There’s a new sensation a fabulous creation
A danceable solution to teenage revolution
Do the strand love when you feel love
It’s the new way and that’s why we say
Do the strand
Roxy and the Punks – 1
‘Do the Strand’ is the quintessential Roxy Music song, a driving rocker and a punning literary juggernaut clocking in at a little over 4 minutes. Used to hook and engage the listener, ‘Strand’ was a killer opening for the new album For Your Pleasure, and a direct thematic descendant of the hit single ‘Virginia Plain‘. Surprisingly, the song was not released as a UK single at the time – band and management favoured the non-album track ‘Pyjamarama‘ – but it had all the makings of a major hit. A true Roxy Music “anthem” as Bryan Ferry has called it, and he should know, as the song closed the majority of Roxy shows over a period of 38 years, and is still used in the encore for his own solo shows up to the present in 2017.
What then has made ‘Do the Strand’ such a darling of fans, critics and admirers over the years? The music is great, for starters – proto-punk in its delivery, this muscular art-pop might have taken a few minutes to compose and record – hit the skins really hard Paul! – but there is complexity in the arrangement, with a dazzling delivery of contagious energy and verve that reveals how tight the band had become by the second album. Around this time Ferry switched from acoustic to over-phlanged electric piano and the white-hot keyboard sound defines the rock “thumpers” (Ferry’s word) of this early period. Add Andy Mackay’s saxophone punctuation mark at the end of each line of ‘Do the Strand’ and you have one of the track’s defining characteristics and an instant classic. Yet, what ultimately holds the song down is the wink and nudge it provides its loyal fan-base (infectious pop/dangerous glam) and the message of love the song sends to all fans of pop music: you are the dance solution; you are the new sensation, the fabulous creation – make it new, make it yours, make it now, your moment has arrived (and your moment is passing).
For anyone wanting to understand the workings of the song a little better beyond its considerable infectious back-beat, there is an excellent piece of writing available: a rare analysis of a Bryan Ferry lyric by Ferry’s friend and literary guru, Doctor Simon Puxley. Puxley was responsible for the famous notes on the first Roxy Music album (“Saturday nite at the Roxy the Mecca the Ritz – your fantasies realized … “), and he subsequently penned the definitive entry on the song with ‘Do the Strand’ Explained. (Thanks to John O’Brien and his vivaroxymusic archive for making the piece available). Puxley’s first paragraph underlines the song’s core conceits:
The Strand. First and foremost a dance, depicted as a new craze (‘new sensation’, ‘the new way’). However in the dictionary ‘strand’ can mean ‘walk’ (verb), a place to walk, a stretch of beach, or ‘to leave high and dry’. ‘Strand’ was also once a brand of cigarette. And the Strand is of course a famous London street, once highly fashionable: this is the meaning that the title immediately calls to mind, if any. BUT the Strand is none of these things. It’s without precedent and unique. It’s not even a dance-step. It is, as the lyrics demonstrate, everything; or more particularly it is – to use inadequate platitudes where it’s at, whatever turns you on. The buzz, the action, the centre, the quintessence, the energy. The all-embracing focus, past present and future, the ineffable. The indefinable. And in the context of performance the Strand is also something else the here- and-now, i.e. the song, the music and the atmosphere themselves.
-Simon Puxley, Do the Strand Explained (1973).
Ferry takes an idea for a new dance or a new “thing” and places it front and center in the auditoria of history. He does so with bombastic vigor – the song crashes into our listening experience with no musical intro or warning to deliver the famous Roxy “collision of styles”: high style vs and low style, furs vs. blue jeans, microcosm vs macrocosm. You can do The Strand at Quaglino’s (Puxley: exclusive London restaurant with dance-floor, frequented by aristocracy); or Mabel’s (a cheap cafe or brothel…Highlife or lowlife, it makes no difference with The Strand). You might be tired of the tango (established ballroom step); or fed up with fandango (a lowly shindig). Everyone in Who’s Who is dancing The Strand, slow and gentle, sentimental or Evergreen, all styles served here. History is quoted, then obliterated by the ever-eternal energy force called the Strand: from Louis the Sixteenth (Louis Seize he prefer Laissez faire strand), to The Sphynx, Mona Lisa, Lolita and Guernica. Puxley identifies this recollection of history as “the all-embracing focus, past present and future, the ineffable.”
