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

For Your Pleasure – Part 1

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For Your Pleasure (1973)
For Your Pleasure (Live, 1975)
For Your Pleasure (Live, 2001)

It’s good to have your private obsessions
Bryan Ferry

For Your Pleasure ends on a high note, though you would be forgiven for missing it. The namesake track of the album starts like a funeral march, Paul Thompson’s sombre drum roll signals the beginning of the procession towards the cemetery or crematorium. Our host and author the Implied Bryan Ferry has come to bury something here, put to rest the tormented personae and characters that have been haunting him and his listeners for the past forty-two minutes. He has taken it far enough. He has opened up his psyche and thrown open each layer to let it run free, seeing what it would reveal and where it would go. The confession is as real and as affecting as any modern pop star has allowed  – more revealing than John Lennon at his lowest ebb; more affecting than Bob Dylan at his most poetic; more theatrical than David Bowie speaking in tongues. “For mood, style, and substance” notes one scribe, “this is a Roxy pinnacle” (jazzshelf).  This is a song of endings on an album of endings: Brian Eno will be gone before the next record. The Bogus Man will be gone too. The play has been performed, the denoument is here. The For Your Pleasure funeral procession gathers, those myriad voices, characters, and agents of darkness stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the pallbearer, the ferryman of Hades. Our destination is the River Styx, the underworld, the place that divides the world of the living from the world of the dead.  For your pleasure in our present state, Ferry writes, part false part true, we present ourselves.
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Stanza I. The Words We Use

For your pleasure in our present state
Part false part true like anything
We present ourselves
The words we use tumble
All over your shoulder
Gravel hard and loose
There all night lying
With your dark horse hiding
Abhorring such extremes

There is an extraordinary moment during the final concert of Roxy Music’s highly praised 2001 reunion tour. The venue is the Hammersmith Odeon (ne. Apollo); the show is being filmed for a live DVD (Live at the Apollo). The concert is over a 100 minutes in and it’s time to close out: the encore has been played (no surprises: ‘Do the Strand‘/’Love is the Drug‘); the audience is going nuts. And then the opening roll of Paul Thompson’s tom-toms and we are stunned to hear the opening bars of ‘For Your Pleasure‘. Roxy haven’t performed the song live since 1975. Ferry is deep into it. Thompson is solid, bold yet gracious (he knows it’s his song also). Manzanera and Spedding trade lines; Spedding smiles, no doubt surprised again at the simplicity of the notes but genuinely moved by the effect it has on an audience. At 1.44 the focus shifts center stage to Ferry (“Your rubbing shoulders…”). The eyes close (“Getting older…”). He appeals for daybreak, a way out of the worry, the torments. And at that moment you realize the audience is not only quiet but actually holding its breath. Will he..? (Would you..?). The voice cracks on cue – what was once the lyric of a young man singing to himself as an old man has now become the old man singing at us, his audience: part false part true, we present ourselves (2.22). The meta-textuality boomerangs around the hall as we look towards our younger selves singing back at us, and the key line is delivered, voice cracking, the defining Roxy Music moment: “Old man…Through every step a change…You watch me walk a-way…” His microphone traces a imaginary tear on his sweat-lined face and he leaves the stage. Ta-ra. Not a dry eye in the house (at least not in my house) as the rest of the band exit one-by-one, leaving Paul Thompson alone on the drum stool, proudly re-creating his finest moment, the audience reveling in the opportunity to tell him how great he really is.

It is an interesting characteristic of the track ‘For Your Pleasure’ that the word “present” is used twice in the first three lines (present state/present ourselves). Present in the sense of being a gift; a moment in time; a presentation or performance. In our current condition we play for you – thank you for coming to the show, buying the album, it’s been a gas. And that would be the end of it, usually, except that For Your Pleasure feels like something else, like it has staying power, like now that you’ve heard it it will be with you forever. Certainly, the journey has contained many musical twists – hard rock mixed with pantomime, balladry, doo-wop, psychedelia – and the record is great because of this, not in spite of it: you put it on when as mood strikes, for there is a tune for each mood, no matter how temperamental you might be. While the first album was a record of “chance encounters and wistful, evasive memories” (Jon Savage), the second is deeper, darker, more sexually charged (the cover alone is worth a good night on the town), but also melancholy, haunted, obsessed – by ideas, by private thoughts. The lyrics hide as much as they reveal, for Bryan Ferry applies the tools of a novelist or playwright: For Your Pleasure is an eight-act play populated by characters and personae found lurking deep within the writer’s psyche – or at least the psyche of his public persona, the Implied Author/Singer/Entertainer/Artist/Playboy/Pleasure Seeker. The author takes the fragile ball of his subconscious, his élan vital, and rubs it in his hands until the blood and sweat produce a perfect round sphere – at which point he smashes it down on the table, breaking himself into eight separate ragged stories. The results are mysterious, and a mystery to him also. But this is the journey, and, as the saying goes, all the world’s a stage, and we minions are all merely players.

