//Words Don’t Express My Meaning //2HB
BF: 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//Anniversary Poster, Casablanca
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 there was no pulling punches on the subject and context of his art: the 4th cut on Roxy Music was important enough to Ferry in future years that he resurrected 2HB for the B-side of his first solo single, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (1973) and 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 based on Bogart’s 1949 movie of the same name. The Bogart/cinema style obsession continued in 1999 with Ferry recording an album with the 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. The white tuxedo eventually became a cliche, of course, trapping Ferry as much as it probably did Bogart, and later Sean Connery as an increasingly weary James Bond. But at this moment in June 1972 there was something saintly about the white dinner jacket, with the dickey bow black tie wings hinting at danger, without the bother of ever necessarily having to deliver on it.
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 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 pure propaganda: the outcome of the war was not assured in 1942, and the melt-down showed no signs of letting up. The film put its nervous audiences in the position of making moral decisions in doomed or difficult circumstances: lust in Paris, love in Morocco, despair and fear everywhere – the film’s characters are painted on a broad moral canvas: the heroine Ilsa is horny but virtuous – she sleeps with equally horny night-club owner Rick Blaine only because she believes that her husband, a renowned fugitive Czech Resistance leader, has been killed during an escape from a concentration camp (she is mistaken). Rick on the other hand is ambivalent, content to drink heavily and run the Café Américain for the loose entertainment of others, as he tries to erase the bitter memories and feelings of his love for Ilsa. By film’s end however, Rick’s ambiguity is quashed by the heroic act of putting the needs of others before his own – guaranteeing safe passage, he saves Ilsa’s husband from certain horrific death, and in doing so provides Ilsa with the insight necessary to move on and live her life heroically, not today or tomorrow, but for the rest of her life (“Was that canon fire or is it my heart pounding?”). Rick is left behind (again) but his sacrifice changes who he is and who he has been. He moves towards a new relationship with the forces that inhabit Casablanca (“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”).
//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.
– BF as told to Michael Bracewell.
Along with the Carlton, Renalto, Regal, Odeon, and Roxy, all were typical names for 20th century British cinema houses. In this regard, Roxy Music is synonymous with ‘Cinema’ Music, and throughout the band’s career the lyrical heft of Ferry’s cinematic, self-aware 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 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 Byron 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, cinema is the subject of 2HB, and the motifs stack up like picture frames: 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.
It can be argued that Roxy Music song would be complete without self-referential consideration, and 2HB is no exception: here Ferry identifies a deeper idea and encodes his own (increasing) fame and that uneasy sense a famous person must have – and maybe we all share now in this age of digital film and Facebook – that the captured moment will be seen in the future without our influence or even our actual presence. This is why David Bowie’s last album Blackstar is so spooky and unsettling: it’s not an easy subject, and Ferry admits that words don’t express his meaning:
Here’s looking at you kid celebrate years
Here’s looking at you kid wipe away tears
Long time since we’re together
Now I hope it’s forever
The subject or character reference is ambiguous (as was also seen in the last verse in If There is Something): it can be taken as a direct reference to Rick and Ilsa in the film, their circumstances of 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); mourning his death (wipe away tears); mourning his Cinema Paradisio Bogart-watching youth (Long time since we’re together); and encoding his own death in the song towards the time when only the art will remain (Now I hope it’s 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).
2DB (1947 – 2016)
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.
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.