, King Crimson I could not be politically (with a small ‘p’) neutral since they entered a cultural field, the power dynamics of which included fields, which operated closely within power relations with respect to each other; for example, commerce, the media, education, etc.
The music/ rock field itself underwent enormous change in the 1960s. Fields work to establish their autonomy; the dynamic of their change is also often driven by fast expansion in size. Both were true for popular music in the 1960s since a new generation had the time, and money, to buy records and attend clubs and dances. This trend began much earlier in the century and was driven by technological changes as well as changing social habits.
Traditional cultural habits in the nineteenth century juxtaposed ‘high’ with ‘low’ culture along social class lines; the ‘cultured’, educated, middle classes attending public performances based on the classical music canon, whilst working classes relied on pubs, the music hall and their own resources for entertainment. This would be in an age before mass communications. The situation changed in the twentieth century: from the 1930s and 40s the ‘picture house’ (cinema) increasingly replaced the Music Hall as the popular site of entertainment which, as something of a cultural ‘Trojan Horse’, brought American themes and stereotypes into the lives of everyday Englishmen and women. Records – phonographs – were at first used for straight recordings in field collections and the spoken word, but later were employed for forms of entertainment music and comedy, for example – and marketed as such to a general population.
The second world war years also gave the radio a boost as a live communicator of events, enhancing the BBC’s profile as a major provider of news and advice to the people of Britain. The radio was then in turn eclipsed by the television in the1950s. In fact, there was a significant evolution in cultural practice during these years and the graphs for attendance in various forms of entertainment demonstrate a chiasmic structure: an inverse parallelism. So, between 1954 and 1962, radio-only licenses went from 10 million to 2 million, whilst combined TV/ radio licenses rose from 2 to 10 million. Meanwhile, attendance at cinemas, which in the past had taken trade from the music halls, dropped from 1300 million to 300 million during the same period.
Records had varied in size – 7 inch, 8 inch, 9 inch and 10 inch – in the 1930s and 40, and many homes had a collection of 78 rpm shellac discs – the speed at which they were played – before settling to the 7 inch 45 rpm and 12 inch 33 rpm in the 1950s. Top selling popular records in the 1950s were invariably show/ film soundtracks or recordings of the so-called ‘crooners’ – Frank Sinatra, Gene Martin. Lonnie Donegan’s topping of the best-selling LP charts in 1956 (‘the year that Britain changed’ according to Beckett and Russell1) with his skiffle2 styled songs represented a perfect hybrid of the old (folk/ballads) and the new (rock n’roll/ jazz). In terms of singles, however, the charts were still dominated by individual American and English singers. The established singers of ballads – Perry Como, Connie Francis, Vera Lynn, David Whitfield, Dickie Valentine, Alma Cogan, Ronnie Hilton, Doris Day, Paul Anka - were subsequently eclipsed in terms of best sellers by the younger generation - Elvis Presley, Frankie Lane and Guy Mitchell. Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry were evidently not dance band. But, the changes of the 60s with its focus on groups swept away both of these and the previous musical generation as a new focus developed of pop/ rock music for a teenage audience.
As noted parts 1 and 2, members of King Crimson had experience of playing for the dance bands and backing established names in popular song. Some also had experience in 60s style ‘beat groups’ who rode the wave set out by the Liverpool bands. Ironically, 60s bands were themselves taking inspiration from American singers – blues, jazz and soul – which they hybridised, repackaged and gave a modern style (although this was not always clear to the teenagers who followed them).
We can also see differences even in the choice of musical instruments that musicians employed and the place they held in cultural activity; each instrument acting as a marker of a particular type of cultural capital. Up until the 1950s, the standard instrument for the working class was piano or piano accordion, and it was not unusual, even amongst relatively poor social groups, for families to own one of these. However, by the 1950s, the guitar increasingly became the instrument of pop culture. Elvis played a guitar, indeed many the modern American singers did; an approach and style that eclipsed the model of ‘singer with backing orchestra’, which had been the dominant form up until that point. In Great Britain, the ukulele was a cross-over instrument; skiffle bands in the 1950s utilized it, along with guitars and tea-chest bass in the rising aesthetic of the popular musical art form. John Lennon learnt the play the ukulele before the guitar. Indeed, many individuals, who later established themselves in the folk and rock music fields first went through skiffle bands, including Mike Giles and John Lennon. Both the ukulele and skiffle provided small, relatively inexpensive ways of making music.
As noted in part 2 , the mellotron, utilized to such powerful effect by King Crimson, along with the Moody Blues (not to mention The Beatles and a host of other contemporary rock bands), began life as somewhat of a replacement for a string orchestra in dance hall situations. Unlike the organ, it could simulate actual strings and wind instruments; although, of course, the way it was used was highly customized for the popular musical rock vernacular, which was a long way from straight orchestral accompaniment. This is another good example of how not only musical tropes, but instruments themselves, can be redefined when an avant-garde is constructing itself. As I have previously noted, the jazz/rock guitar of Fripp (not to mention his acoustic playing), mellotron strings of Giles, the lyricism of Lake’s voice and wind instrumentation of Ian McDonald can be seen as having its antecedents in classical, jazz and folk guitar styles – but, this time relayed in an upfront amplified, electrical mode. Let’s take a look at what was going on in society at large during the same period.
