Starless: beyond the meanings of King Crimson’s song

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It often happens that, at night, a sky with no stars becomes our counsellor, our confidante and the master of our restless moods, when we are troubled by a life that seems to contradict peace.

On those nights, the sky doesn’t appear to be a slice of galaxy, of infinity. Quite the opposite; it looks like the gloomy tent canvas of a desolate circus, the scene for life’s sarcastic, bitter show.

The melodic opening of King Crimson’s Starless (from Red, their 1974 album) introduces an apparent calm, an atmosphere suspended by the strings, followed by the notes of the Mellotron and a narrating guitar that seems to open the door to a room, as if urging us to look through a window.

Inside, a man is looking at the dark firmament of the night.

And inside, a prog-rock human drama is taking place.

Deep and powerful, Wetton’s voice becomes the storyteller of the journey of the titans at night. These are the companion to our thoughts, riding like dark, powerful horses, galloping between what was and what will be. These are the thoughts that force their presence on that man, locked in that room, under a starless sky.

A man who has forgotten the golden sight of a sunset, to which his longing gaze is directed.

Sundown dazzling day
Gold through my eyes
But my eyes turned within
Only see
Starless and bible black

We can see clearly the anxiety of this man. A man who knows that if he grabs a flower, he will then have to watch it wither. A man who knows the enchantment of the night and who doesn’t want to surrender to the inevitable physical shutdown that leads to sleep. For it is a sleep that feels more like death.

So, awake, he continues to drown in a dark night without stars, aware that, after this night, he will learn to swim. He will continue to float on the sea of the life and thought that has been brought about by this night.

An old friend appears, with a perverse smile on his face, offering him compassion.

Old friend charity
Cruel twisted smile
And the smile signals emptiness
For me
Starless and bible black

And this is how, sometimes, it seems easier to attribute familiar faces to our temptations, so they appear more difficult to fight. And then, if you end up giving into these temptations, you can easily justify yourself.

Ice blue silver sky
Fades into grey
To a grey hope that oh yearns to be
Starless and bible black

The dreamlike sea carries the sleepless man in Starless and he floats when, like a swarm of bees, a blanket of blue ice comes forward and the sky turns silver. But it’s just a moment, then the pleasant sky turns grey, the ice becomes a cage and the insomniac is trapped as the sea fades, writhing to the rhythm of Fripp’s persevering guitar.

And then, King Crimson’s plan comes to life. That ascending climax takes off, higher and higher, faster and more impressive; a guitar frenzy that opens up in the middle of Bruford’s drums.

That sea where the insomniac floats has become shapeless, contracted and then enlarged by the musical distortion of those prog rock geniuses. It becomes like wax in the hands of King Crimson, a band that was able to change the form of matter, to give life and physical form to notes, to elevate the spirit.

Bruford gives life to the creation of percussion. He moves the night, calling the stars out, then he cries, leaving a space for the introduction of the sax. And it jumps in and makes fun of everyone, teasing everything that has been said and done so far. It moves up and down, following Wetton’s vocal notes before ultimately giving way to the orchestra of the Kings of prog-rock.

This is life, and even the sleepless man of Starless understands it. He is a man who is too deep, who thinks too much, and who cannot surrender to the emptiness of the moment.

On that night, the man is hit by the charms of life, by the thunder of the drums, and by the strength of the sax. He is struck hard by the controlled awareness, the charm of decadence and by the majesty of the present. That tension that will force him to surrender to a magnificent truth: on a starless night, you can see the moon much better.

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