I should be working on the short story I’ve been struggling with, but instead I want to say a few words about art and talent and memory.
Greg Lake of King Crimson and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer and (briefly) Asia has died. He was 69 and he had been fighting cancer.
The first time I heard a piece of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, it was Knife Edge, from their first album, and a bolt went through my brain. This was the “other” band that mattered to me–suddenly and thoroughly, the cadences, the depth, the compositional holism, the instrumental proficiency, the temerity of three young guys to challenge Bartok, all of this displaced the light-hearted, Bazooka Joe triviality of so-called pop music that saturated the airwaves a the time. We had that or the in-your-gut near-chaos of Jimi Hendrix and the grime-laden street patina of the Rolling Stones, and now, above it all, musicians who not only had the chops but the historicity and grasp of the psychological possibilities of infusing contemporary rock idioms with the incision and deep-boned depth of what we often mistakenly call classical music and make it speak to a new generation. They elevated what was in so many ways a toy in musical form to something that could take us out of ourselves in the way Beethoven or Mozart did for people so many of us neither knew or respected at the time.
The period lasted from about 1967 till 1975 or ’76. In that less-than-a-decade near geniuses made musical pronouncements we are still responding to if only to try to deny or reject, and the best of them were represented by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Condemnations that they were “pretentious” mean little in an era where pretension is embodied more by attitude than talent. A major “star” styles himself by not smiling and mouthing polemical inanities better known than the music he produces, this is a form of pretension, but one that elevates nothing, reifies nothing, establishes nothing beyond a sullen narcissism. Perhaps ELP was pretentious, but those who criticize them for that understand little about real pretension, which is a mask hiding an empty space. Maybe ELP were pretentious, but if their pretension masked anything it was a room filled to bursting with ideas and exuberant joy in musical experimentation. It contributed. If it made some feel inadequate or small, well, that was not ELP’s fault.
Greg Lake, in his ELP years, possessed a magnificent voice, a gift for phrasing that bordered on the operatic, and deftness of interpretive innovation that was a match for Keith Emerson’s volcanic expressionism and Carl Palmer’s controlled hyperkinetic rhythmic adventures. They were evenly matched and magnificent and I am ever so grateful to have grown up to the soundtrack they provided.
Take note. Brilliance has moved on.