Two bands have formed the “soundtrack to my life,” though I no longer listen to them regularly or frequently. They are Little Feat, which I discovered in college, and King Crimson, which I found in adolescence and rediscovered in college.
The Lowell George Little Feat had a loose, sly, cartoonish take on the sour outcomes of life. The band changed when George died.
All bands change. Subsequent Little Feat music reflected different, turbulent, conflicting and, at times, contradicting directions. Some band members wanted to do a specific song or emphasize a new, possible commercial direction (such as an attempt to tag themselves, after the death of Jerry Garcia and the break-up of the Grateful Dead, as a jam band, and thus include deliberate improvisational interludes, when they had been jamming from the start). Others wanted a moment in which the band could sound like the Lowell George Feat, or how that band might have sounded if George hadn’t died.
I saw the band live a few times, and each concert delivered on the promise that “progressive” bands offered: that complicated, intricate music that demonstrated the performer’s talent could also create moments for improvisation and creative discovery.
King Crimson reflected a different aesthetic, especially through its mercurial leader, the guitarist Robert Fripp. Very early in his career, Fripp demonstrated a taste for poly rhythms and dissonance (he once said he wanted one version of the band to sound like Jimi Hendrix playing Bartok), shredding and the sustain pedal. Where Lowell George used a socket wrench fitting for a bottleneck slide, Fripp was committed to the electric modifications to a guitar’s sound.
Unlike so many other guitarists who came up from the progressive movement, Fripp could play fast and loud, but he also aspired to accuracy: he hit notes dead on and seemed, in his solos, to be moving toward some kind of mystical affirmation of what it is to be a musician, and how a creative person can survive in an artistically indifferent world. King Crimson did not perform conventional love songs. Instead, the band made despair beautiful.
I’ve followed Fripp’s work over the years, and read his on-line diary, in which he often revealed himself as a person who loves to perform, but has a very limited tolerance for his audience, his fellow musicians and the critical press. Former band members (he intentionally broke up King Crimson several times) acknowledge his brilliance but say he can be difficult to work with. Fripp rarely gives interviews, goes out of his way to avoid encounters with fans, hates to have his picture taken while performing and turns down autograph requests.
And the most beautiful music comes from him, or, as he would say, comes through him.
I’ve been in a difficult place for a while, trying to come to terms with a career spent mostly struggling to write stuff that was mostly positive and imbued with “the sense of wonder.” I felt most of this was disposable art that I hoped would lead me to a place in which I could write the best, worthwhile writing, which I define as stuff that people really want to read. The irony is, I’m in that place right now, but the writing remains difficult, uncertain and, given the way the publishing industry–and my role in it– has changed, unlikely to be read by many.
I came across this list of affirmations in one of Fripp’s diary posts.
I’ve tried affirmations as a warm-up to a writing session, and have found them to be as dependable as a cup of coffee. Sometimes the caffeine rockets you to that peak where times tops and the words flow.
I’m including them here because I like them. They mimic the language of modern religiosity, but are free of the anger, exclusion, exclusionary hatred, guilt and shame that comprise the darker side of some contemporary religious practice. Read these, and you’ll feel that everything that you know (and a great deal that you don’t) wants you to reach that place for which you’ve yearned, and that all you really have to do is stop resisting and let it happen.
As I learned from philosophy, these affirmations are faith statements that cannot be proved. There is no way to determine if they are in anyway true, or if they are just things to say to yourself before writing or playing music that may make it easier to do begin.
In my opinion, they are what people may want to read.
The benevolence of the Creative Impulse is inexpressible.
We cannot know this benevolence, while accepting that Benevolence knows us better than we know ourselves.
Love cannot bear that even one soul be denied its place in Paradise.
In strange and uncertain times, sometimes a reasonable person might despair.
But Hope is unreasonable, and Love is greater even than this.
Music is our friend, if only we might listen; if only we can listen.
The poverty of our nature is no limit to our aspiration.
Although I stumble and fall, each time I will rise again.
Not even death can end the process of our becoming.