“The highest quality of attention we may give is love.” ~ Fripp
On the 16th of this month, guitarist Robert Fripp celebrates his 65th birthday. I have spent many an hour listening to his music and thinking about his observations posted in his online diary. This is my way of saying thanks to someone who has greatly influenced my musical thinking and my life.
Like most music fans, I first became aware of guitarist Robert Fripp through King Crimson’s 1969 release, In the Court of the Crimson King, an album that some believe set the standard for progressive rock. Though the other players were superb, it was Fripp’s distinctive guitar lines that caught my attention. This was more akin to jazz and the avante-garde than the blues-rock language of the time.
His accomplishments are far too vast to list here, but in short he has changed the course of contemporary music a number of times, worked with some of the brightest and most accomplished musicians of our time, written a powerful and original body of music and has had a profound influence on generations of musicians. He is a force majeure not only in music, but as a person. This I learned not only from reading his diary, but by meeting him in person.
Back in 2008, I had read that a Guitar Craft course was going to be taught in Snowshoe, West Virginia and I fretted (pun intended) about going. Finally, my wife said, “You may never get another chance. You better go.” That removed all doubts and I set forth to meet the master.
Driving to Snowshoe was easy except when old man winter decided to show a truly ugly face. Winds were howling, snow was blinding and the sky turned an ominous black-blue. I couldn’t find my lodgings and people were scarce. The whole scenario had turned into a Stephen King novel.
Through a snowy windshield, I saw the name of the “village” where the course was to take place. I quickly settled in and ran like mad to the house were all were to gather. The room was gently buzzing with pleasant conversation and quick introductions were made. All the while, I was nervously scanning the room for the presence of you-know-who.
Without fanfare, appeared a smiling and cordial Robert Fripp who said a polite and very British, “Hello” to us all.
The mood in the room changed the minute he appeared. Suddenly quiet and respectful, everyone tried to act normal, but we stole glances like furtive paparazzi. When we sat down for dinner, the room filled with silence. Not an uncomfortable silence, but a curious welcoming - one that brought the buzzing social pleasantries to a halt. I thought, “OK, you’re the boss, you’re the teacher. Now teach us.” And did he ever.
For the next four days, we mixed meditation, Alexander Technique, guitar playing, and vegetarian meals in an atmosphere that was almost monastic.
Rising at 7 for meditation, I spent the days in a whirlwind, trying to navigate a new tuning (and a new guitar), a new technique and the evening guitar circle which was a true test of all of one’s faculties.
We did stress-inducing things like playing in 5/4, which of its own can breed some difficulty, but with each beat being played by a different player, it was quite the task.
Then we combined 5/8 and 7/8, one meter for two separate groups. This is called “Thraking” by Fripp and the result was both chaotic and thrilling. I doubt any one of the students attending that course left it without a powerful impression.
So, early birthday cheers to the Fripp!
In the Court of the Crimson King