Words Don’t Express My Meaning …
2HB (Ferry), Roxy Music, 1972
I told Mark [Lancaster] I was writing some songs, and he said, “what are they called?” So I said that there was one called ‘2HB’, and he said “Oh that’s so great – writing a song about a pencil.” Which is a very Pop art concept really. Except that I was writing a song about Humphrey Bogart.
White jacket black tie wings too..
Bogart, Casablanca Anniversary Poster
Before ‘Nothing Compares 2 U,’ there was ‘2HB‘, Bryan Ferry’s homage to Humphrey Bogart and Casablanca. The song is a declaration of stylistic and thematic intent and even in these early stages there was no pulling punches on the subject and context of his art: the fourth cut on Roxy Music was important enough to Ferry in future years that he re-recorded ‘2HB’ for the B-side of his first solo single, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (1973) and made available a few years later on his solo album Let’s Stick Together in 1976. Stylistically, the influence of the white dinner-jacketed Rick Blaine inspired Ferry to transpose Bogart’s Hollywood pose on the cover of his solo album Another Time, Another Place (the title itself taken from a 1958 movie melodrama); Ferry also released the single Tokyo Joe, a title that was shared with Bogart’s 1949 movie of the same name. The Bogart influence continued into 1999 with Ferry recording a prime cut from Casablanca, As Time Goes By, of which key lines had already been taken and injected into Roxy’s masterpiece ‘Mother of Pearl’ (It’s still the same old story/Fight for love and glory). A key influence indeed, with the white tux remaining one of Ferry’s stylistic conceits for much of mid-seventies, the singer himself looking every inch the 40s film star.
More corn than in the states of Kansas and Iowa combined. But when corn works, there’s nothing better.
– Casablanca script writer Julius Epstein
The plot and characterization in Casablanca is of course, sheer hokum. Shot in 1942, right in the middle of World War II, with millions dead and no end in sight, the Allies grouped together and planned Operation Torch – an invasion of North Africa to seize the key ports and airports of Casablanca, Oran and Algiers. As a result, Casablanca was both entertainment and propaganda: the outcome of the war was not assured in 1942, and the killing showed no signs of letting up. The film put its stressed audiences in the position of making moral decisions within doomed or difficult circumstances: lust in Paris, love in Morocco, fear everywhere. In the end change and maturity win: night-club owner Rick Blaine’s sense of self (and duty) changes over the course of the film, and he becomes a hero by saving the woman he loves, sending her (and husband) away from the Nazis, to safe passage. Rick is left behind, but his sacrifice changes who he is and who he has been.
Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine..
I started going to the pictures early on — even when I was at junior school. My dad had an allotment where he grew his vegetables, and that was right next door to the cinema — the Carlton. It was a local fleapit really; but it was my Cinema Paradiso from a very early age, because my mother used to make tea for the projectionist — cakes and scones and sandwiches. So he got these free teas, and we got free tickets. There were wooden benches that you sat on … I saw Gone With the Wind there and all sorts.
Bryan Ferry, as told to Michael Bracewell.
The Carlton, Renalto, Regal, Odeon, and Roxy were typical names for 20th century British cinema houses. And so in this regard, ‘Roxy’ Music is ‘Cinema’ Music, and throughout the band’s career the lyrical heft of Ferry’s cinematic, performance driven writing is a consistent triumph. The declaration of love for art, Bogart and cinema is unequivocal:
Oh I was moved by your screen dream
Celluloid pictures are living
Your death could not kill our love for you
It is funny that many reprinted 2HB lyrics have that line as “scream dream” which makes no sense at all given that this is Casablanca and not exactly the Bride of Frankenstein. In any case, the stanza makes some interesting statements about the power of art to move and create an emotional connection; as is typical with Ferry the Romantic, we have art as the “real thing” (Celluloid pictures are living) and the belief that art will triumph death every time (Your death could not kill our love for you).
Art, death and cinema is the subject of 2HB, and the motifs move across the eye like frames of moving film: late-night detail (Two people, romantic/Smoky nightclub situation/ your cigarette traces a ladder/white jacket black tie wings too). The imagery is straight out of a F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. And direct references to the film populate the lyric: Here’s looking at you, kid/Ideal love flies away now/You gave her away to the hero all beautifully represent the film and its final scene, the foggy airport runway denouement:
Here’s looking at you kid
Here’s looking at you kid
Wipe away tears
Long time since we’re together
Now I hope it’s forever
The references here come with a wink and some tears: on the one hand there is direct reference to star-crossed lovers Rick and Llsa in the film, their parting and never seeing one another again. Sad, to be sure, but so is the idea that Ferry is singing his dedication to Bogart (looking at you/celebrate years); while simultaneously mourning Bogart’s passing (wipe away tears) and his own Cinema Paradisio Bogart-watching youth (Long time since we’re together). Now that Ferry has immortalized the star in his own cinema music, they may co-exist, somewhere, together, forever.
Heady stuff indeed, and Ferry seems aware of the conundrum of trying to articulate this uncomfortable idea and recognizes that in a film where music is a key narrative driver – ‘As Time Goes By’ tells the story, holds the memory, divides and unites the protagonists – Ferry admits that notes could not spell out the score: neither words or music by themselves will express the meaning, but all songs can be seen as a declaration of love between composer and reader, for art is life-affirming (it lingers ever) and Ferry’s hero in 2HB is hard to forget, until, that is until his own death (at least not yet).
Recorded: March 1972, Command Studios, London
As Time Goes By is an incredible song, much loved and covered. Melodies like this are indeed forever. The song was written and published by Herman Hupfeld in 1931 for the Broadway musical Everybody’s Welcome. Bryan Ferry recorded ‘As Time Goes By’ (of course he did) for his solo album of the same name. Fantastic stuff.
Woody Allen’s Play it Again Sam was released one month before Roxy Music in May 1972. The iconography of Bogart was stronger in the early 70s than it had been at the time of his death in 1957.
Allan: If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not on it, you’ll regret it; maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.
Linda: That is beautiful!
Allan: It’s from Casablanca. … I’ve waited my whole life to say it!
His journey is complete.
August 7, 2022 at 11:48 pm
I’m so dim that for a long time I was convinced it was about the pencil used to write the poetry.
I prefer the hard boiled Bogie of ‘The Maltese Falcon’, who sends his lover down, to the sentimentality of ‘Casablanca’, but as Epstein noted, corn wins every time.