Bloomberg News posted a rather disingenuous editorial comparing Bill Clinton to Donald Trump, the idea being that Trump is simply presenting a grotesque version of the Clinton presidency.

The upshot is that the sex scandals entrapping Trump are as unforgivable as those that Bill Clinton subjected us to back in the 90s, and that somehow because Dems gave Clinton a pass, we should do the same for Trump. I call bullshit. Loud and Clear. I won’t give Trump a pass for ostensibly the same issue (infidelity) for a great number of reasons. One is that Trump’s payouts push us into obstruction of justice territory that Clinton’s simply didn’t.

But let me back up. There’s some merit to this argument that it’s the same thing. For all his impropriety, if the allegations even of rape against Bill Clinton are true (and that’s a hard thing to write, given how loudly we howled in his defense back in the 90s), in general he had the interests of the country and its underclasses at heart. At least some of the time. The health care battle, in the history of those times goes head to head with welfare ‘reform’ and his Supreme Court choices get in the ring with the death warrant he signed during the ‘92 campaign. Yeah, he did dozens of things wrong from my liberal pacifist armchair perspective.

However, what devolved from the Clinton presidency onward was an intractable right wing that had only the interest of the the wealthy and the evangelical in mind and the continuation of their own power. Part of the issue is that the Democrats (as an organization, not an affiliation) have the same faults and predilections as the right, but never had what it took to separate the workers’ interests from the worker’s evangelical leaning in the public imagination. I’m not sure how it evolved that the best interests of the worker no longer lay with that of other workers. (Howard Zinn, if I recall rightly, explains that historically it dates back to slavery/reconstruction when whites in power peddled the line to the landless/luckless whites that ‘you may be trash, but at least you’re not black.’)

Fostering that seemed to hold things together. Oddly this was the Dems’ position, not the Republicans’. It wasn’t until Nixon that the Republicans took hold of Dixie. While it was a Republican that presided over the Union in the Civil War – the Dixiecrats held the south until a Southern white democrat signed the Civil Rights Act. It took the Dems 100 years to lose the South and Republicans have only tighetned their stranglehold in the last 50.

But it’s not unremarked upon that no matter what, both Republicans in legislatures and Democrats vote against the interests of the poor. Nine times out of ten, if not more. I’m not sure that’s just a recent New Democrat (the American equivalent of the UK’s New Labour) or if it dates further back than Clinton’s election. My suspicion is that recent statistics on the matter would be borne out if we applied them in every decade to the founding of the union.

I’ve said before that Clinton was a bastard (our bastard, sure), but we knew when he signed off on Rudy Ray Rector’s death penalty at the start of the ‘92 campaign, that he could be either disgustingly calculating or outright heartless. I think the left trusted it to be the former, because it’s somehow well-known that someone against the death penalty could never be president. I pulled the lever for him twice, because 12 years of Reagan/Bush were enough. And because in ‘96, Dole got the nomination because it was his turn, not because he was the best Republican for the job. Not saying he wasn’t the better man, but I wasn’t ready to question my own liberal ideology. (I’ve been ready enough in recent years, but 21st century American conservatism turns my stomach. So I’ll keep my lunch, thanks. And American Liberalism is firmly in Reagan territory at this point anyway.)

So all that noise above about Bill Clinton is simply to say that I, and possibly my fellow liberals, are not blind to his faults, and that we knew what we were getting into. He was as opportunistic a politician as any other, but no matter what bullshit was thrown at him with regards the so-called scandals of the time, he wasn’t found to be absolutely crooked. This is the key distinction between Clinton (and the Lewinsky affair which finally brought him to impeachment) and Trump (and his various scandals): we know that Trump is crooked. We know because he doesn’t release his tax returns; we know because the one lawyer he keeps close makes payoffs to keep stories from the newspapers; we know because several who did work for him came forward during the campaign to say he reneged on contracts; we know by the skeezy way he talks about his daughter.

I’m going to move from the differences between Trump and Clinton to the greater issue of how our recent presidents differ in similar ways.

