The most common critique levied against King Crimson’s In the Wake of Poseidon is that it is a mere retread of ground already broken by their legendary debut album In the Court of the Crimson King. This “more of the same” charge applies to the entire package; the composition, instrumentation, musical styles, and nomenclature all fit the general template of its predecessor, and the album art continued the motif of fantastical portraiture.
I hadn’t been looking forward to writing this chapter in my visual history of King Crimson. Musically speaking, In the Wake of Poseidon is not my least favorite King Crimson album (for the record: Lizard, followed hotly by Earthbound), but it is the one about which I have the most difficulty trying to find something interesting to say. This may sound like heresy, but I don’t love In the Court of the Crimson King either, but I value and appreciate it from a historic point of view. So it’s very difficult for me to work up enthusiasm to listen to or write about an album that sounds to me like a do-over. Coincidentally or not, the 2010 40th Anniversary Edition reissue is one of the few in the ongoing series not to feature a liner note essay by Robert Fripp, so perhaps he didn’t know what to say either.
Perhaps the superficial similarity to their first album may be excused. Looking back from the perspective of 2012, King Crimson is rightly praised for rarely repeating itself. The few occasions when they did, such as In the Wake of Poseidon, now stand out in stark relief to their usual modus operandi of constant reinvention. For instance, I brought along a neophyte to a 1995 live show in Philadelphia, and she was puzzled by the surface similarities between “Red,” “VROOOM,” and “VROOOM VROOOM”, which to her sounded like the same song three times (to be fair, the latter actually is a version of “VROOOM”, albeit upside-down and backwards, and includes a bit originally compsed for “Red”, but the point stands). Unfortunately, among the rare occasions when the band chose to pave the cowpaths was the critical juncture between their debut and follow-up.
King Crimson was not a band that slowly found an identity and an audience through extensive touring and the opportunity of a few albums to experiment while not under too harsh a spotlight, at least at first (a luxury enjoyed, arguably, by peers such as Genesis and Yes). Rather, they seemingly exploded out of nowhere in 1969, appearing fully formed, confidently polished and dramatic both live and in the studio. Then they broke up.
With the founding lineup already disintegrating by 1970, Robert Fripp found himself “now in sole command of Crimson’s musical direction” (Sid Smith, liner notes to 40th Anniversary Edition) along with Sinfield. In what must have been a profoundly awkward arrangement, original members Greg Lake, Michael Giles, and Peter Giles returned as contracted session musicians in an attempt to keep the band alive while preserving some stylistic continuity. The impossible task at hand: composing and recording the proverbial difficult sophomore effort to follow up on the significant critical and commercial success of their debut.
Fripp, Sinfield & Co. wound up largely repeating themselves, much as a typical sequel to a popcorn summer film is a ghostly echo of the original. Even the verbose album title is modeled on the wordy original. To further illustrate my point, look at the first sides of each album: “Pictures of a City” sounds like a slightly rewritten version of “21st Century Schizoid Man”. Then, “Cadence and Cascade” fills the spot formerly taken by “I Talk to the Wind” — a ballad to cleanse the aural palate before the mellotron gloom & doom that close each first side: “Epitaph” and “In the Wake of Poseidon”.
The structural and tonal echoes were not just musical. In the Court of the Crimson King famously featured two portraits of human faces, the outer sleeve commonly identified as the Schizoid Man and the inner gatefold featured a jovial Crimson King. The In the Wake of Poseidon sleeve cemented this idea into a tradition: illustrative depictions of characters mentioned in the songs. In a case of over egging the pudding, the number of characters was multiplied by six.
In the Wake of Poseidon was originally issued on LP format in May 1970, in a lavish gatefold sleeve. Eric Tamm found the artwork interesting enough to comment at length in his book Robert Fripp: From King Crimson to Guitar Craft:
“Poseidon’s expansive, fold-out cover featured a painting by Tammo de Jongh called ’12 Archetypes’ – trickster, anima, child, magician, and so on – and was perhaps an indication of an interest on Fripp’s part in Jungian psychology (Carl Jung, like Fripp, was concerned with forging some fusion of magic and reason, intuition and intellect, inner and outer, art and science). As on the jacket of In the Court of the Crimson King, [Peter] Sinfield’s lyrics were printed in their entirety, though (at least on my copy) the silver ink and semi-glossy background made them onerously difficult to read.“
– Eric Tamm, Robert Fripp: From King Crimson to Guitar Craft, page 48
Eric Tamm’s largely academic tome on Fripp’s music and philosophy rather unsurprisingly attributes the cover concept to Fripp. I haven’t found solid confirmation, but it was more likely Sinfield was the instigator here, if not primarily responsible. Sinfield was the dominant lyricist, live lighting designer, and overall director of the band’s visual materials through 1972, and would still have been very much in charge of this area at the time. The bevy of classical western allusions in the lyrics, primarily to the Greek God Poseidon and the Roman god Mars, signal this album is definitely a Sinfield joint. He also personally contributed a textural watercolor painting of his own for the inner gatefold.
Jung pursued many avenues of study, ranging from the intellectual to the supernatural. He is perhaps most famous as the founder of analytical psychology and, relevant to the discussion at hand, the concept of archetypes. He understood them to be an infinite set of figures or symbols that exist in our collective unconscious, apart from either the animal instincts that drive human behavior or what infants learn through education and socialization.
