Robert Fripp has explained he couldn’t have leaked news of David Bowie’s new album because he wasn’t involved in the project at any stage.
Bowie shocked fans on January 8 when he announced the imminent release of The Next Day, his first work in a decade. Producer Tony Visconti later discussed the challenges of keeping the record a secret, saying the only breach of secrecy had come when Fripp mentioned it in his online diary.
But the King Crimson mastermind, who worked with Bowie in the late 1970s, had never been consulted over The Next Day – and his diary comment was related to a dream he’d had.
Responding to yesterday’s Classic Rock story, Fripp says: “I haven’t spoken to David for quite a while, and I wasn’t approached for the new album. Not sure whether Tony thought I had been, but nothing ever came to me.
“My association with David and Tony has provided highlights of my life, not only my musical life. Lots of laughs and great music. I would regret if anything negative, completely invented, were to query the reality.”
Fripp wrote in his online diary in 2011: “Rising from traveling adventures, in ‘planes and cars. Dropping off along the way to visit David Bowie, and it gradually appeared that David had some remarkable new ideas in process, not yet public. These he presented indirectly, to allow the penny to drop without prompting. Eno also got involved, and what a flowering of ideas!”
His words led to online speculation on fan forums – but he was simply writing about his “NightWorld” as he often does. He explains: “In the creative world, when someone begins thinking, other people sometimes ‘hear’ what’s going on.
“My NightWorld, or dreaming-life adventures, often involve those with whom I have been creatively involved. David, Eno, a lot of Crimson characters, all contribute to my NightWorld. Who knows, on the subconscious/unconscious levels, what gets ‘overheard’?”
If Bowie had made real-world contact, Fripp admits it would have put him in a difficult position: “Had I been invited, in my current non-performance mode, it would have been a very hard choice.”
That’s because he’s concentrating on his legal battle with Universal Music Group, a situation he describes as his “ongoing professional concern.”
He’s been embroiled in a rights fight with the giant label for five years. He argues that their method of buying up independent labels which own parts of his back-catalogue has led to the release of unauthorised and unaccounted works under his name.
Among his complaints are that Universal haven’t paid royalties for his albums with Police guitarist Andy Summers for nearly 20 years; and that rapper Kanye West’s single Power – based on King Crimson’s classic track 21st Century Schizoid Man – had been heard over a million times on YouTube before he was even asked whether the sample could be used.
Last year he told FT.com: “I couldn’t concentrate on music, so I made the choice to give up my career as a musician in the frontline to deal with the business. What has changed in 40 years? It’s very simple: 40 years ago there was a market economy. Today there is a market society – today everything, including ethics, has a price.”
He made the difficult decision in order to protect the value of his own work – and he doesn’t necessarily mean financial value. “Music is a language in which we can express our struggle with what it is to be a human being,” he said. “This is at the centre of what created King Crimson. Today I remain responsible for that. How can I lie to that? If I do, I cease to be human.”
Fripp recommends watching the Fart For Your Rights videos below – visit The Vicar’s website for more details of the smelly pursuit of immoral music business transactions.