I was looking to see what Martyn Ware [?!] had to say about the mess America has become of late when I saw that he had mentioned that John Wetton had died this morning. Having put alcoholism and open heart surgery behind him in the last 20 years, he finally succumbed to colon cancer today. Well knock me over with a feather. John Wetton was a bass player/vocalist who had a long and storied career ranging from fiery, thrilling art rock to stadium rock fodder of the most pedestrian kind. I listened to the Asia album once and gave it away to an acquaintance with lower standards. While the emergence of Asia in 1981 was a mar on that stellar year of music, I prefer to remember Wetton as a capable bass player with a strong singing voice who contributed to the brilliant trilogy of King Crimson albums that covered the ’73-’74 period. These albums were unimpeachably taut and accomplished recordings that managed the not inconsiderable feat of actually being included in the set lists of King Crimson concerts ca. 1981-2003, when leader Fripp jettisoned the music that most people [who weren’t fans] associated with King Crimson all together.
“Lark’s Tongues In Aspic,” “Starless + Bible Black” and “Red” would be enough to have etched out a place of honor for John Wetton in my Record Cell, but 1973 was a busy year for him. Not only was he helping King Crimson to shoot past their relatively clumsy 1972 period [which does not sit in my Record Cell] but he also found the time to contribute bass to a host of fine albums from the Roxy Music axis of E’G Management. His was the bass that lured listeners into the riveting, face-melting deathtrap that was Brian Eno’s “Baby’s On Fire,” but he also was Bryan Ferry’s bass player for much of his 70’s solo career. He even got drafted into the “Siren” tour as Roxy Music’s bass player and this was duly documented on the scorching “Viva!” album where the bulk of the performance is Wetton’s.
The ten albums above that I own with Wetton involvement were all golden exceptions to the ironically self-imposed limitations of “Prog Rock.” That is to say, they actually evidenced a progression of thought, technique and form to the lumbering corpus of mid-70s Rock Music. They were technically accomplished, yet still thrilling. That they have continued to exist to this day without spawning so much as a single wince backward is a testimony to their singular spirit and the players within those covers. Wetton will be missed. In spite of his membership in Asia.
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