As a teenager attending an all boys Catholic school I was often faced with that horror of rugby practice or other sporting practices. In my school you did not get the choice to not play rugby, cricket or other manly endeavors until you hit the magical age of 16. Then you got to not only trade in your royal purple blazer for a black one but you could decide not to play sports.
Those of us with less than stellar sporting ability used to attempt to drag out the changing process as long as possible. Struggling foolishly with socks and shoelaces as if they may attack you. We would then argue about what was the greatest album you had heard that week was. There was a certain cache in hearing something others had not.
It was in this rarefied air that I first saw the cover for In The Court of the Crimson King, An Observation by King Crimson, I did not learn the title that day though.It was poking out of one of my fellow stragglers bag on cassette. It was quite possibly the most terrifying thing I had ever seen to advertise an album. In my mind the music inside must be truly diabolical to merit such a cover.
All I could think about was that awful mouth screaming it’s silent scream of pain, anguish and horror. I attempted to borrow the tape but was rebuffed with that knowing smirk of you are not ready for this. The truth I later learned was this was his brothers tape, young Galvin had never heard it and had brought it to school because it was the weirdest thing he could find to impress the impressionable in his brothers stack of tapes.
Later as we became friends his brothers stack became the subject of many an afternoon listening to strange albums by Gong, Curved Air, Amon Duul, Hawkwind, the Small Faces and many others. A seemingly endless selection of sounds that eventually we were banned from when the brother found a girlfriend. This would lead to early afternoon raids on the collection while the brother smoked out behind the shed.
In my fevered mind I became obsessed with that cover, desperate to hear what was inside. It had to be magical with such a terrifying cover, it had to be out there, somewhere different.
So I did what I always did I took myself off to the library. Searching the stacks of records again and again over weeks looking for that cover and not finding it. In the end I approached the bearded wizened librarian with my description of the cover, a red screaming mouth and distended nostrils, terrifying awful, horrible. The librarian smiled told me the title and said I would have to order it as it was always out.
Four weeks later the day arrived, the album was in and I could pick it up. The album also had the creepiest inside cover with the strangely terrifying befanged moon freak inside. This looks like my kind of madness.
With no small amount of fear I placed the album on the turntable at home and the terrifying sound of 21st Century Schizoid Man burst into my room. Saxes, guitars, mellotrons and whatever vibes where. A cacophony fit to melt your ears. Then everything went wrong, a hippy song some ominous noodling, strange sounds on side two on something called Moonchild, then saved by the swell of the final track. For years I really struggled to get the album. I knew you were supposed to like it but really it only had two good tracks. This was made even more confusing by my next Crimson album being Discipline which sounded like Talking Heads on overdrive. Since then I have had to reconsider Epitaph and acknowledge there are really three great songs on the album but I still like Discipline better if I am honest.
Of course as a teenager who was desperately hoping to prove his musical credibility I had to tell everyone it was the best album I had heard. In fact pieces of it was some of the most challenging music I had heard and perhaps would ever hear. Although I only taped the two tracks I liked before returning the album.
So today when the 200g reissue arrived I was again taken by how striking the album cover is and how when I look at that mouth I am again struck by the maniacal evil nature of the cover. 21st Century Schizoid Man is still the most fearsome opening track ever committed to vinyl though. I also noted that this album is so heavy it is 20g heavier than the other King Crimson reissues, I have no idea if that is totally true but it should be.