Valerie Plame penned an interesting editorial on the pardon of Scooter Libby this week. Libby was the only person charged (and convicted) in the outing of Agent Plame as a covert agent in 2003. His situation plays into the essential what-aboutism of the Bloomberg editorial – Under Bush II and Trump, the worst elements of the party have twisted the agenda of the president. While we may have disagreed quite strenuously with Clinton’s policies, behaviour, and agenda, we didn’t doubt his grasp of policy and his understanding of how his actions would resonate in the geopolitical arena.

For example, when he joined in the bombing of the former Yugoslavia, he knew what the effects might be and he was aware of the historical context in which the war was taking place. (More on this in a moment.) When Rumsfeld and Cheney dragged us into Iraq, President Bush knew that we in the public knew that he was well out of his depth and had no idea what the fuck he was doing. (My apologies: Take a moment to diagram that sentence if you need to.) He told us as much during the campaign, that he was taking on the greatest minds of his daddy’s administration to guide him. The problem was then, as now, the massive conflicts of interest. Has anyone measured how much Dick Cheney’s fortune increased due to Halliburton’s Iraq/Afghanistan war contracts? Just for a start?

Cheney knew the effects of what was going to happen and apparently didn’t give a good goddamn.

Did anyone who mattered in the Shrub White House grasp the history of the region well enough to know the can of worms we were opening? In the public arena, they showed that they didn’t care. The impression they delivered was that eventually the oil would flow and its profits would flow back to the US, that they didn’t care about the war’s time line – the past history didn’t matter – the future would justify it, that they didn’t understand the distinctions between Shias and Sunnis and Kurds (the Yazidi didn’t even figure into the public equation at the time), that somehow all the ethnic hatreds that were held in check by Saddam Hussein would evaporate once we, um, liberated the place.

Clinton at least gave the impression that he cared about what was going to happen. With Bush and Trump, we don’t see that they understand the effects or that they care.

The Bloomberg editorial points out that one of the several parallels between Trump and Clinton is that when Clinton was in the hot seat regarding the Lewinsky scandal, he tried to divert attention by ordering a bombing raid, in Bosnia if I recall rightly. Trump, under slightly more pressure this week after a massive three-venue no-knock raid on that attorney I mentioned, and Trump pulled the same maneuver (possibly at the behest of Fox News), and sent soldiers to bomb Syria. The fact remains that there was feck-all for the independent counsel to nail Clinton on, despite the Republicans’ insistence there was (echoed later with all of the Benghazi bullshit flung at an unflappable Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State). The investigation finally got him for a blowjob, making the US the laughingstock of the western world. Bloomberg’s editorial suggests that the odd possibility that Trump might be brought down by a sex scandal somehow makes Trump’s presidency equal to Clinton’s. Of course I call bullshit.

Preet Bharara, in a recent interview with former Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson discussed Johnson’s efforts with President Obama to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Regarding Republican arguments against closing the prison, Preet asked ‘Do you think the Republicans were acting in good faith?’ This is the question I’m trying to parse with regards Bush’s actions, Clinton’s, and Trump’s. Did they then and do they now act in good faith?

And what do I mean when I use that phrase? I mean that what a politician says in public aligns with what they say in private, with what they promised to the public constituency on the campaign trail, and with a professed belief system. That’s a good start.

And I think that in general, the Dems have acted in better if not good faith to the extent they could, with the proviso that as politicians, they’re performing ethical balancing acts all of the time.

Trump, from my perspective, does not act in good faith, even in faith to what he’s said himself even a week before (viz his tweets about Syria within the month of April, 2018). Bush might have been an actor in good faith, but his advisors were not, and they not he were the government at the time. The fact remains that for the eight years of his residency at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., he was a figurehead, and most folks knew that.

An example of the good faith/bad faith discussion is the health care debate of the first two years of Obama’s first term. Obama and the Democrats acted in as good faith as they could, to the point of compromise on the most basic of principles, finding middle ground for every one of the Republicans’ arguments, and still we were shafted. One could argue that the Republicans in congress were acting in good faith, but their faith was to the insurance companies, hospital conglomerates, and drug manufacturers. By my definition above, this isn’t good faith. And in the end, not a single red tie voted for the bill. And then they proceeded to sabotage it in the courts.

