For Your Pleasure

A song-by-song analysis of the lyrics and music of Roxy Music and the solo work of Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno, Andy Mackay and Phil Manzanera in the 1970s


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Strictly Confidential – Part 2

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Strictly Confidential (1973)
Strictly Confidential – Part 1

I’m not sure what Bryan thought his roots were, but they probably had more to do with Marilyn Monroe than with any musical influences.
Tim Clark, former marketing director of Roxy Music’s label

Gimme your body
Gimme your mind
Art for arts sake
Money for Gods sake
10cc, (Gouldman/Stewart)

I. American Gothic – Goddess of Love

For Bryan Ferry, Marilyn Monroe was America’s most important visual icon  – or at least until Kate Moss came on the scene, apparently – and in 2002 he co-wrote with Eurythmics Dave Stewart a song specifically about his feelings for Monroe – ‘Goddess of Love’  For anyone following the plot, it goes without saying that Marilyn Monroe was a key motif in the delivery of Roxy’s cinema music. (See: Virginia Plain Part 1-5; Beauty Queen Part 2). The lyric for ‘Goddess of Love‘ contains traces of old obsessions –  “nobody cares like I do” is a throw-back to the hand-on-brow Romantic sensitivities of  ‘Sea Breezes‘ – yet what stands out is the love impact Monroe had on Ferry’s zeitgeist:

Goddess of love
Never a day goes by
Goddess of love
When I don’t cry

A fun song with a throw-away funky lightness, the solo track confirms what we already knew from ‘Beauty Queen‘: Ferry’s first true love is a matinee movie star pulled from the pages of a magazine cover, not necessarily a flesh-and-blood girlfriend or cupid’s memory. Early single ‘Virginia Plain‘ confirmed the Ferry world view: that art, glamour and the processes that make them are more interesting than narrative earnestness. The tools of commerce and advertising – magazine covers, cigarette packages, fashion design – are utilized by Roxy Music to gain maximum effect, connecting directly into the circuitry of the consumer and their desires.  These experiences produces a deep emotional connection as the listener falls in love with the moment, song, performance, artist. It makes sense then that in ‘Goddess of Love’ all that Ferry has left is to leaf through Marilyn Monroe’s magazine articles and pictures (will you spend a little time with me?) and feel the emotional impact of time gone by.

Style critic Peter York once memorably said that Bryan Ferry had led such an avant garde ‘art-directed existence’ that he should be “hanging in the Tate [Gallery]”. It comes as no surprise then that with his training and sensibility, Ferry interrogates to a high-level the patterns and strategies of narrative story-telling and art presentation. This sensibility accounts for the duality that exists in his work: stories of decadent romance that peel open the mechanisms of infatuation, effect and glamour while holding fast on the idea that the song itself is the “ideal of beauty” not the artificially pampered female model or lounge-singer. For Ferry, the the human experience “is all about contrast” (Telegraph) and this produces a wonderful depth to his work – the pinks and blues of Roxy Music juxtaposed with the somnolent, tormented darkness of For Your Pleasure. When Roxy cut a convincing path up the charts in late 1972 the giddy excitement was palpable (opens up exclusive doors/oh wow!), yet a sense of dread clung to many of the lyrics – ‘Virginia Plain‘ was a zippy roller-coaster ride populated with dead teenage idols; ‘Pyjamarama‘ posited that “sacrifice” was the key to paradise; ‘Beauty Queen’ lamented the end-goal of fame: Solo trips to the stars (Where do they go/We’ll never know). Utilizing his eye for narrative, Ferry took these contrasts and, while enjoying his new fame and perks, saw clearly its contrasted darker qualities, and no one epitomized these qualities and their inherent sadness like Ferry’s beloved 50s Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe was all about sex – or at least, that is how she was packaged and sold, a process that she, her audience, and the Hollywood system cheerfully participated in. Acutely aware of her appeal, and insightful to boot – “People had a habit of looking at me as if I were some kind of mirror instead of a person. They didn’t see me, they saw their own lewd thoughts” – Monroe used her looks to crawl out of a tough life: she had a mentally damaged mother and grandmother, lived in foster homes, was a victim of sexual abuse, and was married at 16. Yet in spite of the difficulties she was strong and intelligent, supported in part by reading, writing and literature. The full import of reading and writing on her life was not discovered until 2010 with the discovery and publication of her poems, intimate notes and letters, entitled Fragments (book and re-titled documentary).  The poems are good, some very good, and the quotes and personal notes are compelling. Monroe knew the game she was playing  (“An actress is not a machine, but they treat you like a machine. A money machine”), and was equally articulate in describing the disorientating affect of fame and its un-reality:

There was my name up in lights.
I said, “God, somebody’s made a mistake.”
But there it was, in lights.
And I stood there and said,
“Remember, you’re not a star.”
Yet there it was, up in lights.

For the sensitive Monroe, fame became a trap of misappropriated identity and crushed creativity. She resented being controlled by the movie studios, where, as cultural critic Elizabeth Winder noted in her business article on Monroe, you can “forget about talent, creativity, or even free will—the studio controlled your every move, from the roles you accepted to the directors you worked with to how often you went to the bathroom and occasionally even whom you married.” Monroe fought against the pay discrepancies that went beyond simple male discrimination. Even co-star Jane Russell made more: for 1953’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Monroe made $18,000; Russell banked $100,000.

As an indicator of Monroe’s internal strength and resolve, it is worth quoting in full 20th Century Fox’s treatment of the star as she tried to branch out into more challenging and meatier roles:

“Monroe deserved better from Fox, and she knew it. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was their highest grossing film to date, earning more than $5 million worldwide ($50 million in today’s dollars). Surely they’d give their power earner a raise, some respect, and a little independence. She longed to challenge herself, to take on meatier roles, like the lead in playwright Henrik Ibsen‘s Hedda Gabler or Grushenka from Dostoevsky‘s The Brothers Karamazov. She’d just finished reading Emile Zola‘s Nana—the perfect novel, she thought, for a film adaptation…[but film mogul Darryl F. Zanuck] already had her lined up for River of No Return, a formulaic Western with a sloppy plot. Bound by her contract, Monroe submitted with clenched teeth: “I think I deserve a better deal than a grade-Z cowboy movie in which the acting finished second to the scenery,” she said.

The next time Fox presented her with an idiotic script, Monroe flung it back with “TRASH” scrawled on the title page in heavy black marker. Zanuck’s secretary sent her an ominous telegram ordering her to report for work … [but] the star was already on a plane to New York, dressed in dark glasses and a black bobbed wig, traveling under the name of Zelda Zonk”   Article, Marie Claire, 2017

Monroe eventually won the dispute with Fox, and was re-signed with a higher salary (the bump to 100K per picture she had originally demanded). She formed her own Production Company and joined the famed Actors Studio for Method Acting (Brando, James Dean, et al.). But the damage was done. The lines became frayed and the talent was broken down by the repetitiveness of the questions, the male newspaper hacks engaging in sexual innuendo bordering on bullying, and it never did work out for her, in the end.

monroe death

If fame goes by, so long, I’ve had you, fame. If it goes by, I’ve always known it was fickle. So at least it’s something I experienced, but that’s not where I live.

Marilyn Monroe, Fragments, 3rd August 1962, shortly before her death.

Fame is fickle and not to be trusted is a riff on a poem by Emily Dickinson, titled ‘Fame is a Fickle Food‘.

Fame is a fickle food
Upon a shifting plate
Whose table once a
Guest but not
The second time is set.

Whose crumbs the crows inspect
And with ironic caw
Flap past it to the
Farmer’s Corn —
Men eat of it and die.

The arts-mad Ferry would know the Dickinson poem, and would have clocked already that fame was a fickle food that even the crows would pass over (“men eat of it and die“). Moreover, Ferry would have felt keenly – like everyone must have done in 1962 – that Marilyn Monroe’s story was tragic, tragic in the real sense of the word – a character flaw unhelped by an unyielding and fickle society – and that something beautiful and real had been trampled on, ultimately defeated by the American Dream.

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Here’s Monroe take on the subject – a definition of the new mask and what becomes of it:

They taught my body
to squeeze grapes.
Warm wine pours out.
And once or twice,
a slick skin.

The depiction of loss of self – the “slick skin” – is devastating and insightful, extremely poetic (a Roxy song title contender), and ultimately sad. For Bryan Ferry and his famous pop-art mentor/teacher Richard Hamilton, Marilyn Monroe’s suicide had a lasting and keenly felt emotional impact both on their art and on their personal lives.

II. American Gothic – My Marilyn

I’m not obsessed by suicide by any means, but the idea does interest me.
Bryan Ferry, interview, 2015

mymarilyn w detailIn our reading of ‘Strictly Confidential’ Part 1 we suggested that the song was a dramatization of the mental condition schizoaffective disorder, which involves ongoing hallucinations and other distortions of reality. Voices heard within the mind telling the person they are going to rot, die, kill: a chilling and debilitating experience experienced by many people, some famous enough – such as Brian Wilson and Syd Barrett – to impact the public’s perception of the condition for a generation. In ‘SC’ Ferry wrote a powerful song that utilized conventions of Gothic literature, dramatizing the frightening grip voices or “fragments” of unreality can have on common experience. Thankfully, the narrative was hopeful – the “magical moment” does eventually come with the light of morning (the spell it is breaking) but the song is realistic enough to know that mental illness does not simply vanish, it is like many ailments of the body and mind, and has to be managed, treated, endured. (Is there no light here/Is there is no key?).

So rich is the For Your Pleasure song cycle that an alternate reading is readily available however, as the magazine cover girl Ferry is love with in ‘Beauty Queen‘ segues into the suicidal voice in ‘Strictly Confidential‘. Unfortunately, in this reading the suicide is not averted but executed according to plan – the “magical moment” of death becoming the final answer to is there no light here/is there no key? Many critics have commented on the “otherness” of For Your Pleasure, the “shimmering alien beauty” of the record (Burchill) combined with Ferry’s “odd vocal styling” (Rolling Stone), the “swooning, crooning, yelped, panted, whispered and robotically intoned narratives of covert confession” (Bracewell). The voice is the thing in ‘Strictly Confidential’ – there is never a time when we hear the line “Before I die I’ll write this letter” that we do not think that the narrator is a woman – a man singing the song in the voice of a woman, to be exact (and not the sound of a “dying insect” as Kevin Orton over at Soundblab rather humorously hears it). Nothing we can offer in court as evidence, of course, but that “odd vocal styling” and “swooning, crooning, yelped, panted, whispered” intonation is otherness personified – ghostly, a shimmering alien beauty indeed.

The mapping of the cult of celebrity’s darker side as it segues into the suicide letter in ‘Strictly Confidential’ was first noted in ‘Beauty Queen Part 3‘ and is worth repeating here:  The haunting image of soul ships passing by, not touching, no communication possible, shows our narrator haunted and alone – in front of a flickering television set, perhaps – for he is himself on those magazine covers now – locked in a solo trip into the unknown. A faint icy-echo in the vocal is introduced at the top of the line gliding so far (4.10) to emphasize the point, sounding like cold death itself and beyond the experience of us mere mortals (the eye cannot follow). The final question is stunningly posited as he looks towards his own future – Where do they go? We’ll never know” – (BQ Part 3).

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 8.34.20 AMThe answer to “where do they go?” was all too obvious – the public and Bryan Ferry were aware by the early 70s of the crippled fates of James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield – ‘Virginia Plain’ told us as much – and as a connoisseur of Hollywood folklore Ferry would know the story of Hollywood actress Peg Entwistle, the woman who gained notoriety after she jumped to her death from atop the “H” on the Hollywoodland sign at the age of 24. Yet it is the the great Beauty Queen herself  – Marilyn Monroe – who is the perfect subject for any writer wishing to express or reach for an emotional coherence that is beyond their reach. Ferry was struggling with voices at his heels in the track ‘Strictly Confidential’, and his song-writing worked hard to present the fears brought on by fickle fame, aging, ambition, of expressing doubt and projecting an internalized agony akin to madness. Perhaps this is why Ferry loved and kept returning to Marilyn Monroe in his work – physical attractiveness and iconic status was a factor to be sure –  just ask Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer – but also because Monroe was a reader, writer, fighter, leader, a singular force working within and against the fame-making machine. The Goddess of Love stood for and represented a warning for those that would follow her, those “clutching at straws” in anticipation of fame’s fickle food.

Studying under pop art guru Richard Hamilton, a young Bryan Ferry would have been captivated by Hamilton’s My Marilyn oil on canvas painting, and also acutely aware and admiring of Andy Warhol‘s famous images of Marilyn Monroe. In the months following Monroe’s death, Warhol used a publicity photograph of the actress from the 1953 film Niagara to create more than twenty silkscreen paintings of her, such as the Marilyn Diptych, 1962 (T03093). According to the Tate Gallery, Warhol found in Monroe “a fusion of two of his consistent themes: death and the cult of celebrity.” The interrogation of the cult of celebrity begins on FYP with ‘Beauty Queen‘, segueing into ‘Strictly Confidential‘ before expanding out towards Warholian replications into the hard rocker ‘Editions of You’. Under the influence of Richard Hamilton – who had sent Ferry friend and co-student Mark Lancaster to New York to study with Warhol – Ferry absorbed the principles of of Warhol’s and Hamilton’s work – with emphasis on the formal strategies of Hamilton’s My Marilyn. For Hamilton, the guru of artistic distance, emotional objectivity and found objects, My Marilyn was a rare personal piece – the inclusion of “My” in the title points to a need to separate his own version of Monroe from Warhol’s, but also, tragically, it also has a marked meaning: Hamilton’s young wife had been killed in an auto accident in 1962, the same year as Marilyn’s death.

my marilyn

The screenprint is composed of a series of the final photographs of Marilyn Monroe taken by George Barris over a three-day period weeks before her death. What is striking is that Marilyn marked up the negatives and sent them to Barris herself, composing the lay-out and final selections. Hamilton wrote of the process in his Collected Words: “M.M. [Marilyn Monroe] demanded that the results of the photographic sessions be submitted to her for vetting before publication. She made indications, brutally and beautifully in conflict with the image, or on proofs and transparencies to give approval or reject, or suggestions for retouching that might make it acceptable.” (p.65.).

For Hamilton, the Barris photographs – later called The Last Photoshoot – were akin to a suicide note written to a mass audience by the actress, her editing an example of her mental state, Hamilton explaining her psychology in the following way: “there is a fortuitous narcissism to be seen for the negating cross is also the childish symbol for a kiss; but the violent obliteration of her own image has a self-destructive implication that made her death all the more poignant.” Hamilton shows us that the symbols used by Marilyn (crosses and tick) were not just as an approval or a rejection but a demand for communication, approval, artistic acceptance, an act of self-destruction hitting back at everything she had already made and achieved but was trying to repair.

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Sequencing is important in For Your Pleasure: the imagery in previous track ‘Beauty Queen’ is Ferry’s re-telling of the Cult of Celebrity, drawing heavily from the scenes of Marilyn’s final sunset beach photographs as orchestrated by his art guru Richard Hamilton in one of the teacher’s most personal works: the image references the same beach setting (life’s patterns drawn in sand); the all-important photographic image (treasure so rare); the glamour girl (the gold number/summer lover of fun); the wind unable to erase the memory of your face. In the end, like his solo tribute to Monroe some 30 years later, Ferry – the ultimate Hollywood devotee – admits to his female idol that All of my hope and my inspiration/I drew from you. Beauty Queen‘ exists as the haunted sister song to My Marilyn, before turning into the woman crying for help in ‘Strictly Confidential‘: the woman who yearns for release (will it be sunny then I wonder); questions life’s choices (Marking the time spent on our journey/There isn’t much we have to show) and wonders now in these final hours if the desire for fame and wealth was worth it (Counting the cost in money only/Strikes me as funny don’t you know). Ferry would continue to document fame’s alienating impacts – the next track on the album, ‘Editions of You’, being an homage to magazine replication and the need for artistic transcendence – interrogating the landscape, questioning the cost of the need to be loved by strangers. The story continues on For Your Pleasure in ever increasing sinister overtones, digging deeper into the psyche of its composer with each successive track, for here every dream home holds a heartache and every Hollywood lagoon shields a bogus man.

Dedicated to Lucy Birley, July 25 2018

Credits:
Marilyn Monroe,
a personally marked-up shot taken from The Last Photoshoot; MM + MM 45rpm + BF 45rpm of MM; New York Mirror announcing MM death; the old Hollywood sign in need of repair in 1978 (before Alice Cooper and others kicked in the funds for a new sign); Richard Hamilton‘s My Marilyn, 1964; signed George Barris photo, MM Last Photoshoot (beach shot); My Marilyn, alternate; Richard Hamilton, self portrait.

Titbits

The original photos considered for this entry were enigmatic and haunting: a series of transparency slides found by US photographer Meagan Abell in a box of vintage photographs in Richmond, Virginia in 2015. The setting is 50s/60s California: the model and photographer unknown. Abell set the internet alight with her search to find the owner and attain more details. Alas, the mystery remains today. Look West my friends, and tell us, what do you see. http://www.meaganabellphotography.com/

Next: August – ‘Editions of You


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Strictly Confidential – Part 1

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Strictly Confidential (1973)

It’s awful to think that that’s your high spot, only your second year of doing anything
Bryan Ferry on The Second Roxy Music Album, For Your Pleasure.

