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The Six Degrees of King Crimson Scrimmage

This all started when Cristy and William discovered on an old King Crimson live album (Earthbound) on which King Crimson had not only played a show in Peoria, Illinois, but even recorded a song called “Peoria.” Peoria, where three or more of the rock geek's friends hail from, seemed like the sort of place Tom Waits might write about, but a very unlikely topic for the band that wrote “In the Court of the Crimson King,” “Cadence and Cascade,” and In the Wake of Poseidon.

So they listened to this number while painting. When the record was over, they challenged one another to a duel: The Six Degrees of King Crimson, wherein one challenger would name a musical artist, and the other would find its connection to the band King Crimson via the shortest number of jumps.

In a previous battle, after William heard news that Robyn Hitchcock and Andy Partridge (of XTC) were recording something together, Cristy asked William whether the two had ever previously collaborated. The closest connection William could figure was that Andy Partridge had played harmonica on Thomas Dolby’s The Golden Age of Wireless and Thomas Dolby had played keyboards on Hitchcock’s Black Snake Diamond Role. And so William kicked off the King Crimson Scrimmage by challenging Cristy to find a connection between Thomas Dolby and King Crimson.

Cristy returned the serve with aplomb: Andy Partridge played harmonica on Dolby’s Golden Age of Wireless, XTC toured with the Police, Andy Summers recorded I Advance Masked with—wait for it—Robert Fripp of King Crimson.

William considered calling a foul; touring with another band might not constitute a strong connection. But the technicality was moot inasmuch as they had recently watched Urgh! A Music War, in which Partridge shares a microphone with Sting during “So Lonely” in the closing credits.

Cristy’s next serve is deadly: Belle and Sebastian.

Stumbling a little, William manages a return via the only connection with the seemingly insular Belle and Sebastian he has studied. Belle and Sebastian’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress was produced by Trevor Horn, who was a member of Yes. Bill Bruford left Yes to join King Crimson in 1972. (Does Yes ca. 1972 and Yes ca. 1980 count as the same band? Another technicality? There are so many connections between Yes and King Crimson that the argument barely seemed worth posing. So, onward.)

William gives the matter some thought, and fires away: Linda Thompson.

Cristy, in her only missed return in the match, tries to find a connection via former husband and collaborator Richard Thompson (of Fairport Convention), Sandy Denny (Fairport Convention), and Led Zeppelin (Denny sang on “Battle of Evermore”), and gives up.

William, trying (without much success) to restrain his smugness, offers three connections:

1. Richard Thompson was in Fairport Convention with Sandy Denny, who sang on Led Zeppelin IV. Cristy and William saw John Paul Jones perform with Robyn Hitchcock in Nashville. Hitchcock and Jones could be seen recording together in the documentary Sex, Food, Death…and Insects. Robyn Hitchock—>Thomas Dolby—>Andy Partridge—>Andy Summers—>Robert Fripp.

2. Linda Thompson recorded with former husband Richard Thompson, who reportedly jammed with Jimi Hendrix, as did Andy Summers. Jimi Hendrix, his right arm in a sling, also reportedly saw King Crimson and afterward told Robert Fripp, “Here, shake my left arm, man. It’s closer to my heart.”

3. Richard Thompson recorded two albums with John French (in the  microsupergroup French Frith Kaiser Thompson). John French played with Captain Beefheart. Beefheart played with Zappa on Bongo Fury (the two were childhood friends), and Zappa produced Trout Mask Replica. Adrian Belew played with Frank Zappa (Shiek Yerbouti, to give one example).

Cristy comes back strong, lobbing the Rolling Stones at William. William tastes defeat. It seems the members of the Stones haven’t done much else but be Stones. He figures a connection between Mick Jagger and Michael Jackson (the song “State of Shock”) and Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney (“The Girl is Mine”), and then he shortens the loop. Paul McCartney and John Lennon contributed backing vocals to the Stones’ “We Love You.” John Lennon recorded “Fame” with David Bowie. Robert Fripp played on Bowie’s Heroes and Scary Monsters.

William counters with The Edge, because he just wanted to say “The  Edge.” But it’s a gimme: Cristy unravels it with no effort: Eno co-produced U2’s Achtung Baby and The Unforgettable Fire. Connections between Eno and Fripp are myriad but an album’s worth of pure Enossifaction and Frippertronics can be found in the mind-blowingly boring, indulgent No Pussyfooting.

And then she comes back with a vengeance, hurling Steely Dan at William. William can’t get anywhere from Steely Dan: not a fan. So he challenges Cristy to solve her own conundrum. She demolishes precedent with the stunning pronouncement that Jeff Baxter was a member of Steely Dan, then started working for the federal government, namely, the U.S. Department of Defense. The federal government, namely, the FBI, kept a file on John Lennon. Lennon—>Bowie—>Fripp. Slam dunk. Nobody has ever used the government as a rock band in this game.

