I like many types of music, ranging from Russian monophonic chant to Gothic German techno-metal to screechy avant-garde nonsense. My beard, however — well that’s a different story. His tastes are very specific, quite rarefied and were formed mostly in the first half of the 1970s, ending shortly after I was born. He likes droning, ambient noise, stuff that suggests the depths of space, or a long, slow descent into madness.
Every now and then he makes me lie down and listen to one of his top tracks on my Bose headphones. One of his favorite records is Fripp & Eno’s “Evening Star”, and within that album he especially likes what, back in the days of vinyl, comprised all of side two: the twenty eight minute drone epic An Index of Metals. Last Friday my beard and I played the track all the way through. Afterward I asked him why he likes it so much.
ME: Tell us a little about An Index of Metals, Mr. Beard.
BEARD: Well, it’s a collaboration between Robert Fripp, the guitarist from King Crimson, and Brian Eno, the famed producer of Talking Heads, U2, Coldplay and many other groups. Originally released in 1974 it is actually the second full length LP they made together in which they experimented with guitar and tape loops (the first was “No Pussyfooting).” Essentially Fripp would solo on his guitar while Eno simultaneously mutated and modified and played back the notes on two tape recorders that were running simultaneously. “Evening Star” took the technique to a new level: on “No Pussyfooting” it was obvious that Fripp was playing guitar, but on the follow up his notes were at times altered beyond recognition.
ME: So it’s guitar that doesn’t sound like guitar?
BEARD: Sometimes. On side one, he plays a stunningly beautiful melodic line on the title track, but the humanity of the album rapidly recedes after that until you’re left with An Index of Metals.
ME: I like the title. Can you describe the track at all?
BEARD: It sounds like an index of metals.
ME: What does that mean?
BEARD: Imagine the sound of chromium, shimmering and cold, isolated and then held in stasis for a duration of time which is difficult to determine. Slowly, it changes, shifting into the sound of another metal, maybe one you can’t quite identify but which you’re pretty sure is on the periodic table. Meanwhile all of this is happening while you wander through the ice caves of Pluto. At least you think it’s Pluto, you could be on another planet entirely.
ME: Pluto was recently re-defined, it’s not a planet any more.
ME: No, it’s true.
BEARD: OK, maybe you’re roaming about on one of Neptune’s moons. And suddenly your feet leave the rocky surface and you drift into a shimmering cloud of sound, which is eerie and inhuman, and it floats around you like a mist, or a thick fog…
ME: Can you dance to it? Is it melodic?
BEARD: No. It’s the sound of a chilly eternity, a “music” that could last forever. It’s almost as if you stumble into it, and then, as the track fades, you feel it receding from you. But it’s still there, somewhere, hanging, suspended in time.
ME: Sounds very kosmische. Do you need a beard to listen to it?
BEARD: Interesting question. In fact, “No Pussyfooting” and “Evening Star” often make Pitchfork types’ lists as one of the key recordings of the 1970s. As is well known however these fey indie boys (for most of them are boys) cannot grow beards. And indeed, I doubt very much that many of them have listened to An Index of Metals all the way through. Ten minutes or so to claim the scalp, skip to the end, and then it’s back to Radiohead, jangly pop and wanking.
Note also that one of the collaborators — Eno — was among the first rock musicians to adopt the completely bald, professorial look. And if one of the creators went beardless, this might suggest no beard is necessary. But then we look at the other half of the duo, Fripp, who at this time was wearing a neatly manicured beard. I think the implication is clear: a beard is not required, but it certainly helps. And if a beard is worn then it must be suitably intellectual in appearance. Not too shaggy, or wild. Good for stroking, one might say, in order to facilitate the cerebral processes, one’s receptiveness to eternity.
ME: Mr. Beard, thank you for your time, which you seem to be suggesting is endless.
BEARD: Always happy to oblige.
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