Nigel Tufnel: It’s part of a trilogy, a musical trilogy that I’m doing in D minor, which I always find is really the saddest of all keys, really, I don’t know why. It makes people weep instantly [plays and sings]
Marty DiBergi: It’s very pretty… What do you call this?
Nigel Tufnel: Well, this piece is called “Lick My Love Pump.”
This is Spinal Tap (1984)

Written in that most melancholy of the keys, D minor – suitable for lamentations, dirges and requiems – ‘Strictly Confidential‘ is a dark and brooding piece, pure Gothic in its structure, epistolary in its form (a written letter), and revealing a depth of understanding of depression in its poetry and presentation. Musically, Phil Manzanera plays on the edge of controlled hysteria and Andy Mackay contributes saxophone atmospherics worthy of a Gothic novel. This song of encroaching suicide and death is a curious entry in the Roxy Music canon, sometimes undervalued among listeners who liken it to ‘Psalm‘ or ‘Bogus Man‘ – so faithful to form that it palls after a few listens. For others – we here included – believe it contains some of the band’s best work.  So be it, ‘Strictly Confidential’ plays wonderfully in the context of the album, relief coming next in the form of the energy rocker ‘Editions of You.’ Superbly sequenced, For Your Pleasure flows through its night journey, often navigating dangerous terrain, often settling on melancholic despair, but always told with musical exuberance and lyrical honesty.

‘Strictly Confidential’ belongs to the sequence of five songs on the first side of For Your Pleasure that had been tightened and honed by Ferry during a self-imposed exile at the remote Derbyshire cottage of Roxy machine designer Nick de Ville (Rigby) before the recording of the album. It is significant to consider that Jane Austen‘s novel Pride and Prejudice is situated in the same Derbyshire hills, and the surrounding wild moorlands were also the location for other classics of English Gothic literature such as Emily Bronte‘s Wuthering Heights, (albeit an hour or so up the road). We can imagine the Implied Author Bryan Ferry preparing himself for the solitude needed to pen ‘Strictly Confidential‘ ‘Beauty Queen‘ and ‘In Every Dream Home, A Heartache’. “I was just sort of on my own in this cottage for a few days” Ferry recalled, “I had no other life.” (Buckley). By doing so the singer/song-writer wrote the songs that would form the backbone of what many consider the peak Roxy Music recording, the dank cottage and creepy moorlands haunting his terror-filled, nightmare-driven writing. “Bad dreams in the night,” Kate Bush sang on the Gothic Wuthering Heights, a title that could have easily substituted for FYP should it have been needed.

The overall lyrical darkness of For Your Pleasure can be explained by the situation Ferry found himself in during early 1973. It made sense to create an album that could stand as the twin or doppelganger of the first record – the dark backing to the sunny possibilities of Roxy Music.  The idea fit nicely with the interrogation of glamour, the seduction at once scintillating and inviting (Open up exclusive doors oh wow!) yet also over-powering and ultimately destructive (Solo trips to the stars in the sky/Where do they go? We’ll never know). And so the key forces in Ferry’s writing came to the fore: the push and pull of the drive for stardom and its fearful correlative – the anxiety that comes with the “clutching at straws” and a deep suspicion that fame – while offering a certain kind of life-after-death – actually leaves the mortal realm littered with carnage: Last Picture show drive-ins abandoned, left to mummify in the desert; famous stars dead before their 30s (teenage rebel of the week); and the chilling observation that the greatest of humanity’s art works have subjects built on misery (Lolita, Guernica), that, in the Roxy universe, utilize the universal energy of The Strand, the greatest product failure in the history of British advertising.

The journey we have been mapping with the Roxy Music story can be summarized across the first three records and non-album singles:

I. (Roxy Music/’Virginia Plain‘): The dream and drive for Fame. The mask is donned for the first time. Become someone else. Many possible futures.

II. (‘Pyjamarama‘/For Your Pleasure): Fame arrives. The effects, shocking. Audiences love you (UK). Promoters hate you (US). You arrive at your Hollywood Promised Land and experience disillusionment. The ambitious mask architected at University is attaching itself firmly to the surface of your skin, like fingernails digging into flesh. There is fear and uncertainty about future outcomes. Decisions are made.

III. (Stranded): Roxy mania. The mask settles, inseparable from your own skin now. Human relationships fail. All that remains is art and aesthetics, the striving for the perfection of art.  You reach for another cognac, stranded.

So For Your Pleasure becomes a novel of masks and scenarios that explore anxieties and concerns – the subconscious trying to determine a solution or path forward to a problem. ‘Strictly Confidential’ is a song of suicide and death, but at its core it tackles the theme the importance of communication, a gift, it has been said, that women possess innately. All the better then, that this suicide letter may, against all expectations, have been penned by a woman.

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I. English Gothic

As part of the song cycle of For Your Pleasure, ‘Strictly Confidential’ and final track ‘For Your Pleasure’ share common themes. In ‘SC’ communication is the gift we “must not lose“; in ‘FYP’ the words we use “tumble” and break up, “gravel hard and loose“. Both songs point to the possibilities of the morning, the possibility of escape from the bad dream, the insightful “magical moment” (‘SC’) and the end to the things you “worried about last night” (‘FYP’). The nightmare is temporary then, and death will not come. Not in FYP. And not in ‘Strictly Confidential’. If, as the Floyd told us the same year, “hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way” (‘Time‘) then The Second Roxy Music Album presents depression and melancholy as internal struggle, as a form of competing voices, as paranoid schizophrenia, and even though death will not come, there is no certainty the troubles will be resolved by morning. Is there no key?

‘Strictly Confidential’ is a performance piece, presented like a narrative poem or play, with characters written for actors to play a part. Indeed, the third cut on FYP may be the most “acted” narrative Ferry has written – ‘If There is Something‘ a close second – in an album full of wonderful performances and roles invented and presented (‘The Bogus Man‘/’Dream Home‘/’For Your Pleasure‘). The lyric opens dramatically, pulling in the listener:  Before I die I’ll write this letter – and continues, packed full of information:

Before I die I’ll write this letter
Here are the secrets you must know
Until the cloak of evening shadow
Changes to mantle of the dawn
Will it be sunny then I wonder?
Rolling and turning
How can I sleep?
Hold on till morning
What if I fall?

The set-up closely involves the reader in an act of intimacy and trust that is the hallmark of Roxy Music’s relationship to its audience. The letter/envelope is addressed formally and in confidence to one person: for our eyes only (Strictly Confidential); we are told this a confession, the “last” words of the narrator (Before I die I’ll write this letter); and we are presented with the prospect of learning personal, possibly illicit information (here are the secrets you must know). In a novel, this is the kind of opening paragraph hook the reader loves. The hook is further sunk as the atmospherics continue with the Gothic setting faithfully adhered to musically by Roxy Music as Ferry evokes a quivering ghostly vocal (before I di-e I write this le-tte-r). The vocal is so wispy thin and fragile it is intriguing to think perhaps the story is being presented from the woman’s point of view; the word selection later is more selective and considered, and even suggests a more sophisticated emotional awareness. This sensibility is backed by the Andy Mackay‘s sombre saxophone signalling the beginning of the piece, utilizing a tone and message similar to John Coltrane’s intro to A Love Supreme, appropriately titled “Acknowledgement“. There is some beautiful work here by Mackay, as he overlays oboe and sax in a manner similar to the minimalist approach – a technique later adopted by Brian Eno and Philip Glass (Glassworks) – and a perfect introduction to this song of sorrow.

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The imagery in the first stanza is pure Gothic, and Ferry uses the form and atmospherics of two exemplary models of epistolary literature, the horror classics Frankenstein and Dracula. Epistolary narratives – those that use letters to tell their story – date at least as early as the Roman poet Ovid (43 BC – 18 AD) and by the 19th century were the form favoured by Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, early Jane Austin, and Bram Stoker. Dracula in particular is a good read, the entire novel is epistolary, written as diary and journal entries, letters and telegrams, all of which give the reader the perspectives from different characters, an aspect that is important in the the schizophrenic track ‘Strictly Confidential’. Dracula moves from romance to ensnarement and isolation, to hauntings in the house of vampire victim Lucy, in Whitby, England, only a few short hours away from Ferry’s cottage stay in Derbyshire.

Word-choice in the song is literary high-style, which is formal, suited to a version of old-time story-telling favoured by the Gothic classics. Take the lines Until the cloak of evening shadow/Changes to mantle of the dawn. Both ‘Cloak of Evening Shadow‘ and ‘Mantle of the Dawn‘ could be titles for Game of Thrones episodes, so you get the picture about the kind of atmospherics Ferry was seeking to achieve: this is the stuff of castles, cloaks, daggers at dawn, ghosts at midnight. In fact, Ferry sets the two words back-to-back in the stanza: cloak=overcoat/nighttime; mantle=overcoat/morning. Look up ‘mantle’ (Dictionary) and you learn ‘mantle’ is the more authoritative of the two, as in they decided to “place the mantle of authority on younger shoulders.”  Compare this to placing the “cloak of authority” on those younger shoulders and you see it doesn’t quite carry the same weight. Why is this important? – well, in terms of narrative poetry, mantle of the dawn thereby gains the upper-hand over cloak of evening shadow. The narrator of the story – the one who chooses the words to tell the tale – is telling us that seeing the sun rise is more important than the finality of midnight suicide – Will it be sunny then I wonder?/Hold on til morning. There is energy against the finality of death baked into the stanza: the suicide note is a letter of torment, representing the haunting of the mind, rather than delivering on the ghastly promise of suicide (“before I die”).  There is the suggestion that the author writes this letter each evening as a form of repeated therapy – as a means to survive – rather than as a confession to another person. The writer is both author and the recipient – and we witness this struggle – as they write this letter, Strictly Confidential, to themselves in the desperate hope that they will make it to morning. Every night is a small death, without finality, doomed to repeat. Is there no light here?

letter

Mental illness, and schizophrenia in particular, was a considerable theme in Ferry‘s work with Roxy Music, most notably in Manifesto (1979), with its themes of double-schizophrenia (Williams) and a song dedicated to the subject, ‘Still Falls the Rain’, which Ferry introduces at a Manchester 1979 concert as being “for anyone still interested in schizophrenia.” Ferry’s introduction is telling for it suggests the public’s interest in the subject of schizophrenia had passed by the end of the decade, even if it had not in the singer/songwriter’s mind. Winding back 1979 to 1973 we can see that schizophrenia was one of pop music’s hot topics – primarily because musical giants such as Brian Wilson and Syd Barrett had become ill with the condition, and their unfortunate melt-down had been recorded in two high-profile music paper articles (Wilson the subject of several, notably the  Washington Post; Barret by Nick Kent: Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd: The Cracked Ballad of Syd Barrett, New Musical Express, 13 April 1974). The general public was intrigued by how people with elevated status and wealth could succumb to schizophrenia (people were even succumbing to Quadrophenia, a disorder presumably directed at people with four ears. Thanks Pete, our senses will never be the same). Yet schizophrenia does not imply a “split personality” or multiple personalities per se, but is rather a mental disorder characterized by “abnormal social behavior and failure to understand reality” (Wiki). The key in this regard is this the relationship to reality – for instance, if one hears voices in the night that shouldn’t be there, there are only two key (general) causes: an unhealthy mind or ghosts. Okay, there is another one – drugs.

In the early-to-mid 70s there was an increased awareness of schizophrenia due to the come-down of 60s drug culture, Brian Wilson and Syd Barret being two of the prime examples. Yet it was David Bowie that took on the subject of schizophrenia and mental illness in a spectacular fashion, writing on the issues of sanity, family history, and drug-taking (“‘Paranoid schizophrenia runs in my family, on my mother’s side. Sometimes when I’m drunk or stoned, I can almost feel it in me”). Years later Bowie’s brother Terry took his own life by placing his head on an active railway track (loosely referenced in Jump They Say). Terrible. For Bowie, then, the concern about mental illness and depression was real, and informed his writing from The Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory, through Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, and Station to Station were he was pushing the limits of insanity. (And it must be said, the insanity/drug part has been used as a hook by many journalists – “the horror, the horror” – but the actual stories of Bowie’s cocaine psychosis are terrifying (see: Doggett). By the mid-to-late 70s Bowie was trying desperately to get a grip on reality (Low) and say goodbye finally to his inner scary monsters. This is the subject of ‘Ashes to Ashes‘, the masterpiece wherein Bowie reaches back and, in the vast darkness of inner space, navigates his way back to reality and human contact: The shrieking of nothing is killing/…/Want to come down right now. Though character-making is financially rewarding (I’m stuck with a valuable friend) Bowie ends the song by putting a (metaphoric) bullet in Major Tom’s head: one flash of light/one non-smoking pistol, effectively killing the 70s and his own personal demons. Indeed, a few short years later Bowie’s next invitation was healthy and life-affirming: Let’s Dance. This was not the zeitgeist of the early 70s however, when artists such as David Bowie and Bryan Ferry were articulating their experience of new-found fame,  an experience that had the potential to remove them from the possibility of communication and meaningful human contact forever.

ferry bowie

There have been periods in my life when I have been so closeted in my own world that I would no longer relate to anybody. And I do love communication. – David Bowie, 1996

I like to be private. But in my songs I share myself. The ideas resonate more when you’re disturbed – Bryan Ferry, 2015

II. Truth is the Seed

The struggle for a grasp on reality continues in the second verse as the narrator is trapped in sleepless torment (rolling and turning).  A key device used by Gothic writers such as Edgar Allan Poe and Emily Bronte is to present the narrator’s haunted state of mind as the physical place or location they inhabit. Witness how Ferry follows this convention by setting up internal thought processes as a physical journey, mapping the highs and lows of the mind via the Gothic, vampiric countryside:

Over the hills and down the valleys
Soaring aloft and far below
Lying on stony ground the fragments
Truth is the seed we try to sow

Hills, valleys, soaring above and below – here Ferry paints a picture of the mind outside itself, dissociated, looking down at itself from above. If truth is the seed that must be sown then it will struggle on this “stony ground” with only “fragments” of a mind to make sense of it all. The fourth stanza continues the struggle, and it is the matter of communication – or the difficulty of it – that is pressed front and center:

Tongue tied the thread of conversation
Weighing the words one tries to use
Nevertheless communication
This is the gift you must not lose

“Tongue tied” is problem of verbal communication, not written, for the written prose in the song has been poetic and vivid, populated with hills and valleys and Shakespearian mantles of the dawn. The narrator’s concern is actually their verbal skills – words are tongue-tied and do not come easily (“weighing the words one tries to use”). Much as been said about Bryan Ferry‘s shyness (see Buckley‘s biography), with the singer being at odds with the rock world. In interviews – a verbal medium after all – Ferry can sound hesitant, calculating, articulating each point just so, trying to apply the same exactitude we find in his song-writing (for Roxy interviews in see John O’ Brien’s excellent online Roxy resource http://www.vivaroxymusic.com/articles.php). In conversation Ferry tries to answer the questions honestly – to a fault perhaps – but at the start of his career he did not have the verbal acuity or warmth of band mate Brian Eno – and Eno could (would) never have written the words to ‘Strictly Confidential‘ or ‘Mother of Pearl‘.

It is interesting then to consider the circumstances of ‘Strictly Confidential’s composition: remote surroundings in the Gothic countryside; tormented by artistic anxieties and audience expectations; the opportunity to analyze the highs and lows of the previous year and the maddening gaps in personality we all play in our heads at night. Indeed, ‘Strictly’ may be the most personal song Ferry has ever written – unless the singer has a proclivity for inflatable dolls and ‘Dream Home‘ is actually a confession.

The sequencing of For Your Pleasure arguably presents the internal and external problems Ferry was grappling with as he arrived at Air Studios to record the second album with Roxy Music – band direction, leadership, ambition, even barely concealed doubt (‘Bogus Man‘). By the final track ‘For Your Pleasure‘ Ferry will make it to the end of the album feeling lighter, ready to wake up soon and fight. But first he has to make it past these early stages and deal with his inner demons. What if I fall?

III. Haunting Me Always

Haunting me always are the voices
(Tell us are you ready now?)
Sometimes I wonder if they’re real
(Ready to receive you now)
Or is it my own imagination?
(Have you any more to say?)
Guilt is a wound that’s hard to heal
(It’s the cross you have to bear)
Could it be evil thoughts become me?
(Tell us what you’re thinking now)
Some things are better left unsaid

In 2006 Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson gave an interview where he discussed his mental health difficulties and how he deals with his condition. A powerful interview (literally, titled Brian Wilson – A Powerful Interview) the frank discussion had Wilson clarify that his experiences went far beyond simple depression and drug use to a “mental condition called schizo affective disorder, which involves ongoing hallucinations and other distortions of reality.” Consider for a moment the context of ‘Strictly Confidential’ (Haunting me always are the voices) and the following description of Wilson’s condition:

[Interviewer] Cooper: How old were you when the voices started?

Wilson: About 25.

Friedman: When did you start getting treatment?

Wilson: Not until I was about 40, believe it or not. A lot of times people don’t get help as early as they should.

Cooper: Has treatment made your life easier?

Wilson: A little bit. It has made my symptoms bearable so I don’t have to go screaming down the street yelling, “Leave me alone, leave me alone,” and that kind of thing.

Friedman: Does anything else accompany the voices?

Wilson: Yes, I get intense fear, too. It comes and goes. You get the feeling and it goes away.

