For Your Pleasure

A song-by-song analysis of the lyrics and music of Roxy Music and the solo work of Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno, Andy Mackay and Phil Manzanera in the 1970s

The Bogus Man


ferry classic
The Bogus Man (Ferry) Roxy Music, 1973
The Bogus Man (Live, Viva! Roxy Music)

The bogus man is on his way as fast as he can run
He’s tired but he’ll get to you and shoot you with his gun

Focused his mind on something he cared about
But it came out a shout just like before

The bogus man is at your heels now clutching at your coat
You must be quick now hurry up he’s scratching at your throat

Concealed his doubt by skillful evasion
But he couldn’t find out about deception

The bogus man is on his way as fast as he can run
He’s tired but he’ll get to you and show you lots of fun

Arguably the most contentious song in the Roxy canon – certainly the longest at nine minutes plus – ‘The Bogus Man’ has generated considerable discussion and comment from the band, critics and fans alike. For the group, the excitement generated by the recording was palpable: Paul Thompson enthused on The Thrill Of It All radio broadcast that ‘Bogus Man’ was “trance-like…mesmeric…it just grooves along, I love that track.” For Andy Mackay it was “more than almost any other Roxy track…a conscious effort by all of us to try and sort of put in our own contributions.” For Phil Manzanera ‘Bogus’ was simply “incredible,” and for Brian Eno the song was the most successful piece on For Your Pleasure “because it’s the one on which the band is most obviously working together, and it’s also got a lot of discipline” (Thrill/Shark).

For critics and fans however, ‘The Bogus Man’ is a mixed bag, both loved and neglected, often overlooked due to its length. One listener noting that “at an ominous, nearly ten-minutes, ‘Bogus Man’ is the one track that I tend to skip past” (Soundlab). For another, the song “is 9 minutes long, which I [feel] is inexcusable” (albumclub). Yet for many others (myself included) the music is “strange and wonderful” (Klinger), well “loved” (Terich), and for one playful critic there’s no reason not to dance to it: “Is there any Stranding kid on your block who doesn’t groove to The Bogus Man?” (Ingham).

It should come as no surprise that ‘The Bogus Man’ arouses admiration and suspicion in equal measure as it is unique in the Roxy catalog, and not only for its length. It is a disquieting song, hinting at menace without actually delivering any real shock or gore. And yet it would be a mistake to overlook it: ‘The Bogus Man’ is a pivotal Roxy track – it is where all the chaos and uncertainty from the first album and much of For Your Pleasure is finally put to bed, for the song contains all the tensions and contrasts that made the first edition of the band so special, not only at the level of personality and musical approach, but also as an articulation of what all band members agreed was the Roxy manifesto: “all styles served here.” The song is no more a product of Brian Eno’s influence than it is of Bryan Ferry’s manic and dark visions: this is the sound of Roxy Music working it out.

While Mackay, Manzanera, Eno and Ferry contribute considerable musical skill and intellect, the track is really propelled into existence by Paul Thompson and bassist John Porter: ‘The Bogus Man’ is all back-end, it’s a rhythm section trapped in the mud, agitated, like an abomination bubbling up from the grave. On one level, the slumbering historical Rough Beast from ‘Do the Strand‘ has returned. On another, ‘The Bogus Man’ inhabits the human realm as a sexual predator, bogeyman, record company executive, Hammer Horror cliche – all of these things and more, but only if you reduce the word “Bogus” to its stereo-typical meanings. Bogus also means counterfeit or fake; not genuine. And the synonym means phony. As in Glamour. Acting. Misrepresentation. Ambition. Lies. For Your Pleasure is an album of masks and personae, a tool used to explore the subconscious, the art-making process and the personal requirements needed for a life of celebrity and fame. During the damp dark winter of ’72/’73 the story has been written that Ferry stared vacantly for weeks at a television set with the sound turned off. A story has also been written that during the recording of For Your Pleasure the singer drove deep into the Derbyshire countryside to stay at the cottage of friend Nick De Ville, alone day and night, intensely concentrating, paper all around him, trying to find the right words. Focused his mind on something he cared about. Look no further: Bryan Ferry is The Bogus Man. Of course he is.

