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King Crimson

In the Court of King Crimson written by Sid Smith

Review by Steve Alspach

Few bands in progressive rock have a more colorful past than King Crimson. As Sid Smith says in the preface, the history of King Crimson is the "triumph of spirit over adversity. And sometimes the triumph of adversity." "In the Court of King Crimson" is an excellent document of a group whose legacy leaves the reader thinking "how could this band create such interesting music under so much chaos?"

Smith does his homework, and the book starts in the mid-1960s not with Robert Fripp, but with the Giles brothers, Michael and Peter. Smith then documents pre-Crimson Giles, Giles, and Fripp, and discusses the metamorphosis of that quirky little trio into the band that released "In the Court of The Crimson King", the ultimate "What the @#$% was THAT!?" album of 1969.

While all three "phases" of King Crimson (the 1969-1975 versions, the Fripp-Bruford-Belew-Levin band of the early 1980s, and the latter-day lineups with Trey Gunn and Pat Mastellotto) are well represented, Smith does an admirably thorough job of chronicling the '69-'75 era, which could be summed up as "another album, another lineup." Internal problems, and Lord knows there were enough of them (almost always involving Robert Fripp), are given ample space and dealt with honestly and with no pretense. Ian McDonald and Michael Giles left due to being overwhelmed by the touring, and Gordon Haskell, singer on "Lizard," simply never fit in with the King Crimson scheme of things. Simply put, membership in King Crimson at this time was not an easy proposition.

If nothing else, Smith thoroughly knows his subject. His descriptions and observations of the music are most informative, even-handed, and may inspire the reader to go back and listen to albums that they may not have heard in some time. The albums (Except for 1972's "Earthbound", arguably the worst-recorded live album of all time) are reviewed song-by-song. Smith was also able to dig up some excellent rare photos as well. (One 1964 photo of The Warriors, featuring "Islands"-era drummer Ian Wallace and a 20-year-old Jon Anderson, is almost worth the price of the book itself.)

With a discography, chronology of concerts, and a "where are they now" section to conclude this book, "In the Court of King Crimson" has everything a King Crimson fan could want. Do yourself a favor and add this book to your collection.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 1 at
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