Cooper: What has depression been like for you?

Wilson: Well my depression goes pretty low, pretty deep. I get depressed to the point where I can’t do anything—I can’t even write songs, which is my passion.

Cooper: Is there anything that brings it on? Anything that seems to make the depression hit harder?

Wilson: I dread the derogatory voices I hear during the afternoon. They say things like, “You are going to die soon,” and I have to deal with those negative thoughts. But it’s not as bad as it used to be. When I’m on stage, I try to combat the voices by singing really loud. When I’m not on stage, I play my instruments all day, making music for people. Also, I kiss my wife and kiss my kids. I try to use love as much as possible.brian wilson

“I try to use love as much as possible.” A beautiful sentiment from a troubled but gifted man. Brian Wilson has written much original and thoughtful pop music – Surf’s Up is multi-layered and powerful – the line A choke of grief hard hardened/I heard the word/Wonderful thing/A children’s song (2.54-4.11) provokes the very choke of grief it describes, such is the power of the music. The description of the schizo affective disorder in the above interview is heartbreaking and so is Ferry’s capture of the condition in ‘Strictly Confidential’. Here Ferry utilizes a narrative structure that dramatizes this grim and terrifying condition, presenting a play of voices in nocturnal call and response:

Haunting me always are the voicesthe journey moves from observing the mind from above to being in the house alone at night – the Gothic convention of expressionism evoking voices from each room, and from within each corner of the mind (an experience akin to “intense fear” – Wilson).

(Tell us are you ready now?) the first appearance of the ghost/interior monologue. Are you ready now … move with us toward suicide and death.

Sometimes I wonder if they’re real there is now a dual dialog at play: the narrator identifies the mind’s haunting, while the “fragmented” schizophrenic mind observes the experience from above, wondering if the voices are “real.” This is the slipping in-and-out of voices and characters, like a play, with different narrative sensibilities and impressions.

(Ready to receive you now) – the voices are impatient, urging. “I dread the derogatory voices…They say things like, ‘You are going to die soon'” (Wilson).

Or is it my own imagination?  the writer’s mind splits open again and reveals further the questioning voice of the artist – the Implied Author Bryan Ferry, perhaps – as the probing analysis ponders how and why the creative imagination can create such swirling nightmares, the process of art-making a form of madness (see: Vincent van Gogh; Syd Barrett, Vegetable Man). Here the author of the letter repeats the central question of ‘Virginia Plain’: What’s real and make believe?

(Have you any more to say?) the theme of verbal communication returns, as if to rub salt in the wound – or, like a spiralling nightmare, the voices further expose personal weakness.

Guilt is a wound that’s hard to heal the most literal line in the song and one that feels out-of-place with the rest of the piece. The author suggests the source of the torment is grief, but does the schizophrenic condition require a justification in order to terrorize the mind? If the song nudges us in the direction of identifying the source of guilt, then we have no choice to indulge in a close biographical reading, for the line demands an answer to the question – what are you actually guilty of? Here’s one hypothesis: Bryan Ferry was formulating a change to the Roxy Music line-up during the writing of For Your Pleasure and the album is in part a dramatization of how he felt about it. The singer’s frustration with Brian Eno‘s high profile would be coming into focus at this point, with Eno shooting from the hip during interviews in an flamboyant and often disingenuous fashion. “My next venture is going to be moon rockets, because I know nothing about them” (Sounds, Oct 72). Here’s how the music papers saw it: “In France, Roxy became known as ‘Eno’s band’ and, in America, Warner Brothers published a hand-out claiming that Eno wrote and sang several of the numbers on For Your Pleasure. For a man who is as proud of his work as Bryan Ferry, this sort of distortion must have been highly distressing.” Rolling and turning/How can I sleep?

(It’s the cross you have to bear)after the split with Brian Eno July 1973four months after For Your Pleasure was released – Ferry told the New Musical Express his decision regarding the direction of the group had been explained to its members in the following fashion: “Either Roxy doesn’t exist anymore or else it re-defines itself in my terms” (Stump, 97).  Years later Ferry sounded guilty about the split – “In an ideal world I wish that Brian would have stayed” – while conceding that he had ruthlessly “froze him out.” This ignores the fact that Eno had had enough of being in a rock band, but it seems in Ferry’s nature to second-guess himself on decisions and direction even years later  (It’s the cross you have to bear).

And what of the changes that had already occurred within Roxy Music: the mental health deterioration and loss of founding band member Graham Simpson: “The last words Bryan said to me where ‘get well and come back’ – but I never did….” (Graham Simpson, interview). An unavoidable sacking from the group Graham founded, and an obvious impact to the sensitive friend and band leader Ferry. Sadness and guilt produced ‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond‘ for the founding members of Pink Floyd after Syd Barrett was let go (Threatened by shadows at night, and exposed in the light). Can the same be said of  ‘Strictly Confidential‘ for Roxy Music?syd

Could it be evil thoughts become me?  another potential title for For Your Pleasure, and the crux of the track ‘Strictly Confidential’. No matter what your reading is of the song – a suicide attempt; a struggle for mental health; guilt over band relations or a doomed love affair – frankly, the love affair theory being the least interesting, considering the power of Pyjamarama and Beauty Queen on the subject – the question “could it be evil thoughts become me?” feels close to the bone. The key is that the narrator has already had the evil thoughts (“could it be”), and even though “guilt is the wound that’s hard to heal” this writer posits that his core nature is ruthlessness and, moreover, there is pleasure in the thought of it. Getting closer to the truth perhaps, and the source of the song’s torment..

(Tell us what you’re thinking now) the voices have been persistent: are you ready now? Have you more to say? Time’s almost up… Yet the voices sound uncertain, like they are losing momentum in the argument.

Some things are better left unsaid at the conclusion of this powerful call-and-response stanza the writer denies the voices their prize, rejecting the call for death. And it may be a light-bulb moment for Ferry as well: after wracking himself over his verbal nervousness and essential shyness (Tongue tied the thread of conversation), he matures during the night’s torment and recognizes that verbal acuity or worrying about personality failings may not be the answer – some things are better left unsaid. You do not have access to all my inner feelings; communication is important but not saying something can have as much power. I deny you, my voice, my listener, my reader, the deepest part of myself.  This is the gift.

V. Magical Moment

Magical moment
The spell it is breaking
There is no light here
Is there no key?

The conclusion of the piece has the moment of enlightenment shine through after a difficult and torment-filled night. Denying the voices their prize is a “magical moment” as the schizophrenic disorder recedes just as daylight appears, the “spell it is breaking.”

The final chilling note however is that this letter will need to be written again tomorrow night, a reminder that the struggle for health is ongoing and diligence and fortitude is needed for those who are affected by illness, addiction, rifts in reality and everyday life. Reality may be the answer, but the pain is continual and depression can be a life-long affliction. There is no light here/Is there no key?

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Paranoid schizophrenic, definitely… They seem to make the best entertainers.
John Wetton on Bryan Ferry, quoted in Buckley, 2004.

Credits

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A really interesting modern take on a classic Greta Garbo photograph “Mata Hari” by C.S. Bull, 1931. The original is right, while the contemporary artist version is left; Venetian music mask; West Bridgford Gothic church under water; Andy Mackay; Bowie and Bryan, 1979; historical letter, USA; Brian Wilson; Syd Barrett; Bryan Ferry; below, Syd Barrett: his art and personal artifacts go to auction after his death in 2006.

Titbits

http://www.sydbarrett.com/life/

In a way this entry is dedicated to Syd Barrett, founding member of the Pink Floyd, but that sounds rather noble and self-centered when you consider the trauma of mental illness and the impact that has on those afflicted by it. Suffice to say, Syd had family and financial support, and his life by all accounts was lived peacefully in Cambridge, sans the occasional dolt fan that would knock on his door and harass him. It is nice to know the band ensured he received his royalties, and he was protected by his family. There is a lovely site run by his sister that hits all the right notes in being respectful and preserving Syd’s eccentricity without glamorizing his condition and way of life.

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http://bryanferry.com/graham-simpson-1943-2012/

Graham Simpson was one of the co-founders of Roxy Music, and played bass guitar on the seminal first album before leaving in 1972. Bryan Ferry has said of him, “He was one of the most interesting people I ever worked with. He was crucial to my development as a musician, and in those early years he was a pillar of strength and inspiration. He was a great character…think Jack Kerouac and ‘On The Road’. I liked Graham, and Roxy Music would never have happened without him” (quote). We spoke of Graham’s work in the entry for ‘Bitter’s End’, highlighting in particular ‘Sea Breezes‘ as a key bass track on the album.

Next: Strictly Confidential – Part 2: American Gothic and Marilyn Monroe; Phil Manzanera articulates guitar torment; locating gender and “voice” in SC; Roxy machine photographer Karl Stoecker profile. See you in July!

 


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Beauty Queen: Cover Art – Part 2

for your pleasure

So the first album was a great success and people thought it worked incredibly well, this glamour image with the music and so on. So when we finished the music for the second record For Your Pleasure, I turned to Antony and said – what do we do now?

Bryan Ferry, interview, 2013

It is often said that the devil gets the best lines, and in the case of the content and cover design for Roxy Music’s acclaimed second album For Your Pleasure, we are provided the dark mirror backing to the pink glamorous shine of Roxy Music. In each successive Roxy album there is a song that contains a hint of the material on the next album – ‘Chance Meeting‘ foreshadows the sinister tone of FYP, for example – and so too with the cover art: there could be only one answer to the high-tone sparkling glitz of Roxy Music – flip the image and you have the dark side of glamour, the serpentine sleekness that would inhabit so many Roxy songs, and like any city nightscape, For Your Pleasure is a journey into night that sparkles just as brightly as its day-time antecedent.

Glamour and camp were essential to the Roxy Music aesthetic – two concepts that had little currency in the rock and pop world in the early 70s. The glamour of 1940s and 50s Hollywood iconography was replaced by a “back-to-roots” movement in the 60s, with jeans, knitted beanies, hemp necklaces, patched bell-bottoms and ‘authenticity’ of expression replacing the more careful and self-conscious trends of an earlier generation’s wide-brimmed hats, elegant skirt suits, cocktail jewel embellishments (check out Amanda Lear wearing the same wrist bracelet embellishment on the FYP cover – absolutely divine daahlink!). It all makes sense of course – coming out of the melt-down of the Second World War, the 40s and 50s were marked by poverty, with materials and goods expensive and hard to come by, so wearing these clothes was special and a statement of absolute glamour that could only be replicated by that one “posh frock” worn as you made your way to the local Rialto or Regal or Roxy cinema (replete with posh seat coverings and velvet curtains).

The jeans and knitted-beanies movement – though very colorful – was a generational acknowledgement that access to goods and services had eased as a result of global stabilization and the birth of modern consumer culture. In this regard, the styles of their parents were old hat, exclusionary and elitist and to be summarily distrusted and swiftly dispatched to the dust-bin (presumably by a moustache-wearing Paul McCartney). We see a reaction to the 60s zeitgeist a few short years later with a shift back to self-consciousness and style – of which Roxy Music were an important and influential driver in Europe – and then back-to-basics again with the punks of ’76/77, a time of which Roxy were not a band anymore and Bryan Ferry was prime target for the We Hate Pretentious Gits (WHPG) brigade. Then back again in the 80s  (good timing for Flesh & Blood/Avalon) and so on and so forth. The net result then was Roxy’s desire to “reach for something new” was focused on re-engaging the past in order to (re)create the present, and provide sign-posts to new possible futures. Re-enter the bright tinsel of glamour and the radical impact the Roxy Music album covers had on the zeitgeist of 1972/73. It was like a breath of fresh air – or, as Ferry explained when asked the question “If you could go back in time, where would you go?” replied – “New York in the 50s: cocktails at the Algonquin, Charlie Parker at Birdland and dancing at El Morocco.” Now, that’s glamour in a nutshell.

We noted previously (BQ PT3) that the term “Glamour” has origins tracing back to Scotland circa 1720, meaning “magic, enchantment”, a variant of Scottish “graam1marye” (Etymonline). Vampires “glam” their victims by putting them under a mental spell or compulsion, presumably making it easier for the archfiend to render his victims powerless to seduction (and possible, nae probable, death). So, there are two very interesting aspects of this word glamour when it comes to analyzing Roxy Music: one comes from the bright side of the catwalk, where the glitz and dazzle is so awe-inspiring we look away, too much for one day. And one comes from the dark side side of the catwalk – witches or vampires casting spells, used to influence the actions, thoughts and memories of their victims.

The answer to the question “what do we do now?” is answered in full by the cover art of For Your Pleasure, delivered to Island Records by the talented and fresh-faceduse amanda ferry members of the Roxy ‘machine’. Bryan Ferry took the lead with fashion designer Antony Price (BQ Cover Art P1) and both had a lot of fun with the 2nd album, punning the hell out of night-time dalliances and eager to send subversive fun to the many thousands of kids who snapped up the record (reaching #4, charting for 27 weeks). The pun presented on the cover is a play on a fashion show “cat-walk”, that long stroll so beloved of the jet-set, where models strut their stuff while showcasing a roll-call of increasingly extravagant outfits, mouths curled with attitude, eyes glazed against a panacea of detachment and boredom, looking down at their rich patrons with contempt while ignoring the rest of us in the cheap seats, the Great Unworthy. Presenting this time round a vision worlds apart from the pink-wrapped chocolate box confectionery of Roxy’s previous cover star, Kari-Ann, the money shot of FYP is not a replication of 40s magazine glamour, but of 40s film noir (“dark film”), the other side of the glamour coin, shining just as bright but carrying an invitation to the seedy underbelly of life, as Amanda Lear leads a black panther across the simulated Las Vegas back-lot, that favoured place where movie mafia types engage in murky dealings as luxury cars drive in with cash and drive out with a dead body (or two) protruding from the trunk. Note: the guy smiling on the back cover is almost certainly about to get his (trick, or treat?). But more of that anon.

For the audiences of early 1973 it would have been a Big Deal to see 60s fashion model and party girl Amanda Lear on the cover of For Your Pleasure in such a ravishing pose, the promise of a bit of slap & tickle sheathed in a strapless black evening dress and velvet gloves, all balanced on a pair of impossibly high-heeled stilettos. Lear was clearly on Ferry’s mind when recording the album, for she opens proceedings as the subject matter of  ‘Pajamarama‘ and closes it with the photo-session for the LP cover. In the blog entry for PJ we looked at Lear’s back-story and her influence on the lyrics of the second Roxy Music single: “They say you have a secret life,” Ferry sang, mischievously alluding to the controversy surrounding Lear’s sexual identity and the supposed sex-change operation which “Made sacrifice your key to paradise.” He was poking fun at the hype of course, deconstructing expectations, for Lear was genuine star-material and knew how to play the game, having become an in-demand 60s glamour model in the same vein as ‘Virginia Plain”s very own Baby Jane Holzer. (Note Ferry’s continued obsession with the glamour gals of his youth – Holzer, Lear, Marilyn Monroe, weaved so tightly into his own starry-eyed quest for fame). Amanda was a great choice for femme fatale for she was a collector of men, starting (publicly) with Brian Jones (see: Rolling Stones Miss Amanda Jones) before moving on to glam Gods Bryan Ferry and David Bowie. Lear’s 70s pedigree was confirmed when she hooked up with the famous surrealist painter Salvador Dali and became the sole focal point for the now famous Dali-edited edition of Paris Vogue (December 1971). In the magazine Lear models some hard-hitting early-Dali shock art as she poses for the lens of celebrated 60s photographer David Bailey in such shots as  St. Lucy and Jesus Christ tied by chains of pearls to a silver cross (below and here).

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A Guardian newspaper article perhaps summed up the allure of Amanda Lear best: ‘Lear’s background remains a mystery. She has variously let it be known that her mother was English or French or Vietnamese or Chinese, and that her father was English, Russian, French or Indonesian. She may have been born in Hanoi in 1939, or Hong Kong in either 1941 or 1946. Once she said she was from Transylvania. And to this day, it is a matter of conjecture as to whether she was born a “boy or a girl”.’ (See: Bowie, ‘Rebel Rebel‘). Mysterious origins, the secret wife of a famous painter, a recipient of a sex-change operation, Lear has never confirmed these details, although she was happy to trade on the notoriety they generated. ‘It makes me mysterious and interesting,’ she said. ‘There is nothing the pop world loves more than a way-out freak.’ (Guardian). Perfect then, for the cover of The Second Roxy Music Album.

The Cast: For Your Pleasure (1973)
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One of the things I think we’ve offered … is a fairly glamorous image. One that is manufacturing, or catering to, a kind of dream consciousness in the same way that Hollywood and the whole film did twenty years ago
BF, quoted in Stump, (p.77).

I. The Vamp

Based on the film noirs of the 40sMurder My Sweet, Double Indemnity, GildaFor Your Pleasure utilizes classic film noir narrative both on the cover and within the song sequence put down on record. The cover sleeve – now a part of historical pop iconography (BQ P2) – is striking on many levels: the mise-en-scene is gritty noir, presenting dark dealings against a backdrop of urban city nudenightlife – the Vegas lights shimmer and cut a deep swath across the scene, reflecting against the stained-wet asphalt and the black laminate of the Vamp’s leather dress (the cover was  originally laminated, increasing the dark glamour effect). We are left with the impression of  Gothic cinema, dreamland, laughter in the dark. The Vamp halts and strikes a “pose” worthy of a fashion show reel – I am here, I am now, you are not worthy. Like all glam poses the female body is exaggerated, so bent out of shape it carries with it the force of Marcel Duchamp‘s  Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, Amanda Lear’s body is contorted to emphasize line, form, hip, a narrow waist. There is the tweak, the push of the pelvic line towards the skyline and the unfolding story: The Panther, The Dupe, The Driver, The Lost Souls.

