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


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Beauty Queen – Part 3

 

Beauty Queen
Beauty Queen (Live, 74)
Beauty Queen – Part 1
Beauty Queen – Part 2

hurley dress

I don’t really have a fixed notion of glamour; I love the glamour of Las Vegas for example – the extravagance of showgirls with long false eyelashes, masses of hair and high heels. I think that’s fabulous, even though its completely tacky.
– Bryan Ferry, quoted in Glamour: A History, by Stephen Gundle.

The hand-drawing of the For Your Pleasure album cover is signed by Antony Price, 1973. The gold safety-pin dress hung for the museum is by Gianni Versace, 1994, the Italian fashion designer who created a billion dollar empire beloved of the jet set, celebrities and rock stars. Anthony Price, of course, is a well-known to Roxy fans as the co-designer, with Bryan Ferry, of all the Roxy Music album covers, in addition to designing the clothes that enabled the Roxy Girls to “reflect and amplify…[an] enduring vision of glossy, predatory female sexuality” (SHOWstudio).  Price’s designs turned Bryan Ferry into a “style icon” (Guardian) and the fashion wizard went on to dress the upper echelons of British super-celebrity – Princess Diana, Princess Margaret, Camilla Parker Bowles (surely this means she has a sense of humour), David Bowie, Annie Lennox, Duran Duran (check out the Rio video), and in doing so became “one of the greatest designers Britain has ever produced” (SHOWstudio). Gianni Versace was the fashion designer from Italy who had conquered Milan and then took on the world, thanks to his eye-catching designs worn by the world’s most celebrated women. It has been said he established a huge fashion empire by following Oscar Wilde’s dictum that “nothing succeeds like excess” (Gundle). Horribly, that excess lead to exposure, and Versace was murdered outside his mansion in Miami, 1997 by a man who could have come from the pages of American Psycho.

I’ve dressed royalty, yes, but we’re not allowed to mention that, and I dress a lot of those LA girls – Anjelica Huston, Melanie Griffith, Cher, Diana Ross buys a lot of my stuff. I’ve dressed just about everybody. They’ve all come to me at some point or another.
– Anthony Price, interview, 2009

‘Beauty Queen’ derives its power from a fantastic musical presentation, sweeping and innovative vocal delivery and stylizations, and captivating lyrics (“Ferry’s best,” Rogan). The song pulls the listener deep into an album that is at once both darker, more experimental, and certainly better recorded than its predecessor. For Your Pleasure was also more successful than Roxy Music – hitting #4 in the charts – and in turn produced, as Roxy archivist John O’Brien has succinctly put it, “a warmer more organic sound,” overlaying “the pop art devices of the first album with a more psychedelic treatment and hallucinatory insight” (Viva). Musically, ‘BQ’ is a haunting creation, the result of merging the classic ballad form with a host of disparate, wounded elements: heavily treated piano chords stir coldly to life; a beautifully literate poetic sensibility paints pictures in bold strokes (Your swimming pool eyes in sea breezes they flutter/The coconut tears heavy lidded they shed); the lead vocal chases down words, but it cannot capture, let alone tame them. The track is so far removed from Frank Sinatra balladering that you can only scratch your head and wonder how they got away with it. Not even David Bowie ever sounded this odd (Laughing Gnome not withstanding). Did I mention the blistering hard-rock break at 2.30? We’ll get to that.