The anxiety and self-analysis started with ‘Virginia Plain’, the hit single that provided lyricist and author Bryan Ferry with a vision for Roxy Music that took them beyond the avant-garde. “‘Virginia Plain’ was totally crucial for the way Roxy developed,” noted Andy Mackay in 2011. “Getting a hit single changed the perception from us being an album, art school band, to being a pop group, and then we got kids listening to us in every town in Britain, suddenly we were greeted with huge enthusiasm and warmth” (Thrill). ‘VP’ both imagines a new world of fame and, thrillingly, delivers it: “Opens up exclusive doors oh wow!” But beneath the surface there is Ferry’s desperation – “Just tryin’ to make make the big time“/ “throw me a line I’m sinking fast,” while the band clutches at straws, scrambling for a hit (“Havana sound we’re trying”).  The luster of glamour shines at each turn (“Dance the cha cha through till sunrise”), yet warning signs are everywhere: “Last picture shows down the drive in,” is both a movie title referencing the loss of independent Hollywood cinema and an ironic nod also to the demise of the American drive-in movie theater. And then there’s that sheer and chic “teenage rebel of the week” – the rebel is James Dean, the young movie-star who shot to stardom in Rebel Without a Cause in 1955 – the same year he starred in the film that made him famous, he was dead.

Antony Price designs Bryan Ferry’s ‘Virginia Plain’ Top of the Pops costume based on Max Reinhardt’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935). Oberon (“King of the Fairies”/Ferry) is played by Victor Jory.

‘Virginia Plain’ is the starting point for the discussion that will both continue into For Your Pleasure and be resolved by it. Cognizant of musical tradition and history, and aware of the seductive dangers of glamour and fame as represented by heroes such as Marilyn Monroe (suicide/’Strictly Confidential‘) and Salvador Dali (sexual, artistic impotence/’Pyjamarama‘) Roxy Music positioned themselves as postmodern, “boundary blurring, self-reflexive, both serious in an art rock vein and playful in a glam rock vein” (popmatters). Brian Eno saw Ferry’s writing and Roxy Music’s performances as a new form of honesty and revolt – as a battle between the modern pop sensibility and the “folkies” of the 60s: “Folkies saw their music as pure, socialistic, honest – belonging to a world of decent work and real values, whereas pop fans saw it as rureno duckal, hairy and irrelevant. Pop fans in turn saw their music as modern and dangerous, part of a world of malleability and revolt, but folkies heard that same music as synthetic, ephemeral and shallow” (Eno, “From Roots to Relativism”, 2006).

Emphasizing both postmodernism’s playfulness, “revolt” and honesty, ‘For Your Pleasure’ states its lyrical case in the opening line by declaring itself an object of fictional autobiography – a play or presentation:

For your pleasure in our present state
Part false part true like anything
We present ourselves

Ferry speaks to us, his audience, very clearly and directly here stating that the performance is done at our request, his fans have urged this record into being. The dictionary term “for your pleasure” tells us that “something is done because someone wants it to be done” (Webster). Ferry admits, as all postmodern writers must, that the narrative will be “part true, part false” – like all story telling – but that he and the band stand in their present state as honest as possible, naked and ready to be examined and critiqued. By defining the origins and context of this brand of entertainment the power structure is laid bare – like pulling back the curtains to find the Wizard of Oz controlling the drama. Another variant on ‘for your pleasure’ is of course “At Her Majesty’s Pleasure” – the time served in jail or prison for an indefinite period. In this meta-textual pop game, Ferry is not willing to let his audience sit back and merely throw popcorn from the stalls: on this record, his torments are the result of our demand for new product and he’s letting us know there could be blood on our hands. (Yes, fictional blood, but is this not all a game – what’s real and make belief?).

So the play is set in motion with its honesty, paranoia and dread clinging to each line:

The words we use tumble
All over your shoulder
Gravel hard and loose

Within this marvelous refrain Ferry provides a number of postmodern maxims – the slippage of language and meaning via semiotics and structuralist theories –  “the words we use tumble” – but also, crucially, references the themes presented by many of the songs on the album, in particular the haunting and haunted ‘Strictly Confidential‘.  Both ‘Strictly Confidential’ and ‘For Your Pleasure’ take place during restless nighttime (“the cloak of evening shadow”), the narrator haunted by doubt and insecurity, those moments that Ferry concedes is an important part of his creative process: “When I’m writing a song, I’m very much on my own. That first stage is a kind of lonely one, where you’re wrestling with your demons” (2012). ‘Strictly Confidential’ promises to tell us the “secrets” we must know, while ‘FYP’ asserts that words never convey the truth – “The words we use tumble/…/Gravel hard and loose.” To which ‘SC’ responds, “nevertheless communication/This is the gift you must not lose.” Communication and honesty is For Your Pleasure‘s battleground and ‘Strictly Confidential’ is such a deep and dark song that album closer ‘For Your Pleasure’ is compelled to address its power: by album close the suicide is either thwarted (“How can I sleep/Hold on till morning/What if I fall“) or the sufferer is summoned by Paul Thompson’s death-march drumming to join the funeral procession, condemned for eternity as punishment for taking your own life: the Ferryman of Hades ready to take you to The Acheron, the river of pain, the river of lost souls.