There wasn’t a credible Republican atop the 2008 ballot, John McCain having chosen the most unqualified VP since, um, Dan Quayle in 1988. Eight years of Bush/Cheney had worn us out on wars and lies and there was readiness for change, to be sure, but Sarah Palin was another example of the Republican party acting in bad faith. Palin was barely qualified for the job she had, like Bush (and Trump), didn’t read much, and could barely answer very simple questions. McCain and the Republican party played us for fools when they thought (and rightly so, obviously, given that Obama’s victory wasn’t precisely a landslide – solid, but it was no 1984 Reagan over Mondale trouncing) we would buy her pretty face over Obama’s obvious experience. Acting in good faith in the political realm requires some modicum of honesty – the whole ‘Democrats are coming for your guns’ canard comes into play here. Palin, in the midst of the Republican sabotage of Obama’s relatively modest agenda had the gall to utter the phrase ‘How’s that hopey-changey thing working out for you?’ as if she wasn’t spending all of her (at the time excessive) on-camera Fox News time subverting rather than adding something constructive to the debate. Had McCain chosen someone credible to join him on the ticket, things might have been different. But we got the grifter instead.

McCain, Mitt Romney, Bob Dole, and Hillary Clinton all have in common that their candidacies came about because it was their turn. They’d risen high enough in the party to be considered the de facto candidates. And they lost because they worked on the assumption that they didn’t have to fight. History might suggest (from more objective distance than we have yet) that Dole and Romney would have made for better history. Would the tea party have dragged Romney through it the way they did John Boehner? I suggest it’s possible, but counterfactual. Hillary Clinton might have lost the selection anyway given Jim Comey’s October Surprise, and the astounding amount of Russia-orchestrated fight against her, but the fight within the party to subvert Mr. Sanders didn’t help matters. She herself was also acting in bad faith.

And there is, of course, the bad faith of the media: Every venue that put Trump on camera acted in bad faith. He’d spent much of the previous decade proving himself an actor (on his TV show), and a political player of astoundingly bad faith. His insistence on the illegitimacy of Obama’s presidency did as much as anything else to sabotage that presidency in the eyes of the electorate. Even with that in mind, the news stations put him literally center stage to spew his schoolyard BS over people of actual political experience. Note: No love lost between me and any of the people running for the Republican nomination in 2016, but giving Trump center stage over and over again legitimized his brand of campaigning.

And we bought it. To try to circle this back to my original thought, it’s not that Trump’s presidency is simply Clinton’s repeated as farce. No, Trump in his personal, political, public, and private dealings is the apotheosis of fifty years of bad faith governance from the Republican party, epitomized by the savaging of the American working class.

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I’d not read Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in at least twenty years and I’m not sure if before this week I’d ever actually finished the thing. Now I have, and on a certain level, I think I might be too old for it. It’s one of those books like Catcher in the Rye and possibly On the Road that are best enjoyed before the sheer irresponsibility of the story in the telling is too obvious. In the heart of Thompson’s drug-addled tale of not reporting on two events for which his alter ego Raoul Duke is paid, he makes a stunning indictment of what has become of the American Dream™.

In one of the novel’s more cogent paragraphs, Thompson spells out the moment when Hell’s Angels faced off on the Oakland/Berkeley border with anti-war protesters in 1965, somewhat to the detriment of the nascent anti-war movement and to the greater detriment of the American Left in general. Later, he starts discussing those Timothy Leary took down with him, followers ‘who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit’ , certain that some one or some thing was ‘tending the light at the end of the tunnel’ (p. 178).

He goes on to gather several leaders together who followed in the failure of Leary to unite the movement: Jesus, Manson, Hell’s Angels leader Sonny Barger, and concludes with the book’s most potent idea, ‘…no point in looking back. The question, as always, is now…?’ Whatever we’re going to do, we have to do it, rather than bemoaning that we haven’t.