Unlike the other Roxy albums – each complete with its own femme fatal back-story (BQ Cover Art P1) – the Vamp on For Your Pleasure does not look directly at the camera in the same manner as, say, the models do in Siren or Country Life.  This time the gaze is furtive, cast down, looking, yes, but in an subtle exchange of glances, the power is transferred to the fearsome black panther. The Vamp is the lure, the seducer, but she is also the betrayer, and now she has you where she wants you: the Panther has you in his sights, locked and loaded.

II. The Black Panther

Screen Shot 2017-12-02 at 6.02.11 PMThe Black Panther is a spiritual and literary symbol used throughout the ages:  as an ancient and powerful spirit guide, the panther signifies darkness, death and, sometimes, rebirth (Spirit Animal). Death accompanies the Vamp as she searches for victims, the Dupes, whom she seduces, draining their energy for her own demands. The Vamp leads Death on a thin chain, ready to unleash its power when the moment is right.

At the heart of For Your Pleasure is a subconscious fear of the power of seduction, the pull and consequence of glamour and wealth, its consequences for the self and society.  Utilizing the tools of glamour, Ferry composes the narrative and Roxy provide the dense musical soundtrack to this epic of covert confession, paranoid fame, sexual obsession and death.

 

III. The Dupe

The subject of this Roxy cover starts out as it must as it fulfills the key demands of glamour – as seduction. We are seduced by the striking sleeve imagery and the promise of good music inside. This 2nd album seduction is carefully planned and executed by Ferry and the members of the Roxy Machine – Antony Price, Nicolas De Ville, Karl Stoecker. Excluding band members Eno, Mackay, Manzanera and Thompson from the sleeve concept, design and execution, Ferry asserts his total control and vision on the Roxy “state of mind” and begins to break with the all-for-one group concept, with Eno in particular noting that he would have preferred “a nice unpretentious unglamorous picture of the band” for the covers, “wearing false beards and denims and standing around a tree with ‘Support Ecology’ on the back of the sleeve.” Funny, yes, but tongue-in-cheek when one considers that Roxy were a band that touted glamour and style as its modis operandi, and weren’t going to undercut all the dosh spent on expensive cologne.  The damage of Ferry’s uniformity of vision and control would gradually reveal itself over the the years (gaining traction in ’74), but on FYP the vision is sublime, economical and of lasting impact.

The viewer is attracted to the sleeve because we like the subliminal danger of it all, the open invitation, the exaggerated female postering, the sleek glossy darkness promising kink and adventure. As we gaze and anticipate the music inside (surely worthwhile, Screen Shot 2018-05-26 at 10.25.58 AMjudging book by cover) we are irretrievably drawn into the moment – like Siren, we are seduced by the record, for this is the siren’s song – the music inside the sleeve – the presentation of rock and cinema and as escapist illusion, packing a seduction so sweet and irresistible it laps “both body and soul in a fatal lethargy, the forerunner of death and corruption” (Walter Copland Perry). There is no other way to say it – you’ve been Glammed boy! – Amanda has got your attention and the combination of captivating art work and nocturnal musical adventure has got you hooked – you are under the spell. You may have fallen for another band, hero, lover, but this may be the first time the process of entrapment has been written into the very fabric of your story.

For Your Pleasure not only observes the themes and codes of the film noir universe but plonks us right into the heart of it, the seduction hard to escape.  (I first listened to this record over 40 years ago, and I am, obviously, still hooked). Beauty is a double-edged sword, fulfilling a basic human need, indicating health, vibrancy, potency, the survival of the species while also containing the opposite – a falsehood, an illusion – for as the proverb says: “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting.” For Your Pleasure is a modern re-telling of The Picture of Dorian Gray with its sly warnings about the aristocrat’s hedonistic worldview: that beauty and sensual fulfillment are the only things worth pursuing in life. What is absolutely stunning is that Bryan Ferry in ’72/73 was able to intuit this as a young man as he himself entered into a world of exclusivity and pleasure, aware of these forces as early as 1972 (‘Virginia Plain‘), and yet he stumbled, losing ground in the mid-70s, the mask now inseparable from the tender mortal flesh, himself seduced by the stimuli he once intuited as a corrupting force.

IV: The Driver

One of the more underrated aspects of Bryan Ferry’s public persona is his sense of humor, his shyness and occasional pomposity obscuring the fact that much of Roxy’s output is sly and funny. And so with the back-cover of For Your Pleasure as we Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 9.47.34 AMrecognize (now famously) the car-obsessed rock God Ferry dressed up as the chauffeur, the driver, cabbie, the gopher. Here Ferry encodes the iconography of Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, one of Hollywood’s greatest film noirs, a portrait of early Los Angeles that highlights tinsel town’s decay and demise during the change from silent film to talkies (“I am big, it’s the pictures that got small!”). Ferry harnesses the spirit of Erich Von Stroheim wearing the chauffeur uniform as Erich undertakes Norma Demond’s sordid bidding (chimp funeral and all). Erich himself was a film star and an avant garde, visionary director and so the echoes ripple both in the movie and on the album sleeve. Dark, deep, wonderful.

Standing aside a black Lincoln Continental, the grinning Ferry is at once thebryan driver serf of the piece (it is the back cover after all) but he is also placed  in the “driving seat”, fulfilling the role of author/God in our FYP movie, a conceit also used by suspense king Alfred Hitchcock, placing himself in his own films. The singer/song-writer is director and puppeteer, pulling the strings, poking fun at his cast’s public personas, enjoying the early 70s fascination with the “freak show” all pop audiences love (Bowie/Roxy/Eno/Lou Reed) for these guys and gals – collected outsiders and miscreants of the 1960s – now come to the center stage as their audiences thrill to the illicitness of it all, marveling at the sexual ambiguity of Amanda Lear; the bisexual, homosexual riffing of Ferry’s own sexual identify underscored by fashion designer and friend Antony Price‘s comment that the Roxy star was essentially “gay in every respect – sensibility, style, taste, humour – except for between the sheets” (Reynolds, 352). This was camp on a scale not seen in pop music before, with identity and role-playing a critical component in this early postmodern mashup of playing with-and-against audience expectations.

The key themes of film noir are familiar tropes in the Roxy Music body of songs, familiar to those who have followed Ferry’s lyrical writing over the years. Check out the Top 6 noir themes as identified by Rules of Film Noir and see how effortlessly they relate to The Driver’s key concerns:

The question of The Driver’s fate however is not directly answered – we do not know for example, if he is about to get his (sex) or is he merely going to drive the Vamp to her next victim/Dupe (the next victim being, presumably, the poor chap or Roxy girl buying the next album). Or, is he going to join The Lost Souls in their eternal pit of damnation..

V. The Lost Souls

You’ve been lead to this place: seduced by the cover; enticed by the music and the glamorous imagery. The Vamp lures you. The Panther locks you in its deadly embrace. The Driver has seen it before, and smiles, ready to be of service. He steps around to open the door for you, right this way.. And inside what do you find – but all those who have come before you, seduced by the glamour, the music, and the imagery of pop and rock. The band are all fans. And victims. The inner sleeve contains the ensnared members of Roxy posing like lost souls inside the limo: Bryan Ferry echoes Elvis with his tilted ankle. Andy Mackay glams Bo Diddley. Paul Thompson does not even play guitar. Does not matter. We all play guitar now in this music spirit world, fan and artist in the end reduced to the same role. Seduced, smitten, happy at last, we all inhabit this record. And we always will.

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Postscript

If it’s been taken too far, well, I geddit, I really do. As they say in the best film noirs, the temptation was irresistible. But really, it doesn’t matter, not in the Grand Scheme of Things. Besides, I have a confession to make. Please forgive me –

i lied

Credits

For Your Pleasure cover: Bryan Ferry – art direction & cover art concept; Karl Stoecker – photography; Nicholas Deville – art direction, photography; CCS – artwork; Antony Price – clothing/wardrobe, make-up; Smile – hair stylist; Amanda Lear – cover star; Witches and Demons, unknown; FYP outake; Amanda Lear in the Dali-edited edition of Paris Vogue (December 1971) and a Daily Mail caption from the 70s; Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye; noir Queen Lauren Bacall; Marcel Duchamp‘s  Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2; a groovy Panther drawing, author unknown; a guy screaming on the internet (aren’t we all); clips Sunset Blvd; BF as The Driver; the complete FYP sleeve; and “I Lied” – tracking down the artist. It’s just too good.

Til next time! (June 2018).


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Beauty Queen: Cover Art – Part 1

 

ava2

Beauty Queen
Beauty Queen (Live, 74)
Beauty Queen – Part 1
Beauty Queen – Part 2
Beauty Queen – Part 3
Antony Price – Show Reel

I saw her heading to the table
Well, a tall walking big black cat
The Hollies,Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress(1972).

In Ferry’s vision – and as brought to a pinnacle of achievement on ‘For Your Pleasure’ – the entire repertoire of artistic influence and inspiration was there to be referenced in the creation of a new musical and stylistic form, as vivacious as it was sophisticated.
Michael Bracewell, bryanferry.com (2010).

Hyperbole perhaps – the above quote courtesy of the Bryan Ferry PR department – but there is little doubt that Ferry was on to something new and exciting in early 1973, both visually and lyrically, with the music of Roxy Music the critical and essential reason for getting involved in the first place. It is a given that Ferry had conceived Roxy Music as an escapist vehicle for himself – Northern small town kid trapped in working-class constraints of environment and thought (“My parents are the nicest people you could possibly meet, but they’re not in the least bit intellectual”) and in doing so released a younger generation of boys and girls who were stuck in exactly the same rut: a revolution was afoot, if only for weekend living.

As a vehicle of escape Roxy Music were successful on both fronts – for Ferry personally, the band’s success meant he could enjoy and explore new possibilities in the arts, travel, relationships, and pour that experience into his writing, which was developing at a rapid pace. Favoring a form of meta-analysis that internalized external experience through the prism of film, fashion, and painting,  Roxy were not only conceived an Art Project, their composition strategy was to produce each song as an art work, that “vivacious” and “sophisticated” new stylistic musical form that Michael Bracewell speaks of in his gushing analysis above. And for the audience there was gold aplenty – that we were able to find our own way through the vehicle of Roxy Music was a key component of the band’s success: marking your own time travel while listening to classics such as ‘Beauty Queen‘ or ‘Dance Away‘ is time well spent (in our humble opinion).Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 9.08.05 PM

Pop music is all about the sound – good music comes at you physically, you feel it most keenly in the body. When Etta James sings the first line of ‘At Last‘ the sound is heard by the ears and brain but felt by the heart. ‘Great Balls of Fire‘ is so aptly named it must must have been titled on purpose. (“Ass! It’s about GOD.” – Jerry Lee). You crave to hear the sound again and so you put on the record and start a conversation with yourself.  You are all chatter, thoughts rolling above the surface – this artist is so good; that bass line incredible; I wish I could be him; is it Saturday yet? And you move toward the voice, and you want to know more about that person. Why are they singing? What are they singing? I like the sound of that voice. Did he just say zzzzzzzubb. Maybe. The cover is brilliant! And then you are hooked, and you want to know more about this world.

And then you are into the story, the Rock n’ Roll story, the Roxy Music story, composed and constructed, the telling of narratives past and future, and in the case of Roxy – the narrative of fantasy and style, quality and extravagant tastes. “Or, if you like, the lifestyles of the very rich,” as writer Richard Williams succinctly put it in the Roxy Music Story.  Roxy appeal to youth in the same way that an early James Bond movie, say, Goldfinger, does, where the men are as suave with the ladies as the cut of their tux is immaculate, and the women are glamorous, all-powerful, mysterious and, unfailingly, deadly. Roxy create a narrative of escapist glamour that serves as subject and form and in doing so appeal to the snob in all of us. Yet this modis operandi would be tedious (as the Bond films become) if it weren’t for the incredible tension in the music and presentation, the abject weirdness of the pop sound that Mackay, Eno, Manzanera and Ferry create.

What captivates the body and mind with Roxy is the visceral impact and the tension inherent in the tunes – ‘Beauty Queen’, for example, is awash in layered synth that draws the listener in, but is cold to the touch – and Paul Thompson’s drumming is the bedrock that pulls the sound back into the body, supporting the instrumentation as it changes key, tempo, mood. “I found that interesting,” Bryan Ferry said of the abrupt changes and surprises in Roxy’s playing, “the band was perfect for that; they were game for anything” (BF, 2018). There’s more credit now given by the leader to the classic Roxy Music sound of ’72-’79. The narrative is being re-told and you and I are here to give it credence, to give it the gravitas needed as we continue to absorb its sound and power. feather eno 2

I. The Performance of Style

Between 8 February – 12 May 2013, the Tate Gallery Liverpool hosted an exhibition celebrating Glam, the visually extravagant pop style that exploded across Britain during the years 1971–5. High glam artists – Roxy, Bowie – were represented extensively and dominated such events as ‘Glamology‘, ‘Glamorama!’ ‘Glam Time‘ (for the toddlers) ‘Glam! 21st Century Factory‘ and even ‘Glam! 21st Century Factory – THE PREQUEL‘. Needless to say I would have given my right eye to have seen it, The Tate being a watermark of quality control and content. The title of the book published to support the three month exhibition was called The Performance of Style, and in this title is perhaps the best description of the Roxy Music approach ever put down on paper. The performance of style is a perfect description of the band’s art-rock manifesto for it covers the stylistic triad the band became famous for: i) Recorded music; ii) Live Performances; and iii) Stylistic Packaging.  Few recording artists embody the fusion between music and art as completely and comfortably as Roxy Music, and Ferry in particular continues to describe himself as a “successful artist” rather than as a conventional rock star.

It is interesting to note that in America “Glam” was called “Glitter” and this difference points to the reason why it took Roxy until at least 1975 (‘Love is the Drug‘) to gain a following in the US. “Glitter rock” merely identifies one aspect of the Glam universe – the dressing up part – and neglects the notion of “glamour”, that self-conscious construction of lighting, mood, make-up, historical awareness of style in order to achieve impact and affect. Roxy started selling records in America when the band had smoothed out the edges, reduced the masks and uniforms to (albeit brilliant) dancable disco. The same was true of David Bowie, his first American hit (same year as ‘Love is the Drug’, 1975) required a new look/character in the form of the white soul boy of Young AmericansNo androgyny, no space cowboys, no knowing winks at the camera. With an audience keen to experience something new, Glam in the UK was able to represent a wider range of artists, including those termed “Low Glam” – Sweet, Slade, the Glitter Band – and those termed “High Glam” – Roxy, Bowie, and (perhaps) Marc Bolan. The difference was contained in the variance between the “simple rock and roll revivalism of figures like Alvin Stardust and the complex art rock of Roxy Music” (Wiki).

Yet Roxy were even miles ahead even in this category, for not even Bowie himself can lay claim to the High Glam Crown: think for a moment of the Bowie album covers of early 70s – Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs – all representations of a personality (“character”) at a moment in time. Brilliant. Groundbreaking. But not a consistent representation of the Glam ideals, not in the same way that Roxy Music wrote and designed it. The influence, mechanics, and effect of Glamour and style was Roxy’s subject, whereas Bowie’s subject was himself, resulting in fractured expressions of personality (characters) that pushed fashion and sexual boundaries. Yes, Ziggy Stardust was a self-aware, even mocking tribute to musical and performance history, but compare the album covers of Ziggy with Roxy Music and you’ll spot the difference: Bowie’s Ziggy is a starman rent boy, slightly unkempt and dangerous, ready to rock, whereas Roxy’s take is all encoded style, a glamour doll caught by the flash of the camera mid-pose, purposely architected by referencing (and modernizing) 40s and 50s magazine cover styles. Both teasing, escapist fair of course – Bowie’s pose says you can rent me but you can’t buy me, while Roxy’s pose says you want me but you can’t have me – fantasies for young men and women, ready to take home, should you wish to buy the album for the pricely sum of £1.99.

The three-pronged approach to the performance of style was primarily felt at the musical level – Eno, Manzanera, Mackay, Ferry and Paul Thompson were writing and performing beyond standard rock, creating past/future/present postmodern epics in the form of Roxy Music/’Virginia Plain’/’Pyjamarama’, and the masterpiece being recorded, For Your Pleasure. The artistic branch of the strategy was delivered with a keen art-school avant-garde sensibility, executed to the highest standard by three of the band’s prime movers, Eno, Mackay, and Ferry (Ambient/No Pussyfooting/Oblique Strategies/Peter Schmidt/ ‘Electronic Music’/Dada-like disorganization/The White Album/Warhol/Richard Hamilton). And if this wasn’t enough, the final leg of this three-legged stool was defined by the work conceived and executed by the four members that sat outside of the band, a group of hungry young designers and artists who collaborated with Bryan Ferry to devise and deliver an enduring creative legacy and a new form of audience engagement that executed under the auspices of what came to be known as “the Roxy Machine”: fashion designer and image maker Antony Price; photographer Karl Stoecker; art director Nicholas Deville; and public relations literary libertine Simon Puxley.