The General Condition – Britain in the 1940s-50s-60s
Of King Crimson I band members two were born during the Second World War, three in the immediate post-war period. Books on the 1950s and 60s refer to the spirit of the times: Having it So Good3and White Heat4 describes the socio-political mood of Britain during these years. The author of the former – Peter Hennessy – has also written a book on the 40s - Never Again5 – which shows up the predominate sentiment of the time, whilst war was still a recent memory. But, it is perhaps the title of another book by Sandbrook – Never Had it So Good6 - that best draws attention to the ambiguity that Britain was caught in for many of these years: on the one hand, liberating itself from the past and preparing itself for the ‘swinging sixties’, but, on the other hand, doing so whilst still holding on to a number of traditional sentiments, beliefs and cultural icons. This characteristic can be seen simply by looking at the trends of General Elections from 1945-64.
The shock of the first post war election in 1945 was that Winston Churchill was heavily defeated when the Clement Atlee and the Labour Party gained a 146-seat majority in Parliament. The reasons for this apparent shunning of the man who had brought England through the war to victory are varied and complex, including punishment for the Conservatives for having got Britain in the war in the first place (!), as well as the fear of returning soldiers that they would be treated no better than their counterparts after the First World War, many of whom were left damaged and destitute. The Labour Party’s promise of full-employment based on Keynesian economics as well as the establishment of the Welfare State was also an attractive platform. Nevertheless, the next election in 1950 reduced the Labour majority to just five seats. By now, the Conservatives did not oppose either the Welfare State or Nationalisation, although they disputed the extent and speed of the latter. The relative ‘collapse’ of Labour was partly an apparition since their percentage share of the vote only went down from 47% to 46% – but a range of constituency changes disadvantaged them. Labour subsequently decided to go to the country yet again in 1951, hoping to increase their majority but, despite gaining the most votes, they lost to the Conservatives (only the second of three twentieth century elections where this was the case). It also marked the return of Winston Churchill to government and the beginning of the so-called ‘thirteen years of Tory Rule’ until the Labour Party won next in 1964; the Conservatives winning in both in 1955 (under Anthony Eden) and in 1959 (Harold MacMillan).
MacMillan 1957 stated, “Let’s be frank about it, most of our people have never had it so good. Go around the country, go to the industrial towns, go to the farms, and you will see a state of prosperity such as we have never had in my lifetime – nor indeed ever in the history of this country. What is beginning to worry some of us is, ‘Is it too good to be true?’ or perhaps I should say, ‘Is it too good to last?’”. Of course, the answer to both questions was/ is ‘yes’: it was both too good to be true and it was too good to last – the ‘having it good factor’ was indeed an illusion. Nevertheless, the catharsis of World War victory along with the Welfare State and Nationalisations led to a time of contentment and apparent progress. In 1953, the target of 300,000 ‘people’s houses’ had been built under the policies of Harold MacMillan; council sponsored accommodation with inside toilets, modern facilities for families to replace dereliction. The Clean Air act was passed in 1952 resulting in a gradual disappearance of the famous industrial killer smogs. By 1955, just 1% of the workforce was unemployed. The generations I describe in previous sections were not living hand to mouth for existence: there was social concern and leisure practice that only emerges from material surplus. An expansiveness, in all forms of life, was creating a prelude to revolutions in communications, sexual, artistic, waiting to explode in the 1960s.
Yet, economically, the picture is one of contingent decline and neglect, and lack of competence, if not incompetence, to do anything about it. The war had shrunk the British economy and necessitated the giving up of economic advantages – for example, the liberalisation of trade barriers and capital flows to the USA as the latter sought to capitalise on the loans it had provided for post-war reconstruction. The new economic power that the USA exerted directly weakened the British economy; so much so that when convertibility was due for introduction in 1947, what followed was a Sterling crisis as it slowly lost value on the international exchange markets. Put bluntly, as living standards rose, the Welfare State was constructed, and industries were nationalised, the costs of war, loss of colonial markets, and industrial sluggishness (many struggled to meet national and international demand) impacted negatively on the economy. Then, when other countries seriously damaged by the war reconstructed – France, Germany, etc. - they too reclaimed their position in world markets, which further undermined the scope of the British industries. Basically, there was just not the tax revenue to support the levels of spending to which the government had committed. The economy faltered, inflation rose rapidly, economic growth declined to half that of Germany and France, and industrial relations worsened as workers in the new nationalised sectors opted for higher wages rather than social solidarity. Meanwhile, education and training retracted. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to judge, and a certain sense of community had survived from the war.
One national illusion after another was being shattered at this time: of being a colonial power, the centre of the world, victorious, and ‘in charge’. But, this was never a black and white affair. Just as economically, Britain acted as if it was rich whilst actually it was quite poor, so internationally it postured a key political profile whilst its actual influence was contracting. For example, it became the third country to develop a nuclear weapon in 1952, whilst its actual international influence reduced considerably through loss of Empire. Its would-be prominence was again eclipsed even more by lack of economic resources, although it still managed to commit over £32 million to Atomic Energy in 1951/52. Further Hydrogen bomb tests were carried out in 1957, a year after the Suez crisis when Britain joined in an invasion of Egypt along with France and Israel in order to regain control over the Suez canal and remove the Egyptian President Nasser from power; only to have the USA, Soviet Union and the United Nations force them to withdraw. Symbolically, it was a defeat for Great Britain, not just over Suez, but as a world power. ‘The Bomb’ also crystalized opinion around fear of nuclear war and mass destruction, which itself was intimately part of the Cold War and the establishment’s fear of the communist Soviet Union. However, Britain did avoid the excesses of McCarthyism – partly, at this time at least, because it was (is?) a very elastic and hierarchical country and more stable with its constitutional monarchy than the American case.
