Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

I Have Arrived.

After this, everything else is downhill.


I suspect most of you reading this are the right age to remember the ‘prog rock’ era in the seventies. King Crimson, in particular.

Some of you may also recall my occasional mentions of my old high school friend Joe. He played the guitar, and moreover he had the best stereo and an amazing record collection, so we would generally congregate at his place. Joe always knew what was new and cool in the world of music, he was plugged into that section of pop culture the way I am into things like comics and science fiction.

This continued well into my college years, though for whatever reason I never quite clicked with the first iteration of King Crimson (though I remember Joe playing it for us once in a while, and how pleased he was to have seen Mr. Fripp play a small show at Music Millennium in Portland.)

But Joe wasn’t just about the records; he also had all sorts of music magazines lying around, and being the voracious reader that I have always been, I would often glance through one or another of them. This is how I became acquainted with Robert Fripp.

First of all, Robert Fripp is a terrific interview. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he was remarkably clear-headed and thoughtful. Moreover, he was able to express those thoughts with extremely articulate precision. Not only that, he was a writer himself. His columns peppered the magazines Joe had lying around and I became a fan of his analytical, wry prose style.

Shortly thereafter, Joe acquired Fripp’s solo album Exposure, which I liked a great deal.

I made it a point to keep up after that. League of Gentlemen…

…and of course the reformed King Crimson (s.)

Years went by and I heard that Robert Fripp had retired from touring to teach music.

I just assumed that was the end of the story. I don’t haunt record stores any more, haven’t for years; and since Joe lives in Eugene and I’m in Seattle, he doesn’t enable my audiophile OCD tendencies like he used to. Anyway, it seemed like a fitting retirement for such a thoughtful, intellectual musician.

But one of the delightful things about the internet is you get re-acquainted with folks you thought had left the scene entirely. Turns out that Mr. Fripp is still playing and recording, often in collaboration with his wife Toyah Willcox. And over the course of the last few months, they have been amusing themselves during the quarantine lockdown by putting up videos of themselves playing music and kidding around in their kitchen and the back yard and so on.

Here is the thing I never realized; Robert Fripp, who I always thought was so serious, actually has quite an antic sense of humor. Especially when aided and abetted by his bride. These are hilarious videos.

Far and away my favorites of these are the “Agony Aunts” videos, where they take questions from us, the audience.

And in yesterday’s, they USED MY QUESTION ABOUT HIS OLD COLUMNS!! Fourth one in.

I feel ridiculously pleased and validated. I am all aglow at having sparked the both of them so, and still blushing at being thanked by name by one of my writing heroes. I was going to alert you to these videos anyway but now I have a reason to move it to the top of the list. The entire Agony Aunts playlist is here and I recommend it to you unreservedly. I hope Julie and I are having that much fun at their age.

As for me, I’m off to check out Toyah’s book because I’m interested now. What’s one more for the to-read pile at this point? (Assuming I can find a copy that won’t break the bank; it’s apparently quite a collector’s item.)

Back next week with something cool.


  1. I’ve actually stumbled upon a few of the cover song videos the two of them have done during quarantine. Now I have even more reason to check them out more fully. (I sometimes have attention span problems with videos and click away before hearing the whole thing. It’s weird!)

    Fripp is awesome, and I know he played on a good amount of Eno and Bowie stuff, so I’m all in on that.

    And then in looking it up, I discover that Fripp is (was? Maybe they cleared it up in the last year plus) in dispute with Bowie’s estate over Fripp’s contributions to “Heroes” and Scary Monsters, which is a shame, given how much that guitar sound is a key element of such an iconic song like “Heroes”.

    Anyway, that’s always awesome to get acknowledged by people you respect! One of the few good things about the internet and social media 🙂

  2. Edo Bosnar

    Oh, man. That is so friggin’ cool! As they would say in the UK, you must be so chuffed! Fripp is one of my favorite musicians as well, and unlike you, I also *really* like the first phase King Crimson material (because I love all of that early ’70s prog rock).

    Your question is a really good question, by the way, and I loved the answers from them both. And the question (and answers) that followed, about Star Trek, was pretty awesome, too. Kes, however, is not a character I would immediately associate with Toyah – although if Toyah had played her I think I would have liked the character a whole lot more.