I like all the dark stuff
Bryan Ferry, 2011

Sequentially, ‘Bogus Man’ comes at an important point on For Your Pleasure: on the original LP  (in ye olden days) ‘Bogus’ was the opening cut on side two – a slot often used for re-establishing the flow of an album: think of funky cut ‘Money’ opening the second side of Dark Side of the Moon (after ‘Great Gig in the Sky); or the Rolling Stones‘ highly motivated ‘Bitch’ on Sticky Fingers (after ‘You Gotta Move’); ‘Higher Ground’ opens the second side of Stevie Wonder’s Inversions, and so on. It’s a great slot for re-engaging the listener – the physical act of turning the disc over meant a temporary break (lighting a spliff, walking the dog) – and it is surprising that ‘Editions of You‘ did not open side two: it would have followed the hit parade formula by providing a “knees up” (Ferry’s term) rocker to kick off and balance the arty proceedings. But there is very little about For Your Pleasure that is formulaic: side two has a mere three tracks and, although together they meet the desired length of a side of music (typically twenty minutes) the tracks do wind FYP down considerably, with ‘Grey Lagoons‘ offering lively, though revisionist, respite, sandwiched in between two of the most experimental tracks Roxy ever recorded for an LP, ‘The Bogus Man’ and ‘For Your Pleasure‘.

And so the sequencing of ‘The Bogus Man’ is telling: it confirms Ferry’s desire to create albums of songs that clash and contrast in style and mood, and it also sends a message to listeners: if you thought the first side (or even the first album) was weird or unsettling, what til you get a load of this. Ultimately then, ‘Bogus’ becomes the ultimate non-formulaic track on a non-formulaic album, and its positioning pushes the listener further into uncharted territory, which suited the band’s ambitions perfectly. Brian Eno takes up the story:

We had an undeveloped idea of making something that had a sinister feeling to it, but with that being an undertone with a fairly happy sounding riff; it was just meant to sound uneasy. But the problem until about a week before we did the album was that it was tending to sound a bit ‘let’s do something sinister’, very forced. Then Paul started playing this kind of reggae beat to it, a very bland sort of thing, and John Porter…joined in, which it put a totally different face on it, and it gradually developed parts that were completely incongruous but worked because they were held together by sheer willpower. 

Brian Eno,Sounds, March 1973

As with so many powerful Roxy songs (If There is Something/Mother of Pearl) the drumming in ‘The Bogus Man’ kicks off proceedings. Paul Thompson provides a classic 1-drop reggae beat (1, 2, 3, 4/1, 2, 3, 4/…) and, coming after the drumming pyrotechnics of the fade-out ‘In Every Dream Home a Heartache‘, his touch here is surprisingly subtle, bright even. At 0:6 bass and guitar kick in – or at least it sounds like guitar, as one of Phil Manzanera’s greatest contribution to Roxy was his sound texture (and taste) and so it is difficult to know where Brian Eno’s contributions end and Phil Manzanera’s begin. John Porter’s bass line is masterful, thick and cheeky, twin strings plucked at once to produce a reverberating sound that only be described as minimalist funk. It’s like walking through mud – plodding, two steps forward, one back (He’s tired but he’ll get to you). Indeed, Thompson and Porter hold the piece together, as does Manzanera’s single note riff on the guitar – ba/ba – ba/ba/ba/ba – that morphs and changes over the course of the song.

Brian Eno can’t wait to get stuck in of course, and at 0.20  the infamous and beloved Voltage Controlled Studio Version #3 (VCS3) synthesizer starts its Star Trek riff, sprinkling the track with bogey dust that bobs in and out of the duration of the song. At 0.26 the other Bryan cranks in with a very funky call and response routine on electric plange piano. The sound is rich and full and Roxy sound particularly well-recorded in these opening moments. All the ingredients are present – except for Andy Mackay’s masterful off-center saxophone, an acoustic a-tonal addition that more than any other musical element is responsible for the sinister atmosphere of the song. Again, Eno provides the detail:

Andy was playing a kind of a-tonal saxophone part that had nothing particularly to do with the song – the same twelve notes over and over again in different times and inversions, a kind of Schoenburgian thing of all the possible ways of arranging twelve notes…All the elements are very strange but they do work together to give this feeling of something very uneasy proceeding in a direction it’s not quite sure of.

