For Your Pleasure

Roxy Music and the 70s

Do the Strand – Part 2

Leave a comment

The journey that Roxy Music found themselves on as they entered the studio to record their second album For Your Pleasure in February 1973, was one of hard work, hard knocks, and increasing public visibility. Two years after forming, the band had now crystallized into a creative powerhouse both live and in the studio. Initially driven by the singular vision of Bryan Ferry’s musical and cinematic obsessions, the group dynamic was now pushing itself to the fore, presenting a unified front of talent, anarchy, and creativity. Indeed, Roxy were in the enviable situation of harboring one of the greatest breeding grounds of talent in art-rock history: synth-player, sound manipulator and all-round intellectual, Brian Eno was a force unto himself (“Young girls are wonderful”) both musically and as a media personality. As reporters obsessed over the story that in his spare time Eno was recording the sounds made by earthworms, saxophonist Andy Mackay contributed to the Roxy machine as a classically trained, musical experimentalist and a stylistic natural. The sharp and handsome 50s glitter teddy-boy played oboe and saxophone as dangerous counter-points to melody and rhythm, and along with Eno perhaps captured best the visual aspect of Roxy Music’s dangerous wholly seductive retro-futurist image. Guitarist Phil Manzanera described the first album as created by “inspired amateurs” (Viva), but no such throwaway quip would be offered for this, the follow-up LP: drummer Paul Thompson and Manzanera took the conceptual model provided by the band’s front line and dreamed up and executed instrumental passages that added flesh to the bone, coming to For Your Pleasure still believing in the power of their leader and the musical purity of the band and its collective destiny.

Screen Shot 2017-09-26 at 10.58.07 PMPart False, Part True
While Bryan Ferry’s journey and increasing musical maturity was no different from his band mates, he possessed a wholly unique position in the group: the role of lyricist. One can argue until the cows come home about the contentious arguments regarding musical credit and authorship in Roxy Music – surely the 70s output shows that all members played a critical role in the band’s success – but when it comes to the lyrics there was only one prime mover and that was Bryan Ferry. And so in this regard, the Roxy Music experience is the journey as the author wrote it, inventing for himself an implied author in which to tell his stories, and a vehicle of expression called “Roxy Music” in which to relay the message. The author’s personal experience was fashioned, documented and transformed as part of the writing process, disguising the flesh-and-blood Self in a game of cat-and-mouse where the enjoyment for the listener is, let us say, not what ‘Mother of Pearl’ or ‘Do the Strand’ say about the nature of the universe or how better to live your life, but rather what is the author is up to, why is he or she choosing these words, that rhythm, that image. And, beyond the words, the omnipresent fantasy projection that the suave front-man exuded: what is it like to live the glamorous high-life?

Luckily for fans Roxy Music Bryan Ferry respected his audience enough to write up to them, involving us in his own dramatically changing experience, but cagey and sharp enough to apply the pop-art principles of distance, irony, literary and art history, shock and awe, emotional connection and vulnerability, often in equal measure to protect and disguise his true self. It’s a tricky act to pull off, but he did it better than nearly all of his early 70s contemporaries: by comparison, Marc Bolan’s lyrics are trite (get it on, bang a gong, get it on); pop-kings Slade wanted to be taken ‘Bak ‘Ome‘; and Elton John’s Bernie Taupin was striving for universality in songs like ‘Rocket Man’ (Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids) and merely ended up stating the obvious. (Yep, cold as hell).  As Roxy/Pink Floyd producer Chris Thomas said of Ferry in the excellent documentary The Story of Roxy Music : “At the time of For Your Pleasure and Stranded…[Ferry] was the best lyricist in England…Absolutely he was the best lyricist there had been around in England for ages. I mean, who else was a great lyricist? I mean, he was astonishing.”

Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 6.54.25 PMThe only other writer to match the quality of Bryan Ferry’s lyrical output in ’72/’73 was David Bowie, who was a master lyricist but was a quick worker and prone to throwaways (Joe the lion, made of iron) and gimmicky cut-up techniques (Don’t ask me, I don’t know any hallways). Bowie would gladly sacrifice a good lyric to make the music fit a line, a sin one feels Ferry would never abide. Bowie liked to shock a romantic image as much as any London dandy (We’ll buy some drugs and watch a band/then jump in a river holding hands), but the difference is clear: you’d never get Bryan Ferry writing an album of songs called The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. bowie maskAnd nor would he want to: Ferry’s use of disguise was, if anything, more subversive than Bowie’s masks and characters: Ferry’s subject was himself but morphed through a hall of splintered mirrors so close to his own flesh that eventually, yes, it consumed him (around 1975/6).  What else could it do – if you wear a mask and tell the world you are wearing a mask, as Bowie did, it is easy to throw away that mask, stamp it underfoot and create a new persona for your image-hungry audience. But what happens when you create a pop construct that is a dream ideal of yourself, a 1940s matinee idol to which your skin naturally fits, the flesh tugging over the new experience until the mask is wafer thin and the artifice begins to envelope The Life. You gradually discover you have the drive and desire to sing and breathe music that moves the people and fills the dance halls: you stumble into the studio with a few grand and you write of artifice and the nature of memory (Re-Make, Re-Model/2HB); of fun and frivolity (Bitter’s End); of love and yearning (If There is Something); and even of obsession and revenge (Chance Meeting). And then you explode into a wider public consciousness and you are encouraged to go deeper, so you reach back in time to the moment of the birth of the dream (‘Virginia Plain’) and the mask settles closer to the skin, and the heat rises (what’s real and make belief?) and it seeps into relationships and distorts outcomes (‘Pyjamarama‘). And then, a blank wall and the constructed persona, the celebrated, fabricated Self emerges from the shadows, as all selves do in the wee hours of morning, until the moment of doubt takes hold and the Bogus Man reveals himself to you. This is the horror-show of For Your Pleasure, the 2nd Roxy Music album, one of the unarguable masterpieces in the catalog, and an honest response to you and I dear reader, and our insatiable audience expectations.

For your pleasure
In our present state
Part false part true
Like anything
We present ourselves

ferry 72
Don’t Stop the Dance 
A fair question at this point would be, why all the doom and gloom – ‘Do the Strand’ is a rocking song, it makes me want to dance! How true this is – indeed the structure of For Your Pleasure, and one of the reasons for its critical popularity over the past 44 years, is the breadth and depth of its songs, of which ‘Strand’ is one of three tracks that contain a contagious buoyancy (the others being ‘Editions of You’ and ‘Grey Lagoons’). Pleasure is a classic album in the same way that Revolver, Automatic For the People or Kid A is,  records that take you on a journey, that have a breadth and shape and take their time to reveal their stories and entertain you with their different moods and textures. Building on the hit sound of glam in the early 70s (not guitar as one might expect, but a gated multi-tracked drum sound a la The Glitter Band/Cozy Powell and thumping keyboard riffs) the album hooks the listener with its killer invitation to dance the dance to end all dances – the excitement in the opening lines is palpable: there’s a new sensation (Roxy + dance being the new sensation); a fabulous creation (fabulous as both ‘purely imaginary’ and Beatles ‘fab‘ulous); and ending on a very grand flower-power idea:  a danceable solution to teenage revolution.

The idea of channeling youthful energy into a creative or personally meaningful act was explored in the last entry (Do the Strand – Part 1) with the notion that, when you do that crazy shit The Strand, you are creating and enjoying a universal energy that has been harnessed and deployed by the most recognizable human personalities and artistic achievements across history, including the Mona Lisa, Lolita, King Louis, The Sphinx. The children of the early 70s who became the musical leaders of the late 70s and 80s (Stranglers, Pistols, David Sylvian, Duran Duran) intuitively understood the invitation, knowing that social/political history and art/cultural history in the 20th century had become indistinguishable and inseparable, and that the New Thing wasn’t something “out there” but was rather a product of yourself – what you liked, listened to, and watched (or, as they say in modern parlance, ‘consumed’). Being aware of this process of endless re-cycling and creative engagement, the artist was creating something wholly unique to themselves and, better yet, wholly unique to the audience as well, as the implied or new Self became a Brand and a Story, a saleable commodity. Roxy Music were early exponents of this phenomenon the universities later called Postmodernism – with Eno in particular spearheading its absorption into the public mainstream by the mid-90s with his solo albums and production/co-writing work on U2’s postmodern epics Achtung Baby and Zooropa, and Bono dressing himself up as fictional pop star “The Fly” (dude! Phil Manzanera was the original FLY!).

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 8.35.56 PM

Pay attention!

With pop music’s version of postmodernism still in its infancy while For Your Pleasure was being written and recorded, and with a hit album and two charting singles under his belt, Bryan Ferry was keenly aware that his art-project was visible not only to the general public but also the art world with its many cliques and facets across music, design, art, fashion, and sexual politics (Roxy had a tremendous gay following). So then, with his friend and literary mentor Dr. Simon Puxley sitting beside him at the St. James Gentleman’s Club (or so we imagine), with a full-bodied 16th century brandy cupped in one hand (or so we imagine – remember, this is our constructed image of the suave ‘Implied’ Bryan Ferry), the singer/song-writer set forth on interrogating this new construct in the hope it would result in the most truthful, self-aware pop-art ever attempted. Thus Puxley writes of ‘Do The Strand’:

No ordinary dance, but an eternal, universal or a tangible image of an indefinable aesthetic and emotional perfection.

