By request: A Keith Emerson (with ELP) introductory guide

Where to start: an ELP New Listener’s Guide

1  Don’t start here

The music is this awful. Not entirely their fault. Atlantic Records insisted on the title and the photo. But the music is just awful.

The music is was bad as its cover. Not entirely their fault. Atlantic Records insisted on the title and the photo. But the music is just awful.

Let’s begin with where not to start. Don’t start with Works 1 or Works 2. There’s some good stuff there but it’s slim pickings.

Forget Love Beach; it’s as awful as its cover suggests. They were forced to record it by the record company at the end of a tour. They had nothing, and they were exhausted.

You could listen to Black Moon some time, because it’s got three good tracks on it. But it’s far from essential.

It really doesn’t sound like ELP, and nothing I’ve said about why they’re good applies to it. It’s pop music because their record company needed a hit. They dutifully released two singles, neither of which were hits. For addicts only.

Their final studio album, In the Hot Seat, competes with Love Beach for worst ELP abomination. (Though the Dylan cover version, “The Man in the Long, Black Coat”, is a cracker.)

2  Songs to start with, to see if you like the taste

i   “Lucky Man”, from the Emerson, Lake & Palmer album. Famous for including the first rock Moog solo, courtesy of Emerson, on record. (Tagged on at the end because Emerson was in the pub while Lake turned a simple ballad he’d written as a kid into something with real studio heft.) It’s still their most popular song. 

ii   “From the Beginning”, from Trilogy. Another pretty Greg Lake song, this time about fucking up relationships. This time, Emerson’s participation is more integrated into the song.

This made artist HR Giger a superstar, and probably helped him get the gig for designing "Alien". The title refers to fellatio, and so does a detail in the artwork, only half airbrushed away from the women's neck

This made artist HR Giger a superstar, and probably helped him get the gig for designing “Alien”. The album title refers to fellatio, and so does a detail in the artwork, only half airbrushed away from the women’s neck

iii  Toccata, from Brain Salad Surgery. Now we’re jumping into the deep end. This is Emerson’s arrangement of the fourth movement of Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera’s Piano Concerto No 1. It aint that pretty at all.

After ELP had recorded their version, they went, nervous as hell, to Ginastera’s place in France and played it to him. Like Aaron Copeland, who loved ELP’s arrangement of Hoe-Down and Fanfare for the Common Man, he…

Well, Ginastera listened to their version, then threw his arms up and said it was “terrible”. Emerson was crest-fallen. Then Ginastera explained he meant “terrible” in French, as in “amazing, fantastic, formidable”, and so on. It is, indeed, terrific.

If unusual time signatures are your thing, this is orgasm central. It switches times at the turn of a dime and the drop of a hat. Even if the word “time signatures” means nothing to you, it’s exciting as hell. Fuck, it’s fast. 

iv  The Barbarian, from Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Basically an arrangement of Bartok’s Allegro Barbare, this is much simpler than Toccata. But it keeps the Bartok spikiness, the European folksong origin, and then it just charges forward. I believe the Foo Fighters drummer once said he spend much of his adolescence listening to this, over and over. It always cheers me up, every time.

v  The Endless Enigma, from Trilogy. Yeah, it’s prog, so its nearly 11 minutes long, divided into two parts, with a middle section called Fugue. But it’s seriously good instrumental work between the three of them, and a strong vocal from Lake. It has lyrics that sound ok, line by line, and don’t make any sense at all. But at that stage Lake’s voice could sell anything. Anyway, it’s the music that counts. 

vi  Take a Pebble, from Emerson, Lake and Palmer. This would have been a higher recommendation, but it’s in a similar mood to the first two numbers. It’s Lake’s composition, but the long piano solo by Emerson, and his in-fills, are amazing. So are the opening notes, which Emerson got by taking the back off a piano and plucking the strings like a harp. I also recommend the expanded version on Welcome Back

vii  Tarkus, from Tarkus. Actually, I think this is their best piece, and maybe the most high-energy twenty-odd minutes of music by anyone. It’s just not where I’d start someone. Again, the version on Welcome Back is also highly recommended. 

viii  Jerusalem, from Brain Salad Surgery. It’s that song. They play it, Lake sings it. The BBC banned it, for some reason. It’s pomp rock at its finest. It’s brilliant. 

The inside image on the Brain Salad Surgery cover. Same model: Giger's wife.

The inside image on the Brain Salad Surgery cover. Same model: Giger’s partner, the late Li Tobler.

ix   Karn Evil 9, Parts 1, 2 and 3. I have a copy of Brain Salad Surgery on vinyl. Karn Evil 9  starts on side 1. You have to turn the record over halfway through Part 1, and the rest of it takes up the whole of side 2.

Contains the “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends…” line. 

