Chapter 21

Earthbound and Beyond




- chapter index -
page 1 - Earthbound
page 2 - Larks' Tongues in Aspic
page 3 - Starless and Bible Black
page 4 - Red

- page index -
Great Deceiver | Lament
We'll Let you Know
The Night Watch | The Mincer
Starless and Bible Black


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Starless and Bible Black


"...and again tell me, ye who follow these men and yet wish to be Christians, into what place of the eight spheres, or of the ninth which is called by some starless, hath Christ entered, or shall we ourselves enter?"

refutation of the Pagan (hoi ekso) doctrine of the sphere
- The Fourth Book of the Christian Topography of Cosmas Indicopleustes

Larks' Tongues in Aspic is a concept album about a man's attempts to reconcile with the feminine in his life. Starless and Bible Black carries forth another concept first brought up by Peter Sinfield in the album, Lizard: the problem of the paybox glove. How can you be a legitimate artist when all around you is rampant commercialism?


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The Great Deceiver

In Christian parlance, the Great Deceiver is Satan.

"once had a friend with a cloven foot"

"To show the cloven foot, i.e. to show a knavish intention, a base motive. The allusion is to Satan, represented with the legs and feet of a goat; and, however he might disguise himself, he could never conceal his cloven feet."

- Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

"It is a very old belief, although buttressed by numerous tales of apparitions, that the Devil always appears with a cloven foot as a distinguishing mark. A suggested reason for such appearances is that the Evil One, having fallen to a level lower than any man is not to be permitted to take the perfect human form, but must have some deformity such as the cloven foot.

Others think there is a more likely explanation, the early Christians superimposed on the concept of the Devil the image of the pagan goat-footed god Pan."

- The Mystica




"In the night he's a star in the Milky Way"
He's a man of the world by the light of day"


How you have fallen from heaven, O STAR of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations!

Isaiah14: 12:

But we know from previous albums that the Great Deceiver is Maya, the material world.

"Maya is often called "the veil of illusion," the dance of multiplicity that distracts us so that we cannot see all matter as essentially identical."

- Maya

"Maya is the illusory power of God. She is the creatrix of this universe."

- FAQ on Spirituality



"She raised him up and she called him son
And she canonised the ground that he walked upon"


The chorus, apparently the only King Crimson lyrics ever penned by Robert Fripp, gives away the meaning of the song.

"Cigarettes, ice cream, figurines of the Virgin Mary
Cigarettes, ice cream, figurines of the Virgin Mary"


The first two items are common commodities in the marketplace. The third item represents the idea that some things should not be for sale, namely artistic integrity. Yet the world holds certain temptations for the artist.

"A golden smile and a proposition
And the breath of God smells of sweet sedition"


Once the artist has agreed to become a traitor to his own artistic aspirations, the rot sets in.



"Sing hymns make love get high fall dead
He'll bring his perfume to your bed
He'll charm your life 'til the cold winds blow
Then he'll sell your dreams to a picture show"


As if to show the end result of selling out, the final chorus lists music for the tourists . . .

"dixieland playing on the ferry"

. . . and something of value (artistic integrity) being squandered.

"drop a glass full of antique sherry"

"And while no night ever came down so black and starless as that which has settled on the human soul, in respect of its power over men, what can be compared to mental, moral, and spiritual darkness?"

- Thomas Guthrie
Christ the Inheritance of the Saints



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Lament

With the album's second track we see the possibility that King Crimson is following the template of the previous album. Track two of Larks' Tongues in Aspic was a lament for a failed relationship. Track two of Starless and Bible Black is a lament for a failed career by a failed artist who, with the demise of his career, has come to again appreciate what got him into the music business in the first place: music.

"I like the way the music goes
There's a few good guys who can play it right"



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We'll Let You Know

The next clue to this album's apparent concept is the title of the next track, an instrumental, We'll Let You Know.

Here's a list of a few of the Great Lies you may hear in our line of work:

23. We'll let you know.

- Great Lies of the Music Business


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The Night Watch

The Night Watch seems to serve the same purpose as Exiles in the previous album. That is to say, its expansive arrangement and meditative lyrics provide some relief from the darkness and despair of the album's earlier tracks. The meditation in Exiles was on the value of getting away from a previous life to gain some perspective, the value of being alone. The Night Watch is a meditation on, not just a work of art, but the purpose of art, on how it speaks to each of us personally. The protagonist of this album is a failed artist who reads into The Night Watch his own personal issues.
Rembrandt van Rijn The Night Watch


"So many years we suffered here
Our country racked with Spanish wars
Now comes a chance to find ourselves
And quiet reigns behind our doors
We think about posterity again"


Like the narrator in Exiles, who had a chance to find himself after a failed relationship, the man talking about The Night Watch has a chance to find himself after a musical career "racked" with failure "where quiet reigns behind our doors". No longer seeking after commercial success he thinks about "posterity again". The several references to middle class life (respectability, defenders of that way of life, the redbrick home, the bourgeoisie, guitar lessons for the wife) tell us he is no longer affluent and now lives a life of "normality", like the man in Exiles, far from the madding crowd.


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The Mincer

The Mincer is yet another commentary on the music industry.

mincer :
To moderate or restrain (words) for the sake of politeness and decorum; euphemize:
Don't mince words: say what you mean.

Dictionary.com




Just who is mincing their words? Is it a deferential musician seeking a gig? Or a disingenous promoter or record company executive? Clearly someone, by their actions...

"Fingers reaching,"

...is getting their hands dirty.

"Fingers reeking."

The last two lines could be those of a record executive who wishes the musicians in the band were "better looking" (to enhance marketability) but appreciates their compliance.

"They come better looking,
But they don't come mannered."



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Starless and Bible Black

Side two, consists of live improvisations and continues the dark, angular acerbic sound of side one. As in previous King Crimson albums, the goal is musical alchemy, a resolution of the basic conflict (of opposites) described on side one. The conflict is that of the artist who must choose between his muse and commercial success. The song title, Starless and Bible Black, could express King Crimson's position on the issue. Side two, and perhaps the band, is lacking in "commercial potential". Ostensibly, King Crimson is "starless". There are no stars in the band. As of the release of Starless and Bible Black, photos of the band had yet to appear on the outside cover of a king Crimson album. The meaning of the phrase "bible black" could refer to the artist's commitment to his work. To allow artistic integrity to be sacrificed on the altar of commercial avarice would entail ultimate bad faith with the self. It would be a sin.
The title of track one, Starless and Bible Black, and track two, Fracture, also point to the way out of the dilemma.


"The alchemists call the first stage, or Blackness, Putrefaction. In it the three principles which compose the "whole man" of body, soul and spirit, are "sublimated" till they appear as a black powder full of corruption, and the imperfect body is "dissolved and purified by subtle Mercury"; as man is purified by the darkness, misery, and despair which follows the emergence of his spiritual consciousness. As psychic uproar and disorder seems part of the process of mental growth, so " Solve et coagula "--break down



Fracture

that you may build up--is the watchword of the spiritual alchemist. The "black beast," the passional element, of the lower nature must emerge and be dealt with before anything further can be done. "There is a black beast in our forest," says the highly allegorical "Book of Lambspring," "his name is Putrefaction."

- Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill


emblem 2 Putrefaction - The Book of Lambspring



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