Style: The Way I Was: Finally I faced the music: Robert Fripp tells Nicholas Roe of his decision to become a working musician once more

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Indy Lifestyle Online
IF I GO back to 1967, I'd moved to London to become a professional musician. In 1969, after two years of misery, poverty and ignominy, King Crimson went from less than nowhere to international prominence within a year. At that period, for three months, it was the most powerful rock group in the world. Jimi Hendrix was jumping up and down at his table at the Revolution Club saying: 'This is the best band in the world.' I was just turned 23 and this was Hendrix jumping up and down. And he was right. At that time it was the best group in the world - but only for three months.

My belief in the inherent power of music to transform lives was proved by my own experience within that band. Music has such a remarkable power, music from the inside which moves out through sound into our lives - and I found that in King Crimson in 1969.

But by 1974 I'd seen how that true impulse had gone off-course and been bent and manipulated, to a large extent by the music industry and the characters within it. I was never a druggie, but I saw managers plying musicians with cocaine in order to influence and direct them. I saw the innocence being lost. I saw musicians being more concerned with becoming stars and earning money than playing. There are substantial pressures placed on young musicians, and there is an increasing inflexibility that comes into their lives.

King Crimson was poised to be perhaps the most commercially successful rock group in Europe. In other words, my career was really just about to succeed. There is no way a young musician at that point can turn his back, with the world at his feet like that. And yet I felt the situation was not true. I left the industry without any intention of returning to music.

For the first year I wound up my affairs, then I went into retreat for a year, then the year after that was my return to the world, bearing in mind one's view of things after a year's retreat is quite different.

I moved to New York, still without any intention of returning to music. I actually did a six-week tour with Peter Gabriel under a pseudonym, Dusty Roads, because I didn't feel Robert Fripp was playing the guitar any more. But I opened myself up to the future - and what happened? Being in New York at this time with the punk, new wave phenomenon, there was a remarkable openness among the musicians. I got a call from David Bowie and Brian Eno saying: 'We're making this album and we're wondering if you'd like to play the guitar on it.' This was Heroes. I produced Peter Gabriel's second album. Meanwhile, I'd been playing with Blondie at various gigs and finally, around the middle of 1978, it occurred to me that it was no longer valid for me to say, 'I'm retired.'

The photo was taken in November of that year. In fact, it's me screen-testing for the role of Lemmy Caution in a remake of Alphaville, which was really the brainchild of Chris Stein of Blondie. Debbie Harry was to play one of the lead roles and they wanted to use chums and co-workers from various fields in the film. I got the part, but the film was never made.

It didn't matter. By the time this picture was taken I had accepted that I was, in fact, back to work. It's me presenting myself as open to the future. I recognised that the future had now walked in, and I got on with it. I'm back in action.

I'm returning to life as a working musician because my need is to play music again. I'm putting myself back in the firing line. The aim of any personal discipline is to be able to stand and act in the marketplace without being governed by the conditions of the marketplace. There's always hope.

(Photograph omitted)

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