The emphasis on broken communication, isolation and loneliness was a ballsy gambit for a second album, especially in 1973, as this was a year of glitz and stardust, a time that Bryan Ferry biographer David Buckley described as “rock’s annus mirabilis: twelve months of exhilarating foolery that presented British pop at its most theatrical and its most showbiz.” (Buckley). The exhilarating foolery is evident in For Your Pleasure – tracks ‘Do the Strand‘ and ‘Editions of You‘ are rockers trying to outrun the darkness – but even the solemn death-march of ‘For Your Pleasure’ plays with our expectations as the song trips over itself with puns and allusions – “The words we use tumble” suggesting that a delight in language is not the same thing as trusting language (part true, part false). If the words we use tumble and consist of loose associations then, ergo, the play we are enjoying is unreliable and open to misinterpretation. Ferry is having fun at our expense – suggesting that the album is unreadable or has options for multiple readings – or, more tantalisingly, promises us secrets will be presented, but not necessarily revealed. Don’t ask why.

Secrets are the glue that holds together the album. The first track recorded at the For Your Pleasure sessions, ‘Pyjamarama‘ has Ferry singing “The say you have a secret life” the nameless object of desire a key motif in the Roxy catalog. Secrets shadow the darker songs: ‘Beauty Queen‘s “Valerie” transforms over the course of the song from girlfriend into a glamour model or magazine cover (your choice); while the suicidal narrator in ‘Strictly Confidential’ tells us there are secrets “you must know,” the voice ambiguous enough to be either man or woman.  The Bogus Man is a secretive and murderous tyrant who lacks the sophistication to “find out about deception,” while the narrator for ‘In Every Dream Home a Heartache’ unwittingly plumbs the depths of secret activities. Hence these aspects of the lead singer’s personality are toyed with, presented to us as the play progresses, but not confirmed in the biographical sense – no more than if David Bowie was Major Tom or Will Ferrel a real Elf from the North Pole – yet at this stage Ferry had the courage to take chances and let the mask settle a little closer to the skin without burning the flesh entirely. The slippage of signs and referents so common to Roxy (‘Re-Make/Re-Model’; ‘Ladytron’ et al) would enable Eno to theorize years later that the choice of pop band in the early 70s wasn’t just “an argument between people with different tastes, but between people who believed in quite different worlds” (2006). The concluding track of For Your Pleasure is the final working out of the Roxy Music ‘state of mind’, that new world of pleasure, sin and possibility, where glamour and style hold off the terrors of the night. With this dynamic in play the following lines are killer:

There all night lying
With your dark horse hiding
Abhorring such extremes

According to the Cambridge dictionary a “dark horse” is a person who “keeps their interests and ideas secret, especially someone who has a surprising ability or skill.” (Cambridge). Someone who keeps their interests and ideas secret…possesses a surprising ability or skill – like singing in a rock band and being hailed as a new-style savior, perhaps? There is lovely subterfuge here as the author keeps us guessing: “All night lying” is both a statement of physical pronation and not telling the truth. Nevertheless there is much honesty in that “dark horse hiding” line, admitting that you want a secret life in the face of increasing fame, while retaining the sense that you are as much a mystery to yourself as the Dream Home maniac or the womanizer in ‘Pyjamarama’ (“how could I apologise for all those lies”). Not only that, but you hope that your hidden secretive side has a moralistic backbone and that the answer to the question “could it be that evil thoughts become me?” (‘SC’) is yes, but only on the page. Yet in an act of exemplary honesty and faith, Ferry, abhorring extremes, goes in search of his dark horse in exactly the same manner he has chosen to reveal the misshapen and seedy characters in his play – he goes in search of himself.

screen shot 2019-01-30 at 7.17.32 amStanza II. Through Every Step a Change

You’re rubbing shoulders
With the stars at night shining so bright
Getting older
But you’ll wake up soon and fight
In the morning

Things you worried about last night
Will seem lighter
I hope things will turn out right
Old man

