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Bill's David Cross Interview -- Part One

This is where writer Bill Murphy posts his interviews with the Crims, and other prog luminaries. It's a book in serial form -- that you become part of!

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Bill's David Cross Interview -- Part One

Postby LTinAspic on Sun Apr 23, 2006 2:15 am

I apologize once more for being offline for so long. The months leading up to the first live theatre show of our season are the most hectic. So I've been spending a great deal of time on my "day job."

But I've worked on a few transcriptions and will be posting them soon.

I decided to take a break from Jamie Muir to listen to my interview with David Cross. I hadn't heard it in 10 years and it brought back a lot of memories -- not least of which is because David struck me as being a poised, thoughtful and witty guy. I enjoyed my chat with him very much.

Of course, I don't need to tell anyone that David Cross is an exceptional musician, playing the violin in ways that often brought me to the verge of emotional tears. His work on the incomparable <i>Starless</i> album, for example, featured beautifull melodies. Ditto for <i>Larks' Tongues in Aspic.</i> <i>Red</i> was a great album, but with both David and Jamie gone it just wasn't the same band to me.

This is Part One of perhaps 3-4 parts. The interview was conducted on November 23, 1993. It lasted about 90 minutes. I kept the transcription intact, with very few edits -- including the humorous beginning in which I called him and got accidentally disconnected. I believe I had called him the week before but he was under the weather and so asked me to call back at a later date, which I did.

As always, please feel free to share this interview and use it how you see fit. All I ask is that if you excerpt it, please include this credit: <b>Copyright 1993, 2006 Bill Murphy.</b>


DC: Hello?

BM: Hi, is this David?

DC: Yes, hi.

BM: Hi, this is Bill Murphy calling back.

DC: Oh, hi. I’m just changing phones, Bill.

[Dial tone]

BM: [Chuckle] Got cut off there, David.

DC: Hello?

BM: Hi, it’s me again.

DC: Oh hi, sorry. I don’t know how I lost you.

BM: That’s all right. No problem. How are you feeling?

DC: I’m fine, yes.

BM: Good. Well, you sound better.

DC: Yeah, nice to hear from you.

BM: Good

DC: My voice is just about working again now, I think.

BM: Good. Well, I’m working on a book, actually. I’ve done a lot of interviews and I’ve talked with a lot of folks, including Fripp. I spoke to him very briefly, he’s still kind of holding me off for an interview. But he’s pointed me a lot of directions here. But um...

DC: So what’s the book about?

BM: It’s about Crimson itself. I started out writing about progressive rock in general, and then I just narrowed it down to King Crimson.

DC: Right.

BM: And I’ve spoken to almost everybody now. Still a lot of people to talk to like technicians and roadies and managers and things, but I’ve talked to all the lyricists and all the people involved with it -- Bruford and Wetton and, you know, the whole crew there. Do you have some time to chat with me today?

DC: Yeah, of course.

BM: Oh, good.

DC: I’ve got tons of time.

DC: Why are you writing the book?

BM: Well, because it’s never been done before, for one thing. You always hear about Fripp’s opinion of things, or you can read a few liner notes from you. But generally, no one has ever talked to everybody involved. There’s a book on Robert out by a guy named Eric Tamm, a musicologist, and it just gives one side of things. And this book is generally a way to let everybody know what all sides had to say about it, what everybody thought.

DC: So what’s your background, are you a journalist or are you an academic, or...

BM: Yeah, uh, I’m a journalist, actually. And I work in advertising currently. And so my background is in writing and research and things of that sort.

DC: Right

BM: So far, it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve been working on it for about 9 or 10 months now.

DC: Right

BM: And...

DC: Big phone bill, I should think you have.

BM: Oh yes, I do. It’s about 500 bucks a month or so. [laughs]

DC: [laughs]

BM: Yeah, yeah, definitely. But uh...

DC: Where do you live? Where are you ringing from, New York?

BM: Actually, I live in St. Louis.

DC: St. Louis. OK.

BM: Well, would you like to begin?

DC: Yeah, cool.

BM: Ok. Tell me first of all how you got to write the liner notes for <The Great Deceiver>? How did that come about?

DC: Robert rang me up and it was the first time I had spoken to him 20 years last, I think.

BM: Uh-huh.

DC: And he wanted to..are you recording this, by the way?

BM: Oh yes, yes. If that’s all right with you.

DC: And he wanted to -- sorry, there was a little hiss on the line there.

BM: Oh.

