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New World Evel
And so it came to pass that I was summoned to the Court of the Crimson King.

I heard the clatter of hooves and the oak-splitting chop of an arrow whistling into my front door, affixed with a message on illuminated vellum. "Hear ye! Hear ye!"

OK, actually the call was posted by email, from Jaison at Sanctuary Records. Listening Party for King Crimson, new album "The Power To Believe," out March 3rd.

But soft — the prog rock cult band of impeccable pedigree? Originating in the late '60s, who survived the Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush and Clinton regimes to return like the Asian flu in new permutations, culminating in a triumphant double bill tour with the mighty dark-art rock standard-bearers of Tool in 2001. Inviting me to sushi?

I've never owned a King Crimson album, though I did go through a phase in the early '80s where I couldn't stop playing Robert Fripp's highly addictive instrumental LPs made with Police man Andy Summers.

And as I recall my college roommate Dr. Steve Vegas was a nut for Adrian Belew and the Bears. Good stuff to sandwich in between Led Zep, REM, ZZ Top and Run DMC. At least that's what we thought, but it could have been the cough syrup talking. Go Blue!

Yes. I would answer this summons to the Crimson Court, and I would report what I found there.

The location? Sushi on Sunset. The principals? One brilliant, tart, esoteric English bandleader named Robert Fripp, who, as well as founding Crimson, served as a mercurial partner on various wonderful efforts with Eno, Bowie, Peter Gabriel, and David Sylvian.

To his right, Adrian Belew, famed guitarist and bandleader, and lead vocalist in the current Crimson. And of course, Mr. Belew has plucked his six-string alongside Zappa, Bowie, Talking Heads, Herbie Hancock, NIN, and Paul Simon.

Then there's Trey Gunn, mild-mannered master of the Warr guitar (10-string touch guitar with the range of a piano), who cycled into the Crimson court during the Fripp/Sylvian project in the early '90s.

That collaboration was the same magnet that attracted drummer Pat Mastelotto, a session titan whose moody sound was prominent on #1 singles "Kyrie" and "Broken Wings" by Mr. Mister. Pat (who was away that night) was first exposed to Crimson in person in '74, when they were "opening for 10 Years After at the Cow Palace."

I piloted the Five-O half-track into dry dock and plugged about $11 in quarters into the meter.

Inside the door, our small flock was channeled upstairs to the private room where the band was waiting. Adrian halted two women folk at the head of the stairs.

"Hold it. This is King Crimson. No women allowed. They want nothing to do with this band." Maybe so, but apparently the charms of open bar and sushi gratis have squashed this long-standing ban, at least for the moment. The ladies just laughed and filed past.

It's a good, warm, low-ceiling room you'll find there above Sushi on Sunset, and a studio-pro sound system was set up inside that could clearly have blown out the windows.

I said hello to the fellows next to me. Are you guys writers? No, record buyers for Rhino in Orange County. Yes! Retail guys. Never underestimate the difference a little personal attention makes for product awareness in today's overcrowded stores. Hey Kid! Yes you, with the Avril Lavigne CD — how about a piece of "The Power To Believe"?

With the audience of 30 or 40 now assembled — and, I noticed, guzzling 24-oz Sapporos right from the bottle (no shame in this rock game, we know that by now, right?) — the rap-rock-looking dude from SIR studio rental pressed play on the audio system.

The air was filled with music. Some stared off into space, some chatted under their breaths, some rocked back and forth with their eyes closes, totally INTO IT, some took notes.

I was checking out Mr. Fripp, the ranking member of our three Kings. He was sitting quietly in a mode of faintly reptilian receptivity, looking a hell of a lot like Hannibal Lecter — you know, impeccable grooming, hint of a smile, listening with his eyes mostly closed. The other two guys? Normal. Casual. Having a saki.

The music played. My notes:

1) Ballad with Alan Parsons Project overtones, like an Asia single, a bit better.

2) Film score-style lyrical prog-rock overture Almost reminds me of the soundtrack for Death Wish II (Jimmy Page vs. The Big '80s)

3) Fixx-style hard pop new wave single

4) Bell works to please Mickey Hart
very cool, percussive, harmonic, this I like

5) Evocative, pulsing, synthy film-theme type stuff not so far from Philip Glass

6) Hey, I just discovered how to mic vocals for "grunge" Like a middle-aged Silverchair But with cool arrangements Actual lyric for chorus: "I guess I need a chorus!"

Technically A-plus. Content? Solid B. Not brimming over with soul or anything, but fully listenable, especially, I'm guessing, for prog-rock loyalists reared on Rush, Yes, ELP.

And that's where the fireworks begin.

After the listening sesh, a guy is standing in Fripp's sightline fiddling with the soundboard he's trying to patch into his DAT recorder. Meanwhile they're trying to prep the mic for the interview, which is feeding back — an ear-curdler which has apparently woken Dr. Lecter up from his nap in something of a mood.

