Friday, April 27, 2012
An avuncular Greg Lake on stage in Llandano, Wales - 2005. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Last night I went to see a Rock Legend perform at the Variety Playhouse: none other than Greg Lake. Lake provided the voice and bass guitar for King Crimson in the late 1960’s; he is best known as the guitarist, bass player, vocalist, and (sometimes) producer of Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
Esteemed Readers of a certain age will remember ELP fondly. A prog-rock group that borrowed heavily from the classics, their distinctive sound owed a lot to both Lake’s vocals and Emerson’s Moog synthesizer stylings. I first heard of them shortly after their eponymous debut album was released in late 1970, and was a regular listener. Even today, I can get a nostalgic thrill from listening to their Tarkus and Trilogy albums.
But there is something strange - and more than a little bittersweet - about seeing someone perform some forty years after he created the music you remember.
First, there was Lake himself, who looked less like a rock legend and more like a sandy-haired Buddy Hackett - at least, that was the observation of Bartimus Magnificus. Downright portly and avuncular, he was. And yet his voice was still identifiably his own, despite some age-related loss of range - if you closed your eyes, you could imagine you were listening to an ELP show back in the day. Kinda sorta.
As for the audience, it was a veritabobble sea of shiny pates that could have been a stunt double for a Male Pattern Baldness convention. Old guys. Guys like me. And Greg Lake knew his customers, spending plenty of time telling stories and answering audience questions about his journey from young sniveller to Avuncular Guitar Man... a journey shared by all of us codgers in the crowd. Except, you know, for the Rock Legend part.
Back-up musicians there were none. Lake played his guitar and sang the old, familiar songs with a prerecorded background trrack. It was weird and a little disconcerting, almost as though we had stumbled into a high-rent karaoke session.
As I watched the performance, I had a nagging thought that kept recirculating in my head about, of all things, stereoscopic vision. We see our world in three dimensions because our brains are able to fuse two separate images - those seen by the left and right eyes - into a coherent whole. But I wondered, what if our normal fields of vision - left and right - were replaced by past and present? What if the left eye delivered an image of Greg Lake as he was when he was a newly-famous twenty-two-year-old kid singing “In the Court of the Crimson King,” while the right eye saw the Greg Lake of today? I looked through each eye one at a time, over and over, imagining the alternation between Young Greg and Old Greg and wondering how my brain could fuse those two images to create that strange Time Stereo Vision... and I realized that that was exactly what each one of us in the audience was doing. Fusing the old and new in our minds to make a coherent picture. Or trying to, at any rate.
It’s easier with some performers than with others. McCartney, for example, looks and sounds enough like his old self to enable the Time Stereo to work pretty well. Roger Daltrey, not so much.
Makes you wonder, though. In twenty or thirty years time, when our children and grandkids come to visit us in our quarters at the Nursing Home, will they be playing Tarkus over the P.A.?