The Bemolution recently read in its music rag of choice that Robert Fripp has retired. Robert Fripp is a 66 year-old rock guitarist responsible for producing some of the oddest, angriest, most un-guitar-like noises in the history of the instrument, in addition to being one of the strangest men alive.
He first surfaces in the annals of rock in the late 1960s as axeman and de facto leader of King Crimson, the band that pioneered the much, sometimes justifiably maligned medium of progressive rock. Crimson would go through various incarnations over the next four decades, but Fripp’s best work almost always came about when his prodigious talents were paired with someone else’s creative vision – David Bowie’s, Brian Eno’s, David Sylvian’s and others.
Fripp is also industry-renowned for being incredibly odd. He looks and speaks like a West Country Hannibal Lecter, and has developed a mind-rendingly pretentious, pseudo-spiritual worldview that novelly – some would say solipsistically – concludes that his home town of Wimborne Minster in Dorset is the centre of the universe. He’s married to pop-punk princess Toyah Wilcox, better known to our generation as Barmy Aunt Boomerang, and as ‘the Minx’ in Fripp’s genuinely haunting online diary (he also regularly discusses his pet rabbit, Willy Fred).
People often mistake Fripp’s baffling demeanour for him not having a sense of humour. His ambient solo compositions – or Frippertronics as they’ve become known – earned him the attention of Microsoft, who asked him to compose the start-up sound for Windows Vista. He duly did, and his four-second bleep has since been heard billions of times in millions of homes across the world: ‘one of the planet’s least popular music forms will also be one of the most sounded’, he later mused. ‘This has to be some kind of record’.
Millions more human beings were unwittingly exposed to mind-altering Fripp rays one Friday night last July. When Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ was used to score the entrance of British athletes at the Danny Boyles’ Olympic Opening Ceremony, it was Fripp’s shimmering guitar work that shook the stadium. Humanity had barely been given chance to recover before it struck again a fortnight later – blasphemously, at least for a blog-based non-phenomenon that likes Fripp and Bowie and thinks Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell represent quite a lot that’s wrong with the world, ‘Fashion’ was used in a nauseating celebration of the UK’s overpaid clothes-horse industry during the Closing Ceremony.
But now he’s retired, or so he claims. For years, he’s been fighting a protracted, probably unwinnable guerrilla war with music behemoth Universal Group over the right to distribute his work. Fripp, characteristically, has pursued the matter with fanatical zeal, dedicating himself to a samurai-calm duel to the finish. Being a musician had become ‘a joyless exercise in futility’, he told the Financial Times. ‘What has changed in 40 years? It’s very simple: 40 years ago there was a market economy. Today there’s a market society – today everything, including ethics, has a price’.
Another one bites the dust. By way of vague tribute to an irreplaceable oddball and innovator in the six-stringed realm, the Bemolution will admiringly describe work he mostly did decades ago for other people in a few blog posts. It’s the thought that counts.