Jung did not define a core set of these archetypes, but Richard Gardner delineated a “magical circle of the mind” characterized by twelve archetypes in his 1969 book The Purpose of Love. Artist Tammo de Jongh collaborated on Gardner’s system, and created a series of twelve separate paintings comprising The 12 Faces of Humankind. Each self-contained painting is signed and dated 1967.
Tammo de Jongh further codified this system of twelve archetypes into his own book The Magic Circle, published in 1974. But before that, The 12 Faces of Humankind were revisted and revised into a single painting for King Crimson’s In the Wake of Poseidon.
I have not been able to find documentation regarding how these twelve individual paintings were compiled and adapted into a single painting, or indeed if de Jongh did it himself. As astute commenter Rick Royston has pointed out, rough seams are still evident around many of the figures, particularly visible around The Old Woman and The Child.
“12 Archetypes” depicts The 12 Faces of Humankind organized into two sets of six, the first subset arranged around a lunar symbol, with the others illuminated by a solar icon on the back cover. The visual trope of celestial duality appears often throughout the King Crimson discography, particularly on Larks’ Tongues in Aspic and Three of a Perfect Pair, not to mention the more abstract space imagery that figures into The ConstruKction of Light and Islands.
Archetypes appearing on the lunar front cover (clockwise from top left):
- Young girl with key pendant: The Child. Green identifies her as The Virgin, one of three Goddess archetypes in the painting. The number three is more than mystical numerology: some of Fripp’s musical compositions for the album were built upon tritones, known colloquially as the Devil’s Interval or the Devil’s Triad. The latter is is punned upon for the song title “The Devil’s Triangle”, and incidentally, the god Triton is the son of Poseidon. If only she had been wearing a cross pendant… I could have made all sorts of interesting connections with Fripp’s choice of jewelry for his portrait on the Red sleeve!
- Melancholy woman: The Enchantress
- Smiling man in tricorn hat: The Joker
- Bearded man with horned helmet: The Warrior. Gustav Holst’s “Mars” provided the musical basis for the track “The Devil’s Triangle”. Mars is the Roman god of war.
- Laughing man with beard & garlands: The Fool. Green identifies the Fool and Actress archetypes as an example of a male/female dichotomy expressed in the songs themselves: with “Cadence and Cascade” providing a feminine viewpoint after the chaotic male aggression of the opening track “Pictures of a City”. To my eyes, however, it would appear that the artist more deliberately paired The Actress with The Fool.
- Woman with blue face and lunar emblem: The Actress. Green identifies this archetype as the Earth Mother, who more likely actually appears on the lower left of the back cover. The crescent moon icon is possibly related to the tantric symbols that appear on the Larks’ Tongues in Aspic and Three of a Perfect Pair sleeves.
Characters appearing on the solar back cover (clockwise from top left):
- Bearded man surrounded by stars: The Logician (or possibly The Magician). Interestingly, this archetype is painted in a notably different visual style than the rest, almost Cubist.
- Old bearded man: The Patriarch. Jon Green links this archetype with Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, who would also star in the forthcoming album Lizard.
- African: The Slave. I wonder if The Slave’s placement next to The Warrior is significant, as enslavement is often hand in hand with oppression and war throughout history. We also see a scene suggesting slavery on the Lizard album cover.
- Profile, lying in grass: Mother Nature.
- Old man wearing academic glasses: The Observer. Science, intellect, rational thought.
- Old woman with shawl: The Old Woman
In the Wake of Poseidon does deviate from the In the Court of the Crimson King template in one major way: the inclusion of the demented pop oddity “Cat Food”. The atypically brief album version was preceded by an edited version released ahead of the album as a 7″ single in 1970, in a picture sleeve designed by Peter Sinfield and photographed by Will Christie. The design is atypical for King Crimson in a number of ways, most particularly for incorporating photography (otherwise seen only on Red, THRAK, and The ConstruKction of Light) as opposed to painting or illustration, and the use of a stylized typeface that has not dated well. The lyrics were printed on the back of the sleeve.
ART & DESIGN CREDITS:
- Sleeve design & inside painting Peter Sinfield
- Typography Virginia
- Cover Painting “12 Archetypes” Tammo de Jongh
- 40th Anniversary Series package art & design by Hugh O’Donnell
- 40th Anniversary Series liner notes: www.king-crimson.com/album/poseidon
- Browse scanned pages from Tammo de Jongh’s book The Magic Circle: www.hyperimaging.com/12archetypes
- Jon Green’s mystical analysis of the lyrics of Peter Sinfield for In the Wake of Poseidon. A must-read for anyone interested in the mythology (the gods Poseidon, Mars, etc.) and mysticism inherent in the lyrics, art, and even the construction and sequencing of the music itself.
- Tammo de Jongh’s paintings of The 12 Faces of Humankind: thehope.tripod.com/rgface12.htm
- Richard Gardner on his book The Purpose of Love: www.songsouponsea.com/PurposeOfLove/cover.html
- Thanks to commenter Rick Royston for noticing the visible seams on Tammo de Jongh’s “12 Archetypes”, and unearthing info about Richard Gardner’s book The Purpose of Love, the first appearance of de Jongh’s “The 12 Faces of Humankind”.
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