While I put Duke and Dr. Gonzo’s tales of their American nightmare in an unfavourable bucket with Kerouac and Salinger (both of whom wrote some brilliant, long-lasting work, just not those novels for which they’re best remembered), another comparison that comes to mind is Sterne’s Sentimental Journey through France and Italy. In a similar way to Sterne, Thompson invites us into a series of vignettes that insist to the reader that they’re actually going somewhere, but don’t ever really make it there. Whereas Sterne’s volume ends without ever getting to Italy (as promised in the title), and possibly in the middle of a sentence, Thompson ends his without ever producing (as far as the reader can tell) the articles his character promised. The expectation from a book that is at least tangentially about writing is that there will be a submission and maybe even a reaction to it. Thompson subverts this by his alter ego barely attending or participating in the events he goes to Las Vegas to cover. To be fair, there is one extended sequence in which Duke and his attorney, Dr. Gonzo, attend one of the presentations of the National District Attorneys Association’s Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (thoroughly ripped, as the two characters are for the entirety of the book), so our expectations are only partially subverted.

FandLinLVSubtitled A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, what strikes the reader (or at least this reader) about Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is the savagery with which Thompson/ Duke treats primarily the female characters and really most of the book’s secondary characters. One way of looking at the nastiness of the interactions with the waitress in the chapter ‘Back Door Beauty & Finally a Bit of Serious Drag Racing on the Strip’ is that Thompson wants to implicate all of us in the nastiness that America became after the “Main Era” ended. The Main Era is what he names that time in the 60s when ‘You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning’ (p. 68). He continues, ‘We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark – that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.’ (I love the idea of a ‘steep hill in Las Vegas,’ a place in the middle of a desert and nearly as flat as The Netherlands.)

So that moment of mind-altered optimism was undone, or undid itself through subverted protest, Nixon’s treachery, an unwinnable war, and the crackdown of the original war on drugs that Nixon instigated with the help of Elvis Presley. But in the retelling, Thompson says, yes, it all fell apart and to a one, even me, we became nasty and crass.

Thompson shares that, beyond the Strip, you find ‘the shoddy limbo of North Vegas…out there with the gunsels, the hustlers, the drug cripples and all the other losers,’ and here Duke and Gonzo drop into the North Star Coffee Lounge for late night eats. Their waitress, extensively described as, ‘large in every way, long sinewy arms, and a brawler’s jawbone…A burned out caricature of Jane Russell: big head of dark hair, face slashed with lipstick and a 48 Double-E chest that was probably spectacular about twenty years ago…but now she was strapped up in a giant pink elastic brassiere that showed like a bandage through the sweaty rayon of her uniform, (p. 158)’ finds herself on the receiving end of a pass from Gonzo, a napkin with ‘Back Door Beauty’ scrawled on it. On receipt, she lays into our heroes with vitriol. Duke just watches while Gonzo deflects the waitress’ accusations and cuts the receiver off the pay phone with a switchblade when she threatens to call the cops.

Duke understands that Gonzo has struck a nerve, ‘The glazed look in her eyes said her throat had been cut. She was still in the grip of paralysis when we left,’ but doesn’t comment or dissuade Gonzo from his behaviour. We as readers follow along, but Thompson not only lets his narrator off the hook, he relates the events that follow as being drawn verbatim from a tape recording transcribed by the editor. He doesn’t give Duke the opportunity to respond and lets himself off the hook at the same time.

From a wider perspective, Thompson’s after roping the reader into some kind of complicity. The more you enter the heads and the behaviours of the main characters the less you can say that you’re not part of the great destruction being wrought. Thompson attempts, through the excess of his protagonists, to separate the freaks – the ones who stepped out of the mainstream before that wave receded – from the normals who flock for whatever reason to Las Vegas’s casinos from the rest of the country. However, through that excess, he implicates all who see themselves on some version of the correct side of that divide. To what we now call coastal elites as well as those citizens of flyover states, Thompson seems to say: ‘You’re all in on this. We’re all in on this. Through silence or engagement. And I’m in on it as well.’

I’m not sure that this is what the man who famously asserted, ‘I wouldn’t advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me’ meant to imply.