Britain was caught in this strange position between success and failure, the past and the future, which was often translated culturally as ‘the young’ and ‘the old’. Everywhere these oppositions only became more accentuated as the 1950s and 60s moved on. This characteristic was part of the re-election of Winston Churchill. The style of government he represented was patronal, patriarchal and elitist. Most of the Cabinet, after all, were ex-Etonians7 and, of course, male. Churchill – partly perhaps through the experience of war and his advancing years – was by then a consensus politician, seeking social and industrial peace at all costs. Operation ROBOT is a good example of this feature (the acronym stands for the initials of the three civil servants who devised it – ROwan, BOlton and OTto Clarke – under the Chancellor Rab Butler). In the face of a worsening balance of payments account and a run on gold reserves, the plan proposed the type of liberalisation that Britain would have to wait until the Thatcher years of the 1980s to finally get. If it had been implemented, the exchange rate would have been floated allowing Sterling to find its own value: the logic being that exports would become cheaper, stimulating industrial output, and imports more expensive, discouraging excessive dependence on overseas markets by making them costlier. In a way, it advocated a liberal style of restructuring as ‘un-economic’ industries would consequently be priced out of the market. So, food prices would rise along with inflation, thus living standards fall, and unemployment increase possibly to over one million (Brexit is an echo of this lust for discipline and punishment at the heart of the English psyche). Exposure of Britain’s industries to the logic and profitability of world markets would have required discipline to see through – as with Thatcherism – but the end results, it was argued, would have been justified. It would also, of course, have ended the ‘new deal’ spirit between ‘workers’ and ‘bosses’, which had united the country in the years, which followed victory in the Second World War.
With hindsight, it may be argued that this is precisely what Britain needed to bring its economy into the twentieth century, and postponing it was most costly, making the eventual Thatcherite course of actions in the 1980s all the more painful. Some in Churchill’s Cabinet - for example, Lord Cherwell the Paymaster General – argued, however, that it would be political suicide; especially to a Conservative government with a small majority. Certainly, the resulting industrial unrest would have been substantial at a time when union power was strong. In the end, Churchill and his government rejected the plan, allowing Britain, some would argue, to go into the future by continuing to live in the past. In effect, Churchill chose consensus and social care over economic imperatives. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this position – and there are many on both sides – we might see this decision as Churchill’s final ‘gift’ to the nation, allowing it ‘to party’ a little longer as a reward for the war; a celebration that had a huge impact on its cultural and artistic life and extended to the end of the 60s – before the final day of reckoning arrived……
And The World King Crimson I…
As noted, the members of King Crimson were born in or just after the war years and became teenagers in the 1950s: But, that decade changed drastically in complexion from its outset to its close. Unlike their parents, teenagers (and the term itself was not used until 1957) hardly knew the austerities and exigencies of actual war and were ready to define their own ‘new world’ in opposition to anything belonging to the world of their parents. Indeed, war itself became distant and virtual – despite ‘the Bomb’ – allowing for a certain indulgence on the part of teenagers in affirming their distinction from the older generations. As Mike Giles stated it, as teenagers they learnt music to distinguish themselves because, in their corner of England, there was little else to kick against. The new post-war world that had been announced stalled somewhat when the old school regained power but, with an expanding communications network, a ‘liberated’ youth and the raising of international cultural barriers, a Global village spirit was finally instilled in the country and, with it, communal living in the broadest sense. Such a vision of a new life style seemed a distinct possibility for the teenage generations of the immediate post war years.
The general election wins of Harold Wilson and the Labour Party in the 1960s can also be viewed as part of this combination of youth opposition and optimism; loyalty to the labour movement and cultural progressivism, which the reigned for the rest of the 60s.
As noted, Field theory suggests all fields move towards autonomy and are ultimately driven by economic capital, converted, as it may be from cultural, symbolic and social capital. There is some evidence that this is exactly what was happening in the music fields in the 1950s and 60s with its links to the associate fields of commerce, although the latter were themselves also evolving. Records in the 50s had been dominated by a relatively small band of popular singers and labels. The record company would then be part of a large-scale corporate agglomerate. However, this was beginning to break down. Elvis Presley and his contemporaries recorded for relatively small companies like Sun to begin with. It became clear that much commercial viability rested within these companies faced with an expanding youth market ready to invest culturally in the latest sounds.
