It’s another sad week in the realm of Rock and Roll deaths with the passing of the great irreplaceable George Martin earlier this week and now we come to find that one of our favorite prog kooks, Keith Emerson, has passed as well. Emerson, like the equally batty Rick Wakeman, has always held a special place for fans like us in that he served up phenomenal musicianship wrapped in a glorious tortilla of Prog-Rock excess. It’s the kind of stuff that is at once admirable and ridiculous with neither side quite ever getting the upper hand.
But Emerson holds a particular slot in the LP4 cannon for one particular album. You may recall from our campaign manual, this particular creature.
That creature may have not so subtly reminded you of another famous armored creature. Namely this one.
Yup, it was a shameless nod to the great ‘dillo himself, Tarkus! If you’re not familiar with this album, it’s a totally bat-shit record about Tarkus the armadillo-tank who was created by painter and graphic designer William Neal. As noted in Wikipedia, Neal explains the origin thusly (emphasis mine),
“[T]he armadillo was simply a doodle created from a fusion of ideas while working on the Rare Bird album As Your Mind Flies By. I had produced a gun belt made up of pianokeys [sic], which somehow led to WW1 armoury, nobody liked the idea, but the little armadillo remained on the layout pad. Later on we were asked to submit ideas to E.L.P for their 2nd album. David Herbet and I put tank tracks on the little fellow…yet it was still basically a doodle. However, Keith Emerson spotted it and loved the idea, so we developed him further…After hearing the substance of “Tarkus” on the “acetate” I developed the ideas along with Keith and Greg, and painted all the other creatures too.. “
Here in the inner cover that tells you just how nutty this record truly is.
Glorious, isn’t it? And the Tarkus suite on Side A is just as eccentric and blithesome as the artwork suggests. I mean sure, it’s supposed to be some allegory about the futility of war but, come on, the whole concept is just so goofy and out there that it’s hard for anyone (and I suspect we can include ELP themselves here) to take all too seriously. If anything the whole thing comes off as the musical equivalent of a lovingly assembled D&D campaign or perhaps a pulpy fantasy from a very drunk Robert E. Howard or Michael Moorcock. In short, this odd little album – left by Clinton’s older brother in a crate only to be unearthed by a young Clinton Heider years later and forever shape the course of the LP4 – is just a lot of fun and worth your 20 minutes.
So rest in Peace, Keith Emerson, and thank you for ruining our lives with this wonderful album.