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Prog Rock Pioneer Greg Lake: 'Punk Is Not a Form of Music. It's a Fashion Statement.'

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I really wanted to go out and play a world tour. We only got the one show, and after five or six more the band would have been formidable. 

Who pulled the plug on doing more?
Keith and Carl didn't want to do it. I don't know why. It's very strange, but there's something about ELP that doesn't work. It used to work, but it doesn't work now. That might change. People do change, of course. I go back to my philosophy of the duty you have to perform for people who have invested not only their money, but a lot of their feelings into your music. I just feel that you should try and give them satisfaction.

It's confusing, because Carl Palmer is on tour now doing ELP songs with other musicians. You'd think it would make more sense to play those songs with you and Keith.
That's my view, yes. I'm sure his band is good, but if you ask 1,000 people if they'd rather see ELP do "Knife Edge" or would they rather see Carl Palmer's band do "Knife Edge" . . . I don't even need to tell you what they'd say.

I know you toured with Keith as a duo a few years ago, but I recall the tour getting off to a real rough start after a backstage fight.
I got off to a bad start. It got off to a very bad start. I don't really want to get into the whys. My father always told me, "If you can't say something good, then don't say anything bad." And I don't know . . . but you know what? Life is like that. Shit happens, and it isn't always good. Something you just have to live through it and go on.

In fact, the tour did recover. Keith actually walked out of one of the early shows, but he recovered and came back and we completed the tour and it was very happy. We actually ended up enjoying ourselves. So all's well that ends well. But right after that, Keith became very ill, and that was that. 

Moving on here, you played bass with the Who on their new song "Real Good Looking Boy" in  2004. Not a lot of bassists have worked with them.

Yeah, it's a funny business playing with Pete and Roger. At the time, their regular bassist, Pino Palladino, was on tour with Simon and Garfunkel. That's how I wound up doing it. 

That was the first new Who song in quite some time.
Yeah. Pete and Roger are a very interesting couple. [Laughs] I use that word because they are like a married couple. Zak [Starkey] is a great drummer, but there was something about Keith Moon and John Entwistle that was just unique. Explosive. Of course, John was a very good bass player. As good as you might be, it's hard to emulate him. He had this special soul and this special way of playing. It was very peculiar. 

It was fun to work with them. As you say, not many people have worked with them. I like playing with other people. I did a tour with Ringo Starr that was tremendous fun.

I imagine you never envisioned yourself playing "Yellow Submarine" with Ringo Starr night after night.
I know! When you work with Ringo, it is like that. It's fun. He's a light character, but I was shocked by how disciplined he was. I could see that one of the reasons the Beatles were as good as they were because not only was he a great drummer, a guy who could play with a great feel, but he was a disciplinarian. He would stay up in the middle of the night to get it right. He's not that floppy-doppy guy people thought he was.

What did you think about Kanye West sampling "21st Century  Schizoid Man" on his song "Power"? It must have been weird to hear your voice on a song like that.
In a way, that song still sounds modern to me. I think when you hear Kanye West do it, or include it in his own song, it's relevant. He's speaking about that crazy world that we live in. It's as true now as it was then. It's an honor when something like that happens. 

Did you have to approve that?
No, I didn't personally approve it.

It is your voice, though.
I would have approved it happily. I don't know if you even need permission, funnily enough, to sample a very short thing like that – it doesn't have to do with money or permission. 

I actually use his song to open my show. It starts with the lights going out and everything is black. The first thing you hear is the Kanye West piece. When the hook comes on, "21st Century Schizoid Man," the spotlight comes on and there's no one on the stage. Then the track carries, but the second time the hook comes, it's me, and me singing it. And I open up with "Schizoid Man." It's a great shocker, but it's a statement too. It's enabled me to link the past with the present. 

Finally, what are you working on now? What's your plan for the future?
I'm touring a lot this year. I'm playing Japan, United States, probably Italy and South America as well. I'm bringing out my autobiography, Lucky Man. Then I'm going to make another record. I've written a lot of stuff, and it's a matter of sitting down, getting disciplined and pulling it together. I imagine that in between tours I'll focus on the new recordings.

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Song Stories

“Money For Nothing”

Dire Straits | 1984

Mark Knopfler wrote this song with Sting, and it wasn’t without controversy. The Dire Straits frontman's original lyric used the word “faggot” to describe a singer who got their “money for nothing and their chicks for free.” Even though the slur was edited out in many versions, the band, and Knopfler, still took plenty of criticism for the term. “I got an objection from the editor of a gay newspaper in London--he actually said it was below the belt,” Knopfler told Rolling Stone. Still, "Money For Nothing," undoubtedly augmented by its innovative early computer-animated video, stayed at Number One for three weeks.

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