I’m also fond of: 

“Not content with that, With our hands behind our back, We pull Jesus from a hat: Get into that! Get into that!” They dropped those lines from most performances after they got Big in America. 

The music of Part 1 is pretty much straight-ahead rock, only faster. But it’s great. Come inside! Part 2 is instrumental, with high-speed silly noises from Emerson (that’s praise), and synthesised percussion from Carl Palmer. Part 3 is science fiction: a battle between two space fleets is won when one side destroys the other, and is in turn destroyed by their unimpressed ship’s computers. Lots of synthesiser and Moog, some great guitar and singing from Lake. And silly lyrics. 

x   The Great Gates of Kiev. 

That’s the last section of their version of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. It’s fast, it’s big and it’s grand. Death is not life, by the way, As Any Fule Kno. But when Lake sings the opposite, you can find yourself momentarily convinced. 

3  Albums

If I were going to own just one ELP album, it would be that live triple, Welcome Back My Friends. It’s only a double in CD form, or a few hundred megabytes in digital form. It has storming live versions of most of the above.

Its full title, by the way, is Welcome Back My Friends to the Show that Never Ends; Ladies and Gentlemen, Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I believe it’s still the longest record title ever. They did it as a typesetter’s joke. They knew it’d get into the Top 10, and they also knew that there was no way of fitting that title into the little grids that the music press used to list the charting albums.  

After that I’d buy Tarkus, then the first album (called Emerson, Lake & Palmer), then Brain Salad Surgery, then Trilogy, then Pictures at an Exhibition

Amazing sex fun fact!

Lightly furred redhead, interested in the "Variation" aspect of that weird shit I was listening to.

Lightly furred redhead, interested in the “Variation” aspect of that weird shit on the audio. And demonstrating Emerson’s Famous Mullet haircut. Not the actual girl in the anecdote left of this photo, though she was a redhead too.

I lost my virginity to Pictures at an Exhibition. I doubt if there’s many people can say that, since ELP’s music, for all its merits, was notoriously not sexy. I was giving it a listen when a girl who’d been teaching me how to kiss dropped by. I made her a cup of tea; she brought out some hash.

I started taking her clothes off. She didn’t stop me. “Oh,” I thought. “Oh, oh, I see.”

“Promenade”, indeed. Though you can really go at it during the “Blues Variation” interlude. I could make a “Great Gates of Kiev” joke, but that’d be ungentlemanly, also completely untrue.

I’d have put something else on if I’d known she was coming. But once she’d arrived I was distracted.

Anyway, you know who you are. I still think you’re wonderful. Also, thank you! 

Keith Emerson black armband

Keith Emerson shot himself. Bugger. 

There are some things I’ve only got hindsight on. But I know that if I’d been watching at the time, I’d have got it wrong. When Led Zeppelin broke up, I’d have expected a constant flow of great new music from Jimmy Page, and Plant and Jones to fade into obscurity.

But instead we got Plant casually stepping over the self-parody trap as if it were a puddle, and Jones working with brilliant musicians including Robert Fripp to make vital if not exactly best-selling new music. While Page prepared yet another re-mastered re-release of the Led Zepp catalogue.

Palmer, Lake & Emerson, in this photo. They were pretty lads in their day, but they never really got the female fans.

Palmer, Lake & Emerson, in this photo. They were pretty lads in their day, but they never really got the female fans.

Another thing I’d have expected is that together or apart, the members of Emerson, Lake and Palmer would be making brilliant new music, lots of it, to the present day. Or till about a week ago, when Keith Emerson shot himself. Given the talent that was packed into that trio, many fans, including me, were surprised there wasn’t more music.

Still, the power and passion and aggression of the first five ELP albums is unique. There’s nothing like it in rock, prog rock, or classical. Or heavy metal, though speed metal is probably the genre that comes closest to one of the things ELP were doing. Except that ELP were doing everything else, from classical to jazz, to ambient, to rag-time and boogie-woogie, to blues and hard rock, and sensitive singer-songwriter ballads, you name it, as well. 

Emerson riding and stabbing a Hammond organ, Osaka, 1972. He could get notes from doing that, using feedback. And knives.

Emerson riding and stabbing a Hammond organ, Osaka, 1972. He could get notes from doing that, using feedback. And knives. He got the knife from Lemmy, who was Emo’s roadie and not yet “Lemmy of Moorhead”. Lemmy died this year, too.

I also liked the massive critical hate for ELP. With the advent of punk, critics managed to persuade the world that ELP were ridiculous musos doing triple live albums, putting out pieces of music more than half an hour long and broken up into sections. All of which was true, except it wasn’t ridiculous. They had guts, and they took risks no band would take today. Carl Palmer said they were “a sabre-rattling band”, and he was right. 