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The ‘Roxy Machine’ – from left, Price, Deville, Ferry, Stoecker, Puxley, (1973).

II. Antony Price: One thing we share is an ideal of beauty’

I was inspired of course by Hollywood, as was Anthony, but we always like to think we were making something new out of it
Bryan Ferry & Antony Price interview, 2013

When Gianni Versace was murdered outside his Miami mansion in July 1997, it was Roxy Music’s image maker and fashion designer Antony Price that was tipped to take over the billion dollar business (the job eventually went to Versace’s sister Donatella). The two fashion designers had much in common – successful artists with a craftsman’s eye and talent to mold fabric into something wearable and exciting, embodying the artisan’s ability to work with the tools of their trade – pencil, thimble, pin, machine and thread.  Fashion artists like Versace and Antony Price make people feel good in their skin, fashioning and engineering clothes that contour and support the human body, while emphasizing the dramatic nature of their creations, mingling street style and high fashion with a heavy sexual element, reflecting what Stephen Gundle called in his book Glamour: A History “the mysterious and magical arts of glamorous transformation”. Versace though, emphasized a cheap sleaziness in the clothes (at a cost few could afford) and lived in almost obscene Roman opulence, setting a new bar for grotesque displays of wealth and celebrity (it’s no coincidence prima donna pal Elton John was a bud). In contrast, with classic British reserve, Price “shied away from the public stage” preferring to let his clothes speak for himself – when visiting his studio in 1994, the writer Chrissy Lley observed Price’s gentleness and love of nature –

Antony Price likes birds…his studio resounds to their high-pitched shrieks and swooping cries. On the first floor he works at his drawing board, flanked by papier-mache torsos and fabric samples, overlooking a central showroom with aviaries at each end. Inside the cages brilliantly coloured birds flicker to and fro, while at ground level two hulking cats prowl and lash their tails with desire and frustration. It would be an oversimplification to liken the birds to his glamorous clients and the cats to predatory males, but the image undeniably springs to mind.

And Bryan Ferry’s opinion of the man is the sort of tribute anyone would be proud to have as a legacy:

He is one of the most remarkably gifted people I have ever met, and an authority on a bewildering range of subjects. He is a master craftsman – quite rare in this day and age – and has quietly exerted an enormous influence on so many people. Although most of his work has been associated with urban nightlife, he is surprisingly a man of nature, an expert on exotic plants and rare birds and the niceties of human behaviour. To those who know him he is a constant source of amusement. In times of adversity, an incredibly loyal friend. (2008).

The biography reads that Antony Price studied at Bradford School of Art and then at the Royal College of Art, graduating with a distinction in 1968 and was immediately employed as menswear designer for a fashion cult label – The Rolling Stones were his first customers, with Jagger wearing his button trousers on the infamous ‘Gimme Shelter’ tour. The scene that Price had plugged into and was a deep part of, was loosely referred to as the ‘Notting Hill crowd’, David Hockney, Ossie Clark, Brian Morris. Price admits that he was a rising star behind Ossie Clark (the fashion hero of the swinging sixties), and he met future Roxy Music models Kari-Ann Mueller and Amanda Lear and future Roxy Machine photographer Karl Stoecker through the Notting Hill connection. The scene was bustling and inter-connected. The mood of the designers and artists was open and flamboyant, and crucially, they did not carry with them the hangover of the 60s into the 1970s the way other art forms did (such as rock music).  This new generation of fashion aesthetes, Michael Bracewell points out, would be defined by the “strength of their work ethic as much as the flamboyance of their somewhat camp, almost quaintly English hedonism” (279).

Anthony Price muse Juliet Mann described the main draw for working hard was that it provided (paradoxically) an opportunity to indulge in game-playing, principally, escapism and glamour, a critically important concept to the young designers – “Oh dressing up!” Mann noted years later, “Dressing up! Always! Really, any excuse”:
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At this time for us fashion and pop were all part of the same thing – although the fashion seemed more important. What you looked like was very carefully planned. There was a real love of Hollywood glamour, which was very important to Antony.  For instance, I remember having a red wig and a blonde wig. The idea was to look like Rita Heyworth – a very film star idea. But importantly, even with all the glamour things that were going on, I always worked a 9-to-5 job as well! (Bracewell, p.279)
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The idea of Glamour as a quality that you participate in even as a member of the 9-5 working crowd is an important idea, and we’ll come back to it. For Antony Price, the first company he worked for after graduating from The Royal College (“in menswear – unheard of at the time”) was fashion house Stirling Cooper (Mad Men fans will notice Don Draper’s agency has the same name, one letter changed) and that by all accounts Price was a dynamo at the company, designing men’s trousers, coats, waistcoats which drew “on sexual fetishism for their impact” (AP).  Bryan Ferry was part of of the scene, and his introduction to the artists, designers and fashion innovators left him thrilled to be part of a new breed of ‘in-crowd’: “The first night I ever spent in London was in David Hockney‘s studio in Powis Terrace. I remember thinking that this was just fabulous: it seemed enormous to me, and I just remember sleeping in this huge studio…” (Bracewell, 277).
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Price and Ferry met through the same circles at a nightclub enjoyed by the Notting Hill in-crowd, as Price recalls: “Bryan wanted me to do his album cover…he was secretive and artistic, yet he didn’t dress particularly outrageously. When we did shoots, it would be half the pictures with the band in their own clothes, and half in mine. Bryan always wanted to have another option, but he always liked mine in the end. All this business about me manipulating his image is nonsense. No one bossed or pushed; he’d asked everyone’s opinion. He was the batsman, I was the bowler” (SHOWstudio).
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III. Roxy Music as a ‘State of Mind’

stoecker cafe
I thought, and still think, that pop music isn’t primarily about making music in any traditional sense of the word. It’s about creating new, imaginary worlds and inviting people to try them out
Brian Eno, interview, 2007

Where I came from, Newcastle, is a rough part of the world with no possibility for anything but escape
Bryan Ferry, interview, 1982

The critical concept to which Roxy Music subscribed was that they were to be styled and presented “above all, as a state of mind.” This quote from Ferry in 1975 accurately describes the group’s surround sound approach to pop presentation, consumer marketing and a new kind of conceptual imagination at work. The kicker was that the invitation was extended to the audience – you too could partake in this “imaginary world” if you worked to aspire to the codes of conduct. Good taste was paramount, as was intelligence and elegance. If you read or listen to interviews with fans of the band – Steve Jones, John TaylorSiouxsie Sue – the common theme is that Roxy were a “cut-above”, infinitely more stylish and clever than their counter-parts. “The world we are talking about was a world obsessed with things clever,” noted Anthony Price, “and with spotting things clever.” Intelligence mixed with elegance, the appeal of engaging with the Roxy universe and in exchange being offered a role yourself, the paradoxical appeal of being a part of the in-crowd, of being in a club that, for once, would actually have you as a member.

Audience engagement and participation was essential to the Roxy Music aesthetic as it was to Glam in general. As the young fan Ruth says to her partner during a Roxy Music dance session “Think Roxy girl…  I’m gonna be Bryan!” (Flashbacks). This identification was in part due to the invitation to dress up and follow the codes and performance of style so carefully laid out by their heroes. Gimme your hands! Glam idol Bowie spouts to his audience during ‘Rock N’ Roll Suicide’ (I’ll help you with the pain/You’re not alone/Just turn on with me, and you’re not alone/Gimme your hands, ’cause you’re wonderful). And as Roxy became the 1973 rock icons of note (“Roxy Mania!”) with Bryan Ferry‘s tuxedo becoming a signifier of intelligence, grace, and exclusivity, and it was in this regard that Antony Price‘s image and fashion design input was critical to the band’s success and the imaginary world that was being created, for he had his finger on the impulse of the band’s appeal:  “Women are not aware of Roxy Music in the way that men are. It’s a man’s band. It’s always been a man’s band. And he (Ferry) is a man’s idol; the young men have always admired him, he’s what they aspire to, to have taste like that, to be in the rock business but still have taste and credibility, which is very thin on the ground in the rock business, darling, let’s face it.”

The extent to which the listener is drawn to the Roxy “state of mind”  is dependent on his or her musical interest and tolerance for Aspiration and Drive as a key Roxy Music sub-text. Speaking very plainly and bluntly to Michael Bracewell in 2007, Ferry gave an honest precis of the Roxy state of mind, the aspiration and search for perfection that successfully merged the desires of the singer/writer with those of his fans/collaborators:

When you got old enough to have a girlfriend, or to go on a date, the only thing you did was take her to the pictures. But that was in the high street of Washington, where there were two cinemas – which were bigger, and had proper velveteen seats rather than benches. One was called the Regal, and the other the Ritz. None of them are there now. When I went to university I would go to the cinema club, which is where I became aware of cinema classics and film-as-art – all that kind of thing. Up until then it was film-as-entertainment. That was all you did – you didn’t have television. We were very poor, you see… So I think it’s fair to say that Roxy Music, from my point of view, would be the reverse of this background.

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Greil Marcus in his book on Elvis Presley summarized this as the drive to “to lift yourself up, to escape the life you were born to, to escape the poverty… the strictures of a life that you were raised to accept as fate, to make yourself a new person not only in the eyes of the world, but finally in your own eyes too.” Roxy’s primary subject is the effect and impact of glamour, but it is equally keen to interrogate the need for glamour and transformation. The need for escapist glamour was particularly pronounced in the UK Northern towns in the 70s, the same towns that Ferry had been raised in, and therefore understood intuitively the needs and aspirations of the listeners and fan base. Having myself been partly raised in the coal mining areas of Kirkcaldy & Glenrothes (Fife, Scotland), the following observation by music critic Simon Reynolds rings true:

There’s a reason why Roxy Music’s most fervent fan bases were in industrial cities in the North of England – Sheffield, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle itself. Especially in the seventies, when industry was still relatively strong but brutalist housing estates and shopping schemes had replaced the old terraced communities and corner shops, these cities were the parts of the UK where the hunger for [a] ‘splash of light’ arched fiercest – Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and its Legacy (341).

In the same year 1973, Bryan Ferry would release a solo album the cover of which had a static beef-cake shot that advertised clearly and succinctly this is a solo record, and he is the sole star of the show. The Roxy Music covers on the other hand were conceived on a grander scale, intended to represent a lifestyle, a zeitgeist, a state of mind: architected as escapist cinema, directed, scripted, set-designed, and costumed to be full of life, stylized, pulled from the front page of a movie magazine. There is movement in all the shots, intrusion, discovery, even judgement and morality. Consider Kari-Ann Muller on the cover of Roxy Music, extravagantly posed, caught by the flash of camera bulb and looking straight at you – you, taking the picture, interrupting the scene, voyeuristically gazing at all that accentuated, off-centered, cheesy glamour. Stranded – come rescue, if you dare, the damsel in distress (post-plane crash, this vamp will eat you alive). Or stumble down the back lanes of Country Life, the women once again caught in your headlights, blinded, taken off-guard, lack of clothing necessitating – dependent on your  instincts –  interrogation or rescue.  And Siren – unable to resist the song of the sirens, you have purchased The Fifth Roxy Music Album, and now you have stumbled upon a new narrative, as the Siren sets you in her sights and snakes across the rocks towards you.

All of these subjects look directly at you dear reader, they stare into your eyes as you take the picture, rescue the damsel, stumble into dodgy goings-on in the countryside, or quake in fear before the siren ensnares you. In each of these short-stories the viewer inhabits the role of the protagonist, photographer, intruder, historian, and, quite possibly, victim. 19th century English poet and writer Walter Copland Perry had this to say about the song of the Siren, the temptress:

Their song, though irresistibly sweet, was no less sad than sweet, and lapped both body and soul in a fatal lethargy, the forerunner of death and corruption.

III. The For Your Pleasure cover
for your pleasure
So the first album was a great success and people thought it worked incredibly well, this glamour image with the music and so on. So when we finished the music for the second record For Your Pleasure, I turned to Antony and said – what do we do now?

Bryan Ferry, interview, 2013

Next: Beauty Queen: Cover Art – Part 2: May 2018
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Credits
Femme fatale Ava Gardener; Roxy Music fan pen drawing; Brian Eno by Karl Stoecker; Rita Heyworth/Kari-Ann Muller; the Roxy Machine in 1973; Antony Price collage, SHOWstudio; coffee shop Balans in Miami beach, close to where photographer Karl Stoecker’s work is on “indefinite display”; Northern town collage, Glenrothes Town Center, Fife Scotland/early 70s UK street scene;  Siren/Stranded/Country Life (the Roxy Machine, 75, 73, 74); Mermaid/Rescue/Two Girls: Harry Clarke’s Illustrations for Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination (1919)

 


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Beauty Queen – Part 3

 

Beauty Queen
Beauty Queen (Live, 74)
Beauty Queen – Part 1
Beauty Queen – Part 2

hurley dress

I don’t really have a fixed notion of glamour; I love the glamour of Las Vegas for example – the extravagance of showgirls with long false eyelashes, masses of hair and high heels. I think that’s fabulous, even though its completely tacky.
– Bryan Ferry, quoted in Glamour: A History, by Stephen Gundle.

The hand-drawing of the For Your Pleasure album cover is signed by Antony Price, 1973. The gold safety-pin dress hung for the museum is by Gianni Versace, 1994, the Italian fashion designer who created a billion dollar empire beloved of the jet set, celebrities and rock stars. Anthony Price, of course, is a well-known to Roxy fans as the co-designer, with Bryan Ferry, of all the Roxy Music album covers, in addition to designing the clothes that enabled the Roxy Girls to “reflect and amplify…[an] enduring vision of glossy, predatory female sexuality” (SHOWstudio).  Price’s designs turned Bryan Ferry into a “style icon” (Guardian) and the fashion wizard went on to dress the upper echelons of British super-celebrity – Princess Diana, Princess Margaret, Camilla Parker Bowles (surely this means she has a sense of humour), David Bowie, Annie Lennox, Duran Duran (check out the Rio video), and in doing so became “one of the greatest designers Britain has ever produced” (SHOWstudio). Gianni Versace was the fashion designer from Italy who had conquered Milan and then took on the world, thanks to his eye-catching designs worn by the world’s most celebrated women. It has been said he established a huge fashion empire by following Oscar Wilde’s dictum that “nothing succeeds like excess” (Gundle). Horribly, that excess lead to exposure, and Versace was murdered outside his mansion in Miami, 1997 by a man who could have come from the pages of American Psycho.

I’ve dressed royalty, yes, but we’re not allowed to mention that, and I dress a lot of those LA girls – Anjelica Huston, Melanie Griffith, Cher, Diana Ross buys a lot of my stuff. I’ve dressed just about everybody. They’ve all come to me at some point or another.
– Anthony Price, interview, 2009

‘Beauty Queen’ derives its power from a fantastic musical presentation, sweeping and innovative vocal delivery and stylizations, and captivating lyrics (“Ferry’s best,” Rogan). The song pulls the listener deep into an album that is at once both darker, more experimental, and certainly better recorded than its predecessor. For Your Pleasure was also more successful than Roxy Music – hitting #4 in the charts – and in turn produced, as Roxy archivist John O’Brien has succinctly put it, “a warmer more organic sound,” overlaying “the pop art devices of the first album with a more psychedelic treatment and hallucinatory insight” (Viva). Musically, ‘BQ’ is a haunting creation, the result of merging the classic ballad form with a host of disparate, wounded elements: heavily treated piano chords stir coldly to life; a beautifully literate poetic sensibility paints pictures in bold strokes (Your swimming pool eyes in sea breezes they flutter/The coconut tears heavy lidded they shed); the lead vocal chases down words, but it cannot capture, let alone tame them. The track is so far removed from Frank Sinatra balladering that you can only scratch your head and wonder how they got away with it. Not even David Bowie ever sounded this odd (Laughing Gnome not withstanding). Did I mention the blistering hard-rock break at 2.30? We’ll get to that.

The seductive yet coolly distant atmosphere of the song derives from its subject matter and the position that Bryan Ferry found himself in when he in the band entered the studio to record For Your Pleasure in February 1973. Legend has it that during the months preceding, Ferry went through a period of introspection, self-consideration,  zoning out in front of the television set with the sound turned off, insular, trying to make sense of it all. To this end, critic Michael Bracewell believes the subject matter of FYP is about “paranoid fame“. This feels correct, the sense of unbridled possibility Ferry and the band must have felt by the close of ’72 as the ink on those Robert E. Lee “deals” dried and doors opened, while on the other hand experiencing the downside of the music business as band and management tried to broaden their audience and gain a footing in America. Roxy had just come off an exhausting and “humiliating” US tour before recording FYP, where the band played for 35 minutes as a warm-up for headliners like the J. Geils Band and Wild Turkey (wild turkey? hint: they never recorded a record). Poor treatment at shows and a lack of time for sound-checks and proper preparation lead Andy Mackay to complain that “some bands treat their support acts very badly. For whatever motives, I always felt that on those early gigs Jethro Tull were to some extent sabotaging our act” (Rigby, p59). Ferry didn’t mince words: America was “three years out of date” and most of the cities he felt “you could do without…there were really only half a dozen towns worth spending any time in” (Sounds Jan 72, quoted in Viva). This must have been extremely disappointing to Ferry in particular, who had chased visions of America since his childhood, worshiping James Dean, Andy Warhol, Gatsby and Hollywood, only to find that US audiences in the early 70s were, in the words of Roxy manager David Enthoven, “fucking thick. They didn’t fucking get it at all” (Story of RM). And meanwhile, a road-battered Brian Eno was taking notes in his journal, citing the harshness of repetition and the tedium of life on the road..

