August 26 1996: Last date with King Crimson. It’s been 22 years since I last played with KC, bless its heart, and it feels like I played with them only a couple of weeks ago. The last gig was a bit weird:
“By the time we arrived at Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, Maryland, for the penultimate date of what had been a long three month tour through Europe, the US West Coast, down to Mexico, and all the way back up through the Midwest to the Northeast, my body was beginning to match my mood. At the sound check in Columbia, my left wrist began to give me a stabbing pain as I laid down the beat, and I feared I might permanently damage it. I played that evening as lightly as possible in the company of ice packs whenever possible, and the next day I flew down early to Philadelphia. The promoter had found me a hand surgeon, an elderly man with long experience in his calm, cool fingers. He silently, gently, and very slowly felt all over the wrist and palm area, his face remaining impassive. After what seemed like hours, he pronounced his initial diagnosis that this was not serious, it was only a strain that would cease when the tour ended, and he would take some X-rays to confirm. I performed my last concert with King Crimson at the Mann Center that evening: carefully, with the ubiquitous ice pack, and in a fog of painkillers. I didn’t know, exactly, that it was the end, but had I done, I would have known from the top of my brain and felt from the bottom of my heart that I could give no more to the Mighty Crim.”
“Don’t you miss it?” people sometimes ask me, when the conversation turns to my absence without leave from the platform. Well, which bit of it, exactly, might I be missing? The vast acreages of wasted time, just to get two hours behind a drum kit? Not much. The society, and even respect, of musical friends and other performers? Yes, a lot. The tedium of repetition, the staying up on the instrument, the hours spent practicing? Not a lot. The powerful outcome of some collective collaboration that lights up faces before me and spreads warmth and a tingle down the spine? Yes, I miss that massively. Do I miss the Screen of Shame? I don’t think so. You remember the Screen of Shame:
“[Whether King Crimson was a] double-trio or not, we were playing fresh, high quality music of our choosing to an appreciative audience of supporters, so it was a sadness to me to have to spend several months separated from them and my colleagues by the plastic Screen of Shame, especially since I am not the loudest of drummers, and I pride myself in my dynamic control and the ability to play appropriately to the sound that I’m hearing. I was too tired to be bothered to tell anyone, but to make thing worse, the angle of my screen caused it to act as a reflective mirror, so for a couple of months I had to stare at my own image for two hours nightly. The discomfort is readily visible in the excruciating footage of the band from around this time made available for posterity on a DVD called Deja Vrooom.
Do I miss the business as distinct from performance? I’m still very much in the business, whether I want to be or not. A day seldom goes past with business related to Yes, King Crimson, Summerfold and Winterfold, publishing and recordings, old and new colleagues and partners, stale old deals struck on my behalf four decades ago that determined so much of my future trajectory – all this stuff crosses my groaning desk on a daily basis. It’s like treacle, the music business: you can get stuck in there for ever. Like Hotel California, you can check out but you can never leave. Now of course it’s all legacy and ceremonies. I’ve been prevailed upon to introduce a Prog God (a what?!) on September 13th at the Prog Awards Ceremony in London. I really must get back to work before I lose it completely. BTW, quotes above are from ‘Bill Bruford The Autobiography’ (2009) London: Foruli.