One of the reasons I enjoyed the critical contempt for a band I only discovered after it had wound up was that it gave me a shameful secret that wasn’t about bdsm. I could say, “I’m into bdsm! I get off on telling women what to do and whipping them!” And that still wouldn’t have the shock effect in polite society as, “ELP are, seriously, up there with Led Zep! One of the five best bands that ever played!”

Emerson conducting his own music in the 2010s. Not sure which orchestra.

Emerson conducting his own music in the 2010s. Its not often you see a shot of Emo near a flat surface that doesn’t have a drink on it. I’m not sure which orchestra that is.

Although Emerson was 71, he still owed the world his Piano Concerto No 2. I’ve heard he had a worsening of his carpal tunnel problem and couldn’t play, and that’s why he shot himself. I wished he’d stayed. He could have composed and got someone else to play it. He was very kind and encouraging to young musicians like Rachel Flowers, and I wish he’d composed and let them play. 

I heard that Emerson and Lake wrote some music together when they were preparing to go out on the Manticore Tour in 2010. I hope Greg Lake finishes that and shapes it into songs for one final album. But – though I also admire Lake – I’m not holding my breath. 

But I’m too grateful for what Emerson left us to be complaining. Anyway, Keith Emerson is dead. Bugger.

 

Postscript

So if ELP are such an eclectic band, you say, they must have done a song about bdsm while they were rambling about from genre to genre. Why yes, I reply, they did: “So Far to Fall”, in 1975.

Sample lyric: 

“Ooh she had me, she had me running rings around the floor.
She had me nailed to a door, she had me crying out,
she had me crying out for more, more, more, more, more, more, more.
She bad me, she tied me up in knots like a piece of a string,
she did a thing to my thing, she did a thing to my thing
like it’s never been done before.”

 

 

Mouth to mouth 11: Ropes for Qing?

qing lovingQing made a little noise of satisfaction, and we started to move together. After a while we sped up, and I found that I’d hit an obstruction inside her. It hurt. I thought that maybe I’d hit her spine, since she really was a slender girl and there didn’t seem much room inside her for my cock to go.

But it’d been her cervix. I changed my angle slightly and it didn’t happen again. Qing hadn’t noticed, as far as I could tell.

Her face was contorted in an extreme version of her pleasured expression, and she was making a sound I didn’t understand. (She was saying “cao wo”, meaning “fuck me”, but I didn’t know that till much later.)

Other things were clear enough without language, though, and I let her have my weight for a few minutes while I reached under her to grab her ass. I pulled her cheeks apart, and squeezed her hard, hoping to cause mild pain while she was close to coming.

qing loving 2In a minute or two, Qing opened her legs wide and put her feet on my arse. I sped up, hoping she’d come before I did, and put my right forefinger into her ass, up to the first knuckle. That did it: Qing stopped muttering cap wo. She screamed it, as if she was in a panic.

She wrapped her arms around me, so she was clinging like an octopus on eccy. She had three more orgasms, each a little calmer than the one before. I let myself come in her for the last one.

 Qing sank back, arms and legs flat on the bed. I rolled off her, to lie on my side with my left leg over her. She said, “Well. You’re a dark horse. I didn’t think you even liked me.”

“Oh, I liked you. I just thought that guy was your boyfriend.”

“So does he, half the time. But he’s just a dickhead.”

“Mmmmph.”

qing asleepQing was falling asleep. I guessed I’d do the same, so I pulled some of the duvet away from the wall.

I found ties on the side of the bed, made of soft, furry rope. I could see knots on the other side of the bed, now that I was looking for them. 

Four ties, near the bed corners. You could use that to hold someone spread-eagled and immobile.

I said “Qing? These ties … Is this something you’re into?”

But I was too late. She was asleep. 

Sex in the South Seas 9

cupped breastsSenemelia’s teak-dark breasts, her belly and her arms seemed to shine in the halflight. And her eyes. I crossed to stand behind her, to take her hands away and cup her breasts in mine. Senemelia said, “Ahhhhh,” and squirmed back towards me, getting her ass against my cock. 

So that was the right thing to do. Tongue-kissing isn’t a universal practise, but maybe stroking her breasts and jamming her arse with a hard-on is a good cross-cultural practise. Senemelia liked it, anyway. Maybe I was over-generalising from a small sample.

Anyway, Senemelia wasn’t in my room to discuss comparative sexual customs.

I pinched her nipples very slightly, and she turned her head to smile back at me because I was doing something weird, but tried to squirm away. So that wasn’t a Senemelia sexual custom either. 

It would have been even better before the missionaries arrived.

It would have been even better before the missionaries arrived.

So I stuck to things that had already been well received, holding her breasts tight but painlessly,  pressing forward so my cock made known its feelings about her bum. Senemelia pressed back, and rotated her ass against me like a traditional dancer, while I ran my hands down her belly to the catch on that spangled skirt. I fumbled: there was oil on my hands, and on my shirt. Senemelia shone because she’d covered her whole body with oil.