Through every step a change
You watch me walk away

Ta – ra

Rolling Stone once described the experience of Roxy Music as Ferry presenting “a cabaret for psychotics” (RS). This is certainly the case of For Your Pleasure, where the cabaret of freaks and wounded are paraded past us doing a mad dance called The Strand. Clearly a record that comes deep from within Ferry’s authorial psyche, the singer-songwriter tantalizing us with visions of “nighttime decadence” (Cope), poetic hauntings, and a “classically romantic impulse to seek moments of transcendence from the mundane and the known” (Bracewell). Within this rich labyrinth is much humor, incredible musicality courtesy of Mackay, Manzanera, Thompson and Porter (we’ll talk more about Eno in Part 2), and a sense that by the album close a problem has been overcome, the issue of communication resolved –  even though words are prone to “tumble/gravel hard and loose” he has clarity now, the morning has come: the gravel forms the path, the path provides the steps towards Stranded, The Third Roxy Music Album.

Forward moment has been critical to Roxy ever since ‘Virginia Plain’ took the band on that imaginary airplane ride down to Rio. In search of the new, author and band have had their sights set on the future while keeping one eye on the past. This dynamic created a wonderful tension of transition, of straddling multiple worlds, of what Shock and Awe author Simon Reynolds described as a “crush-collision of progressive head music and danceable pop, experimentalism and showbiz, abstraction and cliche, Europe and America, anti-commercial and commercial, irony and passion…” (Glam Rock and Its Legacy). The past and future is therefore at the core of For Your Pleasure, as Bryan Ferry invents characters that dramatize his internal worry, his refined sense of authorship and honesty providing his audience with an entertaining spectacle – record, movie or play, take your pick – that begins the moment we feel that panther’s eyes set on us.  “Every step I take/takes me further from heaven” notes the narrator in ‘Every Dream Home’, yet the central drama takes place knowing the forward movement is inevitable, even while the glamour life-style holds warnings. By album close Roxy Music will have changed: “guilt is a wound that’s hard to heal.” Is this the secret we should know?

screenshot2019-01-31at7.58.45amThey were postmodern before the word was invented
Martin Fry, ABC

As the lost souls on the album gather to take their last march – the Bogus men, the fetishists, The Sphynx and Mona Lisa, Lolita and Guernica – an extraordinary change takes place in the lyric regarding narrative point of view: not merely content to roll out his actors across the stage, Ferry decides to expose that dark horse in hiding – his own self. Throughout the song the possessive form of you has been consistently used:

Stanza I

For your pleasure/…/The words we use tumble, All over your shoulder/…/There all night lying, With your dark horse hiding.

The author stands outside himself – or if you prefer, points to us, the audience – and addresses himself as a character in the play (“your“). This continues in the second stanza:

Stanza II

You’re rubbing shoulders
With the stars at night shining so bright

The reference is ‘Beauty Queen’: those pre-fame soul ships passing on their way “to the stars in the sky.”

Getting older/But you’ll wake up soon and fight

The reference is mid-20s anxiety as highlighted in ‘Virginia Plain’ – determination, drive, ambition and no longer “sinking fast.”

In the morning
Things you worried about last night
Will seem lighter

The reference is the suicidal voice in ‘Strictly Confidential‘, the character rolling and turning, how can I sleep? Hold on till morning.

And then an important shift in narrative perspective, like the sun finally coming in those bedroom windows:

I hope things will turn out right

The subject changes from you to > I.  The dark horse has been found, unmasked, and Ferry faces himself directly in For Your Pleasure for the first time:

Old man
Through every step a change
You watch me walk away

The vocal performance is extraordinary – the timbre cracked and aged – has there ever been a more emotionally vulnerable phrase in all of popular music?

Ferry waves goodbye to this version of himself, the gravel path leading him now in a different direction, towards tomorrow and that concert hall at the Apollo.

Ta-ra

The Newcastle lad leaves the old life behind for good, evoking the Northern expression for farewell and goodbye:

Ta-ra“… “Ta-ra” … “Ta-ra” …

screenshot2019-01-31at8.33.47am

Credits:

Stock photo, black panther as Death squares off with the viewer; River Styx etching by Gustave Doré; Ferry on Top of the Pops 1972 juxtaposed with Obernon in Max Reinhardt’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935); Brian Eno poses in front of his apartment duck wall, NME 1973, Pennie Smith; ‘Isle of the Dead: “Basel” version, 1880 by Arnold Böcklin; ‘Isle of the Dead’: Third version, 1883 by Arnold Böcklin; Isle of the Dead movie with Boris Karloff (1945), directed by Mark Robson. Scary kids!

Next, February 2019: For Your Pleasure Part 2 – the music! the madness! Brian Eno leaves Roxy Music. Bryan Ferry goes solo. Phil and Andy grumble but decide to stick with it. Paul’s talent continues to bloom (or boom-boom). Roxy Music arrive on that island, stranded, and make one of the best albums of their career.

Til next time – ta-ra!

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