Then, a chilly disembodied voice begins to sing at 1.06, multi-tracked and even-tempered, the bogus man is on his way. By the time of the first bridge at 1.37 (Focused his mind..) the vocal morphs, ghosted and distorted, a visitation from the suicidal voice of ‘Strictly Confidential’ – the subconscious is back, soaring aloft and below.

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I love it. Maybe it’s the funkiness. Maybe it’s just because it’s so damn eerie. Either way, it’s a triumph, and I have yet to hear anything like it.

Roxy Music fan, Treblezine

‘Bogus Man’ has its precedents in the Roxy catalog, the most conspicuous being the chilly ‘Chance Meeting‘, a haunted and sinister song from first album Roxy Music that pre-dates the ‘Bogus Man’ by eight months, ‘Chance’ shows Bryan Ferry creating a narrator that is at once sinister and seductive, as noted in RMS Sept 2016: “If there is a truism that the Devil gets all the best lines, then there is indeed menace in these words, a portrayal of looming violence set against Haiku-style imagery (red dress mine).” The atmosphere of ‘Chance Meeting’ is claustrophobic and menacing – you can almost see the fingers on the victim’s throat as the narrator utters “time spent well is so … rare”. Yet while ‘Chance’ holds ambiguity at the core of its frigid heart, ‘Bogus Man’ does no such thing – this guy’s extremely dangerous, and there is little ambiguity regarding his intentions: he is on his way, ready to shoot you with his gun, untiring and relentless. Just like in your dreams, where running away never seems to get you anywhere, except that dead-end alley, and nowhere to hide.

It is an indication of Ferry’s skill as a poet and narrative writer that ‘The Bogus Man’ is presented as a carefully chiselled piece of language that expresses single-minded ruthlessness and lack of mental sophistication. The control and attention to detail can be seen in the song’s straight-forward – though alarming – series of rhyming couplets: run/gun; coat/throat; run/fun. Rhyming couplets are the stuff of nursery rhymes and the bogus man has this sense of being a mythical creature, a ‘bogey-man’ type character, sent in to frighten the kids. But Ferry’s bogey-man and its play on words is far from child-like: there’s a killer on the road, Jim Morrison sang in 1971 (rhyming road with toad), and Ferry builds on the same tension: bogus man is on the road and he’s coming at you as fast as he can. This sense of forward movement and frightening inevitability is heightened by the regularity of meter repeated across the stanzas: for example, 11 beats per line in sections 1/3/5 (blue).

The bogus man is on his way as fast as he can run (11) ⇐
He’s tired but he’ll get to you and shoot you with his gun (11) ⇐

[Focused his mind] on something he cared about
But it came out a shout just like before

The bogus man is at your heels now clutching at your coat (11) ⇐
You must be quick now hurry up he’s scratching at your throat (11) ⇐

[Concealed his doubt] by skillful evasion
But he couldn’t find out about deception

The bogus man is on his way as fast as he can run (11) ⇐
He’s tired but he’ll get to you and show you lots of fun (11)⇐

And while the language and killer move forward in steady meter, the song’s poetic structure is detailed and nuanced: ‘The Bogus Man’ has several points of narrative view, all localized, as Ferry has his evil-doer describe his actions and then provide reasoning for his actions. For example, the first, third and fifth (blue) stanzas identify the Bogus Man by name and are in the third person, the killer watching from outside himself (the bogus man is on his way), naming himself in the same manner as other psychopaths like Son of Sam, Doctor Death and so on. In doing so, a persona is created, a character or mask to be hidden behind. This is like a Grimm fairy-tale containing masks and deranged game-playing – a modern Riddles and magic are my game/Rumpelstiltskin is my name kind of word-play.

