A masquerade is a ‘masked ball’, where the partygoers hide their identities
It is intended to be ‘pretentious’, and creates illusions. This is, I think a
characteristic of many of PJS’ lyrics, the creation of emotionally charged
illusions. In everyday speech, the word pretentious is derogatory – it implies
that a person is trying to create an inflated impression by pretending to be
I agree but I take this line to be, primarily, another reference to Maya or the
illusory nature of life. "Life is a masquerade and we are but the actors", to
paraphrase Leon Russell and Shakespeare. Of course, when we put on an act, when
we pretend to be something we are not (which is most of the time) we are being
Here I think the illusions are a pretense designed to create a special
emotional resonance as the ‘right word sits on the right note’. (This is a
paraphrase of something that Peter wrote somewhere – but I can’t remember
How does Peter construct his lyrical masks? Using:
metaphors and similes to create textures of sound and rhythm (‘see the slinky
seal cirkus policemen’).
puns and plays on words (‘I’m overhung and highly strung’)
Peter uses oxymorons quite a lot and in this sense he resembles Bob Dylan.
Remember Dylan’s lyric ‘there’s no success like failure and failure’s no
success at all’. By bringing together two apparently contradictory clichés he
creates a powerful new idea that exposes the paradoxical nature of our
You seem to be quite fond of Dylan. Peter once wrote, re: the song
In the Court of the Crimson King
"It may amuse /confuse you to know that I wrote the whole song words and v.
dodgy "Dylanesque" tune many months before I became with involved GG&F..."
Often Peter’s album liners and articles (eg Question of Balance) are very
revealing. I suspect that Peter writes instinctively without quite knowing what
or how he does it.
I suspect that you are right and what you describe is the essence of intuition.
After outlining the various themes of album one, I wonderd how Peter and the
group came up with THIS? It seemed to me that it would have taken several
committees many months to conceive a work of such staggering depth. Of course,
I was not there - so I don't know how it was done, but I suspect that Peter's
work is indeed instinctual but also the product of a a very well read mind. It
is a distillation of what he knows intrinsically and what he has read. Call it
the sufi Heartmind: "A man who has successfully combined the functions of both
the head and the heart, thought and feeling, inseparably into one new
expression of consciousness." "A marvelous coincidence in whom Eros and Logos
In his prose, he uses the same language in revealing ways:
“throw the runes in a pot…” (magic symbols used as a metaphor for songs)
“…sold kites and lamps” (These are used symbolically by Peter in his lyrics.
Peter is big on kites and lamps)
Peter, holed up in Somerset, hurt, tired, regretful, wounded, angry, bitter and
confused. Writing himself out of his depression. (at least so it seems to me –
read 'Hanging Fire').
Verse one is a 'Me' and 'I' conversation in his head. The child-like visionary
– seer of cloudy castles, hurtfully railing at the professional writer (at five
o clock you could never get the printer’s stain away). The visionary ‘me’
telling the professional ‘I’ ‘ you stole my cloudy castles (metaphor) and
didn’t say what for. The resolution of the verse is to walk away from the past
with its successes and failures (I count you lost – your words I’ve tossed in
the weary envelopes of yesterday). This is a deeply personal statement.
What you are saying seems to relate to the aural version of this song (the
written lyrics are different) where Peter sings . . .
"Still I've explored a plague of dreams"
He could be saying here "These were my dreams. I took them on. I am responsible
for whatever hurt comes out of them." I also can't help but compare this line
to Peter Hamill's
A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers
(from the Van Der Graff Generator album
) Too many lighthouse keepers. Too many dreams. Too many dreams can become a
plague, a curse.
However, several of the lines in verse one seem to be directed
at Robert Fripp. It could be argued that Robert Fripp stole Peter's "cloudy
castles but didn't say what for" and Robert Fripp said Peter . . .
"didn't have the eyes to paint out in the street
Without a standard martyr's hat and neon sloganned feet."
"On New Year's Day 1972, the New Musical Express reported that Sinfield had
left King Crimson, and
a week later Fripp explained his view on the matter: "I suppose that the
thing to say is that I felt the creative
relationship between us had finished. I'd ceased to believe in Pete ... It
got to the point where I didn't feel that by working together we'd improve on
anything we'd already done."
"To eat, it seems, I needed you for crumbs your need was
A self-deprecating remark ("it seems"). Music can stand alone without lyrics
and lyrics are not even lyrics(!) unless they are set to music. However, music
without substantive lyrics can be quite pointless (see Giles, Giles and Fripp).
"We cheered and passed the sanguine flask"
"Sanguine" means "cheerfully optimistic". It is also another word for
"crimson". They drank with optimism from the same crimson cup...
Though it was Robert Fripp who "made him see" that they could no longer work
together . . .
"It was just that he terrified me because he had such very strong
ideas and views. He was quite a cold, detached person, but always
smiling... not laughing, but always smiling. He somehow
- Judy Dyble on Bob Fripp & leaving King Crimson
. . . the "ice man" also signifies the coming of a cold dark season in one's
life, disillusionment and the death of dreams.
"These pipe dreams are the subject of the Eugene O'Neill play,
The Iceman Cometh
. If you were to ask why the inmates of Harry’s bar
don’t shoot themselves, the answer is that each of them is fooling
himself with the comforting
illusion about his past and future. There are two scarred relics of
the Boer War who dream of
going back to England and Africa respectively. An ex-policeman,
discharged for graft, dreams of
returning to the “force.” One character is actually nicknamed Jimmy
Tomorrow. The landlord is
called Harry Hope. His hope is to return to Tammany; but he has not
left the Last Harbor for
The Iceman Cometh
...on an intricate interweaving of themes, each motif ...focused on
melodic configuration in the ensemble of the dreamers' reiterations,
which is balanced by the
contrapuntal assertions of the trio of betrayers, Larry, Don
Parritt, and Hickey. Hickey's great
monologue is interrupted at key points by Parritt's echoing of the
same theme of the betrayal of a
woman, the two narratives forming a duet of guilt and loss. The
self-deceiving dream of each of the
bums is circular, repeated continually as O'Neill develops the theme
of the "hopeless hope." The
constant recapitulation has a similarity to musical motifs, and the
final choric explosion when the
dreamers commence to dream again is a remarkably expressive,
specifically musical achievement."
"At five o'clock you could never wash your printer's stain
So I count you lost and your words I've tossed
In the bleary envelopes of yesterday."
Many reviewers accused Peter Sinfield of being pretentious. It was the
journalists of the music business who "could never wash away their printer's
Yet we now know that Peter really did have something very big and important to
tell us. "Peter Sinfield, the serious artist", as it turns out, was no more (or
less) an act than any other appearance on this beautiful sphere.