Screen Shot 2018-02-25 at 7.28.05 AMWe look to Los Angeles
For the language we use
– ‘
Glamorous Glue‘, Morrissey

Glamour and camp were essential to the Roxy Music aesthetic – two concepts that had little currency in the rock and pop world in the early 70s. The term “Glamour” has origins tracing back to Scotland circa 1720, meaning “magic, enchantment”, a variant of Scottish gramarye “magic, enchantment, spell,”(Etymonline). Vampires “glam” their victims by putting them under a mental spell or compulsion, presumably making it easier for the archfiend to render his victims powerless to seduction (and possible, nae probable, death).witch So, there are two very interesting aspects of this word glamour when it comes to analyzing Roxy Music: one comes from the dark side side of the catwalk – witches or vampires casting spells, used to influence the actions, thoughts and memories of victims; the other comes from the bright side of the catwalk, where the glitz and dazzle is so awe-inspiring we look away, too much for one day. According to Glamour: A History, this brighter glitzy meaning of glamour, like its darker counterpart, carries talismanic hypnotic qualities, and “has a sparkle and glow about it that enhances the people, objects, and places to which it is attached”:

It is an enticing and seductive vision that is designed to draw the eye of an audience. It consists of a retouched or perfected representation of someone or something whose purpose it is to dazzle and seduce whoever gazes on it (Glamour, p.5).

Glamour therefore has a yin-yang quality, a dark-bright, negative-positive power that seduces as much in daylight as in darkness. Consider, if you will, the beautiful pink hypnotic dazzle of the Rita Hayworth-type glamour shot on Roxy Music, and contrast it with the dark seduction shot of Amanda Lear on For Your Pleasure, and you’ll know roxy-first-albumwhere we are going with this. First, the pink dazzle: ‘Beauty Queen’ is a song that places beauty – treasure so rare – above all other qualities. Surface perfection is the stated subject of the song in both title and execution. Ferry sees/remembers/reconstructs a picture of the model in his mind and in doing so becomes seduced by the “dazzle” of the image she projects – his starry eyes shiver as he looks away, too much for one day. In this regard, ‘BQ’ is the direct off-spring of ‘Virginia Plain‘: Valerie is no more a flesh and blood person (in the song) than Virginia Plain was in ‘VP’ – think of the singer’s student painting of Virginia Plain and replace it with the photograph/magazine cover of model Valerie, and you get the picture (pardon the pun). Indeed, this “replicated” ideal of beauty runs through For Your Pleasure as a persistent theme, launching off the back of earlier tracks VP, Re-Make/Re-Model, and Ladytron and into the Andy Warholian universe of surface perfection and repeatable representation in songs such as ‘Editions of You‘ (girlfriend as glossy magazine reissue) and ‘In Every Dream Home, a Heartache‘ (girlfriend as synthetic beauty queen inflatable doll, the perfect companion).

poppyPoppyBeauty Queen of the Internet Age

Lyrically, ‘Beauty Queen’ is a beautiful piece of work, it shivers and shines, matching with considerable style the thematic interrogation of glamour that is the song’s subject. The shining effect of glamour and its evocative allure is accentuated throughout as the images stack in bright shining motifs: “starry eyes” / “treasure so rare” / “worship the sun” / “gold number” / “be a star” / and so on. Ferry is keen to show the impact star-quality has on him (and us) by showing that glamour and enchantment is necessary fuel for modern living. Yes, there is a sincere and valid reading of ‘BQ’ that sees our man romantically turning his back on his past, sniffling into his perfumed handkerchief as he says goodbye to his childhood love and his own loss of innocence (before he steps on that plane to Rio, presumably). This is a ballad after all, so why not get deep into the emotion and sincerity that is the hallmark of the ballad style. But compare for a moment the over-heated tint of Ferry’s glamour narrative with a contemporary ballad released on the very same day as FYP, March 23, 1973: Paul McCartney’s My Love. In this popular ballad McCartney declares: I know my heart can stay with my love/it’s understood/It’s in the hands of my love/and my love does it good. A simple declaration of love, surprisingly clever in its phrasing – does it good is left intentionally informal – like McCartney is keen on leaving the lyric uncluttered in order to get to the heart of the matter – this being his personal declaration of love (my love) presented to his wife Linda, (my Love).  (Like John Lennon, McCartney was doing a lot of stripped-down honesty in the early 70s, though he never got much credit for it. Temperamentally an optimist – never a good starting point with critics – his subject matter was often compared unfavourably to the more skeptical, and undeniably cooler, J Winston). McCartney strives for simplicity of expression in order to get his audience closer to his feelings of love. Another contemporaneous ballad appeals for the same reason, Stevie Wonder‘s You Are the Sunshine of My Life: You are the sunshine of my life/That’s why I’ll always be around/You are the apple of my eye/Forever you’ll stay in my heart/And if I thought our love was ending/I’d find myself drowning in my own tears. Stevie applies off-the-shelf metaphors liberally here: apple/eye; drowning/ tears. A satisfying song, to be sure, but apple of my eye /drowning in my own tears is the stuff of high school duels at dawn (just kidding) with Stevie using familiar and slightly stale metaphors in order to cut through the clutter, striving for a connection with his audience, striving to achieve, as Shakespeare would have it, “more matter with less art.”(Hamlet Act 2, Scene 2).

Or, as Roxy Music would have it, “no matter without more art.”  Ferry loves using  metaphor in his lyrics (Sunset from Stranded is extraordinary), and he’s just as serious about connecting with his audience and as his popular contemporaries:

When you find that what you’ve done is important to someone, then one gets involved. If it means something to them, you’ve got a fan for life, at least they’re interested in what you have to say. Then I feel the lyrics should always stand up to reading. I take a tremendous amount of care with them.
– BF, interview, quoted in Rogan, (56).

Ferry’s stylized language of love is however designed to draw attention to itself, and works both as metaphor and as a vehicle that uses the strategies of glamour: Your swimming pool eyes/in sea breezes they flutter, for example, is a line that contains the language of cinema, with its poetic imagery, hints of Hollywood (swimming pool), intertextuality (sea breezes), and unabashed quivering glam effect – those beautiful eyes flutter. ‘Beauty Queen’s’ lyric draws attention to itself in an effort to maximize effect – the very tenet that Glamour is based upon. The narrator observes in ‘BQ’ that those swimming pool eyes produce coconut tears (heavy lidded they shed). The coconut/tears comparison is of course the metaphor (fruit in the shape of a tear drop) but the use of the word coconut is loaded: coconuts don’t grow in the warm glamorous Caribbean/Southern countries that we Northerners dream of escaping to every winter. Coconuts come from palm trees, and as a cultural image, palm trees are associated with California/Los Angeles, a fact that was stamped on the cover of Hotel California (years later) and used ad nauseam to describe a American cultural mythology created by the film and music business. Moreover, the plural noun Coconut tears sounds right to our ears, but the familiarity actually stems from  “crocodile tears”,  a phrase meaning  “expressions of sorrow that are insincere”(Oxford). Look a bit closer and you’ll find that as a plural noun, “crocodile tears” origins date from the 16th century: named from a belief that crocodiles wept while devouring or luring their prey. Ferry’s tears, instead of being plentiful enough to drown in, come from the eyes of “heavily lidded” glambots that shed fake tears while devouring their prey. Ferry therefore feels drawn to, yet is also devoured by, the shining glamorous image before him. Bloody hell, some love song.

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Marilyn Monroe was one of the big iconic graphic figures that Richard [Hamilton] used, and Andy Warhol, and that might have rubbed off on me. And the beauty queen idea seemed to click with the music, there was the same sensibility at work.
-BF, interview, 2010

This hyper self-awareness or self-consciousness in Roxy Music may have created initial commercial problems in America (a problem solved less than a decade later) but the shimmer of initial fame in Europe emboldened Ferry to at once both expand his horizons, meet new friends, enjoy new experiences and expand considerably his artistic mandate to front a pop band that created beautiful “cinema music”. Drawing attention to the process of trying to achieve an emotional impact is what is on offer in the moving and clever ‘Beauty Queen’. Emotional sincerity in Roxy is to be found in the presentation of the music and in the lyrical process of revealing a song’s construction, of peeling back the layers that show how style and effect – i.e, Glamour – works, its potency and its effect on people. Acknowledging that the works of Warhol and his mentor Richard Hamilton had “rubbed off on him,” Ferry applied the principles of postmodern art to his song writing.

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Beauty Queen: My Marilyn, Richard Hamilton, (1965). Original, uncolored (bottom). Tinted Silkscreen (top).

Richard Hamilton is legend in this blog, and no introduction is needed (see: here, here, here). An astonishing artist in his own right, his stature for Roxy fans is unquestioned, for he is the man who was able to say “Bryan Ferry – my greatest creation” – and get away with it.  Take a look at Hamilton’s photo collage of Marilyn Monroe above (My Marilyn) created in 1965, two or three short years before Ferry studied with him, as the art work serves as a visual guide to the Roxy art-making approach: without us having doing research on this photograph (intentionally) we can come at it with uncluttered eyes. What do we see: we see Marilyn Monroe on a beach, probably late-period photo shoot. The photos may have been taken by Hamilton (or not), thereby confusing origin and “authenticity” of source. But look at the interesting way the collage reveals the process of deciding on what will be the eventually chosen as the ‘Good-to-use‘ shot – some pictures are discarded for consideration outright with giant red X‘s; one is a very good contender (upper left; red/yellow square box); the final one is circled in yellow and rather comically identified as “good” – and on the lower right this “good-to-go” shot is presented as the final shot (with modifications). Moreover, Hamilton does not simply replicate the Good shot and make that his final picture (as many artists would do) but keeps the construction and thought process as part of the final product. Depending on how you see these things, your own aesthetic bent, do you determine your emotional and aesthetic satisfaction at the result – do you like seeing the construct in play, the “fakeness” of the original shots revealed, the drawing attention to the process of their placement as messy, far from an ideal of beauty, or do you feel that revealing the tools that make up the picture to produce a powerful aesthetic response that feels, well, more honest, engaging and satisfying. Perhaps by seeing this process-making you feel a tinge of pity for Monroe, as she is displayed objectively on the beach, photographically hacked up and – is this the case? – posing at the end of a troubled career, the water’s edge denying the promise of the West, the sun setting:

All of my hope and my inspiration
I drew from you our life’s patterns drawn in sand
But the winds could not erase the memory of your face

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‘Beauty Queen’: My Marilyn, Bryan Ferry, (1973)

I’m not sure what Bryan thought his roots were, but they probably had more to do with Marilyn Monroe than with any musical influences.
Tim Clark, former marketing director of Roxy Music’s label

This zeitgeist of artifice, fake or stylized ‘ideal of beauty’, this drawing attention to the power and seduction of glamour and the processes in which it works, was part of Ferry’s strategy to create a “new” approach to stage-craft and music, based on his deep understanding of pop-art principles administered by WarholLichtenstein, and Richard Hamilton, coupled with his appreciation of classic novelists sense of depth and social exploration read in books by Scott F. Fitzgerald and J.G.Ballard. To quote our observations in Beauty Queen – Part 1:

There is the sense that love object Valerie is not actually present, no more present than Virginia Plain or even the woman behind that famous license plate CPL593H. Is the speaker looking at a photograph, a movie, or calling up a memory. The clue to the point-of-view is contained in the sudden shift from the plea-making of Valerie “please believe” to the voyeuristic gasp of Oooh the way you look/makes my starry eyes shiver. If the time to make plans has “faded” away, then she is no longer part of the present moment. The “way you look”, then, is contextual, and she lives or exists in some other form. The glare from the memory or photo is so bright he must turn away – too much for one day, at least.

‘Beauty Queen’ carries with it the faint ludicrousness of a man in love with, infatuated by, and possibly singing to, the picture of a woman on a magazine cover. “It could never work out,” is a good joke as it’s hard to have a relationship with a reproduction or reprint (trust me, I know). This also part of the painting/cigarette joke in Virginia Plain, and part of the cringing laughter in In Every Dream Home, a Heartache where the love object is synthetic (and willing). The magazine cover-girl picture is most likely a shot of her on the beach (while you worship the sun/summer lover of fun) and the scene feels like it has come straight off of Richard Hamilton’s silk screen My Marilyn:

While you worship the sun summer lover of fun
Gold number with neighbours who said that you’ll go far
Maybe someday be a star a fast mover like you
And your dreams will all come true

Here the glamour trope both shines (“gold number“) and reveals the dirty black coating behind the dressing room mirror (“fast mover“). ‘Gold number’ is a nice touch for it feels Northern and colloquial – “number” is slang for phone number = a treasured prize if you’re chasing sex. And the viewpoint in this stanza is small-town and a bit of a put-down too. Ferry internalizes the drive to be famous here by equating the girl on the magazine cover with his own dreams and aspirations. “Gold number”/”Fast mover” are the judgements of an older generation, people who distrust success, a particular cultural trait of the British perhaps (raised in Scotland, I recognize the sentiment) and this gold number is damned with faint praise, the sting in the voice palpable at 2.00-2.28. Then, we’re off to the races as the music takes a hold of the uppity wannabees and hurtles them towards the heavens (2.26-3.19). You can almost see the tongues wagging over the fence a la Coronation Street as Phil Manzanera‘s guitar propels the fast movers into the cosmos.

Utilizing the same technique he used in PyjamaramaFerry shifts authorial stance from “you” to “I.” In ‘Pyjamarama’ the shift occurs from the first stanza stance of “they say you have a secret life” to the personal pronoun “I” – I may seem a fool to you. In ‘BQ’ Ferry shifts in similar fashion from “your dreams” to “all my hope and inspiration“. Before the instrumental break it’s all about herwhile you worship the sun/you’ll go far/fast mover like you/and your dreams will all come true – and then there is the shift: “Our life’s patterns drawn in sand” he notes, utilizing a classic Hollywood image of water lapping onto the shore, chasing names etched in sand. Think Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity. This image contains part of the transition to the personal – the straight-forward process of remembering a past love is rejected in favour of seeing the world through a mediated cinematic reality and in doing so we get closer to the internal rhythms and thoughts of the narrator. Thereafter the gaze turns decidedly inward, merging the subject of the song (Valerie) with the thoughts and feelings of the narrator (Implied Author Bryan Ferry). While the life’s patterns drawn in sand are ultimately washed away, the “winds could not erase the memory of your face”: the imagination re-creates the moment, the dream outlives the dreamer. Only art – that treasure so rare that only devils may care – lasts forever.
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The moment of internal recognition in ‘Beauty Queen’ is in the last stanza, and serves as an thematic introduction to the next track on the album, ‘Strictly Confidential’:
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Deep in the night plying very strange cargo
Our soul ships pass by solo trips to the stars in the sky
Gliding so far that the eye cannot follow
Where do they go? We’ll never know
.
Brightness and sheen give way to darkness, deep in the night. The coldness of the opening piano refrain returns, completing the journey of outward impressions and glamorous sensation, the gaze now completely turns inwards to complete the song: man/woman; artist/model; voyeur/object – strange cargo indeed – are now separated into separate vessels, soul ships catapulted out towards the stars, egos unbridled, unchecked. This is a lovely and sad image, as it metaphorically identifies both a journey to the heavens (towards death) and the more earthly cliche of “shooting for the stars” – not just the name of a TV talent show (ha) but an identifier for all those stars and hopefuls that have escaped small towns in order to seek fame beneath the craggy rock face of the Hollywood hills. Ambition is under interrogation in these lines, a questioning of what it means to be on one of those magazine covers: 36 year old Marilyn Monroe ended up drug-addled, alcoholic, death-by-suicide. The creeping sense of “paranoid fame” that first made an appearance in Virginia Plain and continued into Pyjamarama, is now encoded deeply in For Your Pleasure, the masterpiece unfolding before us. The haunting image of soul ships passing by, not touching, no communication possible, shows our narrator haunted and alone – in front of a flickering television set, perhaps – for he is himself on those magazine covers now – locked in a solo trip into the unknown. A faint icy-echo in the vocal is introduced at the top of the line gliding so far (4.10) to emphasize the point, sounding like cold death itself and beyond the experience of us mere mortals (the eye cannot follow). The final question is stunningly posited as he looks towards his own future – Where do they go? We’ll never know. And lo and behold, the next song on the album is dedicated to you and I dear reader, the envelope pressed into our hands is marked ‘Strictly Confidential’, and with it comes a narrative of heavy loss and suicide.

m2Credits
Original Antony Price sketch for For Your Pleasure; the famous Elizabeth Hurley Versace dress has its own wiki entry; 1973 FYP photographed by Karl Stoecker (model Amanda Lear)/2013 FYP by Terry Richardson (model Catherine McNeil); time-wasting youtube nonsense or ultimate Beauty Queen?: check out Poppy; the brilliant Richard Hamilton and My Marilyn; Marilyn Monroe shot for the pin-up generation, 1940s.