The Sphynx and Mona Lisa
Lolita and Guernica
Did the strand
What is especially interesting is that ‘Strand’ presents a history where art subjects are living entities, as real as any historical figures. The song quotes Mona Lisa, for example, as having “done” the Strand. Yet, the Mona Lisa could not have done the Strand or any other dance routine, as “she” is a 16th century work of art. So too with Lolita (a novel), Gurenica (painting), and The Sphynx (statue). Beyond the undeniable enjoyment of the music, ‘Do The Strand’ presents itself is a game, or an ontological puzzle, demanding attention. See how it moves both past and within history, and interacts with our greatest and most fearful creations: Guernica is a painting representing the bombing of Gurenica in 1937 by Nazi Germany. Lolita is the story of the daily rape of a child by her step-father. The Great Sphinx of Giza (literally, the ‘Father of Dread’), is believed to represent the Pharaoh Khafre, a cruel and tyrannical ruler. Love, of course, is the answer (Do the strand love when you feel love), but that can be a pretty flippant answer when you’re busy trying to explore the Nature of Being. Love may well be the answer to teenage revolution, but you have to be damn near 40 years old before you recognize it. ‘The Strand’ is more brittle and cannot be reduced to simple platitudes, it has bite in its bark. Behind the infectious beat and the twinkle in Ferry’s eye, the song is punk in it’s outlook, even nihilistic. Boredom and ennui are placed center-stage:
Had your fill of quadrilles the madison and cheap thrills
Bored with the beguine the samba isn’t your scene
Had your fill of quadrilles/the madison: ‘Quadrilles’ – a dance for squares, origin France; the ‘Madison’ a short-lived fad, America, early 60s. Dances DOA, in both instances.
Bored with the beguine: ‘The Beguine’ is rhumba-like dance-step from the Caribbean that “never established itself” (Puxley). A dead dance, in other words: boredom by definition.
The samba isn’t your scene: ‘The Samba’ is a vivacious dance, lively, rhythmical, colorful – if you don’t like the Samba you must be practically comatose. No, not our “scene” say the disaffected kids of tomorrow.
Lyrically, ‘Do the Strand’ is fed up, weary and bored, yet represented by music that is exhuberant and funny, which is a nifty trick that ‘Virginia Plain’ also pulled off. ‘The Strand’ names heroes and dance moves from the ages and suggests they are about as relevant as the mashed potato schmaltz (‘schmaltz‘ – sentimentality and over sweetness in music, films, etc, (Puxley). Flowers, rhododendrons, even evergreens – foliage that retains its color throughout the year – the most sturdy and life-affirming plants on the planet – cannot beat strand power. Moreover, the song tells the listener/audience that strand power is a solution to teenage revolution. Ah, teenagers. Being bored is the general zeitgeist of the average teenager, who struggles with the way things are while dreaming of the way things should be, even if those goals are unwittingly motivated by self-interest. The average teenager is also extremely funny and communicates with their peers via humor, as they deconstruct all the things that adults and the world get wrong. In this regard, the teen experience echoes the formal structure of ‘Do the Strand’ which is the lyrical analog to a high school history and art class, with its lists of things to remember for the exam tomorrow, while the chatter inside your head is energetic and funny while you deface and add sexual appendages to the classroom copy of the Mona Lisa.
‘Virginia Plan’ identified the the rise of youth culture by addressing teens directly: you’re so sheer/you’re so chic/teenage rebel of the week. VP showed the teenager as representing the new future, undergoing change from childhood to adulthood, yet lacking in depth (all surface) and infinitely disposable and replaceable. This insightful but cynical view articulates both the need for change and the anxiety as to what this new thing may actually be or look like (So me and you, just we two/got to reach for something new). This is the road Ferry was on in the early 70s: Roxy and Bowie were aware they were spearheading a shift in youth culture that was embracing a more open sexuality and a revolt against entrenched British norms. But both singers were equally concerned about the effect this would have on themselves and society – Bowie saw the outcome as the ruination of the youth and culture (“this ain’t rock n’ roll – this is genocide!”), while Ferry examined the social degradation via literary Romanticism, classic art, and the lessons contained in the The Great Gatsby. Add to this mix the cultural and musical anarchist Mr. Brian Peter George St John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno (ie., Brian Eno) who was very keen to dismantle the very idea of “aesthetic perfection” and you can understand that the idea of the “new” was paramount to the Roxy Music aesthetic. Listen to Jon Savage, author of the excellent England’s Dreaming, describe the impulse of the late 70s teenage revolution and note the similarities to the milieu of Roxy’s early years:
Punk was wild, outcast, vicious and protective at the same time. It wasn’t boring…It did not, initially, reinforce the dominant values. So if you’re pissed off, you might pick up some tips. You might find a bunch of outcasts coming together curiously uplifting.