DC: He told me about the album project, and, I mean, mainly he rang up to, obviously, to try and get my agreement to the release of the material.

BM: Hmm.

DC: And he said also, would I do some liner notes, you know, do something about Crimson to put in the little booklet with it. Which I was very interested to do.

BM: Uh-huh.

DC: So, I did so.

BM: You say that was...

DC: Then the album came out.

BM: Yeah, that was the first time you’d spoken to him in about 20 years?

DC: Yes, about that long, yeah.

BM: Huh. Really, wow. [laughs] Well, what was it like talking to him again? Did it bring back a lot of memories, or…?

DC: [sighs] Yea. Well...yes. I mean, I think the thing of it...It was very nice, first of all, I think it was nice to make contact again. I mean, I think there was a warmth, you know. I remember it made me think of kind of the first time I met Robert, and you know, the earliest times I had with him which were very warm. And a lot of the time on the road we, you know, we got on very well together. So it was, in that way, it was speaking to an old friend, and yet at the same time it was quite clearly there were a lot of things about Robert that hadn’t changed over, you know, the last 20 years. And those were a bit disappointing really.

BM: [laughs] Yeah.

DC: You know, I think, you know, the rest of us, I mean I don’t know about everybody but I sort of meet up with Bill every now and again...

BM: Really?

DC: ...and you know, we’ve both changed quite a lot I think, you know, grown in lots of ways. Robert didn’t sound like he was that much different than he was 20 years ago.

BM: Yeah?

DC: But you know, that’s just my impression over a brief phone call, so I don’t really know.

BM: Well...

DC: I mean, he still has his sense of humor.

BM: Uh-huh.

DC: Which is always quite, quite sharp.

BM: Oh yeah, definitely. Yeah, from what I…well, when I talked to Bruford he seems to be a bit bitter about things, very cynical about the music industry. And he doesn’t seem to get on well with Robert.

DC: No, no I think he was very upset by Robert last time he worked with him. I think from, again, only from talking with Bill as you’ve done.

BM: Yeah.

DC: The impression I got was that, you know, Bill felt that Robert needed to insult him.

BM: [laughs] Yeah?

DC: And, you know, it’s fulfilling some function of Robert’s psyche, rather than having any real foundation. I think it was, it would seem to be something apart from the music, really. You know, something he found unnecessary and wearing and extreme, I mean that’s the impression I got from Bill.

BM: One thing Bill told me that I wanted to ask you about. I did ask John Wetton, and I asked Richard Palmer-James, and people like that. Bill said that rehearsals were just excruciating.

DC: [laughs]

BM: He said it was like long periods of time with people just staring at their feet with nothing to do and it was difficult to make the music. What was your impression of the rehearsals?

DC: [laughs] That’s an interesting question, isn’t it?

BM: [laughs]

DC: I don’t -- I hadn’t thought about them.

BM: Uh-huh.

DC: You know, I find rehearsals generally very hard work. These days, and in general. You know, I mean what I enjoy is being on the stage or, or you know, finishing a record.

BM: Uh-huh.

DC: There are lots of parts of the whole business of making music I really don’t enjoy. I think rehearsing is one of them.

BM: [laughs]

DC: You know, getting it right is, is the long, long hard slog.

BM: Uh-huh.

DC: But also you know it’s the arguments and things. I think we were…I think there were lots of mutual frustrations. I think we frustrated each other considerably.

BM: Really?

DC: And I think that that probably lead to, you know, a lot of looking at the floor as you say.

BM: [laughs]

DC: I’m not sure I remember it that way. I mean, I seem to remember, problems with getting everybody to the same place, on time, and how people felt about that, you know. And I mean, I still find that kind of inconsistency amongst musicians still a problem.

BM: Uh-huh.

DC: I don’t know which role I take. I think you take various roles according to the group of people you’re with, you know?

BM: [laughs]

DC: Sometimes you know, you can be the early bird. Sometimes you’re the one who’s always late. And we all find our functional order amongst our colleagues, don’t we?

BM: Yeah.

DC: I don’t remember this as clearly, I don’t think as Bill might. I do remember frustration. I do remember --

BM: Well what caused that? What kind of frustration? Not just showing up late or showing up --

DC: Not being able to achieve ideas, I think.

BM: Really?

DC: Yeah. Yeah, I think that we were coming…I think John and Bill managed to find thought, and found kind of a common language, uh, some kind of understanding fairly easily. I think mostly, myself and Robert would kind of…we were looking for something that wasn’t there, you know...

