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 counselor, confidant and master of restless moods, troubled by a life that seems to contradict them.

On those nights, the sky doesn’t seem to be a slice of galaxy, of infinity. Just the opposite, it looks like the gloomy tent of a desolate circus, the scene of a show of life that becomes sarcastic and bitter.

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

Inside, a man is looking at the dark firmament of the night.
Inside, a prog-rock human drama takes place.

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

A man who has forgotten the golden sight of a sunset, to which his outstretched gaze tended.

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, seizing a flower, he will have to see it wither. A man who knows the enchantment of the night and doesn’t want to surrender to the inevitable physical subsidence that leads to sleep. A sleep that seems so much a death.

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 thought brought by this statis night.

And so an old friend with a perverse smile appears 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 tie familiar faces to our temptations, so they look more difficult to fight. And then so, if you end up giving up, 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

Oneiric is the sea on which the sleepless man of Starless still floats and, as in a buzz of bees, a blanket of blue ice comes forward and the sky becomes silver. But it’s just a moment, then the precious sky becomes gray, the ice becomes a cage and the insomniac man is trapped, while the dreamlike sea fades, writhing at the rhythm of Fripp’s persevering guitar.

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

That sea where the insomniac man floats has become shapeless, contracted and then enlarged by the musical distortion of those prog rock geniuses. Like wax in the hands of King Crimson, a band that was able to change form to 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, he calls those starts out and then he cries, leaving a torn space to the sax. And the sax jumps in and makes fun of everyone, teasing everything that has been said and done so far. It goes up and down, it’s life, it follows Wetton’s vocal notes and then gives way to the orchestra of the Kings of prog-rock.

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

On that night, the man is hit by the charm of life, by the thunder of the drums, by the strength of the sax. By that controled lightness necessarily linked to every awareness, by the charm of decadence and by the majesty of the simple 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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