The seductive yet coolly distant atmosphere of the song derives from its subject matter and the position that Bryan Ferry found himself in when he in the band entered the studio to record For Your Pleasure in February 1973. Legend has it that during the months preceding, Ferry went through a period of introspection, self-consideration,  zoning out in front of the television set with the sound turned off, insular, trying to make sense of it all. To this end, critic Michael Bracewell believes the subject matter of FYP is about “paranoid fame“. This feels correct, the sense of unbridled possibility Ferry and the band must have felt by the close of ’72 as the ink on those Robert E. Lee “deals” dried and doors opened, while on the other hand experiencing the downside of the music business as band and management tried to broaden their audience and gain a footing in America. Roxy had just come off an exhausting and “humiliating” US tour before recording FYP, where the band played for 35 minutes as a warm-up for headliners like the J. Geils Band and Wild Turkey (wild turkey? hint: they never recorded a record). Poor treatment at shows and a lack of time for sound-checks and proper preparation lead Andy Mackay to complain that “some bands treat their support acts very badly. For whatever motives, I always felt that on those early gigs Jethro Tull were to some extent sabotaging our act” (Rigby, p59). Ferry didn’t mince words: America was “three years out of date” and most of the cities he felt “you could do without…there were really only half a dozen towns worth spending any time in” (Sounds Jan 72, quoted in Viva). This must have been extremely disappointing to Ferry in particular, who had chased visions of America since his childhood, worshiping James Dean, Andy Warhol, Gatsby and Hollywood, only to find that US audiences in the early 70s were, in the words of Roxy manager David Enthoven, “fucking thick. They didn’t fucking get it at all” (Story of RM). And meanwhile, a road-battered Brian Eno was taking notes in his journal, citing the harshness of repetition and the tedium of life on the road..

Screen Shot 2018-02-25 at 7.28.05 AMWe look to Los Angeles
For the language we use
– ‘
Glamorous Glue‘, Morrissey

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 term “Glamour” has origins tracing back to Scotland circa 1720, meaning “magic, enchantment”, a variant of Scottish gramarye “magic, enchantment, spell,”(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).witch So, there are two very interesting aspects of this word glamour when it comes to analyzing Roxy Music: one comes from the dark side side of the catwalk – witches or vampires casting spells, used to influence the actions, thoughts and memories of victims; the other 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. According to Glamour: A History, this brighter glitzy meaning of glamour, like its darker counterpart, carries talismanic hypnotic qualities, and “has a sparkle and glow about it that enhances the people, objects, and places to which it is attached”:

It is an enticing and seductive vision that is designed to draw the eye of an audience. It consists of a retouched or perfected representation of someone or something whose purpose it is to dazzle and seduce whoever gazes on it (Glamour, p.5).

Glamour therefore has a yin-yang quality, a dark-bright, negative-positive power that seduces as much in daylight as in darkness. Consider, if you will, the beautiful pink hypnotic dazzle of the Rita Hayworth-type glamour shot on Roxy Music, and contrast it with the dark seduction shot of Amanda Lear on For Your Pleasure, and you’ll know roxy-first-albumwhere we are going with this. First, the pink dazzle: ‘Beauty Queen’ is a song that places beauty – treasure so rare – above all other qualities. Surface perfection is the stated subject of the song in both title and execution. Ferry sees/remembers/reconstructs a picture of the model in his mind and in doing so becomes seduced by the “dazzle” of the image she projects – his starry eyes shiver as he looks away, too much for one day. In this regard, ‘BQ’ is the direct off-spring of ‘Virginia Plain‘: Valerie is no more a flesh and blood person (in the song) than Virginia Plain was in ‘VP’ – think of the singer’s student painting of Virginia Plain and replace it with the photograph/magazine cover of model Valerie, and you get the picture (pardon the pun). Indeed, this “replicated” ideal of beauty runs through For Your Pleasure as a persistent theme, launching off the back of earlier tracks VP, Re-Make/Re-Model, and Ladytron and into the Andy Warholian universe of surface perfection and repeatable representation in songs such as ‘Editions of You‘ (girlfriend as glossy magazine reissue) and ‘In Every Dream Home, a Heartache‘ (girlfriend as synthetic beauty queen inflatable doll, the perfect companion).