BM: Uh-huh.

DC: ...and the attempt to try and create something new. I mean, I think that’s always Robert’s view, and I think that that’s uh, you know, I think that’s fantastic. I certainly, you know, did not -- having come kind of steeped in rock before that -- didn’t have any solid idea about what something should sound like. And it was very much fishing around in the dark and saying, well maybe we should try this and I’ve a feeling it ought to sound a bit like this. And I, you know, my role models would be outside the rock experience. I mean, I’ll always remember the totally embarrassing experience of going to radio stations.

BM: [laughs]

DC: You know, I’d go to radio stations, and people would, you know, do an interview or something, and say, well, “Now choose a record, David.” You know, they show you the rack behind you and it has every damned record that was ever released there, you know.

BM: [laughs]

DC: And I’d say, “But you know, there’s no Bartok here. I can’t see any Coltrane, you know. This is all pop records. I don’t know anything about these.”

BM: [laughs]

DC: And the guys would look at you like you’re some complete idiot.

BM: [laughs]

DC: And that was what it was like. I mean, that’s where I was coming from. I mean, I like the Beatles, you know, and that was about it. But I didn’t really have any current understanding of the business I was in, I suppose.

BM: Uh-huh.

DC: And, you know, I think John and Bill did very much, and Robert seemed to as well. But I wasn’t quite happy to be in it. I wanted to be elsewhere, I think, musically. I mean I think that’s part of the tension that was there, that made Crimson interesting. But I think there was lots of talking complete cross-purposes. You know, somebody would try something they think would make your idea really work – and, you know, instead it would destroy it utterly.

BM: [laughs]

DC: And so there was a lot of trying to understand each other’s language, I think.

BM: Yeah that was one word he used, Bill Bruford. He said, “There was no common musical language with which to talk to each other. “

DC: That’s right, yes. Very true, yeah. I mean, I learned masses from him, enormous amounts from Bill, I think. I think we started off almost sort of polarized when I first met him. You know, sort of coming from opposite corners of the earth, it seemed. And not particularly our personal backgrounds, but our musical backgrounds seemed to be quite different. And uh, we sort of kind of passed each other half way at some point. [laughs] And he kind of went sideways off into jazz. I think it was his kind of bag and his love. And I kind of, you know, rather embraced rock music in a way that I never expected I would when I started.

BM: [laughs]

DC: So I learned a hell of a lot from him. I mean, he’d write things out for me, things, you know, things I couldn’t understand. He’s an intelligent musician who could, you know, talk about, write about, understand rhythm as well as play it. You know, he actually was able to translate sounds into, you know, visual patterns. He could write things down so I could look at them and think about them and say, “Oh yes, I see how that does work,” you know, count them out and things, things which, you know, otherwise would have been incomprehensible to me, I think. And he made great effort that way, which I think was very good. And, you know, I think from his direction, he made a great effort to assimilate a lot of new ideas to do with improvisation and, you know, were very successful obviously, ‘cuz that was, you know, the direction he had been involved in, which he wasn’t before that time. And I think, you know, there was a great exchange. You know, I don’t know that, I don't believe that we ever did find a common language as such.

BM: Uh-huh.

DC: But I don’t think it’s really part of the picture of the times, is it? I mean you know, the picture of the time, I think, you know the search for universal, any common language, any universal language is perhaps rather fruitless. I mean the search really is for…I think it’s too early for that anyway.

BM: Yeah.

DC: I mean, that might take place at some point in the future, but at the moment this is just a big diversion of languages. And I think that that was the kind of, you know round the time of the beginning of that process, I suppose. The end of one process and the beginning of another. It was kind of the end of synthesis and the beginning of diversity, I suppose. And we were kind of sitting right on the edge of that, I think. And it always was interesting, but I think part of the, language that we did develop, you know, the time I was with them was largely conditioned by the audience. I can’t remember if I mentioned that in the liner notes, but the thing of being, you know -- American audiences particularly -- responding well to the heart of rock numbers, and that’s what we delivered.

BM: Uh-huh.

DC: Because, you know, when they got bored was when there were silly old violin tunes going on.

BM: [laughs]

DC: Piddling around with glockenspiels and things, you know...

BM: [laughs]

DC: tend to stop doing it. So, you know, we were rather weak-willed in that way, I think. I think we were walking down a very dodgy path towards, you know, being a heavy metal group.