Titbits
Do-it-yourself Postmodernism. The influence of meta-culture on our lives. Not-famous but now-famous “Amy” has fun with a Richard Hamilton classic. “Amy Amy Amy”:  human figure response to Richard Hamilton’s ‘My Marilyn’ silk screen prints. Nice!

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Beauty Queen – Part 2

bqmodel4
Beauty Queen
Beauty Queen (Live, 74)
Beauty Queen – Part 1

The ideas we’d explored on the first album became more real and intense
Bryan Ferry, interview, 2002

Roxy Music came out of the gate hard on For Your Pleasure with ‘Do the Strand‘, a knees-up rocker that defined the new sensation and delivered an instant classic. The sound on Roxy recordings had improved considerably since the debut Roxy Music and the fullness of the sound on ‘Pyjamarama‘ (the first song recorded during the FYP sessions) was much in evidence on the new album. The introduction and warmth of ‘Beauty Queen’s highly treated phlanged electric piano – Brian Eno’s career dedication to minimalism starts here, and it’s glorious – slows the proceedings down and allows us to take a breath and pause: Valerie please, the singer asks, and we are drawn into a declaration of loss and breakdown – it never could work out. Called out as “the best love song Bryan Ferry has written”(Rogan), the general take on ‘BQ’ over the years has landed on a common theme: the “beauty of lost love”(Rigby); the “resigned mourning of lost love”(Stump); a “tender farewell to lost love”(Rogan) and everything generally in the universe confirming this is a song about lost love. While we can agree that ‘Beauty Queen’ is indeed a song about lost love, we differ in opinion about who the declaration of loss is for. Standard reading points to a Bryan Ferry pre-fame girlfriend – some even offering up the name of actress Valerie Leon, one-time UK beauty queen, B-movie actress and model working in the Newcastle area – but there’s nothing to even remotely substantiate the claim (most mentions getting her birth place wrong) and besides, if you’ve been following the narrative so far we know the subject matter of Ferry’s songs are typically crafted to point back to himself or his constructed self (‘Re-Make, Re-Model‘/’If There is Something‘/’Virginia Plain‘/’Pyjamarama‘). Apply the term the Implied Author to Ferry’s writing and you have a handle to describe his self-reflective song craft, works of meta-analysis which pokes fun at his obsessions, influences, romances, and increasingly, more serious matters concerning life’s purpose, the impossibility of perfection and the loss of innocence. Peel back the surface of ‘Beauty Queen’ and the name “Valerie” is a merely a surrogate vehicle for implied author Bryan Ferry as he writes of his new experience of fame, his farewell to his Newcastle authentic self, and the realization that the mask he had architected at University was, by early 1973, attaching itself firmly to the surface of his skin, like fingernails digging into flesh. Just look at the cover of For Your Pleasure: it contains all the detail you’ll ever need to dive deep into ‘Beauty Queen’s cold dark heart.

Musically, ‘Beauty Queen’ is so well executed that, to these ears, this is the moment where Roxy Music really kick off and go for a deeper and more profound groove, leaving behind the glossy shining pinks and blues of the first album for something at once looser yet steely focused, settling into darker territory while attaining a result that can rightly claim classic status. The band put no foot wrong here and demonstrate compellingly the talent and massive influence the young musicians will have on the art-rock of the 70s – this the onset of Diamond Head and 801, Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, ‘Miss Shapiro‘ and the great Roxy Music albums to come, Stranded, Country Life, Siren. Paul Thompson’s drum kick at .18 says as much, breaking in time to the vocal, Bryan Ferry now having to keep up to the unified musical synergy: “Everybody in the band featured on that record,” he observed years later, “there were no passengers – everybody was there, omnipresent in the sound(BF). “Omnipresent in the sound” – there is no better way to describe it, as the song captures a poignant synergy between vocal, drums and bass – the bass in particular being extremely strong and creative, presenting a parallel melody line, a tasteful weaving of root notes that wrap themselves around Ferry’s unconventional vocal while providing much needed space to Thompson’s canny and consistent beat. The stalled hesitancy of the instruments during The time to make plans has passed/faded away (.40-.44) reflects the odd and somewhat comic abstraction of the moment, before the bass snakes up the fret-board like a needy lover after starry eyes shiver (.52-.56), repeated in the next verse after One thing we share/is an ideal of beauty (1.12-1.23) where again the expressive bass line wraps its arms around the lover, but this time ascends differently – same effect, but landing on a different set of notes, the ear recognizing motif and pattern while simultaneously engaged and delighted by the creative and difference in approach. Double-plus good.

The bassist on For Your Pleasure was the talented John Porter,  a local Newcastle boy and school friend of Bryan Ferry. He was also a student of Fine Arts at Newcastle University, where he joined Ferry’s R&B/soul outfit The Gas Board (a band, surprisingly, who in 1967 were invited to lay down some tracks at Pye Studios in London for an American producer. Ferry’s first brush with fame). The story of Roxy’s revolving door of bass players is legendary, and many feel it to be an odd characteristic of the band’s make-up. In truth, given the immense talent of the individual members of Roxy, it made better sense to bring in a bass player to provide support and fresh ears at different moments in the band’s career. There’s little doubt the group would have stuck with founding member Graham Simpson had his ill-health not precluded this option, and so after the first album the revolving door die was struck – Rik Kenton came in for ‘Virginia Plain’ and did a fine job; Sal Maida was recruited for touring, and Ferry’s Gasboard collegue John Porter contributed to the For Your Pleasure sessions. (Then later of course, the brilliant John Wetton and John Gustafson – but more of those chaps in good time).  John Porter however was a keeper, and Ferry knew it: not only an excellent guitarist and bassist, Porter also co-produced Ferry’s first solo album (These Foolish Things) and moved to America, master-minding and producing Buddy Guy’s career-revitalizing Grammy-winning Damn Right, I Got the Blues and bagging nine additional Grammy’s over the years, in addition to producing the first album by The Smiths – including the brilliant tremlo-drenched blues anthem ‘How Soon is Now‘. The rewards of Porter’s contribution to FYP can be seen in this unique combination of musical ability and sensitivity to sound and texture. So good was the fit that Porter – contradicting the theory that Roxy didn’t much care for having a long-term bassist as part of the band – was asked to join Roxy Music as a permanent member: “he wouldn’t join Roxy,” admitted Ferry, who still pines to go to New Orleans and make a record with him. “I asked him to … John was the one who got away”(Uncut). As an interim measure, Porter agreed to cut FYP and support the subsequent tour while the band looked for a permanent member. And the record is all the better for it.

Brian Eno Notebook (Roxy, early, 71-71)
‘Beauty Queen’
Bryan and Eno return into pools of light. Spots on each at stage side – others slink into place lightless – drums in on second verse. Bryan and Eno lights cut and Andy and Phil freak out. We move off and return with guitars..
– Eno invents stage directions in his diary, quoted in Bracewell (p355).

It is perhaps significant that ‘Beauty Queen’ was the last song that the original Roxy Music line-up performed live together. Five months after recording For Your Pleasure  in the chilly winter of 1973, Eno played what would turn out to be his final concert that summer at the “New York Festival” York England, July 2nd. In addition to being on the bill with Roxy Music, Eno was also performing with music deconstructionists The Portsmouth Sinfonia. As a result, there was a considerable crowd support for Eno, and music journalists were keen to know more about his rumored collaboration with King Crimson front man Robert Fripp (on what would become the seminal No Pussyfooting). The story goes that when Roxy Music kicked into ‘Beauty Queen’, and Ferry presented his starry-eyed ballad and inspired vocal to the festival crowd, many of the audience shouted for Eno. Embarrassed, Eno walked off stage in an attempt to quell the unease, but this only made matters worse. Legend has it that Ferry fumed that he’d never go on stage with Eno again. ‘Beauty Queen’ thereby serves as a metaphor of the energies that broke the original Roxy, which, at the time of ‘BQ’s recording, were at the peak of their power. With all band members “omnipresent in the sound”, Ferry presented the track as a ballad, and he and the band crafted a song of beautiful oddness that all band members embraced,  hip to the modern art-rock manifesto. For Ferry, the goal of writing ‘Beauty Queen’ was to create an “ideal of beauty“, “a treasure so rare”. Eno wanted to explore generative music, systems, randomness, process, and Honor Thy Error As Hidden Intent. Eno’s favourite Roxy Music track was ‘Beauty Queen’. And so it goes: split an atom and you get a release of energy, the broken pieces becoming atoms for other elements: solo trips to the stars in the sky..
eno shine
The benefit for Roxy Music in early 1973 was that these solo trips were in the process of becoming and not yet fully formed. While listening to ‘Beauty Queen’ it is apparent that Ferry wrote the song with Roxy’s idiosyncratic approach in mind, and you can feel him keen to get past the uptempo feel-good stomp of ‘Do the Strand’ to something more thoughtful while still delivering the much coveted avant garde off-center tone. In his book Rock, the Primary Text, musicologist Allan F. Moore notes that “the harmonic structures in early Roxy Music songs were simultaneously extremely simple and frequently rather odd” (quoted in Pattie, 21). The crash of instruments at .40-44 is a perfect example of the quirkiness and self-deprecating humor expressed in a song that, as smooth as it is, presents in musical form the slammed door of a relationship’s end. By the time we come to the time to make plans has passed/faded away, we hit an obstacle, re-configure and start again. What is especially striking is that we’ve heard it before,  playing on the ear like a subliminal tick – on ‘Sea Breezes‘ from Roxy Music. Take a listen to ‘Breezes’ at 3.33-6.12 and you’ll hear Ferry and Co. throw the listener a curve ball as we move from a contemplative Andy MacKay solo into a discordant, abrupt rhythm: Now that we are lonely, the narrator complains, Life seems to get hard. The loveliness of the song dissolves into a slap of cold air from the ocean, much like the realization in ‘Beauty Queen’ that the time to make plans has passed, faded away. Now, if one was courting the possibility of submitting an essay to the New Yorker (and who would bother with such a thing) we might flirt with the idea of mapping the related imagery between ‘Sea Breezes’ and ‘BQ’ – there’s much synergy between the two songs – but the one worth teasing out is the one Ferry presents under our noses:

One thing we share is an ideal of beauty
Treasure so rare that even devils might care
Your swimming pool eyes in sea breezes they flutter

Sea Breezes/Re-Make/Re-Model
Building on a modest body of work (one album, a few singles) ‘Beauty Queen’ is the first time Ferry is explicit about the intertextuality in his work, having fun referencing an earlier song. In ‘BQ’ the lyrical focus is on the eyes – that critical sensing tool of glamour and cinema that Roxy were so plugged into – nay, defined by – and by quoting ‘Sea Breezes’ we are tipped off to key insider information. Here’s how it works: Take the line Oooh the way you look/ makes my starry eyes shiver.  The object of desire in this line produces the effect of stardom, her image is reflected in the eyes of her admirers (she is a star and her admirers are her mirror). With his gaze he consumes her star-power, he is the audience. Yet, as he absorbs the image, he chooses to encode his sensibility into the reflection and send it back as a popular product – a pop song. (He is the star and we, his pop audience, are his mirror). Literally, beauty in the eyes of the beholder. This is a critical strategy in Ferry’s work: in recognizing the presence of beauty, art, style, fashion as a major input into who he is, the singer digests, constructs and sends back to us the very core of who he is by telling us how he sees the world. His art is the art of process and perceptions. ‘BQ’ is therefore less about Valerie, that “gold number” beauty queen from Newcastle, and more about how Ferry’s perceives the process of recognizing and creating a ‘beauty queen’. And, because of own increasing fame, the writer recognizes that this process of art-making is evolving for him over time, based on his radically changing circumstances. The previous year, for example, on Roxy Music opener, Re-Make/Re-Model, Ferry recognizes the beauty queen on the street (in a bar, at a gig). Yet he doesn’t start writing “She had honey sweet lips. They were lilac soft” and so on; instead he captures the memory of the moment he sees her – for him (humorously) the trigger is the car license plate CPL 593HShe’s the sweetest queen I’ve ever seen! Ferry “re-makes” and “re-models” what he sees, and ‘Re-Make/Re-Model’ serves as a celebration both of her beauty, and of his sensibility and the process of pop art creation. Everyone wins, and ‘Re-Make’ is still a love song to boot!sioux
Quoting ‘Sea Breezes’ in ‘BQ’ is clever, for the comparison pokes fun at the heightened sensibilities of the love poet – a man so sensitive he can declare (without irony) that Now that we are lonely/Life seems to get hard/Alone what a word lonely/Alone it makes me cry. ‘Beauty Queen’ rejects this notion of innocence, and mocks the young delusional Romantics that peppered the first album, those so in love (and in love with themselves) that they want to settle down and “grow potatoes by the score.” After the successful Roxy Music British tour of late 1972 and the success of two hit singles – whose content was already mapping the shift from pre-fame dreams to a life of opening exclusive doors (oh wow!) – the recording of FYP offered Ferry and the band a chance to play with image from the vantage point of popularity and success (in Europe at least). Ferry and Roxy Music had created a glamorous, campy, slightly sleazy image of themselves over the course of the previous year, and in doing so had created a product baseline that contained high audience expectations for something different on The Second Roxy Music album. The innocence of the first record is gone – it’s a shame to think about yesterday, opines the narrator in ‘Sea Breezes‘ (a shame A shame, a shame, a shame), but no such sentiment comes across in ‘BQ’, for the narrator rather coldly tells his subject that the time to make plans has “passed” –  the message delivered with narry a word for her or her emotional well-being, in fact, she is barely there, reduced to magazine, newspaper, TV image. These are his eyes and they are starry and shivering. This is cold and distant indeed, and the song is written as a farewell to an earlier time, before the fast mover became a star and the dreams started coming true. He is the star (not Valerie) and we, my friends, are his mirror reflecting back. This record is all about our pleasure, after all.bq model 5Part 3 – late Feb: Next – BF pokes fun at himself as a rising star and ‘beauty queen’ then gets moody again as he contemplates the design of the cover for For Your Pleasure. Amanda darling, are you a man or a woman? Might as well play the game..

Credits
“Walking Panther” shots photographed by Mikael Jansson, Vogue; Bryan Ferry edited; John Porter then and now, http://www.johnportermusic.com/about.html; Brian Eno tinted; Siouxsie Sioux, photographed by Pierre Terrasson

Titbits
Jan-April 1973 saw the release of several albums that would make their mark on the 70s and still be a staple of rock playlists 44 years later.  Roxy Music released two albums in ’73 (For Your Pleasure/Stranded), a feat bettered by Elton John (Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player/Goodbye Yellow Brick Roadthe latter being a double, so technically three albums) but this only beats Roxy if we don’t count Bryan Ferry’s solo These Foolish Things (of course we won’t count it – it ain’t Roxy innit).  Bowie released two albums in 1973, Pin Ups/Aladdin Sane. The former was also an album of covers, and the latter was rushed in both the writing and production but spawned  ‘Drive-In Saturday’, Panic in Detroit’, ‘Jean Genie’, and the brilliant title track, so who cares. Bowie rescued Iggy from the loony bin around this time, getting Pop and the Stooges signed to his own label MainMan after they failed to sell any records, anywhere. For some reason MainMan allowed out-of-his mind novice Iggy to produce Raw Power, with our hero comically utilizing only 3 of the 24 available tracks (voice/guitar/band). Bowie was brought in to do a salvage job on the recording, which is an incredible story in itself as Bowie remixed the 7 tracks in a single day during the 1st Ziggy Stardust tour in late ’72 when he was a complete unknown in America and trying to break the US market himself. (Say what you like about Bowie, but he ponied up for his heroes when no one else would – Iggy, Lou Reed, Mott the Hoople). Bowie used the cheap but efficient Western Sound Recorders studio complex on Sunset Boulevard where Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, and Elvis Presley recorded some of their best known songs – can’t you can just hear ‘Search and Destroy‘ rattling the ghosts of ‘Fly Me to the Moon’…

In contrast, the supremely well-recorded Dark Side of the Moon (co-mixed by Roxy Music producer Chris Thomas at roughly the same time For Your Pleasure was being recorded) made the most of its 16 available tracks and, despite its familiarity, still sounds wonderful today. Yet the closest to the Roxy Music high-glam darkness of FYP and released one month before it in February 25 1973, is the still-potent, tuneful and hard-rocking theatrical album Billion Dollar Babies by Alice Cooper. Screen Shot 2017-10-08 at 9.22.27 AMProduced by Bob Ezrin (who co-produced The Wall for the Floyd and Peter Gabriel’s first solo album – hear that wonderful multi-tracked guitar on ‘Solsbury Hill‘!) this is the real Alice Cooper band (before Vincent Damon Furnier changed his name to Alice and became a regular on Hollywood Squares) and offers ample evidence of the superior instrumental skills of the original Buxton/Bruce/Dunaway/Smith line-up. Listen to the title track burn as Cooper and 60’s folk guru Donovan trade vocal licks (“we go dancin’ nightly“) and Buxton and Dunaway mash up savage guitar lines and deliver the most frightening bass line ever. Ezrin’s production is massive and unforgiving.  Friends, do me a favour, bury me with the cassette and green snake-skin wallet and, as always, PLAY IT LOUD.