The realization that there was money to be made in pop culture also dawned on various small-scale entrepreneurs. So, a culturally aware individual like Brian Epstein, son of a furniture retailer, who also owned a record shop in Liverpool, saw the commercial potential of moving into entertainment management when he signed up The Beatles. He was not alone and others – some music related and some not – regarded the expanding popular music market as a sound business opportunity. George Martin also signed The Beatles for Parlophone – a label renowned, up until that point, for recordings of the spoken word. Others made a similar move; for example, from the mid 60s, the entrepreneur Nat Joseph began to sign up the new folk avant-garde (Ralph McTell, Bert Jansch, John Renborne, Pentangle) for his Transatlantic label which, previously, was most successful with records on sex education! Eventually, players themselves, and those associated with them, set up their own labels as commercial ventures: Witch Season (Joe Boyd and Muff Winwood – brother of Traffics’s Steve Winwood) – as a sub company of Island Records (founded by Chris Blackwell in 1962, mainly as an outlet for Jamaican music but now very much representing the new rock avant-garde (including King Crimson); Immediate Records (Andrew Oldham – manager of the Rolling Stones); Harvest Records (Norman Smith – the Beatles sound engineer), Apple (The Beatles), Threshold Records (The Moody Blues), etc. Moreover, the cultural field became increasingly susceptible to international influences, which only opened up further commercial potential from the exploitation of overseas markets. Of course, most of these companies were eventually swallowed up by the big conglomerates: Capitol, EMI and Universal Music (which seems to have ended up owning everything!)
Similar trends can be identified in the commercial management of King Crimson, and its members: a move from small-scale local and individual support to more professional and corporate backing. However, here it is important to understand these trends within a changing cultural field, and one that increasingly involved other sections of the fields of power; as when local Dorset businessman Roy Simon took the commercial initiative with the Giles Brothers in 1964 after canvassing youth about what they wanted. Having recourse to the teenage-orientated press (media field) by placing an advertisement in the pop music newspaper the Melody Maker would have been an obvious ploy on the route to his construction of The Trendsetters. He was not mistaken, judging by their level of work as backing band and performers of their own music, as well as signing for Parlophone, even if they did not make the ‘big breakthrough’. Producer/ manager Frank Fenter also realised there was money to be made from pop/rock; this time, in employing (Gordon Haskell band) Fleur de Lys as studio session musicians rather than a touring band. Reputedly, he made himself 1000 pounds a week, out of which he paid each band member 15 pounds. This type pf practice continued the established principle of managers exploiting their artists! Also, as noted, KC1 bought its own equipment (not necessarily the usual practice for aspiring pop groups in the 1960s) and launched itself with financial backing from industrial businessman Angus Hunking. All these individuals can be seen as business men looking for opportunities within an expanding market, although that market itself was becoming increasingly professionally, commercially minded and led - and panoptic.
Bands on the up, of course, take support where they can find it, including Dunlop Tyres in the case of KCI. However, once King Crimson was a living entity, and performing as such, more direct management was needed by individuals who were media literate: enter David Enthoven and John Grayson. The habitus of these two impresarios is itself interesting; both attending public school and originating from the Noel Gay Theatrical Agency. They gave up their job there to manage King Crimson showing that they too recognized the commercial potential of pop/rock music – indeed, and the value of the cultural rock lifestyle which they apparently enjoyed up to the hilt. There would have been plenty of other examples at the time (small but with high levels of symbolic capital and potential economic capital) within the field. The fact that King Crimson did not at first sign a contract and, when they did, did so on terms that were not the norm, shows how commercial times were indeed a-changing. Fripp’s own experience from property management within his father’s firm also gave him an acute sense of what to look out for in reading contracts. Michael Giles: ‘The big difference was that most musicians would rely on record company support in order to get equipment or rent their flat or do something. They were beholden to the record company. The record company then could harness the young men’s energy and give them a small percentage of sales. But, we already had the attitude that we didn’t want to be ripped off by a record company because we’d already done the Decca thing by returning their contract. We already knew that lease-type deals had been done in the past, so we knew that we didn’t have to sign up to a record company to do what we wanted to do…David and John also realised the benefits of independence’.
So, experience in the past allowed the group a certain savvy on what to do and not to do. Enthoven and Grayson then invested further (economic capital) to keep the show on the road hoping, like any well-judged investment, for a return on their outlay. They formed the EG company to take care of artists recording and publishing activities. These sorts of moves are reminiscent of the ‘heroic times’ of the French Impressionists, which is where painters, for the first time, took ownership, and thus control of their art: Art for art’s sake, which reflected the needs of its audience - Music for music’s sake may well have reflected the needs of King Crimson’s potential audience given the socio-cultural climate to the day: post-hippy, pre-punk.