BM: Yeah, well but --

DC: Probably, well, nothing wrong with -- I mean I like heavy metal. But, I mean, I think that was the only parts we were being, you know, magnetized towards.

BM: There are a lot of things to ask you, I guess, about those three albums. First, I’ve heard about Robert being sort of a fierce taskmaster, a difficult guy to work with. Did you find him to be such, or was he a likable, workable pleasant kind of guy?

DC: No I didn’t find him difficult to work with. He was actually very, very supportive.

BM: Really?

DC: And a wonderful musician. He really did listen to what was going on. And knew how to play the right thing. I- you know, he had- has, I suppose- the, um, the talent to be sort of in and above the music. You know, he has kind of star quality to be uh, you know, an arch soloist and uh, you know, a musical exhibitionist, combined with the, you know, musicality and sense to get back inside the music again as well. I think that’s really quite rare, and, you know, I think he deserves a lot of credit for that.

BM: Uh huh.

DC: Because, you know, that’s something not many people can do and keep their integrity. I think it’s a great skill. He was very…I thought he was very patient and gave a lot, I think. No, I didn’t think he was a hard taskmaster. I mean, I think we all knew the standards we were trying to work towards, you know, and the standards we held up, you know, were high. I think we fairly consistently missed them, but...

BM: [laughs]

DC: But, you know, we tried hard to play well. No I think he was very good to work with. I think the difficulties with Robert have to do with things outside music, really. But you know, I mean, I don’t know how he was lately. But, I mean, at that time he was, he always seemed to me very open to things. You know I’ve seen other papers showing bits of him writing about how to do it and he’s writing a diary or something about how to play music. I know he’s been teaching somewhat in the meantime, and uh, you know, maybe he’s sort of become more dogmatic about the way things should be done over the years.

BM: Yeah.

DC: But certainly at that time he wasn't. And you know, everything was really up for grabs, you know, and he was just developing his ideas along with everybody else, I think. So no, I don’t look back at him as a kind of hard taskmaster. I mean everything actually was very democratic.

BM: I think what I’m finding in these interviews is people’s opinion of Robert depends on their own personality. For example, when I asked Bill that question, boy, he gave me an earful of what was wrong with Robert. But you and John are very much more laid back, and you tend to think more highly of him. So I guess it depends a lot on your own personality.

DC: Well, yes. But Bill worked with him longer, too, didn’t he, as well?

BM: Uh-huh.

DC: I mean, I think Bill may have gone to work with him in the period of Robert's development or the development of Robert's personality, which was maybe more difficult than the time that I was there. Maybe he did get more rigid after, after that time. I’ve seen some things about, you know, about him saying the right way to improvise, which is, of course, a load of bollocks.

BM: [laughs]

DC: Nobody knows the answers to these things. I mean…

BM: Well, he knows ’em now, huh?

DC: Seriously, is that what he says?

BM: Yeah, it’s his kind of…Yeah. I’ve read a lot of things and, I’ve seen some of his videotapes of his Guitar Craft school. It did seem dogmatic about how it should be, how to hold the pick, how to sit, you know, how to improvise.

DC: Oh dear, how boring!

BM: Yeah. [laughs]

DC: More sort of Fripp clones.

BM: Yeah. [laughs]

DC: That’s what we need.

BM: What do you think about his opinion that King Crimson is sort of an entity outside of the band? You know, it’s an iconic being that sort of plays through the musicians from time to time. Did you ever share that view of his or did you ever hear it before?

DC: No I haven’t really, no. Doesn’t impress me, really.

BM: [laughs]

DC: It sounds like King Crimson is God, I mean. This is the way that people talk about their ass and God, isn’t it? People say that, you know, the music is coming through the air and being, you know, I'm the vessel through which music is played. I’m afraid I’m much more down to earth than that. I think that music is made by people for people. I think it’s a wonderful fascinating and incomprehensible process but, no, I don’t think that. I don’t think that any band or any piece of music takes on an existence outside, you know, the people doing it, the people creating it. You know, except in a very sort of semantic philosophical sense, I suppose.

BM: [laughs]

DC: It has no real meaning to me that, no.

BM: Well that’s interesting. He started coming up with that and vocalizing it in the early 80’s, I guess, and saying that King Crimson was a being outside of the band that sort of animated you guys from time to time and kind of played through you.

DC: Mmmm.

BM: And I guess he’s developed along those lines are very philosophical and semantic.

