“The insight into the standard levels of incompetence in operating major league companies in the music industry is astonishing. The underlying culture is fundamentally exploitative.”


An exclusive HITS dialogue with King Crimson's Robert Fripp
Legendary King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp is an anomaly in the raucous world of rock & roll, a true gentleman and scholar, with a sense of humor as playful as it is dry. He is probably best-known, aside from his role in the U.K. prog-rock pioneers, for his collaborations through the years with the likes of Eno, David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Blondie and Daryl Hall, whose 1980 solo album, Sacred Songs, reissued in 1999, he produced.

Fripp, along with longtime guitar collaborators Adrian Belew and Trey Gunn, whom he first met as part of his Guitar Craft camps almost 20 years ago, and drummer Pat Mastelotto, have just released a new King Crimson album, The Power to Believe, on Sanctuary Records. With a post-Sept. 11 combination of fear and hope, the album points out the influence Crimson has had on a whole new crop of bands with their precision rhythms and sudden shifts of tempo and mood—despite Fripp’s own objection. That would include Tool, whom they toured with last year, System of a Down and even the stoner-rock of Queens of the Stone Age.

After a grueling period of litigation that involved his old management company EG, as well as EMI and BMG, Fripp is finally ready to play music again, as the band prepares to support their new release with a world tour. The reclusive Fripp agreed to take tea at three with old pal, HITS’ own prog maven "Siegfried &" Roy Trakin, whose own biscuit was predictably limp.

You’re still living in England.
I’m a Dorset man, in the south of England. My family goes back to my great-great-great-great-great grandfather Robert Fripp, who died in 1752 in the family village, though the Fripps go back even further in the area, all the way to 1652. I left Dorset in Oct. 2001 to be with my wife [singer/actress/TV personality Toyah Willcox] near her parents, in the West Midlands. That part of Middle England was the geographical basis for Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Tolkien’s grand nephews have actually come to tea with us.

Have the current doldrums of the music business affected you?
You mean, have I spent the past five months auditing Virgin Records and BMG for exceptionally large sums of unpaid income? The answer to that question, would you to have asked it, is yes. Have both companies agreed to this? Yes. The litigation I went through from 1991-97 gave rise to a native court settlement which gave me certain entitlements to audit rights, which I’ve recently executed. The insight into the standard levels of incompetence in operating major league companies in the music industry is astonishing. The underlying culture is fundamentally exploitative.

You’re planning a world tour this year with Crimson.
Perhaps three percent of my time and energies as a professional musician are involved in music. In the past month, even that figure is a major exaggeration, and that is a situation, which, for me, is untenable. I am looking forward to playing with my buddies in Crimson again.

What was the impetus behind recording the new album, The Power to Believe?
There’s music to be played. For me, recording is more of a painful process. I think it’s a tribute to the quality of the album that you can’t hear the suffering in the music.

How do you feel being known as the forefather of prog? Is that a cross you still have to bear?
Shall I switch off your recording machine now, Roy? Or should we move on to another topic?

I didn’t mean it facetiously.
You chose exactly the right words, Roy. And my answer remains the same. Look, my hand is moving toward the stop button of your machine. One thing I will say, it becomes increasingly unendurable to me to have the present and the future weighted down by 33 years of history, a lot of it good, even.

I hear King Crimson influences in bands today, like Tool.
I don’t. [Tool guitarist] Adam [Jones] said to me, "Can you hear the influence of King Crimson?" And I said no. And he gave me one or two examples that I can kind of accept. Maybe. I hear more Tool in King Crimson than I hear King Crimson in Tool. They are very generous in saying they’re influenced by Crimson, but I can’t hear it.

The album addresses issues in the wake of Sept. 11, especially the unflinchingly realistic "Facts of Life."
I would agree with that. The EP, which acts as a preface to the album, in America is "Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With." In Japan, it has different artwork, and is called "Shoguni." From the Japanese perspective, that is a very, very difficult word. The translations in French might be, "C’est la vie," or in America, "That’s life." So, on the one hand, you have a post-Sept. 11… Which really ain’t good. But, on the other, if that’s all there is, then life is too hard. Against that, you do have hope.

Have you spoken with Eno recently?
I’m working with him the week after next. I’ve been working with him recently. This is one of the advantages of geographic positioning. If you’re roughly within reach of someone you’d like to work with, it’s more possible. If you asked me what I’m doing with Eno, the answer is, I have no idea other than I turn up and play. I’m sure Brian has something in mind. Brian always has so many things in mind, what I go to nominally play ends up somewhere else entirely, or sometimes not at all. With Eno, it’s always fun.

How about David Bowie?
I spoke to him last year in the spring. He was the guest curator of the Meltdown Festival in London, which he wanted me to take part in. Logistically, I couldn’t because of Crimson recording in Nashville at the same time. That was the last time I spoke to him, but I did get an e-mail around Christmas.