As I was pulling in, I saw a familiar face: bass hero Tony Levin. For the initiated, he has played on over 500 albums - some of which you already own. He is one of the most sought after session players, regarded by his peers as one of the world’s best players and has toured or played with Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, Seal and many other highly regarded stars. He has always been one of my favorite bass players; combining a classical sensibility with an exquisite musicality and impeccable technique. In short, there’s nobody much better than Tony Levin for my money.
As I head to the main house, Tony says hello with a cheerful smile. Someone pinch me. I walk among the gods and they see me not as shadow, but as a person. Coming out of the main house, Tony greets me. “Hi. Who are you? You look very familiar.”
I search for meaningful words. None are forthcoming. Color me star struck. “I’m Jim Lange. I work for West Virginia Public Radio. Have you ever been to West Virginia?”
Tony ponders for a second. “No. I don’t think so.”
Before the conversation gets to anything meaningful, the Levin god excuses himself because of pressing business and I am left in shock.
Now, why would a 53-year-old man be so awestruck? It's not easy meeting people whose work you have admired. A mythology begins to grow and that can replace reality. Also, we are among the best of the best – the player’s players. The fan-child in me wants to run up and hug him. The 53-year-old inside speaks to me of maintaining a level of self-respect and dignity. Self-respect and dignity? I’ll try that one.
Time to gather some serious swag: a T-shirt specifically designed for the camp, a 25 foot guitar cable, drumsticks, instrument strap and a copy of Levin’s photography book,-The Crimson Chronicles Vol. 1, and Adrian Belew’s latest CD. As one resort employee exclaimed, “You guys have gotten the most swag of any camp we’ve ever had.” Swag is good, but what about the Crimson Three?
The schedule we were given at the outset soon become irrelevant as changes were almost immediately made. The first official gathering was in “the barn,” a new building which will become a rehearsal space and a classroom.
Adrian, Pat and Tony began a very informal and relaxed welcome and introduction to their ideas as to camp activities.
“What you are going to find out right away is we’re regular people who became somewhat known rock players. We’re not stars who want security between us and the fans,” Tony began sincerely. “I plummeted to stardom one time,” Adrian joked.
Levin continued, “This is the kind of thing I never do, so I’m breaking my rules. I don’t like being in a teaching position, but I can tell I’m going to learn a lot.” These three professionals were ready to teach, answer questions and hang out with their adoring fans.
One of my favorite topics, the song Frame By Frame, came up from a question posed by a camper and the citation for the source of inspiration for that song was Robert Fripp's interest in gamelon music. I rose to my feet (I can be fearless in my quest for knowledge) to interject, "Gamelon is often cited as the inspiration for the intertwining guitar parts, but I believe the source to believe American composer Steve Reich's music."
"You're a very smart man," Belew very nicely stated and then told a story about how he and David Bowie (Yes, that David Bowie. I told you this was big stuff.) went to see Steve Reich ensemble perform Music for 18 Musicians in London.
After the concert, Bowie said to Adrian, "Robert Fripp is sitting over there. Why don't you go and talk to him?"
Sure enough, Adrian goes over, has a conversation with Robert and he gives Adrian his number. "He wrote it on my arm," Belew said, although I'm sure he was jesting.
"With a knife?," Levin asked. It was a moment where one of my musical speculations was validated and I learned that perhaps Bowie, once again, changed the history of music by merely introducing Adrian to Robert.
Thank you, David. For me, a Fripp-Bowie-Reich story told by Adrian? Jackpot.
Part 2: More insider stories and how the pros recover from mistakes.