I wanted to add something about how Thompson’s anti-Nixon stance (against all hypocrisy propounded and promoted by the Nixon White House) had come back to taunt him when George W. Bush was selected for a second time, and might have contributed to his suicide a month into Shrub’s second term, but this doesn’t seem to be borne out by a suicide note which indicated that 67 was ‘17 years more than [he] needed or wanted.’ On the other hand, In October 2004, Thompson wrote: ‘Nixon was a professional politician, and I despised everything he stood for—but if he were running for president this year against the evil Bush–Cheney gang, I would happily vote for him.’ Six months after Thompson’s death, there was a hell of a memorial.

I missed that jazz musician/composer/poet Cecil Taylor passed away last week at the age of 89. I’ve listened to some of his music (and will listen more today), but not very much. I did see him perform his poetry one night at a tiny art/music venue in San Francisco called the Luggage Store Gallery. The performance was scheduled for after a sold out music gig somewhere else in the City and started late. LSG was on the second floor of a building on near 6th on the south side of Market. I lived at the time in a tiny studio right on the corner, so gigs there were easy for me. Usually experimental music of various kinds. I saw Henry Kaiser, Steev Hise, John Tchicai and a dozen others over the two years I lived in that neighbourhood, in a room that was probably zoned for no more than 100 people. It was generally brightly lit – as the name implies, it was a place for displaying art as much as for music, but the track lighting would be turned down for performance.  Taylor brought along several musicians to a packed gallery – they played percussion while he read this insane poetry sat at a desk in front of them. I was writing a lot of poetry at the time and watching and listening, I knew I had a long way to go. From what I can tell, he lived his art and his artistic life to the fullest. Here’s an example from a couple of years later…

In which the atheist rants at some length without conclusion on matters of religious hypocrisy.

There’s this thought I’ve had about huckster preachers who scam their congregations and promise eternal rewards for handing over their temporal earnings. This is just a matter of public-facing behaviour of those who claim to be generally christians.

In these cases, they, it seems to me, can’t actually be ‘real’ Christians – they can’t actually believe in the afterlife they preach. If they did, they would obviously live their lives differently (rich man / camel / eye of needle – you know the drill) knowing that a vengeful god would have it in for them at the other end of things.

I throw around vague terms but the people I mean include American preachers who lead megachurches and live in mansions, Catholic priests who collect tithes for Rome but whose congregations live in poverty. And a few other types.

Those who believe in deathbed conversions have to step carefully given how easy it is for death to sneak up without warning.

Do I have a philosophical case to make regarding the benefits of atheism or living a Christian life without the hypocrisy of those of the cloth? Great question.

Listen. I’ll say it again. I’m a lapsed Jew with occasional tendencies towards Christian imagery in my writing and a firm belief that Jesus was a nice Jewish boy who got in with the wrong crowd but eventually made good. In addition, I’m fond of end of the world apocalyptic movies like The Omen and that one with Schwarzenegger from the 90s.

On the other hand, I carry animus towards exploitative religions and religious behaviour no matter their origins. Anyone who works against the protection of the young / the helpless / those in danger or in harm’s way is, however, working against the tenets of basic biblical teaching. The same holds for government officials who vote against the best interests of people in favour of corporations but show up in church on Sunday as if the latter cleansed them of the former – not doing the Lord’s work, really.

What does the huckster who leads such a congregation actually believe? Is there some special feeling that the afterlife of their preaching will be theirs anyway, despite the harm? I’m reminded of an article I read years ago about the tobacco industry. The writer was at an industry convention and there were cigarettes by the carton simply on display. ‘May I take one of these?’ ‘Of course, take two.’ In this moment, the writer realised the executives he was interviewing didn’t themselves smoke and he asked them about it. The reply, ‘No, we leave that to the stupid and the n****ers.’ (I’m 80% certain the article was in Rolling Stone, and probably in the early 1990s.)