-Jon Savage, interview, 3am magazine
The early 70s were kind of boring, apart from Roxy Music
– John Peel, 2005
Roxy and the Punks – 2
Some punks interpreted the “danceable solution” as an opportunity to Smash It Up while much of Britain reeled from shock and horror of hearing the F-bomb being used on national TV for the first time. But the core mandate of a band like The Damned was not violence per se but the desire to express a music that articulated their frustration at not being given a shot at the good life, or even an interesting life beyond the council flats and dole queue. As a result, The Damned’s songs evoke strand power as musical buzz-saw. Others harnessed the moment to break down the conventional walls between audience and performer (gob was in). Record companies, symbols of Corporate and musical control, had their money stolen as strand power slumbered towards Buckingham Palace (Sex Pistols, EMI/A&M). Yet the closest in spirit to ‘Do the Strand’ was the brilliant single ‘No More Heroes’ by The Stranglers, a band that took the art-rock manifesto and added a menacing penchant for rats, leather and karate. Released in October 1977, ‘No More Heroes’ was in the charts for 18 weeks, reaching a high of #2. Whatever happened to Leon Trotsky? asks singer/song-writer Hugh Cornwell: To dear old Lenny?/The great Elmyra/And Sancho Panza? While being a marvel of phrasing and expression, these lines also serve to erase and re-write history and define knowledge as product. Like Ferry’s mash-up, Cornwell places historical figures (Trotsky), art forgers (Elmyr de Hory), cultural heroes (Lenny Bruce), and fictional characters (Sancho Panza) shoulder-to-shoulder in order to create a ground swell of artistic erasure or “inauthenticity” that presents the real, the fake, and the fakers all on an equal footing. Compare this to ‘Do the Strand’ and its gang of characters picked from the mix of history (Louis the Sixteenth), art and literature (Lolita, Mona Lisa) and you have the beginning and continuation of a questioning of cultural, social, and political authenticity that started with Roxy Music and Bowie, exploded with UK punk, mutated and intellectualized with the new wave (XTC/Talking Heads), back-tracked with the commodification of the 80s, and re-generated and splintered in the 90s with grunge and its various off-shoots. Test the theory by asking yourself where we stand now in 2017 – forty years almost to the day after 1977’s Silver Jubilee and the summer of punk – on every level, political, sociological, cultural, all of us are being called on to counter the dark forces. Go on, find your strand power and harness it in your own unique image: the time is now (and your moment is passing).
There are never enough ‘I love you’s.
Came across this Melody Maker piece after the post was published. Nice one!
Part 2 – October 20 2017
Bombed out mannequins on London streets from “In 1939, I didn’t hear war coming. Now its thundering approach can’t be ignored“; must read article from Harry Leslie Smith, a ‘survivor of the Great Depression, a second world war RAF veteran and an activist for the poor and for the preservation of social democracy.’ Thank you Harry; Great Sphinx of Giza, Guernica by Picasso, Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov; Strand cigarettes, Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci; John Lydon (Johnny Rotten); Sancho Panza (from Don Quixote); ‘No More Heroes‘, The Stranglers; a Picasso forgery by Elmyr de Hory; comedian and provacteur Lenny Bruce; People’s Commissar of Military and Naval Affairs of the Soviet Union, Leon Trotsky
Harnessing Strand power
Isn’t she amazing! Culled from the excellent site We Hunted the Mammoth (Surviving the Trumpocalypse), one can only hope this dance catches on. Writer/editor/humorist David Futrelle tells us this blog is NOT a safe place. As in art, as in life. Enjoy.