I licked a spot on her shoulder, just below her neck. Coconut oil, I supposed. It tasted mainly of sweaty girl, with faint traces of coconut and something like chili. But Senemelia sighed and sucked her stomach in to help me undo the catch on the skirt. In a second or two it dropped to the floor. 

The knickers were faded and a little worn at the waistband. She hadn’t expected to be taking them off in company. I pushed them down to her thighs. And, because no one could possibly resist Senemelia’s perfect bubble butt, I smacked her arse. “Bed,” I said. 

Back to work: and Freudian fingers on the Iphone

Holidays are over. I’ve got projects, including at least one where I have no idea how to do what I’ve contracted to. But they wanted me, so that’s that. 

I’ll learn how to do the job, and I’ll get a nice transfer of funds, with love, from them to me. (Cue mouth organ break.) 

Anyway, here’s what happened yesterday. A pretty girl I’d been flirting with, months ago, sent me this:

bag flirt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 (It’s just an internet image, which is why I’m prepared to reproduce it here.) Anyway, we’d called it off, but ended on friendly terms, so I thought that was an encouraging sign: she missed me and wanted to pick up where we left off. I felt very cheery. She’d expressed some interest in the leather, semi-flexible instruments, so I sent her this:

Have case, will travel.

“Have case, will travel.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyway, she sent me another message, which went, approximately, “WTF? Nice to hear from you, but why you just text me? & why that?” 

So I realised she’d been texting some other guy, and she’d accidentally sent the picture to me. She’s the sort of girl who’d be horrified to realise she’d done that, so I decided not to embarrass her by explaining. (She doesn’t read this blog). I just apologised. Rush of blood to the head, or something, I said. So there you are. 

Fathers and sons

My father has his own people around him.

I walked out of the family house when I was 17. I slammed the door, as a petulant young man will when he thinks he’s acting out of principle. I went to work as a psychiatric nurse, and when I realised I wasn’t on the side of the hospital I quit and worked on odd jobs in factories and on the roads, to get enough money to go to university. My father and I didn’t speak.

It was me that mended it, when I was near to finishing the degree. It wasn’t out of love that I reached out and made peace. It was out of the feeling that it was stupid to have a quarrel with my father in an adult life. The feud with my father was like an accessory – a pendant or a lip ring, maybe – that can suit an adolescent, but is embarrassing on an adult. It was like still reading Hermann Hesse novels.

I’d thought he was a racist and an authoritarian, and since he’ll never read this I’ll say that that was true: he was. But he’s a human being, born in time. He is a good man, and he has never been a promoter of anything bad. That’s a pathetically small thing to say about a good man, but it’s a true thing. 

When I contacted my father again, and started visiting and offering invitations, I opened up some conversations, about family members, the weather, and so on, but we never talked about things that might be important. If we did we’d fight. So I chose safe topics and I listened more than spoke. I didn’t really enjoy his company. Repairing the relationship seemed like a proper thing to do, and I didn’t actually feel that there was much in it for me.

It was as he got older and weakened that he mattered more.

There was nothing to rebel against. He was a man of his time, in most of his attitudes, and he was in advance of his time in many ways.

And it doesn’t really matter what you think about races, for example, in the abstract. It matters a lot how you treat people. I saw that I’d have to work hard to be as kind and considerate to people as he was. I’d done some of that work on being kind before, because I’m naturally arrogant and selfish and I had to consciously try to be kind, and that’s mostly from his example. But after re-establishing contact I put in much more work on kindness. And patience.

Letting go my anger with him meant learning to let go of other anger.

Here’s a poem by James K Baxter, from New Zealand.

Alone we are born
And die alone;
Yet see the red-gold cirrus
Over snow mountain shine.

Along the upland road
Ride easy, stranger:
Surrender to the sky
Your heart of anger.

There’s some calm in those last two lines. Anyway, I’m around my father right now. He needs people, including me. I’m one of his own people, around him.  

Death in the family #2

The funeral is tomorrow morning. I’ve written a eulogy, which was hard because I’d thought I couldn’t say anything at all. 

My father is grief-stricken and pretending not to be. He is brave in front of people, but his shoulders slump and his face falls when he thinks no-one’s looking. 

He was asleep on the couch this afternoon. He was reaching for her hand while he slept. But it wasn’t there. He suddenly woke up, panicked, and called out, “Where’s Sophie?”

My poor sister had to say, “I’m sorry, Dad; Sophie’s gone. She died on Friday.”

Dad lifted his hands up and brought them down together, to show that his moment of panic hadn’t been important. “Of course. I’m sorry. Sorry, of course. She’s dead, I know.”  

He’s a brave man, and his first instinct, always, is the feelings of others. 

My poor father.