Is this how megachurch preachers see their congregants? Live by actual biblical teaching? Nah, we’ll leave that to the gullible. We’ve got ours, jack. It seems to me that if you believe in a Christian version of the afterlife, then bilking followers (and at the far end of the spectrum, preaching actual hate) will keep you from that promised land. If you do believe, then doing good works, is the key.

There’s a strain of Christian philosophy in which what the believer believes has more weight than what the believer does in determining entrance to the afterlife of choice. If you believe a certain way, then your works aren’t necessary to get into heaven and that if you don’t believe, no amount of work you do will get you there.

Brother Andre Marie over at catholocism.org (note – there’s a bias here) suggests that the fundamentalist (Calvinist/Lutheran/Baptist) view is that faith is sufficient, whereas the Catholic take is that humans must participate in their salvation by doing good works. Faith alone is insufficient. The Jewish take (as emphasized in the Haggadah, read at Passover) is that we tell the story of Exodus as ‘what the L-rd did for me when he brought us out of Egypt’, thereby acknowledging the deity and taking part in our own salvation.

Again, I’m an atheist. I haven’t studied divinity (though I do have a friend with a degree in the subject and should corner her on her thoughts on the matter) and my reading of the bible tends to be to make sure I get an allusion correct rather than using it as words to live by. That said, as one who is at least aware of the tradition of rabbinic debate on all kinds of topics, this kind of concept slicing makes sense as brain-stretching thought exercises. However, it is the worst kind of game playing when you’re talking about making life better or worse in the now for large (if not huge) numbers of people.

The main reasons to practice a religion include community, indoctrination, desire for salvation, utility as a guide for living, the existence of a supreme deity gives meaning or structure to life. All quite good and meaningful. The issue becomes where the organisation of religion oversteps into the lives of believers/followers. The Catholic requirement of confession is an aspect of this – belief and inclusion in the community include giving priests all the secrets of the community to hold. Those who don’t confess are shunned and those who know the secrets of those in power are compelled to release them at personal risk, the seal of the confessional notwithstanding. From the outside, it’s another tool of coercive behaviour. From the inside?

I also know that there are issues with writing about religion as a monolithic thing. One is that I don’t want to consider religion as a block of problems intractable of solution. For many, religion/faith *is* the solution. I want to consider merit in the teachings of religion and not discount what it provides to many. This goes hand in hand with rejecting Burroughs’ tenet in Words of Advice for Young People. ‘Don’t trust a religious SOB. Get it in writing.’

I’m beyond the age at which I find this humorous or useful anymore. It’s a matter of contempt – holding a person to be beyond worth due to professed belief or membership in a group. I may find that in examining the subject from the position of contempt will open me to accusations of intolerance. This is worth considering too.

I’m not easygoing when it comes to religion. I’m adamant about my agnosticism – I don’t have blind faith in a god of any kind. It falls in the category of religion not providing a better answer to questions that have been answered through application of the scientific method. I generally don’t put my trust in that which doesn’t subject itself to repeatability. (I know that there are some interesting limits to this as discussed in Adam Conover’s interview with oncologist Azra Raza.)

Each person has the choice to follow or not follow leaders, be they religious or secular, to parrot the BS found in social media, and to hold those with differing views in contempt. Bloody conservatives, stupid liberals, gun owners, and firearms absolutists being current objects of contempt in the matters of how we as humans at this late date hold others to be outside the pale of discussion.

god-hates-flagsThe issue I want to examine in greater depth is how those in positions of religious leadership preach one thing, or one set of things, based on salvation and faith in one interpretation of a set of teachings but flout the same standards, often flagrantly. The obvious example is the Westboro Baptist folks who quote a couple passages of Leviticus to preach a gospel of hate and derision.

The question of whether one can condemn the gay to hell both in this life and the next based on one bit of Leviticus, but still eat lobster is at the heart of this discussion.

If kashrut, polycotton blends, and interaction with men during menstruation are no longer matters of much contention and attention, then why homosexuality?

Of course, the reason is that homosexuality is a distraction from all the rest of what the huckster does that is obviously sin. ‘But I’m not gay – that’s the worst thing – this is what keeps the nation from being a shining city on the hill.’ And oddly, you end up with antigay preachers who are also practicing sodomites, hypocrisy being another aspect of hucksterism.