In retrospect, we can see the arc of change that was taking place with respect to management within the music field, and the extent to which this impacted on musicians’ income for their work. In the 1950s, it was not uncommon for a manager simply to pay an artist a wage. With the advent of the new entertainment entrepreneur – for example, Brian Epstein – percentage deals were stuck where the manager took a larger slice of the income as it increased; the logic being that they benefited from success that they managed. This logic is questionable, of course, especially as it was not rare for managers to contrive contracts with clauses that gave them the lion’s share of the profits if an act became extremely successful. Mistakes were also committed in the general air of amateurism, which characterised rock/ pop music management; for example, Epstein signed away millions of pounds by not realising the commercial potential of merchandising The Beatles. No wonder bands turned to accountants, who understood money matters. So, with the Beatles, Allen Klein took over and both restructured and rationalized Apple holdings, including making a number of redundancies amongst those who seemed to have little role in the company. His plan was to guarantee musicians a fixed income, which seemed attractive after the uncertainties of the past. The reality, however, was that large sums of money were siphoned off to overseas accounts, which did indeed supply a stable income for musicians. However, much in the style of banks, more money was made by individuals like Klein investing, via a series of companies, which they also founded and directed, for further commercial gains. Accountants such as Sam Alder (who eventually bought out EG) and Lord Levy used knowledge gained in accountancy services to the entertainment industry to their advantage. Alder, for example, through a series of sub-companies and off-shore accounts began practices of borrowing from one to another (if not exactly stealing from Peter to pay Paul!), often against projected future royalties, which slowly leached finances from musicians to pay for their own consultancy and further commercial activities. The track of these practices through the 70s, 80s, and 90s has been documented in painful detail by Robert Fripp; a situation which left him financially compromised by the commercial practices of a management company sailing close to the financial legal wind.
All this seems a long way from the aesthetic response – that naïve embracing of the sublime, creative event set out in the opening pages of this essay. However, the point is that both are true and, to an extent, co-dependent. When art enters the world in the creative act it immediately becomes adulterated, yes, even to the point of financial impropriety. In order to draw out this sharp distinction, I want to set the profanities of the secular world of society and politics, economics and finance as described above against my final narrative treatment of King Crimson I – the Spiritual. This is a rather grand world to use, but I argue it is not impertinent when one considers the intensity of experience often evoked in art and certainly for many of us who first encountered the music of King Crimson. So, what can we say about music, creativity and King Crimson from a spiritual perspective? I respond to this question in the next section before concluding the essay.
I began this essay by referring to art, creativity, and music in terms of aesthetics. I stressed how powerful the aesthetic experience can be – and, indeed was, for me as a teenager in 1970. For some, music is a business, for others such an experience is spiritual –basically, a heightened or even transcendent form of being. Commonly, the term ‘spiritual’ relates to what might affect the human spirit. Something that goes beyond the immediate physical and material; and therefore beyond the sort of socio-cultural, biographical and psychological accounts that I presented so far in this essay. However, it also goes beyond the ‘merely’ aesthetic, as it can pertain to even religious or teleological beliefs – that music, in this case, arises ‘by design’, from some higher form of intelligence. Divine, or God-given, is often the terminology employed with respect to art and creativity – it is the essence of truth and beauty.
A ‘spiritual’ consideration of King Crimson is perhaps justifiable given the portent of ITCOTCK: its themes, the way it graphically presented itself, heavily laden in mythological images backed up by dramatic composition. However, it is also valid to undertake a ‘spiritual’ approach to King Crimson I as a way of exploring the way the world of value is actualized in the world of fact; briefly, how creativity arises within the profane.
The ‘spiritual’ is obviously a huge subject and many, many millions of words have been written with respect to it. This discussion is just one small corner of what is available. I am going to employ a selection of the ideas of J G Bennett8: firstly, because he is someone whose work I have studied in some depth; secondly, because he has a particular integrated approach to creativity; and thirdly, because, as mentioned above, he is someone whose ideas and philosophy Robert Fripp has also worked with for much of his life, and so it seems pertinent to bring this approach to a discussion of creativity with respect to King Crimson.
Bennett himself was a student of the Sufi teacher Gurdjieff9. His interpretation of the latter’s philosophy goes something as follows.
Fact and Value
Bennett argues that the whole of the philosophy of man – knowledge and being - can be expressed in terms of the division between fact and value. Bennett was obviously not the first to state this. However, the distinction had important ramifications for him and the application of his ideas. So, it is reasonably easy (!) to account for the world of fact – what is, what exists – by measuring and recording it. However, the same is not true for the world of value. What is quality, after all? What makes something good or not so good? Attempts have been made to suggest an answer but we are in a problematic area. So, for example, all music is music, but not all of it is ‘good’ as such. By implication, what made King Crimson 1 so universally ‘good’, at least measured in terms of impact and popularity?
Bennett proposes a universe, which begins in metaphysics; in other words, he attempts to catalogue the structure of the value world as analogous to the structure of the fact world. He conceives such structures as a series of ‘levels’, or what he calls, ‘worlds’. These are numbered – 1, 3, 6, 12, 24, 48, 96 – according to the number of rules governing each level. We live at world 48, our normal physical state. Beyond is the world of fantasy and delusion – 96. World 1 is the one source, Unity or Will. One has to see these levels as ways in which ‘the Will’ moves into mundane world we know by a kind of ‘descent’ or incarnation – the Will becomes flesh, if you like, or at least material.
These levels – or Worlds – also imply, embody, or implicate various energy states. For example, at base is fairly inert materiality – rocks for example. Then, there is Vital Energy – living things, which employ Automatic Energy systems. In more highly organized life forms, such automatic systems become increasingly Sensitive. At the human level, this Sensitive Energy leads to Conscious Energy – consciousness and self-awareness. It is out of this Conscious energy that Creative Energy arises which, ultimately, is an expression of Cosmic Energy (where we are back to the divine Will). So, there is a kind of hierarchy involved, which is also expressed quantifiably: greater Sensitive Energy leads to greater Creative Energy – the more Creative Energy, the more Cosmic Energy is available. This relationship can be expressed hierarchically:
It is easy to connect this account with artists as sensitive individuals – as was discussed in Psychology above – but also as somehow in contact with a ‘higher’ form of creativity – the collective unconscious (in Jungian terms), for example. As a consequence, we have a model where a higher Cosmic Will expresses itself in Creativity by a kind of descent to ‘lower’ incarnate levels of materiality. Maybe, this is experienced as ‘music just flew in through the window’. But how does it do this?
