Friday, May 16, 2014

DB's Song of the Day (day 136): "SARTORI IN TANGIER" (1982) King Crimson

Now it’s Robert Fripp’s turn, born today in 1946. Besides playing on albums by the featured artists of the last three days, and collaborating on albums with Eno, Fripp has shown up memorably on David Bowie albums, songs by The Roches, and been the force behind various experimental outfits, notably The League of Gentlemen. But what first brought him to my attention—in 1973—was his band King Crimson, formed in 1969 and an evolving, eclectic group of which Fripp is the only constant member.

In 1973, King Crimson, led by Fripp, released the album Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, and I was tempted to choose the song “Exiles,” long one of my favorites of that era, as my song of the day. But then I felt conflicted because, if I’m going back to the Seventies (again!), I have to admit that Lizard (1970) is the album like none other that, to me, demonstrates Fripp’s odd genius at composition, with also some standout moments of musicianship. Then there’s “Formentera Lady/A Sailor’s Tale” from Islands (1971). All these albums and songs would send me off into autobiographical reveries, I have no doubt.

Fripp, Levin, Bruford, Belew
So let’s avoid that and let’s go with something from the 1980s, when Fripp formed a band that contained drummer Bill Bruford (birthday boy tomorrow), formerly and notably of Yes, who was part of King Crimson from Larks’ Tongues onward to the most recent, 21st century, incarnation, Adrian Belew, who plays on Talking Heads’ Remain in Light and subsequent tour (which I remember quite vividly), and Tony Levin, he of the bottomless bass and keen Stick manipulations. It’s a great band, the best King Crimson line up, and the albums they made from 1980-84 deserve to be commemorated here on Mr. Fripp’s birthday.

I didn’t get to see that band, unfortunately, but rather the 21st century version when, on three separate occasions, they played near me in CT, twice in New Haven, once in Hartford. The opportunity to hear Fripp play live should never be passed up. And so, for today’s song, I’ve chosen a live video of the Eighties Crimson performing “Sartori in Tangier” from the 1982 album Beat. I’ve always preferred that record to the more famous, because first of the new line-up, Discipline (1980). Beat takes its themes from “the Beat generation” writers—Kerouac and Ginsberg and Burroughs in particular—and 1982 was the time when I was most steeped in those writers, discovering most of their works in the early Eighties myself. So, there’s that.

About the title: Satori in Paris is a book by Kerouac, “satori” being a Buddhist idea: “awakening.” A key concept for the Beats as the standard-issue version of life is like being asleep and it takes some major epiphany to wake one up to the reality of being. Tangier was a notorious destination for the Beats, particularly Burroughs, and Ginsberg and Kerouac visited him there, in 1957, to help him get his manuscript of Naked Lunch into condition. The album prints the title as “Sartori in Tangier”—which is perhaps a misprint or perhaps a joke, as “sartori” might refer to choosing clothing appropriate to the region.

In any case, it’s an instrumental so I have nothing to say about its words, other than the title. On the video it’s great to watch Fripp play—though seated as usual, he actually moves around a bit. The sound he gets from his guitar is characteristic here. It’s that great, unmistakable treated sound of the guitar, using sustain in particular, to make that steady whine that sounds almost like shrieking, when he wants it to. Here it feels more ethereal, like a soul striving for the pure empyrean, with some Moroccan touches. Levin on Stick offers a great intro and interplay, and both Bruford and Belew are on drums. Bruford is probably my favorite of all the prog-rock drummers and that’s largely because of his ability to play so well with Fripp and his many time changes.

I still remember the article I first read on King Crimson in Circus magazine in 1973. I liked it because it made my mouth water for the album called In the Court of the Crimson King and intrigued me to hear In the Wake of Poseidon and Lizard and Islands. The new album, Larks’ Tongues, was the cause of the article but I wanted to hear the older albums first, and I did. I collected them all back then and I still find them intriguing, not only because Pete Sinfield wrote interesting, florid and memorable lyrics, but mainly because Robert Fripp’s idea of the guitar is so singular. His riffs on Bowie songs like “Heroes” and “Teenage Wildlife” are stand-outs to me, and, in general, his contribution is always notable.

Hats off to Mr. Fripp.

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