– 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 “gramarye” (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-faced 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).
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)
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 40s – Murder My Sweet, Double Indemnity, Gilda – For 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 nightlife – 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
The 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, judging 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 recognize (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 the 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:
- How existential crises affect the main character (‘Virgina Plain’/Strictly Confidential‘)
- The perverse joy of self-destructive acts (‘In Every Dream Home, a Heartache‘)
- Feminine betrayal in one form or another (‘Chance Meeting‘/’Ladytron‘)
- Sexual thrills come with a cost, but are worth it (‘Mother of Pearl‘)
- The impossibility of escaping one’s character or fate (‘Beauty Queen‘)
- A universe of moral ambiguity, where good often loses to evil (‘Do the Strand‘/ ‘The Bogus Man‘)
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.
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 –
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).