Nobody else has even to our knowledge ever played this game.

William staggers back into the ring with Jonathan Richman.

Cristy takes the long way home. And it takes her a few minutes to get  from David Robinson of the Modern Lovers, later of the Cars, to Ric Ocasek. Ric Ocasek produced groupie Bebe Buell’s EP Covers Girl. Bebe Buell laid David Bowie (as documented in her juicy memoir Rebel Heart). Bowie—>Fripp.  Quod erat demonstrandum.

This is hilarious, because she could have gone more easily via Jerry Harrison of the Modern Lovers, later of the Talking Heads, who did three albums with Brian Eno. Eno—>Fripp as surely as night—>day. But while she has been pondering the Cars connection, William sets for himself the hardest problem he can devise: Black Flag. Can the dirty hardcore princes of U.S. underground rock be traced to the lavish British art rock band? Here’s how he figures it: Camper Van Beethoven covers Black Flag’s “Wasted.” Camper Van Beethoven recorded a number of albums with Eugene Chadborne. Eugene Chadborne worked with Tom Cora on L.S.D.C.&W. (the cover of Roger Miller’s “This Town,” in particular). Tom Cora and Fred Frith were Skeleton Crew. Frith—>French—>Beefheart—>Zappa—>Belew, as we have already established.

Just to match wits, Cristy does Madonna: the superstar known in the British tabloids as “Madge” was in a movie called  Shanghai Surprise, produced by George Harrison. Harrison—>Beatles—>Lennon—>Bowie—>Fripp. Bing bang boom. Madonna, and by extension, Britney Spears, who ought not to be admitted into this game, but there it is. (Richard Thompson also did a cover of Spears’ “Oops! I Did It Again,” which William saw him perform at RISD on Halloween 2003 during his “Hundred Best Songs of the Millennium” show, so the Spears connection is airtight, like it or not.)

Together, Cristy and William set the most unlikely challenge of them all: Paul Kotheimer. How many degrees of separation between their friend and music teacher Paul Kotheimer and King Crimson? Staggeringly few, it turns out: Paul Kotheimer lived on the east side of Carle Park in Urbana, Illinois. Adrian Belew lived on the south side of Carle Park (footnote). They are dumbfounded, in awe of their own power. Can they connect King Crimson to any musician? And all without using any of King Crimson’s members except Fripp and Belew, sometimes Bruford? Could they possibly use Tony Levin, who played with Peter Gabriel? Ian McDonald? John Wetton? Greg Lake? Is this a testament to their encyclopedic rock geek chic, to King Crimson’s sprawling relations, or the fact that everybody wants to work with Robert Fripp, or that nobody wants to work with Robert Fripp for too long?

William throws one last curveball at Cristy: Elvis.

Cristy: Elvis toured with Johnny Cash. Johnny Cash covered U2’s “One.” “One” appeared on Achtung Baby, produced by Eno.

The crowd goes wild.

I lived even closer to chez Belew when I lived at 707 S. Broadway. I'm pretty sure that Belew's ex and kids (?) lived at Broadway and California when I lived on Broadway between Oregon and Washington.

Also, I've recorded with Mark Rubel, and Mark has worked with Adrian.

So, probably, many many local musicians are only one degree of separation from King Crimson through the Mark Rubel —> Adrian Belew connection.

But what about George Michael?

yours in RockGeekdom,

Arnold Schoenberg
was the teacher of Anton Webern
with whom Stefan Wolpe studied
whose students Herbert Brün and Wolf Rosenberg
quit in solidarity when Wolpe was fired from the Jerusalem Conservatory of Music
both of whom had alternately critical and complimentary things to say about Idiophony by Mark Enslin
who lives in the house on Carle Park
where Adrian Belew lived for a couple of years

—Mark Enslin

I wanted to say that I've just discovered your blog, and have really been enjoying it.


p.s. (in reference to Cristy's failed attempt to find a Led Zeppelin/King Crimson connection)

Jimmy Page played on the  Al (Year of the Cat) Stewart album "Love Chronicles"
Al Stewart studied guitar with Robert Fripp.

I have a vague feeling that Richard Thompson played on an Al Stewart album, giving a shorter chain, but I can't remember for sure.

Hey, I saw your post about this on your website while searching the topic because there was no way I was the only one to think of it. I noticed that you posited Black Flag as the toughest connection, but Henry Rollins performed on William Shatner's '04 album "Has Been" with Adrian Belew.

—Kedar Dange

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