Tuesday, January 31, 2017
John Wetton: My Tribute
About a year afterwards, there was the "Asia In Asia" concert, beamed from Japan, via satellite. What we didn't know until the last minute was that John Wetton wasn't with them, and Greg Lake was now in his place. He did a fine job of standing in for him on such a short notice, and although I enjoyed the show, I wanted to see and hear the real guy I'd been hearing for a while.
A few years after that, in sixth grade, I remember looking at the back of an album cover by Uriah Heep, which charted out the various members that had come and gone by the time of the album's release. I saw Wetton's name as being the most current bass player. I'd seen the name "King Crimson" around a couple-few times, and eve had a small knowledge of Greg Lake having once bee in the band at one point as well. I thought, Both of those guys were in that band? I'm going to have to check them out someday!
I didn't get to it until the eleventh grade, when I brought home a used vinyl copy of In The Court Of The Crimson King, and it changed pretty much everything for, about and within me. Hands down, it was the best musical-listening decision I ever made. I then set out to look for and get any- and everything that I could by them. I tried to go in sequence as closely as I could, and try not to get too ahead of myself.
I was familiar with most of what was on side one, but side two is where it got interesting: not only had I not heard any of it, but John Wetton was on the whole side (even if it was only two compositions). The first one, "Red", was a heavy power-trio instrumental with lots of distortion and tritone chords, not to mention hammering drums and fuzz bass. The next cut, "Starless", was a 12-minute epic with lots of Mellotron, plus it seemed to be a three-part suite. After the vocal section, there was a slowly-building section with repeating guitar notes that made me wonder where it was going to go next, and then--BANG!--it slammed headlong into a fast ad heavy 14/16 time signature, restated the opening theme with heavy layers of Mellotron and saxophone lines, and it was over. When the record-player clicked off, I sat and stared at it for about five minutes in complete and stunned silence. I had never heard anything like that before, and I was completely blown away.
Over the next number of years, I collected any- and everything by this lineup that I could get my hands on. They never played a song the same way twice, let alone an entire setlist. Songs like "Exiles" and "Easy Money" in particular had different intros or outros, sometimes leading into an extended instrumental improvisation.
Through it all, he had been a major source of inspiration, from his bass playing, songwriting and singing. Especially the latter. My own voice was rather similar in range and tone, and I saw that I could sing along to the Crimson and UK songs, and almost match what I was singing to.
In 2016, I noticed that he had a Twitter page, and although I wasn't sure if it was someone else handling it, I "followed" it anyway, and "liked" posts that would appear here and there. After a few visits and posts, it began to dawn on me that it was indeed the man himself posting, re-tweeting and commenting. He told one particular anecdote where Crimson had been booked at some place, billed as "King Curtis", and the owner of the place was baffled to see four white guys walk into the place (he seemed to be unaware that King Curtis had been dead for over a year by that point!).
I would find pictures of Crimson, UK and interesting pictures of Wetton himself and post them on my page, tagging him in them. Imagine my surprise one morning when I got a notification that he was "following" me on Twitter! That really made my day. I also got to meet some very interesting fellow fans from different corners of the world, and enjoying posting all kinds of pictures on his page, and occasional story on there. Someone posted a picture of the three-piece lineup of UK on there, and he commented: "It was a neat little band". I looked forward to seeing his posts on there, and sometimes whenever I'd post something, he'd give it a thumbs-up, or re-tweet it on his page. I wanted to write him a personal note, thanking him for all of the great music and inspiration for all of the past years, but I simply just enjoyed getting to bang it back and forth whenever something interesting came up.
In mid-January, I found a picture of him with a tortoiseshell cat, and posted it on my wall, with him tagged in it. On January 14th, he posted the following:
This was/is Peggy, an angelic, frighteningly loyal,half-wild cat with a heart of feline gold.
And then it was silent again for a while.
On January 31st, I logged onto Facebook, and saw a post by my friend Henry Howard, which broke the news that John Wetton had peacefully died in his sleep in the night. My eyes immediately welled up, and that stinging feeling erupted between them. That was it. He was no longer with us. I really felt as if something had just been taken out of me. Apart from being a very important influence on my playing and writing music, he had also become somewhat of a friend on Twitter, and now he would no longer be there. I seriously regretted never having ever sent that fan letter in which I wanted to tell him how much he'd inspired me over the years, but what I've written here is pretty much the crux of what I would have sent to him.