For Bennett, the basic instrument for the expression of Will in the world is the Triad – that is World 3. Here, everything occurs through the structural relationship between 3 forces:
First position: 1 is the active force.
Second position: 2 is the passive force.
Third position: 3 is reconciling force.
So, what we have here is a basic dialectic: there is an active something which, by being something, evokes a response, which therefore needs to be seen as a denying force to it because it is partly what the original is not – out of which emerges a third product as a kind of ‘reconciliation’. In some ways, this is the classic Hegelian Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis. Such also connects with the Gnostic plenum, which is both full and void: as, even nothing is something against which another something will react, giving birth to a third outcome based on the interaction of the original two. For Bennett, this (world 3) is the first move in ‘the fall’ away from oneness, cosmic unity - the Monad10.
However, there are two further important issues at stake, here: the three forces and their three positions; and, the fact that these two are interchangeable. That is: firstly, there are the three forces – active, passive, reconciling; and, secondly, three positions – active, passive and reconciling. The implication of this distinction is that any one force can act in any one position; for example, the ‘active’ force 1 can be in the ‘passive’ (2) or ‘reconciling’ positions (3), from which emerges a different character of event. Clearly, there are then other variations within the Triads: 1,2,3; 2,1,3; 2,3,1; 3,2,1; 3,1,2; 1,3,2. Six in fact – World 6, the next level down.
Bennett also refers to them in gendered forms by way of exemplification: active-man, passive-woman, reconciling-child. So, for example, the active male moves to be attracted by the passive female, the result (reconciliation) of their conjunction being a child. The triadic process can, therefore, also be expressed as ‘affirming-1’, ‘denying-2’ and ‘reconciling-3’ forces. But, this is only one of an infinite number of examples where anything creative connects the world of value with the world of fact: the spirit and the material worlds.
It is important to note that nomenclature can be problematic here, and it is easy to take these terms too literally. Rather, such creative patterning needs to be read allegorically – not necessarily just as actual masculine and feminine. Nevertheless, as noted, various positional permutations imply a number of situational possibilities. For example, the ‘woman’ (2 - passive) may move to the first position (1 - active) and become the initiating/ affirming force; the ‘man’ (1) is then ‘passive’ (position 2) – in other words, the woman choses a mate. Or, indeed, the ‘child’ – (3 - reconciling) – may also move to the first active position (1 - active). Here, astonishingly, the ‘child’ calls on the parents to be born! Different triads therefore have different conditions for the way the creative impulse enters the world. Bennett gives process-based descriptors to these: 1-2-3 (Involution), 2-1-3 (Evolution), etc. And, this is true for all Triads.
One further addition is that each of the triadic elements may originate in either the existential (conditional-material) world or the essential (metaphysical-spirit) world. This is designated by an * . So, for example, 1 originates in the conditional world, whilst 1* originates in the essential world. As a consequent, this feature allows for something that does not yet exist in the material world (but does in the spiritual world) to enter by way of the triad of creation - and so is created. As there can be a mixture of essential and existential – 1, 2*, 3 for examples - there are now many more possible triadic permutations – (World) 48 in fact.
Clearly, these are rather esoteric notions and are unlikely to appeal to anyone not already of a spiritual bent. Nevertheless, they do raise issues of both philosophy and psychology as explored above. So, in the case of the triad, we might understand that a certain type of music is occurring – expressing itself from ‘another world’ (the collective unconscious, for example) – and thus becomes the active force. That other world for King Crimson 1 was quintessentially English in terms of their constitution at a time when the 60s world was in need of rejuvenation through hybridization involving elements outside of the pop/ rock vernacular. In terms of the triad, the audience is the ‘mother’ , the musicians are the ‘father’, and ‘the child’ is the music itself.
Musicians + Audience = Music (1,2,3)
Music + Audience = Musicians (3,2,1)
Music + Musicians = Audience (3,1,2)
We might even say, as I already have, that the requisite musicians were called upon to act in the birth of this music at a time when it became a necessity.
And, so, the way that music just seemed to fly in through the window needs to be understood, in this scheme, as an expression of Will: creativity, being necessary at a particular time and place. No wonder it feels strange when it stops! And stop it must.
Triads and the Dynamics of Creativity
In all creative acts, ‘choices’ are made about what to include and/ or exclude, and thus what is necessary; and there were certainly an abundance of elements potentially on offer at the point when King Crimson became actively creative. What occurs then is the separation of the one form from the many in the creation of a new hybrid form. This is a general principle. For example, Michaelangelo spoke of freeing a fine sculpture from course stone, and the same might be true of a musical composition. Finally, it emerges – complete – after a lot of work (of course it may also arrive ready made – see below).
