King Crimson's The Great Deceiver | Yoshihiro Tatsumi's Black Blizzard | Flesh Machine
 
 "The first price the musician pays in order to play music is
to endure the ramifications of the music industry, at whatever level.
The second is to persist in failure.
The third is to persist in success."
(Robert Fripp)

I buy a lot of used CDs. A used CD doesn't have the romance of a used book, but I save money where I can, especially if it means being able to afford three CDs for the price of two. (And, yes, I still buy CDs, not just MP3s, though most of the time now I just buy whichever is cheaper — I'm past capacity for my CD collection and need to somehow carve out some time to sell off some of the CDs I have, if only to make room for more.)

I recently bought used copies of both volumes of The Great Deceiver, a collection of King Crimson concert material from 1973-1974 (two live album sets with two CDs each; four discs total (originally released as a single four-disc set (but let's not confuse things any further (I love parentheses (like these))))). Bizarrely, even though I'd bought the two volumes from two different online sellers, both were lost in the mail. Weird. Undeterred by such a clear warning from the universe, I reordered them both and have this past week been giving them a listen. So far nothing terrible has befallen me personally (that I know of at the time of this writing).

King Crimson is an interesting group (and one I don't feel fully equipped to write about, but here goes nothing!). There have been several iterations of the band, with eclectic electric guitar virtuoso Robert Fripp as the only complete constant over the decades. I've loved Fripp's solo instrumental work that I've heard, as well as his fruitful collaborations with Brian Eno and David Bowie. And I'm much enamored of this particular King Crimson period, starting with the Larks' Tongues in Aspic quintet album of 1973, through the semi-live 1973 album Starless and Bible Black and the live collection The Night Watch, and wrapping up with the power trio of 1974's record Red.
As much as I love the blues (which is very, very much), and as much as I love rock music influenced by the blues (also a lot), I have a great deal of respect for rock that has other influences. King Crimson's progressive rock sound, particularly in this period, shows more in common with freeform jazz than the traditional blues/rock roots. And one of the benefits of this live set is that it contains not only live recordings of previously-written Crimson compositions from this period (this iteration of the band rarely performed King Crimson material that predated this lineup), but also improvisations the band cooked up in concert. The improvised pieces are played so skilfully, with the band members all playing off each other so well, that it's usually impossible to tell the difference between an improv and a previously-written song.

The band focuses here on complex instrumentation and doesn't shy away from an abrasive sound, even descending into heavy metal territory at times, though they're still easily able to avoid the full-on screech-and-bellow I find repellent in that genre (it's weird to me that another iteration of the band actually played some dates with the band Tool some years later). But it's not all jagged-sounding — there are some lovely lyrical passages as well, gentle and beautiful. This music is complicated like jazz, but it has some of the colors of psychedelic rock, leaving out any blues and early rock 'n' roll flavors (to say nothing of folk or country, which to my ear couldn't be more absent). Acid jazz, with a little funk and hard rock, or what's now known as alternative rock... but with the musical complexity normally reserved for classical music... I don't know, maybe these labels don't make a lot of sense. It just sounds good and challenging and invigorating. Technically marvelous, complex, and inventive. Disciplined and controlled in a way uncommon for prog rock. Sometimes pretty, sometimes pretty alarming. It's demanding (and rewarding) of your attention.


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Yoshihiro Tatsumi is best known for short slice-of-life comics, but I just read his 1956 thriller Black Blizzard, a satisfyingly pulpy crime story drawn in bold lines. The opening pages are blasted with lurid greens and yellows, but most of the book is in black and white, which suits the story well. You can feel the cold wind, illustrated in Tatsumi's thick diagonal lines, and his storytelling here is direct and straightforward, keeping the pace tight. There's a hard-boiled noir influence apparent, complete with a classic flashback structure, and there's an effective crash/escape sequence that predates The Fugitive by decades.

Remarkably, Tatsumi completed the 127 page graphic novel in just twenty days, which means he averaged an impressive six pages per day. (Many American comic artists today average one page per day, and that's just doing the pencil art with someone else providing a script and an inker coming behind them to finish the line art. Tatsumi was writing and doing the finished art himself.)

In an interview in the back of the book between acclaimed modern cartoonist Adrian Tomine and Tatsumi, the latter mentions something I didn't know — in Japan, you can rent comics from rental stores the way we rent movies in the US (though, like our movie rental stores, the business has seemed to fluctuate quite a bit). I assume it's possible for Japan to have comic rental stores because of the sheer volume of material and variety of content over there — there are many genres and many target demographics, as with television here in the states. I'd love to live to see comics someday permeate our culture in a similar way.


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My first comic, Flesh Machine, continues at michaelavolio.com — I'll be posting new pages there this afternoon after I get home from running errands (getting a haircut, stopping by the library, picking up more pain medicine to deal with my wisdom tooth pain — y'know, the usual). With much of my time dedicated to the dayjob work with which I pay my bills, I can only manage a few pages per week at this point. I hope to get faster at producing pages (maybe even as fast as Tatsumi), and I hope to someday make my entire living off comics. If you'd like to help push me in that direction, you can support my comics work with a monthly pledge here on Patreon. (Thanks again to those of you who already do!)

Thank you for reading, and I'll see you back here next week! (By which I mean I won't really see you at all, but I'll write a newsletter like this one next Tuesday, and you'll have the opportunity to read it.) Happy holidays and all that, depending on what you celebrate, etc. Isn't that just the sort of generic seasonal salutation that makes your day? But, anyway, goodbye until next week. Goodbye, I say. Goodbye.


Michael Avolio

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