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Epitaph by King Crimson

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Epitaph by King Crimson


"And nothing can we call our own but death
And that small model of the barren earth
Which serves as paste and cover to our bones.
For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings."
- William Shakespeare, King Richard II

Epitaph

The In the Court of the Crimson King album is generally viewed as one of the first works to truly embody the progressive rock genre, where King Crimson largely departed from the blues influences that rock music had been founded upon and mixed together jazz and classical symphonic elements. Epitaph is a microcosm of the album. Like the album, Epitaph travels through time, though the album travels in one direction (future to past), while the song travels in the other direction (past to future). This is one way in which Epitaph is a reflection of the album as a whole. Beginning in the past tense, by referring to the walls on which the prophets wrote, Epitaph continues in the present tense, and concludes in the future tense with "I fear tomorrow I'll be crying".

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In the Court of the Crimson King

 

The song music written by King Crimson (Ian McDonald, Greg Lake, Michael Giles, Robert Fripp) but lyrics written by Peter Sinfield. Sinfield, poet and songwriter, sometimes wrote visionary lyrics that at the end of the '60s were common in bands like King Crimson who were doing progressive rock. LSD was trendy and many songwriters went through it, some more than others. Sinfield is apocalyptical in his writings, just like many other artists who were also seeing gurus. People had a deep curiosity and the mind had just been discovered and marketed: "The only way out is inside" said Timothy Leary. Vietnam was still on, there was an inner war in society, a big generation gap. Fear was in the air sometimes too. So take mind-expanding drugs, the growing power of the media, revolved and curious minds, gurus talking about how bad our society was doing, etc. and it reflects on many lyricist works, Sinfield as well.

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King Crimson, 1969

Ian McDonald, Michael Giles, Peter Sinfield, Greg Lake, Robert Fripp

 

This song title as well as the lyrics of this song refer to the message that is displayed on a gravestone. In this song, the singer is facing a struggle and fears that his epitaph will be "confusion." Greg Lake, explained: "'Epitaph' is basically a song about looking with confusion upon a world gone mad. King Crimson had a strange ability to write about the future in an extremely prophetic way and the messages this song contains are even more relative today than they were when the song was originally written."

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Gregg Lake

 

At that time, nearly all the British bands were using the blues or soul music – American music – as their influence. King Crimson had added a conceptual expansiveness more associated with classical. Robert Fripp says this unique mixture came to him in pieces – he’d worked at a hotel, for instance, where the sounds of a dance orchestra echoed through the halls – and then, almost all at once, when he by chance heard the colossal ending the Beatles‘ “A Day in the Life” on Radio Luxembourg. “It was terrifying; I had no idea what it was,” told Perfect Sound Forever. “Then it kept going. Then, there was this enormous whine note of strings. Then there was this a colossal piano chord. I discovered later that I’d come in half-way through Sgt. Pepper … My life was never the same again.”

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Robert Fripp

 

Fripp started making connections between things like Jimi Hendrix and Bartok string quartets. “My experience was of the same musicians speaking to me in different dialects – one musician speaking in different voices,” he added. And with drummer Michael Giles, McDonald, lyricist Peter Sinfield and – in particular, it seemed – Greg Lake, Fripp had found a group of collaborators who were hearing it, too. The result, Fripp said, was simply magical. “As I heard it expressed later and even now, it was as if the music took over and took the musicians into its confidence”.

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Ian McDonald

 

“Epitaph” begins with a dramatic drum roll and pseudo-orchestral sweep of somber melody. This gives way to a rather folky verse -- many prog rockers used folk-rockish structures as the backbone of some of their material -- in which the singer records rather gloomy images of nightmares, death, and decay, accented by doom truck drum thumps. The singing becomes more passionate on the following verses, leaping a whole octave upward, as the vague poetic words continue to evoke dark places where nothing is known and threat is looming. This leads up to a more dramatic chorus in which the words are punctuated by more spacious pauses and brief dabs of notes before concluding on a more thunderous, apocalyptic note, expressing the singer's fear that things aren't going to turn out all that well. Cheerful stuff indeed, but the tune is pretty attractive.

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Peter Sinfield

 

The arrangement is good too, with Robert Fripp's guitar undulating like a weeping willow and Ian McDonald's Mellotron adding a layer of fear. An extended instrumental break finds the reeds and woodwinds playing off particularly gloomy guitar chords, the stop-and-start beats and frequent beats mirroring the oncoming crawl of a grim reaper. The extended fadeout on the last part of the chorus pushes the Mellotron up front to seal the spooky, desolate atmosphere.

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Michael Giles

 

In 1976, "Epitaph" was released as a single with "21st Century Schizoid Man" as the B-side, a companion to the compilation “A Young Person's Guide to King Crimson.” “In the Court of the Crimson King” remains the group’s best-selling U.S. album and second-highest charting U.K. release. “There was a sort of underground cult following, which came from nowhere and grew and grew,” Giles told Aymeric Leroy. “It was quite surprising to us all, because all of us had spent probably the previous five to 10 years without it. So, it was quite overwhelming – overwhelming and humbling.”

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Epitaph, single 1976

 

King Crimson – Epitaph, lyrics


The wall on which the prophets wrote
Is cracking at the seams.
Upon the instruments of death
The sunlight brightly gleams.
When every man is torn apart
With nightmares and with dreams,
Will no one lay the laurel wreath
When silence drowns the screams.

Confusion will be my epitaph.
As I crawl a cracked and broken path
If we make it we can all sit back and laugh.
But I fear tomorrow I'll be crying.
Yes I fear tomorrow I'll be crying.
Yes I fear tomorrow I'll be crying.

Between the iron gates of fate,
The seeds of time were sown.
And watered by the deeds of those
Who know and who are known;
Knowledge is a deadly friend
When no one sets the rules.
The fate of all mankind I see
Is in the hands of fools.

The wall on which the prophets wrote
Is cracking at the seams.
Upon the instruments of death
The sunlight brightly gleams.
When every man is torn apart
With nightmares and with dreams,
Will no one lay the laurel wreath
When silence drowns the screams.

Confusion will be my epitaph.
As I crawl a cracked and broken path
If we make it we can all sit back and laugh.
But I fear tomorrow I'll be crying,
Yes I fear tomorrow I'll be crying.
Yes I fear tomorrow I'll be crying
Crying..
Crying...
Yes I fear tomorrow I'll be crying
Yes I fear tomorrow I'll be crying
Yes I fear tomorrow I'll be crying
Crying...

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Epitaph

 

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