"Tell me something. Are you going to stand there in front of that thing like a dick or are we going to get on with this?"

Or something like that. Crisp, English articulation (Lecter!) The chastened offender makes a little "Oh" and sinks to a squat.

There's a stir of nervousness, but no one in the band is fazed in the slightest.

Jaison: "OK! Does anyone have any questions?"

Suddenly no one's sure. Then a hand shoots up. Ah! A question, delivered with confident professionalism — as it turns out, exactly the wrong approach.

"This is Corporate Rock Writer X from This is a question for Robert. Do you think technology helps or hurts what you're doing at this point?"

A pause, Fripp motionless with the mic.

"Look. If you have a professional question, don't ask it. Don't ask it. All the answers for those questions are already out there available and you can find them. Let's use this time. We are never going to be here together in this configuration again. If you don't have a question that is burning inside you and for some important reason needs to be asked, then don't bother at all, because we're too old to be bothered with professional questions."

Awesome. He finds no merit in the question so he blows it off. Quality control all the way down the line. I mean, discipline is one of Fripp's watchwords — the title of a major Crimson album and even of his own record company, Discipline Mobile.

But here's the cool-ass thing about L.A. The imperious but romantic style of life embodied by British rock royalty is perfectly complimented by our sun-kissed Western shores. No one got uptight. We just tried again, a woman this time.

"Hi. I'm not sure if this question is professional or burning or essential or what it is..."


"Why do you do this, Robert? Is it fun?"


Robert: "I'll turn that one over to Adrian."

And so on.

Good recovery. Hell, everyone knows they are in for an orgy of free booze and sushi, so it's literally impossible to bring us down. If the host wants to humiliate a few unfortunates — then off with their heads!

Belew and Trey are poker-faced super-pros, and they do a fair job playing the accommodating members of Crimson. But really — Fripp's perfect diction and headmaster manners make him a perfect candidate for villain roles in a Hollywood movie. English accents — the best villains always got 'em.

Suddenly no one wants to ask a question, so it looks like it's my turn.

"Nate Diamond, Hollywood Five-O. Your new stuff is really cinematic-sounding. Have you guys ever considered doing scores for films?"

Expectant pause.

Was a scorching riposte about to cut my head off?

"Steven Seagal," begins Fripp, "hasn't called and asked me." (laughter)

Steven Freaking Seagal?!? Bingo. Five-O had a King Crimson

"Film music is very political," he continued. So probably no. But I'm not against it."

Trey: "Anyway Tarkovsky is dead."

Adrian: "Maybe later."

Somebody pipes up: Would you ever appear on Howard Stern?

Fripp: (deadpan) "I don't think my buns are firm enough. (laughter) But I'll tell you the opportunity where I would appear. Stern had a battle of the bands where his band and the competition both played King Crimson. I would have appeared as judge for that, that's probably the only reason I would, but I was not invited."

Q: Did you know Howard did a take-off using your music called "Lord of the Anal Rings"?

Fripp: "That one I haven't given permission for." (laughter)

Then the Q&A detours onto lovefest lane as people ask about Crimson's 2001 tour with Tool. As everyone knows, Maynard is a huge fan.

Fripp: "In 33 years it was one of my two favorite tours. It was a privilege. Wonderful stuff."

Q: What was the other favorite tour?

Fripp: "CG3 in 1997."

Robert also warns of a potent power trio featuring Les from Primus on bass, Adrian Belew, and Danny, drummer from Tool.

Q: What do you recall about the day you opened for the Stones in Hyde Park in '69?

Fripp: "I recall (keyboardist) Greg Lake being knocked down by a cardboard Brian Jones. There was also a plan to release thousands of butterflies. But they had been damaged in transport and so the boxes were brought out which were filled with dead butterflies. That's one memory I have. We also played the West Palm Beach Fest in '69 with the Stones. The Hell's Angels were security."

For an instant the shadow of Altamont flickered over the room. Dead butterflies indeed.

Q: Adrian, earlier you said anything to do with Crimson is predominately male. Why is that?

Adrian: "I'll give that to Robert."

Robert: "Because women don't like us. (laughter) I don't know if it's related but there is a memory I have. When I was young, I told my mother I'd decided to become a professional musician. She burst into tears. She says she has no memory of that. I don't know if it's true or not, I only know I remember it. I once asked her why. And she said, because I was afraid you would become bitter."

Adrian: "Oh, come now."

Robert: "But I'm not bitter. I'm not bitter."

On that unusual protestation, the Q&A was wrapped.

SEAGAL EXPOSEAnd that was my 60 minutes in the Crimson Court. Pity I couldn't stay for the sushi feeding frenzy. I had to split for Silverlake pronto for a friend's birthday toast.

Sanctuary Records and King Crimson, allow me to say thanks for the beer, the music, the straight talk and the rock and roll comedy. Trust me, I'm going to have Steven Seagal's people call you just as soon as he comes out from underneath his bed.

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