Ah, aesthetic and emotional perfection. What a goal. What an objective. But what does aesthetic and emotional perfection look like? And is it even possible down here on Planet Earth. Well, given half the chance we’ll argue that the LP covers for the first five Roxy Music albums are as close to aesthetic pop perfection as you can get – and Ferry may well achieve immortality for this very act of creativity, design and execution. Thinking in structural terms however, ‘Do the Strand’ holds importance as the album opener and a lyrical statement of intent. Puxley continues:

Interestingly the dance was exactly such an expression of an ideal state in much fin-de-siecle and early twentieth- century art; it was an obsessive image, for example, for the poet W.B. Yeats: 0 body swayed to music, 0 brightening glance,’ How can we know the dancer from the dance? (Puxley, Do The Strand Explained, quoting Yeats’ ‘Among School Children‘)

Puxley’s direct quoting of modernist poet W.B. Yeats in relation to the poet’s theory of “the dance” is telling and informative as it provides a sign-post to the song’s meaning beyond it’s considerable appeal as a “knees up” rocker. Bryan Ferry and Andy Mackay hired Puxley as Roxy Music publicist and Ferry used Puxley as the mouthpiece for his authorial intentions as a kind of intellectual-with-class PR strategy.  Indeed, Ferry would have approved, nay encouraged, the writing of Do The Strand Explained, in the same manner he did so for Puxley’s linear notes to the first album Roxy Music. Quoting W.B. Yeats, Puxley posits the Strand as the an expression of an ideal state – the body “sways” to the music (the dance), producing a “brightening glance” (enhanced artistic sensibility). Ferry’s obsession with dance as a symbol of perfection is demonstrated in his repeated use of the image throughout his career. Think Dance Away, Don’t Stop the Dance, You Can Dance, hell, even Dance with Life – and you get the picture. (The last song was written for Ferry by Elton John’s lyricist Bernie Taupin, and reads like a laundry list of what Bernie thinks Ferry’s Implied Author would say if he wrote for the Hallmark greeting card company: There’s no brilliance like beauty out there/No knowledge as wise as the heart/We all need reason to care – etc etc etc). Back to the point: for Ferry, the use of the dance as image identifies the energy of creativity and effort, of precision, of the Eternal Dance, of bringing the higher faculties to bear down on the problems at hand (relationships, money, time-wasting), and as a result of this activity, the question the poem asks points directly to the issue of masks and the nature of personal identity. Or, as Yeats puts it:  ‘How can we know the dancer from the dance?’

I’m not sure you’d want to meet either W.B. Yeats or his modernist bud T.S. Eliot in a dark alley (it’s true, you can’t be a modernist unless you use acronyms in your name) based on the nature of their poetry at least.  It is a telling irony of modern art that our most hard-core and nightmarish poetic visions have come from bank-tellers (Eliot) and senators (Yeats). Careful and professional people engaging us with the problems of existence through acts of imaginative transgression – culture jamming by poetry, if one can imagine such a thing. And why not – T.S Eliot gave us Apocalypse Now via The Hollow Men, and W.B. Yeats supplied the horrifying monster born out of our collective consciousness in the form of The Second Coming (And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?’). [See: White House, Trump & Co].

When W.B. Yeats began publishing poetry in the 1880s, his poems had a romantic style, focusing on love, desire and Irish myths. This romantic view turned sour over time as he experienced an increasing dread of the aging process, with the threat of death eventually becoming an obsession. Similarly, For Your Pleasure follows the same life-to-death narrative cycle: ‘Do the Strand’ opens the album with romantic energy and exuberance (Do the strand love when you feel love) followed by dark internal analysis (‘Beauty Queen’/’Strictly Confidential’), increasing physical loathing (‘Bogus Man’) until concluding with the death-obsessed ‘For Your Pleasure’: Old man/Through every step, a change/You watch me walk away/Tara. Now, this may feel like reading too much into the song-cycle, but Puxley/Ferry directly quoting Yeats does tease out another key theory for the unconvinced. Check this out: one of the cornerstones of Yeats poetry is his theory of historical recurrence, or “widening gyres” – slabs of lived human experience that spin and peel open over time, over-lapping with previous eons, events, empires, historical and historical dynasties. In practical terms, this is the sense you get as you get older of having seen the same human and historical patterns, mistakes, victories. This is the reason that human memory is such an important gift for humanity, that writing down and capturing the experience and lessons of the past is such a critical step for us in securing Screen Shot 2017-10-21 at 9.58.48 AMthe security and peacefulness of our children’s future. Today of course, in 2017, the past is under erasure, the blunders of the past are willfully ignored, if not even recognized in the first place. What was once science-fiction is now science-fact (Bladerunner was set in 2019, and we can say that AI, Corporate dominance, and environmental degradation are now a part of modern human experience). In short, Yeats’ “rough beast” is born – and the prick is sitting in our laps.