There’s obviously more to consider, but I wanted to get these notes out of my notebook and into the blogosphere.

E’G/Warner Bros., 1984

One could argue that the three albums by the Fripp/Bruford/Levin/Belew lineup, and especially the last two, have the flavour of Belew’s solo albums of the time, just featuring legendary supporting players, but that’s really not fair. For all of the bits of it that are very much of their moment, there’s also a lot of that transcendent KC magic here. The more I listen to it, the more falls together and achieves a kind of unity that Discipline has, but that I feel Beat lacks.

Addressing the album song by song doesn’t do it justice. As a work, the pieces fall together quite effectively.

The Left Side

king-crimson-3-of-a-perfect-pairOpening with four vocal tracks, none of which (on the face of it) is that demanding on the listener. Title track/opener, Three of a Perfect Pair is an interesting one because it stayed in King Crimson/Crimson ProjeKct set lists well into the 21st century, and as a fan, it’s easy to find that it’s just a little overplayed. Belew is right to be impressed with his ability to play the guitar in one time signature and sing in another, but it’s only because he’s the vocalist that this makes him unique in the band. The song itself being about the breakdown of a relationship seems an apt one as this incarnation of KC was on the verge of collapse at the end of the Beat sessions (and after the tour for this album, these four would not reconvene for 10 years).

Model Man, oddly, presents us with another relationship song in which the narrator begs for understanding (‘imperfect in a word…but I give you everything I have’) from the one who always has him on edge (‘look[ing] for the sights…the symptoms…the slight calm before the storm).

Sleepless, the single that should have been a hit. Warners even ponied up for a video in which everyone seems a little uncomfortable. The song is the most distinctly new wave of the album (especially the Clearmountain remix which was used instead of the original on the first pressings of the album). The interplay of the rhythm section is what I find most interesting about this song.

Man with an Open Heart should have been both a single and a hit. Of the four lyric tracks on the album, three address relationship issues and this one seems especially personal. Its changing time signatures anchor it in the KC universe as well.

The most surprising aspect of this album (and Beat for that matter) is how far in the shadows Robert Fripp seems to be. His guitar work through Discipline is always the most distinctive aspect of a KC recording. However, with Nuages (That Which Passes, Passes like Clouds), the instrumental that closes the Left Side, Fripp’s voice comes to the fore. It feels like one of his soundscapes as it flows through the ears, but has a rather non-cloudlike feel for a song with its title. It’s anchored by an almost underwater-feeling percussion.

The Right Side consists of three interesting instrumentals and a decidedly different vocal.

Industry is almost an extended meditation that relies heavily on the interplay between Fripp and Levin. It works on one level, as a continuation of Nuages, not the opening of a different suite of songs. It’s structured more as a bolero – each instrument building in intensity and than slipping away again.

Dig Me, welcomes Belew’s voice back into the fray with an oddly sad follow-up to the previous album’s opener, Neal and Jack and Me. In this episode, what was once a proud automobile stretching out on the open highway is now rusting, unhinged, and what ‘was deluxe becomes debris’. On a certain level, it’s of a piece with the relationship songs on the Left Side, but is also markedly different.

No Warning feels like a more pure KC improv, but kept short and to the point. It has the energy of one of those moments where the band just locks together.

And then there’s the album’s closer, Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part III. It’s an oddly titled jam that doesn’t seem of a piece with the other two songs that are its namesake. After more than twenty years of listening to this album (as with all the other entries in this series of reviews), never so diligently and with such interest as I have in the last week, I’ve never quite gotten what it was about this composition that invited adding it to the other two. And I’m still not, but I’ve got a feeling there’s something in the musical structure that lends itself or was consciously taken for that reason.

Sleepless has long been my favourite track on the album for purposes of sheer grooving. Of the vocals I’m now more drawn to Man With An Open Heart than I ever was before. I’m not sure I have a favourite of the instrumentals – they all feel of a single piece.

Next up: Vrooom and Thrak, but I’m going to take a KC break first.