2016’s thirst for carnage takes another. We lost Greg Lake on Wednesday to cancer, silencing the original voice of the mighty King Crimson.
In a slavishly overwritten post from almost a decade ago, I summed up my adoration for Crimson’s signature opus, that being “21st Century Schizoid Man” from the stately 1969 debut, In the Court of the Crimson King (pictured above, modelled by my little boy Oliver earlier this year in Academy Records on 18th Street). While that psychoproggy proto-metal riff-blitzkrieg was indeed my way in to all things King Crimson, that whole album is just a magnificent artifact from start to finish. Shifting from mammoth slabs of skull-expanding sound to flights of mellotron-fueled whimsy, Greg Lake’s sonorous vocals provide an order to the maelstrom of sonic flourishes. I was never as wowed by his work with Emerson, Lake & Palmer in later years, but for that first Crimson album alone, Greg Lake is a goddamn titan.
After reading of the great man’s passing this morning at home, I listened to the entirety of In the Court.. in my headphones on my trek to work this morning, bellowing along with the Tolkienesque verses and portentous chorus of the sprawling title track as I strode down the narrow canyon of Cortlandt Alley, with my invocations of the purple piper and the fire-witch echoing off the pavement.
As I mentioned in the obit I penned for the job, while Lake is largely just associated with prog rock, his influence spans beyond that subgenre. “Schizoid” has been covered by everyone from Unrest to Voivod and was even sampled by Kanye West. Lake’s days in ELP arguably made him the personification of everything Punk Rock sought to destroy (although I’d sooner suggest it was his orchestral-filigree-obsessed bandmate, the recently late Keith Emerson, that was guiltier of that charge), but if you can’t hear the untethered rock fury in “21st Century Schizoid Man” (Black Sabbath and Killing Joke were certainly listening), you’re just not paying close enough attention.
Damn you, 2016.