DC: All these things are just a way of talking about our experiences, aren’t they? I mean, I would say I suppose that’s as legitimate a way of describing the process by which music is made as any that I could come up with. I mean, I would come up with things like, you know, when you exhaust all the possibilities, uh, you know, what remains starts to get interesting. I think that’s the sort of thing that happened with us. We improvised a lot and I think, you know, we bored ourselves stupid.

BM: [laughs]

DC: [laughs] And in a vague, desperate attempt by our psyches to remain entertained, we sometimes came up with something a bit amusing. And I think that, you know, maybe that’s the sort of process that was going along. And I see that you could interpret that process as being sort of a spiritual visitation, yeah. But I don’t think I would use those words to, to describe it.

BM: How did you get the gig with Crimson anyway? Were you aware of the band before you joined up the first time?

DC: Not very. I had heard some King Crimson. I remember I specifically remembered that I thought it was very bad film music.

BM: [laughs]

DC: It was very second-rate film music, and I didn’t understand why the hell anybody would want to make music like that.

BM: [laughs]

DC: I was very naive, I suppose, in that kind of way. I didn’t have any respect for what people actually have done. No, I didn’t really know anything about it. I knew about Yes, I was impressed by Yes. I’d never seen them but I’d heard a record or two, I think. So I knew about Yes beforehand and I knew about Family, which was John Wetton's previous band.

BM: Uh-huh.

DC: So I knew everyone of any importance in the states. So I knew more about the others than I did about Robert, I think, initially.

BM: So that, that type of music -- what’s become known as, I guess, progressive rock -- you knew of it before Crimson, you just weren’t aware of Crimson’s music?

DC: Well that’s right, yeah. So, yes. I mean I was coming into music from a folk rock direction, basically. It was just something that had been around a while, sort of current in 1970, which was when I started trying to earn a living from music. And I was becoming more and more aware of there being something interesting going on. And I, yes, I was certainly in a band that was very popular, getting very popular at that time. Which was impressing people by their, I think tightness, which is unusual in this country. You know, American bands were, by and large, then very tight, by comparison with English bands. English bands are generally very sloppy.

BM: Really?

DC: And, yes, we seemed comparatively, you know, together. So that was almost a technical thing, really. I suppose, you know, the spirit that I was interested in, I didn’t know anything, I didn’t really understand, was Hendrix and Cream.

BM: Oh yeah.

DC: I didn’t really understand where that was coming from. But I was quite curious. I suppose I was sort of moving in that direction out of curiosity, but I kind of arrived in the middle of it all, you know, before I kind of knew anything about it, really. [laughs]

Part Two coming very soon -- promise!


Last edited by LTinAspic on Sun Apr 23, 2006 4:05 pm, edited 5 times in total.
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Postby vrooom on Sun Apr 23, 2006 2:25 am

Another slice of crimson gold. Well worth the wait. Many thanks, Bill - it's stuff like this that gives this place a reason to exist.

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Postby Dog_none on Sun Apr 23, 2006 2:29 am

Sweet. Thanks again, Bill. Gold is an understatement.
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Postby vrooom on Sun Apr 23, 2006 2:31 am

OK - platinum then. It's 2.30am and I am hungover and should be in bed. So :P to the lot of ya! ;-)

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Postby Whiskey Vengeance on Sun Apr 23, 2006 3:58 am

Bravo! Thanks alot, Bill! Well worth the wait! :D
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Postby MarkSullivan on Sun Apr 23, 2006 4:29 am

Whiskey Vengeance wrote:Bravo! Thanks alot, Bill! Well worth the wait! :D

What he said. It's old stuff, anyway, so what's a little wait? Really interesting to get the different perspectives.
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Postby evktalo on Sun Apr 23, 2006 1:57 pm

Priceless stuff - "Fripp clones", that was funny. This was very interesting to read. I always thought Cross was kind and polite, and that showed here but he also had some very edgy and witty comments. Very interesting! Thanks Bill!

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Postby Indyrod on Sun Apr 23, 2006 3:15 pm

This was a fun read, I've always been a huge fan of David Cross' work with Crim. It surprised me so far, he's been pretty easy on Fripp, while hearing Bruford's rants. I'm very interested to get to the historical part about the "Red" album and how David pretty much got screwed IMO. He sounds like a very kind likable and professional artist, which is not surprising at all. I agree the "fripp clones" remark is very very funny.
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Postby Gilesfan on Mon Apr 24, 2006 6:16 am

Wonderful Bill! :D I can't recall reading too many David Cross interviews, so it is a gem indeed.

Thanks! :D
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