The second and fourth stanzas (red) tease and tweak this point-of-view – the killer still refers to himself in the third person (concealed his doubt) but the ‘bogus man’ moniker drops in favour of a heightened personal insight – Focused his mind on something he cared about/But it came out a shout/just like before. The narrative and message is clear: once upon a time the bogus man tried to learn something (focused his mind) that had emotional importance to him (cared about) but he couldn’t comprehend or explain (came out a shout). ‘Shout’ is a brilliant word choice for it expresses the bogus man’s response to his predicament: hopelessness and frustration, followed by a wail of inarticulate anger. And ominously, this has happened more than once (just like before).

In its lyrical approach ‘The Bogus Man’ is at once a song about murder and mayhem, but it also displays a curious attempt to explain the actions of the assassin, or at least present a picture of a man who struggles with communication and belonging, and consequently creates a mask or in order to justify – or simply explain – his hideous actions. Psychotic rage is a hot topic for rock stars – perhaps the most famous example being ‘Midnight Rambler‘ by the Rolling Stones, a first-person telling (allegedly) of the murder spree of the Boston Strangler. An engaging though lyrically unimaginative song – building on Jagger’s sympathy for the devil schtick – the narrative merely defines the killer in the first person:  I’m talkin’ ’bout the midnight rambler/Did you see me jump the garden wall/I don’t give you a hoot of warning. So too with the Jim Morrison’s brilliant ‘Riders on the Storm‘ – the last song recorded by The Doors – where the point-of-view is third person but fairly conventional at that (If you give this man a ride/Sweet family will die/Killer on the road). Fantastic music, incredible atmosphere and imagery, but no point-of-view ambiguity or de-centering during the telling of the tale.

The closest relative to ‘The Bogus Man’ though is the classic ‘Psycho Killer‘ by the Talking Heads. (Or, Son of Bogus Man, if there could be such a thing). The first person is used with the narrative goal of getting deeper inside the killer’s head as the murders occur. Lyricist and songwriter David Byrne describes the process:  “I thought I would write a song about a very dramatic subject the way [Alice Cooper] does, but from inside the person, playing down the drama. Rather than making it theatrical the way Alice Cooper would, I’d go for what’s going on inside the killer’s mind, what I imagined he might be thinking” (2002). This lead to Bryne creating a duality of mind in the killer: a conventional first person telling (I can’t seem to face up to the facts) and the the killer speaking french to himself, as in Qu’est-ce que c’est?” (“What is this/it?”).

Lyrics in French Translation

Ce que j’ai fait, ce soir-là
Ce qu’elle a dit, ce soir-là
Réalisant mon espoir
Je me lance vers la gloire… OK

What I did, that evening
What she said, that evening
Fulfilling my hope
Headlong I go towards glory… OK

David Byrne, ‘Psycho Killer’ translation

Pretty punk, and pretty postmodern too: the alienation of the French language for most English speakers mimics the difficulty of getting inside the killer’s head. Such literalism however throws a bit of a wrench in the anticipated poetic reward, but this is a justifiable merging of theme and content in such a magnificent song. And while Bryne’s killer speaks to himself in French – an urbane art school joke if ever there was one – Ferry’s killer is clueless, too busy trying to understand why he is always on the outside. Concealed his doubt by skillful evasion we are proudly told, but the bogus man misses the irony of “but he couldn’t find out about deception”. And on this, arguably, we are asked to relate to the killer, if only on a trivial level: how often in our daily lives do we feel we don’t understand something but hide that fact, conceal our doubt by skillful evasion. (God knows I spend most of my days in a state akin to acute joy and an abstract fear – and that’s just before my morning coffee). The difference between “us” and “him” is that the bogus man is not aware or intelligent enough or not educated enough – or just not part of society enough – to understand how to deceive, a skill most of us take for granted. The catch here of course is that a killer who cannot deceive is going to get caught, and this is insight the bogus man does not possess – the inevitability of his own eventual capture and incarceration.
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Deception is the most necessary art in life.