In terms of triads, this situation is the 2-1-3 triad of concentration; where the essential notes (melody, for example) of the music (3 - reconciling/ outcome position) are ‘worked out’ from the inessential (2 - musical notes left out - active position) by the affirming action of the composer’s wish (Creative Energy) ‘to make musical sense’ (1 - Opposing position).
The reason it is not so easy to do as it seems, is that this triad must first be preceded by the 3-2-1 triad of freedom – that is, bring (2) and (1) together (the wish and the raw material). Musicians in King Crimson had the freedom (3 - active position) to be active in front of the form of music (2 - passive position), which they would have seen as a reservoir of opportunities to create by slowly composing their own music (1). Their music then appears as the reconciling force (position 3) of this relationship. But, this process presupposes a special relationship, one based on the work of also engaging actively (position 1) in the 1-3-2 triad of interaction; that is, the active struggle (1) to overcome the difficulties of being able (3) to work together with music as a particular artistic medium (2). With King Crimson, such creativity would, therefore, also have involved antagonism and opposition between band members; indeed, in some ways, these are necessary to the process for as long as the participants can tolerate them and not allow the energy potential to destroy the entire process. Creativity necessarily involves instability and uncertainty, so antagonism can become a force, which opens up energy for transformation
However, such processes also involve possessing the functional skills – having ‘the ear’ for music and being able to articulate what is heard through musical instruments. And, the members of King Crimson clearly did have the necessary skills to manifest what was calling out to be heard, and so firstly created to be performed.
Towards the Tetrad of King Crimson 1
Bennett saw the human vehicle for the expression of this creative process as constituted by Being, Function, and Will. ‘Being’ is really inner order (presupposing potential disorder); ‘Function’ (the necessary skills set); ‘Will’ (as an expression of the one Will, albeit in some sort of incarnate, ‘fallen’, form). The whole is then driven by the aforementioned energy states: Automatic, Sensitive, Conscious and Creative. In this case, the Automatic is the semi-self-reliant processes of the body – heart, liver, etc.; Sensitive, the subtle forms of feelings and thoughts; Conscious – awareness; and Creative, new productions – art, music, ideas – which arise ex nihilo.
These can be expressed as a Tetrad:
There is an implied hierarchy in the Tetrad: Automatic -> Sensitive -> Conscious -> Creative. Creativity referred to here therefore presupposes the necessary Sensitivity and Automatic (functional) skills; and the Conscious awareness to notice what is on offer (as it flies by). A key point is that most of us exist in an empirical state of Automaticity and Sensitivity most of the time. So, what happens is arbitrary; ‘higher’ forms go unnoticed. Bennett’s consequent aim is to develop Consciousness and consequent Creativity in people. Creativity here is seen as the true expression of the ‘higher’ human Being. Spirituality (Creative/ Conscious) is the ultimate aim of a higher Will, and therefore needs to be understood as both coherent and necessary.
Being and Will are seen as primary conditions for Bennett. If ‘Higher Will’ (which is a manifestation of Universal Love) needs to express itself, it can only do this through a higher state of Being. Consequently, the calculation is made that it is possible to do so by increasing Sensitivity, which will lead to greater Consciousness, allowing the ‘doors of perception’ (a phrase of William Blake’s) to be opened more fully to the imagination. How then to develop Being? The answer for Bennett is the discipline of ‘Functionality’ – bodily and mental discipline and skills.
The tetrad can be used for both audience and musician. So, for the audience it would look like this:
Sensitive Listening Conscious Listening
Here, ‘lower’ levels of listening are the (World 48) norm: Automatic. The objective is to move the audience towards more Sensitive (World 24), even Conscious (World 12) and Creative levels (World 6) of listening, but this does not occur by accident. Or, at least it can happen by accident but not in any sustained form. There is then a need to train the requisite functionality to enable this to be (what Bennett would call hyparxis).
The paradox is that the mind, with its ability to consciously plan, is the means to acquire such functionality and yet, ultimately, has to be by-passed to allow (‘the’) Will to express itself. Being, Function and Will are therefore co-terminus in the development of the psychokinetic man (a term used to denote someone in a permanent state of creative exegesis). And, King Crimson 1 were a psychokinetic band!
For the musician/ performer, the tetrad would look as follows in terms of potential levels11 of operation. Here, there is a further Tetrad, which sets out the levels of potential operation for musical/ artistic activity:
Artist/ Genius Musician
Professional Musician Master Musician
Two points here:
Firstly, these positions can be read chronologically - an individual begins as an Amateur, becomes Professional and, with experience, evolves as a Master musician, although this is only the surface manifestation of what is occurring. These states can also be defined in terms of reliability and ‘levels’ of innovation. So, the professional state is at least reliable, if not necessarily innovative; the master is innovative but not necessarily creative. Only at the truly artistic level does creativity occur – ex nihilo – as if from nothing, as a new form/ expression. So, again, there are conditions of value in its operation.
Secondly, these states are not achieved once and for all. So, the amateur can have creative insights (isolated acts of genius), even if they are not particularly reliable/ sustainable: in other words, not reproducible. In a similar way, an audience member can listen to music as a creative act - ex nihilo - perhaps in the way that I and many others did to King Crimson in 1970. The question then, however, is ‘is it sustainable?’ or does it become routinized in a way that develops expectations and closes down creative passivity?