Aesthetically, Roxy Music tapped into the zeitgeist of Yeats’ “widening gyres” by virtue of picking up on this conflation and overlapping of historical and aesthetic experience – 50s rock n’ roll mashed against space-suit futurism; Forbidden Planet juxtaposed with the Rocky Horror Picture Show; ‘Virginia Plain’ back-dropped the Battle of the Alamo, the effects of US embargos on Cuban culture, the rise of commercial advertising – Roxy presenting this cultural and artistic cross-cutting as a solution to the problem of pop authenticity, or the critical expectation of writing an “original” song’. ‘Do the Strand’ outdoes itself with its focus on time, places, historical recurrence and conflation. The track ends with a thrust of sublime closure, identifying four key landmarks of human artistic achievement: The Sphynx and Mona Lisa/Lolita and Guernica/Did the strand.

“The Sphinx and Mona Lisa are two all-time great enigmas”, writes Puxley:

The Sphinx was a creature in both Greek and Egyptian mythology with a human head and a lion’s body...The most famous example of the Egyptian Sphinx, the massive stone figure (240 feet long, 66 feet high) still recumbent at the side of the Great Pyramid, is more mysterious: it actually exists, but what its exact purpose was is unknown.

And concludes: The Sphinx and Mona Lisa represent not only the arcane and mysterious but also – by implication – the ancient and immortal.

sphinxFerry’s art works identified in ‘The Strand’ are far from sunny dance-craze knock-offs: the works cited are full of danger and carry sins stretched across human time: Lolita stares down the subject of child-rape; Guernica catalogs the horror of war and the suffering of people wrenched by violence and chaos; The Great Sphinx of Giza earns its title of Abū al-Haul: The Terrifying One; or literally: Father of Dread, ‘ancient and immortal’.  These agents of dread are the gateway to the dark messages and brooding introspection of For Your Pleasure. ‘There’s a ‘new sensation’ we’re told, and the beast slumbers, and we are invited to dance..

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

Conclusion
Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 11.02.54 AM
I’ve always been drawn to melancholy…to introspection
Bryan Ferry, interview

The Lonely Man
‘How can we know the dancer from the dance?’ Consider for a moment it is late 1972 and the implied Bryan Ferry sits isolated in front of an unblinking television set, considering the future. He is anxious…drawn to introspection. Plans to record a new record are taking shape, and he considers what his subject might be, what the material is, and when the words might surface. A song comes on the radio and triggers a swell of recognition: The Lonely Man Theme, by the Cliff Adams Orchestra. Our man feels comfortable in its skin, the tune a popular hit for a late 50s British advertising campaign for a new cigarette. The black-and-white advert featured a Humphrey Bogart type walking down a wet London street. The man, dressed in trench-coat and upturned collar, chooses not to go inside a corner pub, and walks on, his face trying to solve an unresolved (romantic?) problem. The man turns to face the camera and lights a cigarette. This is the Bogart of 2HB. Or Sinatra singing ‘These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)’: A cigarette that bears a lipstick’s traces/An airline ticket to romantic places Screen Shot 2017-10-22 at 3.13.39 PMThe man in the trilby hat and trench coat inhales his Strand cigarette, apparently satisfied that a good smoke is as good a release from the night-time emptiness of the rain-slicked streets. Helped by the Cliff Adam’s and his catchy jazz tune, The Strand’s ‘man in a mackintosh’ becomes an immediate and enduring icon of cool, with a cultural significance ranking alongside The Third Man and Mickey Spillane heroes.

Ferry absorbs the moment and internalizes the imagery. In a few short months he will release his first solo album, These Foolish Things. But first he records an album with Roxy Music filled with images of isolation and loneliness. The music is dark and gripping. Through his PR man, Ferry reminds his listeners that the ‘Strand’ was once a brand of cigarette. He does so because no one would remember, or probably even care about the Strand, for the cigarette is a commercial failure, one of Britain’s biggest advertising disasters ever, and the cigarette is taken off the market within a year..

Do the strand love when you feel love
It’s the new way and that’s why we say
Do the strand

Credits
Roxy Music,
inside cover For Your Pleasure; Kandinsky, Composition 8, a “utopian artistic experiment of the Russian avant-garde(The Damned paid tribute to Kandinsky on the cover for their 2nd album, Music For Pleasure, below); For Your Pleasure promo box ebay; Mackay/Ferry, More Dark Than Shark; Bowie mask; Bryan Ferry in recording studio, 1973; Phil Manzanera gives instruction to Bono; W.B. Yeats: his Slumbering Beast and widening gyre; You’re Never Alone with a Strand. The cigarette of the moment; Strand actor Terence Brook.

Screen Shot 2017-10-22 at 7.53.29 PM

Next: Beauty Queen/November 2017

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s