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Beauty Queen – Part 1

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Beauty Queen
Beauty Queen (Live, 74)

The Sphinx, by British painter Augustus John, from Bryan Ferry’s personal collection

He is clearly a very serious collector. You do find some celebrities try to be snobby or elitist about their collection but this suggests something else… –Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones

One of the delights of 1970s Roxy Music is the way the songs push up against one another, jostling the ear for attention. Band preference for songs was to favour eccentric pairings and stylistic collisions, jigsaw pieces mapped across the span of a record, mini-adventures in style and form. In his 1976 essay Generating and Organizing Musical Variety in the Arts, Brian Eno defined the process as “generating new hybrids.”  The hybrid approach, particularly evident on the first album Roxy Music, was carefully and self-consciously applied with strange sci-fi adventures (Ladytron) placed beside love-sick emotional epics (If There is Something), for example. This trend continued on the 2nd record, For Your Pleasure, recorded in the chilly British winter of 1973, as Bryan Ferry settled in to explore and tease out a new side to his writing. ‘Beauty Queen’ is the first attempt at writing a ballad in a career that would soon go on to define excellence in the form – heightening the song’s impact by placing it right after the bombastic opening  ‘Do the Strand‘, that hard blast of lyrical and musical virtuosity. True to form, ‘Beauty Queen’ is a study in contrasts, a lithe ballad in C major (signifying innocence, simplicity, naïvety); an affectionate fan favourite; a source of musical collisions (the ballad contains a blistering hard rock break at 2.30), and a love story without a partner, replacing emotion with an ode to art and artificiality, and a succinct farewell to the past with no trace of sentimentality, tears, or regrets. Soul ships passing in the night, Ferry observes. Where do they go? We’ll never know.

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Valerie please believe it never could work out
The time to make plans has passed faded away
Oooh the way you look makes my starry eyes shiver
Then I look away too much for one day

The crooner starts in high style, at top of his range – Vale-rie ple-assse, he pleads, before clenching down on the word be-lieve (gentle pause) – it never could work out. It’s an astonishing moment and arguably Ferry’s best vocal performance to date – well recorded and produced, the thinness of the first album is replaced by a sound thick and present, courtesy of George Martin‘s AIR Studios and Chris Thomas’s co-production.  Oooooh the way you look, the singer croons (second pregnant pause) – makes my starry eyes shiver. The spacing and alliterative timbre of starry eyes shiver is expressive and emotional, but wrapped in that exaggerated tremor voice is an important message: this is a performance. This is Ferry’s singular achievement at the beginning of the 70s – the vocalist singing a love song, requiring an emotional connection so deep that he is afraid of not doing it justice: so he invents a new way to sing it. Not even Bowie (at this point) bothered to alter the timbre or affectation of his vocal delivery (thin in 72/73; deeper baritone by 1975 and Young Americans, see ‘Win‘). Mick Jagger sung straight up rock n’ roll. Bolan teased but kept it straight. Lou Reed played with words and meaning but was largely sullen: but Bryan Ferry acted out a role, played a part, creating yet again a marked distance between signified and signifier. Influenced by the classic vocalists of the 20th century – Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Otis Reading – Ferry understood that these singers connected directly with the emotion they were expressing, their singing was felt at that moment: my lover has left me, these are my tears. Years later people like Whitney Houston would slaughter the idea of emotive sincerity by merely turning everything up to 11, making you reach for the cotton wool and ear plugs (and Jack Daniels). But the Roxy manifesto was to “reach for something new,” and they did so in their music, presentation, subject matter, and perhaps most strikingly, in the limited but wholly unique presentation of the singer’s significant vocal range and stylized quiver. A neat summation of the Ferry technique might read: I write because I feel emotion and want to convey it as honestly as possible; but the medium in which I express that emotion is inauthentic, I am a performer performing – at best –  a re-telling of an emotional experience, therefore to get to the truth of that moment I must give equal weight to the way I am articulating that emotion, the performance must be as entertaining, meaningful and informative as the content of the lyric and the drive and seduction of the music.

This is quite the task, but Ferry was born to it: the ballad croon of ‘Beauty Queen’ morphs into the psychotic games of ‘Bogus Man’; distance and disconnection dominate the male voice ‘In Every Dream Home, a Heartache’, and later in the year, on the next album Stranded,  his vocals act out evangelical zealotry (‘Psalm’);  playboy comedy (‘Mother of Pearl’); and the last gasp of a dying day (‘Sunset’). All perfectly contained and presented.

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When we doIf There is Somethinglive, people always seem startled
by the juxtapositions. It’s tilting alone pleasantly and suddenly this
agonized voice bursts out. I find doing it quite embarrassing sometimes
because it’s just raw emotion…You have to be an actor, project yourself
into it. 
BF, Interview, 1972

The structure of ‘BQ’ is pure romantic ballad, a form dating back to the late medieval period through the 19th century, relying on an oral tradition that favoured repetition, clear enunciation of narrative, and good guy/bad guy, good girl/bad girl stories, mostly of love, loss and redemption. Ballad story-telling was brought into the modern age vis-à-vis popular songs such as Marty Robbins gunslinger narratives (see Cool Iron, a story about a man and his mule and a mirage in the desert) and extended out into ear-destroying mediocrity by hair glam bands like Motley Crue and Poison. For Bryan Ferry the narrative ballad held particular sway, for his pop idols were classic crooner story-tellers such as Nat King Cole or Frank Sinatra. Indeed, in the same year For Your Pleasure and Stranded were recorded (1973), Ferry also managed to record and release his first solo album of covers, These Foolish Things, a collection of mostly love ballads such as Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party,” and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “The Tracks of My Tears.” Of the covers album Ferry said, “Some will presumably dislike it for the wrong reasons though I hope the general point of it will be understood. It’s amusement value. I think” (VR).

Ah, we’ve hit upon something here: an album of serious intentions, constructed to draw attention to a classic form, re-done by a futurist rock star with the goal of provoking a smile and a dash of insight – Modern Irony, in other words. As rock critic David Marsh noted in the New Rolling Stone Album Guide,”Ferry views pop as a kind of continuum, extending through all sorts of Tin Pan Alley and Brill Building craftsmanship and incorporating visions as radical as Dylan’s and as banal as Gore’s. Within such a sensibility discerning what deserves to be dismissed as “trash” and what deserves elevation as “art” is not a simple problem… By altering tempos and singing every song with the deadpan emotional blankness he largely avoids with Roxy, Ferry exposes these issues as effectively as any pop singer in history.” Check that out: as effectively as any pop singer in history: low art vs high art; sincerity vs performance; what constitutes worth, or worthy subject matter, in a word, What is Art, the great subject matter of pop-art giants Andy Warhol and Richard Hamilton, and, of course our man in Havana, Bryan Ferry. (Once a keen painter, the Roxy front-man didn’t pick up a paint-brush after 1972, and who can blame him – his musical pop art experiment was as engaged and serious as anything by Warhol, but the pop star’s job came with a cache of cool clothes, a bit of money, a gig and a girlfriend in every port, and presumably, a cool pad in Chelsea).

What then is the narrative subject matter of ‘Beauty Queen’ and how does it use the modern pop ballad to tell a contemporary love story. Well, it pays to keep two ideas close to the chest: keep an eye on who or what the love objective is, and be willing to let go and indulge in a bit of “amusement value”. Screen Shot 2017-11-18 at 12.01.21 PM

Coming hot on the heels of ‘Do the Strand’, ‘Beauty Queen’ slows the tempo down considerably with a shimmering Eno-treated electric piano introduction,  similar in texture to the music he would soon develop on his solo albums, particularly Another Green World (1975). This thick warm start to of ‘BQ’ is a study in contrasts to the bombastic ‘Strand’ and serves to re-situate the listener’s sound-space: we enter ballad territory with a languid 52-55 beats p/m, placement in the key of C major, that stalwart signature for ballads and love songs throughout the ages. The singing is mannered, yet sincere, a performance that begins with heightened emotion, an appeal for forgiveness (Valerie please), and a Dear-John letter (it never could work out). The time to make plans has passed we’re told. The love has merely faded away, which, in its own terms, sounds sadder than the doomed love affair of society egotists in ‘Pyjamarama‘ or the chilly presence of the spurned male lover in ‘Chance Meeting‘.

Starry Eyes – Verse 1
Valerie please believe it never could work out
The time to make plans has passed faded away
Oooh the way you look makes my starry eyes shiver
Then I look away too much for one day

Valerie please: there is the sense that love object Valerie is not actually present, no more present than Virginia Plain or even the woman behind that famous license plate CPL593H. Is the speaker looking at a photograph, a movie, or calling up a memory. The clue to the point-of-view is contained in the sudden shift from the plea-making of Valerie please believe to the voyeuristic gasp of Oooh the way you look/makes my starry eyes shiver. If the time to make plans has “faded” away, then she is no longer part of the present moment. The “way you look”, then, is contextual, and she lives or exists in some other form. The glare from the memory or photo is so bright he must turn away – too much for one day, at least.

The killer line here is of course Oooh the way you look/makes my starry eyes shiver, an image that deliciously identifies the silver screen obsessions of the singer/narrator – he is literally star-struck, dazzled by what he sees before him, physically present or otherwise. Contained in this image is a reflexive hall of mirrors identifying not only what he sees but how he sees her. These are his starry eyes, after all, Ferry’s word-choice suggesting a self-aware narcissism – an increasingly important element in Roxy’s songs as the singer/song-writer starts to unhinge a little as his fame increases and an emotional disconnection begins to settle into his relationships and word-view, a factor that will play a significant role in several key For Your Pleasure tracks such as ‘In Every Dream Home, A Heartache’ and ‘The Bogus Man’.

Starry eyes shiver is a phrase of poetic language that draws us away from naturalism towards pure cinematic magic. One of the greatest pop magicians is, of course, Beatles main man John Lennon. Lennon wrote and published two books of stories, cartoons and funny poetry (‘In His Own Write‘/’A Spaniard in the Works’) and crafted a series of brilliant postmodern masterpieces that highlighted pop artifice at its best, including ‘I Am the Walrus‘, perhaps the best example of a kind of self-conscious writing that explodes the myth of what a pop song is and can be (Yellow matter custard/ dripping from a dead dog’s eye/Crabalocker fishwife/Pornographic priestess) all the while taking great delight in rendering language meaningless – Goo goo g’joob, indeed!

One of Bryan Ferry’s greatest covers was, tellingly, a Roxy Music recording: John Lennon’s ‘Jealous Guy’ was taped as a tribute two months after Lennon’s death in December, 1980. This greatest of songs – that rarity when the original stands untouchable yet is enhanced and extended by the cover version – demonstrated an emotional honesty and a self-questioning maturity not seen during Lennon’s Beatle years. Fed up with word-games and LSD, Lennon moved towards a more concise language whereby tangerine trees and marmalade skies (’67) gave way to the clearer and calmer images of Thoughts meander like a restless wind (’68), to the near-nuclear clarity of the John Lennon/Plastic Ono band and ‘My Mummy’s Dead‘ (’70). Incredible stuff. As a student Bryan Ferry was clearly listening and taking note, as any aspiring artist would. As much a fan of Cole Porter as Bob Dylan, Ferry was keenly aware of the song-craft excellence of the writers of the 40s and 50s, and the music of the imaginative 60s and the incredible changes that had taken place during that time (see: ‘Revolution in the Head‘).  It is no surprise therefore that in coming to compose ‘Beauty Queen’ Ferry chose his hero John Lennon’s late 60s haunting ‘Julia‘ as poetic inspiration and linguistic baseline for the Roxy ballad.  Here’s the Lennon’s lyric in full:

Half of what I say is meaningless
But I say it just to reach you, Julia

Julia, Julia, oceanchild, calls me
So I sing a song of love, Julia
Julia, seashell eyes, windy smile, calls me
So I sing a song of love, Julia

Her hair of floating sky is shimmering, glimmering,
In the sun

Julia, Julia, morning moon, touch me
So I sing a song of love, Julia

When I cannot sing my heart
I can only speak my mind, Julia

Julia, sleeping sand, silent cloud, touch me
So I sing a song of love, Julia
Hum hum hum hum…calls me
So I sing a song of love for Julia, Julia, Julia

Half of what I say is meaningless...Lennon acknowledges the limitations of language and of the chance of making a real connection, but he soldiers on nonetheless just to reach you, Julia. Ferry delights in matching Lennon’s hippie phrasing (windy smile vs patterns drawn in sand; silent clouds vs swaying palms) and Lennon’s preferred alliterative use of “s” is adopted by Ferry throughout – seashell smile/sleep/sand/silent becomes starry/shimmer/swimming/ sea. Metaphor is shared (Lennon’s “seashell eyes” become Ferry’s “swimming pool eyes“) and adjectives are interchangeable – Lennon’s floating sky shimmering becomes Ferry’s starry eyes that shiver, and so on. There is no meanness of spirit or intent in Ferry’s utilization of the tricks and techniques of poetry – nor did Lennon invent the form – but you can tell that Lennon’s lyrical and linguistic approach was in Ferry’s blood, and who better to tip his hat to those 50s/60s references and influences than the man who had laid down his 70s cultural manifesto in Elvis Presley Vampire gear on Top of The Pops.

Just as the subject is absent in ‘BQ’, so too with ‘Julia’: Lennon’s mother was struck by a car and killed at age 44 – and only a few photos of her remained. Having recently re-kindled his relationship with his mother in his early teens (Julia had left the boy when he was a toddler) the blow to Lennon, understandably, was incalculable and contributed to his cynical and sarcastic view of his life and the fame game (they didn’t want me so they made me a starI Found Out). Screen Shot 2017-11-26 at 8.27.15 AM For Lennon, ‘Julia‘ marks the acknowledgement of a shifting of influence of his muse mother to over to Yoko Ono – the line “Ocean child calls me” refers to Ono, whose name means ‘child of the sea’ in Japanese. For Ferry, Valerie is similarly a staple of the past (faded away) and an ocean child calling to him (winds could not erase/The memory of your face). And it is here that Ferry leaves the stratosphere (literally, as we’ll see in the final verse) as he subverts the very idea of poetic revelation – that is to say, he takes Lennon’s idea of “half of what I say is meaningless“, absorbs its lessons and conjures up his own-style modern love song. The difference between the two ballads is that, although both writers call on their mystical muse, Ferry cannot take its value or “message” quite seriously, as he recognizes the limitations of memory not only as a process of recollection but also how it recreates or re-constructs the past. This is a familiar Ferry motif, and is captured most completely in Re-make/Re-model:

I tried but I could not find a way
Looking back all I did was look away

In looking away from the memory of the past, the singer candidly admits he cannot take basic emotional stimuli seriously: looking back provides no answers, no way forward. In both ‘Re-make’ and ‘BQ’ the narrator turns from the emotional connection of memory in favour of something more… artificial. In short, there is absolutely no way this singer-songwriter is going to look back on the memories of his life – the loves, losses, pain, growth – and write it straight. He may admire Lennon’s linguistic gifts, he may go back to the classical song structures of the 40s and 50s to understand and utilize popular song structure and appeal (in time the lessons would be useful and lucrative) but this was merely a secondary consideration to the essential purpose of fulfilling the requirements of the recently declared Roxy manifesto: So me and you, just we two, got to reach for something new.

For Bryan Ferry the only reliable truth is the truth of Art, of the act of living, recording, and re-playing life’s experiences in a playful, self-aware construct of your own choosing – preferably those fantastic starry dreamscapes based in part on the Rich & Famous, and the Glamour of Cinema and Hollywood. This is not necessarily the truth of the matter as Brian Eno and Andy Mackay would come to see it – more of that later –  but all Roxy members at the time believed in the pursuit and definition of a new kind of popular music and artistic intention. ‘Beauty Queen’ uses as its starting point the ballad form and subverts its by utilizing the poetic mannerisms of 1960s celestial and shiny prose and wrapping it up in imagery that is filtered through a cinematic or ‘modern’ sensibility: Oooooh the way you look – part parody, part earnest. The result becomes a wonderful mixture of the heartfelt and ironic; the song’s warmth and popularity with fans defines success in part because of the utilization of old tricks wrapped in an approach that screams “performance”. But within this achievement lies a core question – how to move forward? The subject of the second Roxy Music album is the story of Ferry searching for a new muse, for himself and for his times, and during the unfolding of For Your Pleasure, we witness him using all of his creative powers to identify and harness (and tame) that muse, and he knows, intuitively, that danger lies ahead..

Credits
The Sphinx, by British painter Augustus John, from Bryan Ferry’s personal collection; BF performing with Roxy Music 1972; Roxy mural; the fantastic Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, I Was a Rich Man’s Plaything, 1947; Our “Man of the Decade“, John Ono Lennon; John and his mum, Julia; Amanda Lear For Your Pleasure cover out-take (panther and photo liberties, yours truly).

Beauty Queen Part 2 – December 2017

Titbits
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http://www.beatlesagain.com/btwhite.html

With the anniversary of John Lennon’s death nearing (December 8) it is enough to say that the love for the man never fades. Though deified as a Saint by his peers and subsequent generations, Lennon was actually a man of his time, misogynist, heavy-handed, difficult, but ever-searching, massively talented, and, safe-to-say, like all of us, his search and desire to make himself a better person would have been better suited to a longer life, if only he had been given the chance.

While we’re imagining the universe and its infinite possible outcomes (a side-step here, a ride to the front door instead of a moment to talk to fans) think about the Beatles White Album as it almost was, provisionally titled A Doll’s House, with the proposed cover, above. Now, wouldn’t that have been something? Or just one of many possible outcomes. We miss you JL.