Robert Fripp and the Meaning of Discipline | National Review

Robert Fripp and the Meaning of Discipline | National Review

Robert Fripp in In the Court of the Crimson King. (Toby Amies/Platform Media Group)

Robert Fripp does not appear to be a particularly pleasant individual to know, but, after watching the new documentary about the band he rules with a calloused hand, I begin to understand how he occupies this rarefied position in rock and why everyone in his orbit works so hard for his approval.

Kyle Smith reviewed In the Court of the Crimson King over the weekend, and I agree with Kyle that it’s one of the finest rock documentaries out there. No, you won’t learn how King Crimson came up with the patterns on “Discipline” or how many takes it took, but you will learn about discipline.

To cultivate a following as devoted as King Crimson’s, one must commit to an excellence that never stops doubting itself. Robert Fripp, an impossibly dedicated guitarist, demands it of the musicians he works with (“bandmates” would be too permanent a term) and demands it of himself.

This documentary is in general terms an exploration of legacy and purpose, unexpectedly funny in parts but full of existential reflection — much of it provided by the terminally ill and since-deceased drummer Bill Rieflin, whose clarity in approaching death is remarkable. One moment, however, stands out to me, on that topic, again, of discipline. It comes when Fripp is explaining why he maintains such a rigorous daily-practice regimen. After remarking on the general desire to get better, he relays the following:

And in the past couple of days, I’ve been re-fingering my part on “Neurotica” and fine-tuning certain specific aspects within my calisthenic practice. I’m not sure to what extent anyone in the audience would recognize the difference, but in a year’s time, they might.

He approaches the craft as would a golfer fiddling with a new grip or stance, always in pursuit of a slight improvement that might enter the memory of muscle and become fixed, a new foundation for further improvement. He also happens to speak with the same precision he applies to his playing. Never an “um” or a grammatically imperfect aberration. No, not from Robert Fripp. That would be something less than excellent and, as such, intolerable.

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.