We can apply something of this logic to what we know about King Crimson I: for example, the fact that its members were in fact already professional musicians in 1969, with elements of mastery. As young men in their early to mid twenties, we can also assume they were in a state of high psychological and physical sensitivity. Biographical details attest to the range of struggles and strivings that the previous years had entailed. The essence for creative thinking, for Bennett, is also that it occurs best where/ when there has been a previous period of high level effort/ intention/ attention. Biographical accounts set out the conscious efforts that King Crimson members were making in the period leading up to 1969 to establish themselves in the music industry. There is then almost the necessity ‘to look the other way’ and not become what might be ‘pre-conditioned’. As if to stop the band simply evolving into another highly competent jazz group, something else was needed to set them ‘off-course’. In the case, of KCI, this was an element of the amateur and whimsy, whose job it was, a little like ‘the fool’ in folk-lore, to by-pass the mind – expertise/ the pre-sets – and to offer elements of the accidental and another world view. This is in line with Bennett’s view of creativity, which always involves a sequence of high levels of conscious work and then a jolt from the outside to instigate looking the other way – a Third external. This function was embodied, perhaps for KCI, in the form of Peter Sinfield. The speed of KC1’s development - from inception to rehearsal to recording to success – can be viewed as a further aspect of certain elements of its constitution ‘getting out of the way’ to let what was calling to be heard to express itself.
As noted, the ‘spiritual’, for want of a better term, contains a multitude of expressive forms, including the religious, mythological, and esoteric. It would be fair to say, that King Crimson, in its lyrical and graphic content at least, drew on a fair selection of these for ITCOTCK and subsequent albums up to Islands. But, what is the spiritual essence of ‘the Court of the Crimson King’?
Some might argue that the answer to this question lies in the title of the following album: In The Wake of Poseidon. The reference here is to the ‘ages’ as set out in astrological systems. There is considerable disagreement amongst astrologers about dates, periods, etc. However, socio-culturally at least ‘the age of Aquarius’ is generally seen as ‘dawning’ in the late 60s and, with it, a ‘new age’ of spiritual brotherhood. Aquarius followed on from Poseidon – which itself is, after all, a water sign, designating the material world in Neo-Platonic philosophy. And, in many way, as I have argued, it is not too fanciful to imagine that indeed a period was ending by 1969; certainly, the 1960s and, with it, a certain carefree exuberance on the part of the younger generation at least. And, the images conjured up by ITCOTCK are not very optimistic. The terror of the 21st century is there for all to see on its cover, and to hear in the opening track - 21st Century Schizoid Man. Most of the rest of the album is dark and foreboding, as expressed in the joining of intense lyrical imagery set against minor/ modal keys. Instruments key to the English pastoral idyll – strings, drums and flutes – now blanched of their warmth to become a somewhat inhuman counter-form. Yet, the overall atmosphere is never malevolent. The figure on the inside cover is, after all, smiling, and is raising one hand in a Christian benediction and seemingly offering an open (welcoming) hand with the other. No matter how dystopian the general outlook seems to be, there is a sense of progress through destruction.
Nevertheless, it is possible to argue that the excesses of the 60s generations were, increasingly, not about spiritual brotherhood at all but individual indulgence – a state of affairs that only intensified as the century drew to its close. Interestingly, the tension between individual freedom and group responsibility – the whole King Crimson and the sum of its parts – continued to be a defining characteristic of the band as the various formats and personnel changes came and went.
It is possible, therefore, through Bennett’s perspective to connect the universal and the particular, the psychological and the spiritual, the socio-cultural and the teleological, the mundane and the sublime, in short theory and practice and fact and value! What is true is that such an advent is likely to be powerful and to be noticed – it was! – and to have far reaching artistic, personal and universal repercussions; an idea that is not too fanciful to attribute to the birth of King Crimson – a multifaceted phenomenon.
In this essay, I have aimed to show something of the way King Crimson I can be understood both as a socio-cultural phenomenon and as one involving a series of philosophical, psychological and spiritual forces; that is, in terms of biographical provenance, time and place, and the metaphysical processes which articulated and mediated the forces and elements involved. I have offered a selection of possible readings from each of these perspectives. There are others, but the basic disciplinary tenets would remain if they were brought to bear on my analysis.
My analysis concerned the way the creative impulse is expressed in the social world of personal trajectories through socio-cultural fields of commerce, the media, music industries, etc. I have argued that the philosophical, psychological and spiritual aspects of the same are not antithetical to these processes but are simply different levels involving the same things. They need to be seen as co-terminus and amount to the way creativity occurs as an instantiation or incarnation.
Of course, one might already hear the cries of outrage at taking such narratives to that most precious of human experiences – the aesthetic – and no group of individuals is perhaps more conservative than a rock audience in their commitment to the purity of what they seek and find in this art form. Many of these would counter my discussion with an unwillingness to ‘go there’ and a dedication to the ‘fact’ that it is ‘all in the music – man’. But, I offer what I have not to replace such an experience but to enhance and complement it.
In terms of socio-historical background, I have suggested that the 50s and 60s were curiously ambiguous years. War had been a traumatic experience for the country and therefore shaped what happened next. Britain was victorious and, indeed, the sense