"It basically comes from love": John McLaughlin in conversation with Robert Fripp, 1982

Recently came across this piece, originally published in Musician No. 45, July, 1982…


John McLaughlin


Coffee and Chocolates for Two Guitars
by Robert Fripp

Weather shut England and delayed the jammed flight to Paris by three hours, so I landed at 1:30 pm. A mad taxi driver helped to make up the lost time by driving like a mad taxi driver (the only madder ones than Paris’ are in Milan). This guy only hit one car but we nearly collected a second-a young Parisian jumped the light so we took it kinda personal, sped up and aimed. He backed down when he sized the opposition. Then we drove through the No Entry sign to John’s street; his number was inconveniently at the wrong end. I got out at the front door of the quintessentially French apartment building, in what looked suspiciously like a pedestrian zone, a small back lane of one of my two favorite cities in the world.

John McLaughlin should need no introduction, but I suppose editorial etiquette necessitates an exposition of the highlights of his extraordinary career. John probably would be equally admired had there been no Mahavishnu Orchestra—his turn-of-the-decade work with Tony Williams’ LifetimeTony Williams’ Lifetime and his contributions to Miles Davis’ epochal Bitches Brew (known forever as the first fusion album) and A Tribute to Jack Johnson would have ensured that—but it is unquestionably the Mahavishnu Orchestra, with its jagged explosions of cosmic fire and odd-metered funkiness that remains McLaughlin’s best loved and most celebrated band. The Orchestra’s cheerful acceptance of rock ‘n’ roll and other non-jazz idioms never diluted the pyrotechnical excellence of its musicians, Billy Cobham, Jan Hammer, Jerry Goodman, and Rick Laird.

Both before and after Mahavishnu, McLaughlin quietly established his jazz credentials as a band leader in a more subdued but more personally expressive medium with such brilliant albums as Extrapolation, My Goals Beyond (recently rereleased), the underrated Johnny McLaughlin – Electric Guitarist, his collaboration-meditation with Carlos Santana Love Devotion Surrender and his latest, Belo Horizonte. McLaughlin is one of the very few guitarists who have consistently held my respect. Not all his music is my bag of bananas, but I’ve learned from all of it. And he’s still moving. The traditional arguments about technique—no feel, no music—don’t work with this man. My hunch is that the streams of notes don’t even come close to the tearing, ripping spray of what is trying to get out. Except sometimes.

I am warmly greeted by John and his attractive roommate (and the keyboard player in Belo Horizonte), Katia LeBeque. Katia and her sister are a classical music duo with a four-hands piano rendition of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue selling modestly in Europe. John is a dapper dresser; today he’s in grey: flannels and pullover, shirt and tie not quite matching and just enough so that either you knew that he knew, or maybe he knew you didn’t. This subtlety of stressing the discontinuities, some exquisite Basque confectionery placed between us, the charm of the apartment—in mellowed pink, the ceiling veeing into the roof, spiral stairs—hinted at an intermezzo between the acts of flying. John is straightforward, friendly, and a gentleman. He speaks softly in a curious mix of Scottish, Indian, and French accents. We discussed the several occasions we had previously met for a time, and then I assumed a more journalistic role.

Fripp: Why do you think you became a musician?

McLaughlin: Happily, my mother was an amateur musician; she was a violinist and there was always music going on in the house. We got a gramophone one day, and someone had Beethoven’s Ninth, and on the last record, which is at the end of the symphony, there’s a vocal quartet in which the writing is extraordinary…the voices and the harmonies. I must have been about six or seven when I distinctly remember hearing it for the first time. I suppose that’s when I started to listen. Because when you’re young, you’re not paying attention. What do you know when you’re a kid? It was unbelievable, what it was doing to me was tremendous. I began to listen consciously to music and I started taking piano lessons when I was nine and went on to guitar at eleven…

Fripp: Did anything trigger the guitar in particular?

McLaughlin: Yeah, it was the D major chord. My brother showed it to me on the guitar, and I had this feeling of the guitar against my whole body…

Fripp: Did you have the F# on the bottom string?

McLaughlin: No, no. I was playing full-note chords. Eleven years old…what are you going to do? You have a small hand and, you know…What about you? Did you have a similar experience?

Fripp: I was ten. Definitely no sense of rhythm, and I spent a long time wonderting why it was that such an unlikely candidate would become a professional musician. But I knew right away that I was going to earn a living from it. Thinking about it over the years, I think music has a desire to be heard, such a kind of compulsion to be heard that it picks on unlikely candidates to give it voice.

