Graded on a Curve: Emerson, Lake & Palmer,
Tarkus

It’s the coup of the century! I’m talking about my exclusive interview with the shade of the late Greg Lake, singer, bassist and guitarist of the greatest pomp rock band in history, Emerson, Lake & Palmer! Greg had a prior commitment (“I’m off to jam with Rachmaninoff”) but he set aside a few moments from his busy schedule to answer a few questions. So without further ado, let’s get to it.

For starters, I would just like to say how much I love “Nights in White Satin.”

GL: That was by the Moody Blues.

My bad. “Lucky Man” then. And that song, I can’t remember the name of it, that starts “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends.” Are you talking about the song, which seems to go on forever?

I see “Karn Evil 9″ a a stripped-to-the-basics rock ’n’ roller. We wrote it in the spirit of Carl Perkins.

I hear that simplicity in all of your work. It has an almost garage-like feel that brings to mind the Standells’“Dirty Water.” With Hammond organ, St. Mark’s Church organ, piano, celesta, and Moog modular synthesizer thrown in.

We liked to think we were playing Chuck Berry with a tip of the old orchestra to Tchaikovsky.

Some would say your music is pretentious.

Is it our fault we were the first band to realize the potential of artificially inseminating rock with the jism of classical music? Why restrain yourself to playing three chords when you could be playing 4017?

Excellent point. Still, there are those who say that your classical rock is an unholy deal with the devil. Rock ’n’ roll is a people’s music, or so I’m told.

Of course it is. That’s why we put Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” on Works Vol 1. It was directed to Joe Lunch Box, the sort of crass illiterate who would ordinarily be cranking up Foghat. And if you listen closely there’s a lot of Foghat in “Fanfare.” I ran into Lonesome Dave Peverett a couple of weeks ago and he told me, “‘Fanfare’ is what we were aiming for. I’m simply couldn’t work out a slide guitar part.”

And then there’s “Hoedown.”

“Hoedown” is our “Y’all come back now” homage to the proud agrarians of rural America. There are a lot of hayseeds out there, doing whatever it is hayseeds do in the sticks. A lot of fornicating with farm animals, I’d imagine. That said, dumb rubes don’t buy our albums, so fuck ‘em.

Pictures at an Exhibition includes a song called “The Hut of Baba Yaga.” Was it inspired by Jabba the Hutt?

Pictures at an Exhibition was released in 1971. Jabba didn’t make his big screen debut until 1983.

Intriguing. What do you think he was doing all that time? Hiding in his hut?

You would have to take that up with Jabba. Ask me how the band came about.

I’m game. How?

I was playing with King Crimson and Keith [Emerson] was with The Move and we decided to put together a band. We auditioned some guys and chose Carl [Palmer] because he owned some badass gongs.

And?

The three of us got together, just to see if the chemistry was right. We were playing a sloppy take on “Louie, Louie” when out of nowhere Carl hit his gong. And just like that we played Wagner’s Ring Cycle in its entirely. It was a moment of serendipity that went on for 17 hours.

What was your attitude toward your audience?

A dim lot for the most part. Imagine paying loads us money to see us when they could have seen Black Oak Arkansas at a fraction of the cost. Great band by the way. Washboard, hog references, loads of shirtless energy.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer sounds like the name of a law firm. Did you ever consider a band name that was less narcissistic and shamelessly ego-driven?

Most definitely. We thought about calling ourselves Palmer, Lake & Emerson. Lake, Emerson & Palmer made our short list as well.

What did you think of Keith’s concerto on Works Vol. 1?

Dreadful really. We each decided we’d have a separate side and Keith showed up with “Concerto No. 1.” I swear he wrote it on the toilet. The scariest part? That No. 1 at the end. The possibility of a No. 2 gave everyone the shivers. It’s my suspicion it cost us a sizeable portion of our fan base.

I really like “C’est La Vie.” Is that Italian?

French. Literally translated it means “Look how sensitive and vulnerable I am.”

There’s a song on Love Beach called “Taste of My Love.” Allow me to read a snippet of its lyrics: “Down on your knees/ With your face to the wall/ Saying please, please, please.” They’re quite poetic.

I was reading a lot of Emily Dickinson at the time.

Tarkus has one of the greatest album covers of all time.

Thanks. A giant armadillo on tank treads. Is that cool or what?

Cool as fuck.

That’s the way we looked at the band–we were a giant grub-eating mammal on tank treads. Do you know you can contract leprosy by touching an armadillo? It’s a fact. And that’s the way we looked at it. We were dangerous. Touch us and presto–you’re a leper.

How did it feel to be the crème de la crème of progressive rock bands, the band by which all other progressive rock bands are judged?

It was a heavy responsibility. It placed a lot of pressure on us to constantly take things up a notch. At one point we considered putting out a 16-sided album including variations on the compositions of all of the world’s greatest composers.

What happened?

The Department of Justice intervened and placed us on a list of musical offenders. It nearly ruined us. Every time we came within 50 yards of, Bach say, he was instructed to scream “Stranger danger!”

One last question. If you could your attribute your international renown to just one thing, what would it be?

Carl’s gong. Definitely Carl’s gong.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
D

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