    …And that last bit, with the magic chord, is absolutely hilarious (like spitting a mouthful of liquid refreshment onto the keyboard hilarious). Stay vulgar, Toyah…

  3. Peter

    That’s awesome. I’ve enjoyed a good deal of stuff that Fripp has been involved in, but I never knew he had such a sense of humor! His playing is über-precise and his composition style seems almost mathematical, I figured his personality was quite studious as well. I thought the zaniness in the 80s incarnation of King Crimson must have been from Adrian Belew. Thanks for the introduction to those videos and congrats on “arriving” at last.

    (Anecdotally, I still feel like one of the highlights of my life was when I went to go see a free concert by the band Los Straitjackets and I shouted out “Linus and Lucy” in between songs… and the next song they played was “Linus and Lucy!” I don’t know if it was a coincidence or if they heard me and decided to play it… I choose to believe that was my moment of being acknowledged by some musical heroes)

  4. Joe

    So…Greg asked me to share a few memories from the old days, because I never throw anything away, and actually have the diaries that I kept when we were in high school together. For the record, we met in the fall of 1975, when a mutual friend said “You’ve got to meet Greg Hatcher. We hang out in the math center (!)” I dropped by the next morning, and there was a guy who looked like a blog columnist…but since blogs hadn’t been invented yet, I thought he looked like a newspaper columnist, or at least what a newspaper columnist would look like in the mind of a fourteen-year-old. Sort of disheveled and harried looking…as if he were late to make a “deadline.”

    Greg and Phil soon informed me that I was required to watch Star Trek, which was in syndication at the time, and I always remember rushing home from my afternoon guitar lesson, in the rain, because it started exactly at five o’clock.

    We had many adventures, most of which involved eating Shakey’s pizza and staying up late to watch SNL, which had recently been invented solely for our benefit. We saw Devo the first time they were ever on national tv, as well as the first appearance of the Blues Brothers. We loved them. Our classmates hated us, as soon as they found out. Chevy Chase left, and was replaced by Bill Murray (“Have you seen the ‘new guy?’ He’s really funny!”)

    We had other adventures too, after I got my driver’s license, some of which Greg’s reported on already. Going to bookstores and meeting various people which parents wouldn’t approve of.

    So, I knew Robert Fripp as the guitarist and founder of King Crimson, and one day I was at Music Millennium in East Portland, shortly after we graduated, and they were playing his latest album, “Exposure,” in the store. For some reason, I thought that the guitar playing sounded a little like Robert Fripp’s, and of course it was. I’d probably gone there to buy something else, but I grabbed it immediately.

    Several months later (August 1, 1979….because I still have my diaries), Fripp played a free concert in the same store. It was kind of word-of-mouth, and they crammed as many people in as possible, and locked the doors. For the gearheads, he was playing a mid-1950s Les Paul (the same one he had in King Crimson…the one with the Alnico pickup in the neck position) through a couple of Revox A77 reel-to-reel recorders, which he’d first discovered at Brian Eno’s house in London. It was ambient music, which would kill most people…but we managed to get through it.

    At the time, he was working on a series of books to be called “Guitar Mechanics,” and I told him that I was looking forward to them (I’m not sure if they were ever published). Later, he began writing columns for several different music magazines, where he talked about “systems” and “mammals” and “reptiles.” Greg and I both loved them.

    And now he’s doing hilarious videos with his wife Toyah Wilcox (who we knew from “Quadrophenia”), somewhere in England. Thank you Facebook!

  5. Jeff Nettleton

    I’m more of a New Wave person, myself, but those are fun. I devoured the Ukulele Orchestra of Great britain’s lockdown videos, especially their rendition of Hawkwind’s “Silver Machine.” David Suche, who did the vocals, looks like he should be starring in Doctor Who (as well as having a bit of a resemblance to my uncle) and posted a comment to that effect on Youtube, which got a shout out from the orchestra, which was cool.

    My moment like that, though, would be seeing my tag line, from my imdb.com review of the Sable tv series (based on Mike Grell’s Jon Sable, Freelance) used as a chapter header in a Back Issue feature, devoted to Jon Sable and Mike Grell. It was word for word, except I had gotten the number of episodes wrong, by one. “So good, it lasted seven whole episodes!” (I said six, originally). I still think they should use that as copy if they ever put it out on disc (like if the movie ever does get made). Probably got used because, for some time, it was the only review for the series!

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