The one thing we always knew was that Roxy had to keep changing
Phil Manzanera, 2012

He’s Tired But..
At the conclusion of ‘The Bogus Man’ the song and the executioner run out of energy. We hear the sounds of exhausted breath, the cold air suggesting death or some horrible necrophilia, or both, the final actions of the song almost certainly sexual and murderous. In both ‘The Bogus Man’ and ‘In Every Dream Home’ the goal of human connection is reduced to sex with a dead or inanimate being or commodity. Grim stuff: thank goodness the music and the brilliance of the lyrics saves us from slitting our wrists. (Or worse, becoming a Journey fan). This roll-call of death and fleshly absence haunt For Your Pleasure like mist settling on cold skin: the lovers in ‘Editions of You‘ are lifeless, bot-like fashion models; ‘Beauty Queen‘s Valerie is a pin-up remembered from an old glamour magazine; the female suicidal voice in ‘Strictly Confidential‘ contains the ghostly presence of the deceased Marilyn Monroe or some other tragic Love Goddess;  ‘Do the Strand‘ invents a dance that has never been and never will be.

The over-riding sense of ‘The Bogus Man’ then is that it is a thematic termination of sorts, that this is where the game is up, for both Bryan Ferry and for this version of Roxy Music. After ‘The Bogus Man’ the Roxy ‘state of mind’ shifts to brighter colors – there is angst and self-criticism (and much beauty) still to come – but a decision is made in ‘Bogus’ that pulls the Roxy front man from the brink of what can only be described as the ‘dark cloak of evening shadow’. Ferry uses his constructed characters as masks and personae to interrogate his newly found circumstances: the sudden rush of fame; the achievement of a dream (and the problem of how to hold onto that dream); and so on. In spite of his success he feels alone and isolated, a situation explored most clearly in ‘Strictly Confidential‘ a song in which creativity is likened to the condition of mental illness, and a sense of inadequacy and dread take hold in the form of personal shyness and a fear of public speaking (Tongue tied the thread of conversation/ Weighing the words one tries to use). These themes culminate in the extraordinary confessions contained behind the masks and persona created for the ‘The Bogus Man’:

Focused his mind on something he cared about
But it came out a shout just like before

I am inadequate

Concealed his doubt by skillful evasion

I doubt my abilities

But he couldn’t find out about deception

How long can I keep up the pretense

He’s tired but he’ll get to you

Ever had a dream where you turn on yourself?

Clutching at your coat
Scratching at your throat

The singer who cannot sing, the entertainer who cannot communicate. A star who feels like an an outsider. A star who feels like a fraud. A bogus man. ‘The Bogus Man’ is Bryan Ferry’s own nightmare, played back to his audience via a mask he created for a psychopath. Another horror story written in strict confidence, to us, his loyal and dedicated audience, for our pleasure…

We never really felt accepted…And we’re still not a part of it, not really, even to this day.
Bryan Ferry, 2018

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Recorded: AIR Studios, London February 1973

Credits: Bryan Ferry 1973; bogey night-light man appears in celebrated film noir, Scarlett Street (1941); early type-written ‘Bogus Man’ lyric, courtesy; Brian Eno pulls a face, 1973; David Byrne loses an eye; Bryan Ferry bad guy hero Dirk Bogarde is cornered in the over-the-top, appropriately named The Singer Not the Song – great pants Dirk!

Next: We go swimming in ‘Grey Lagoons

6 thoughts on “The Bogus Man

  1. Diese Geschichte zum Hintergrund und zur Entstehung des Songs ist sehr interessant. Gern gelesen. Ich weiß nun besser, was der Song beinhaltet. Es macht mir aber keine Angst. The Bogus Man enthält einen größeren Anteil Bryan Ferry. Thank you for the music.

  2. I hear The Clash in this tune especially “London Calling”

  3. Great to read this again, always enjoy your insightful analysis. Please let’s have a minute of silence for those who have never heard or seen the creepiest ever version of this epic, when the band performed it live in April 1973, Montreux, Switzerland. Eno evoking a Theremin like eeriness from the VCS3 and Ferry moving back and forth twixt centre stage mike and piano, in a grotesque, semi robotic, Hammer Horror kind of way. Something to behold for sure and so different from his later, smooth Palais glide type stage moves.

    • BM – brilliant indeed. Love Ferry’s Hammer Horror portrayal at that Swiss gig you mention. More of this later, on another post – though I can’t quite remember which one. Thanks for writing. Safe holidays.

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