McLaughlin: Yeah, I think that it basically comes from love. I mean, the kind of attraction that you have when you listen to it when you’re young. It’s inexplicable in a way.

Fripp: It’s a direct vocabulary…

McLaughlin: Exactly. Perhaps what you say is truth insofar as the music itself chooses, but it’s not a one-way street from music’s point of view. In a sense, you know, we fall in love with the muse and the muse falls in love with its prospective voices.

Fripp: The sentence I would add is that the music needed me to give it a voice, but in a feeble way. I needed music more, far more than music needed me.

McLaughlin: The most difficult thing, I think, in being a musician is to get out of the way.

Fripp: How do you get out of the way? Do you have specific techniques or regimens that you use? Can you just get yourself out of the way without thinking about it?
Continue reading

Joe Strummer and Robert Fripp in conversation, 1981

Joe Strummer: wikipedia
Robert Fripp: wikipedia

Note: At the time of this conversation, Joe Strummer was 28 and Robert Fripp was 35.

RUDE BOYS: An Interview with Joe Strummer and Robert Fripp
by Vic Garbarini

Originally published in Musician Magazine, June 1981

Musician: One of the main things you two have in common is the belief that music can actually change society. How can this happen?

Strummer: Because music goes directly to the head and heart of a human being. More directly and in more dimensions than the written word. And if that can’t change anybody, then there’s not a lot else that will. Music can hit as hard as if I hit you with a baseball bat, you know? But it’s not an overnight thing; you can’t expect everything to change quickly. I figure it’s an organic process. Insidious. Look how listening to all those hippie records has affected everybody in general: everybody feels looser about things now.

Fripp: I did a radio show in New York with Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats recently, and he said he didn’t believe rock and roll could change anything. And I said to him, I disagree. So he said, well, if you build up hope in Joe Bloggs in some slum in Northern Ireland, he’s just going to wind up disappointed. And I said, look, if there’s Joe Bloggs in his appalling social conditions in Northern Ireland with no hope, and that becomes Joe Bloggs at No. 8 in his appalling social conditions but with hope, you have two entirely different situations.

S: That’s right. Good point that.

F: Then it’s possible for the geezer at No. 10 to get some hope, too. And then it spreads up the street, and you have a community. Then you have a community. Then you’re talking about something which isn’t dramatic and exciting, but which contains the possibility of real change. It’s easy to miss because it’s essentially personal, and it’s very quiet. And like Joe says, it takes time.

M: Is it the music itself that can do this, or does it merely serve as a rallying point?

F: Both, really. It serves as a rallying point, but it can work more directly too. I think sometimes at a really good gig when there’s a certain quality in the music, a kind of liberation can take place, and you don’t go home and take quite as much crap from the news as you did before, because you’ve actually tasted a different quality of experience which changes how you think about things. So to a degree you’ve been liberated.

M: How did you both wind up choosing music as your means of expression? How were you feeling about things in general, or what made you decide it had to be a band? That there was something you needed or could accomplish through rock?

Continue reading

It's all in the accounting, or: SPOTIFY ISN'T THE ANSWER

Robert Fripp is a guitarist and founding member of King Crimson. He maintains an online diary. From his diary for September 14, 2009…

“Two King Crimson tracks, provided for a CD release to Universal Music Group (although with reservations & with digital rights withheld) have been provided by UMG to Spotify. Those visitors interested in the music industry’s development of ‘legal downloads’ and new income streams for artists may be interested in the following.

“From a Power Possessor at UMG…

What I understand has happened.. is that in our systems there are two versions of the Anthology. One of these is for physical and has the two King Crimson tracks and one is for Digital which does not have the two King Crimson tracks. What happened was that the person who supplied the album to Spotify supplied the wrong version…

I have had royalties delve into this and they have advised me that “Cat Food” has been streamed 353 times and “Groon” 265 times. This has generated a payment to Island Records from Spotify of £1.61p.

I have been assured that the recordings have been withdrawn from Spotify and steps taken to ensure that this will not arise again.

“£1.61 gross on 618 streams, then reduced from gross to net artist royalty on tracks improperly provided by UMG – a shareholder in Spotify? Is this seriously being presented as a future for the industry?”

More on Spotify and other “music subscription services” at the New York Times.