poppyPoppyBeauty Queen of the Internet Age

Lyrically, ‘Beauty Queen’ is a beautiful piece of work, it shivers and shines, matching with considerable style the thematic interrogation of glamour that is the song’s subject. The shining effect of glamour and its evocative allure is accentuated throughout as the images stack in bright shining motifs: “starry eyes” / “treasure so rare” / “worship the sun” / “gold number” / “be a star” / and so on. Ferry is keen to show the impact star-quality has on him (and us) by showing that glamour and enchantment is necessary fuel for modern living. Yes, there is a sincere and valid reading of ‘BQ’ that sees our man romantically turning his back on his past, sniffling into his perfumed handkerchief as he says goodbye to his childhood love and his own loss of innocence (before he steps on that plane to Rio, presumably). This is a ballad after all, so why not get deep into the emotion and sincerity that is the hallmark of the ballad style. But compare for a moment the over-heated tint of Ferry’s glamour narrative with a contemporary ballad released on the very same day as FYP, March 23, 1973: Paul McCartney’s My Love. In this popular ballad McCartney declares: I know my heart can stay with my love/it’s understood/It’s in the hands of my love/and my love does it good. A simple declaration of love, surprisingly clever in its phrasing – does it good is left intentionally informal – like McCartney is keen on leaving the lyric uncluttered in order to get to the heart of the matter – this being his personal declaration of love (my love) presented to his wife Linda, (my Love).  (Like John Lennon, McCartney was doing a lot of stripped-down honesty in the early 70s, though he never got much credit for it. Temperamentally an optimist – never a good starting point with critics – his subject matter was often compared unfavourably to the more skeptical, and undeniably cooler, J Winston). McCartney strives for simplicity of expression in order to get his audience closer to his feelings of love. Another contemporaneous ballad appeals for the same reason, Stevie Wonder‘s You Are the Sunshine of My Life: You are the sunshine of my life/That’s why I’ll always be around/You are the apple of my eye/Forever you’ll stay in my heart/And if I thought our love was ending/I’d find myself drowning in my own tears. Stevie applies off-the-shelf metaphors liberally here: apple/eye; drowning/ tears. A satisfying song, to be sure, but apple of my eye /drowning in my own tears is the stuff of high school duels at dawn (just kidding) with Stevie using familiar and slightly stale metaphors in order to cut through the clutter, striving for a connection with his audience, striving to achieve, as Shakespeare would have it, “more matter with less art.”(Hamlet Act 2, Scene 2).

Or, as Roxy Music would have it, “no matter without more art.”  Ferry loves using  metaphor in his lyrics (Sunset from Stranded is extraordinary), and he’s just as serious about connecting with his audience and as his popular contemporaries:

When you find that what you’ve done is important to someone, then one gets involved. If it means something to them, you’ve got a fan for life, at least they’re interested in what you have to say. Then I feel the lyrics should always stand up to reading. I take a tremendous amount of care with them.
– BF, interview, quoted in Rogan, (56).

Ferry’s stylized language of love is however designed to draw attention to itself, and works both as metaphor and as a vehicle that uses the strategies of glamour: Your swimming pool eyes/in sea breezes they flutter, for example, is a line that contains the language of cinema, with its poetic imagery, hints of Hollywood (swimming pool), intertextuality (sea breezes), and unabashed quivering glam effect – those beautiful eyes flutter. ‘Beauty Queen’s’ lyric draws attention to itself in an effort to maximize effect – the very tenet that Glamour is based upon. The narrator observes in ‘BQ’ that those swimming pool eyes produce coconut tears (heavy lidded they shed). The coconut/tears comparison is of course the metaphor (fruit in the shape of a tear drop) but the use of the word coconut is loaded: coconuts don’t grow in the warm glamorous Caribbean/Southern countries that we Northerners dream of escaping to every winter. Coconuts come from palm trees, and as a cultural image, palm trees are associated with California/Los Angeles, a fact that was stamped on the cover of Hotel California (years later) and used ad nauseam to describe a American cultural mythology created by the film and music business. Moreover, the plural noun Coconut tears sounds right to our ears, but the familiarity actually stems from  “crocodile tears”,  a phrase meaning  “expressions of sorrow that are insincere”(Oxford). Look a bit closer and you’ll find that as a plural noun, “crocodile tears” origins date from the 16th century: named from a belief that crocodiles wept while devouring or luring their prey. Ferry’s tears, instead of being plentiful enough to drown in, come from the eyes of “heavily lidded” glambots that shed fake tears while devouring their prey. Ferry therefore feels drawn to, yet is also devoured by, the shining glamorous image before him. Bloody hell, some love song.

Screen Shot 2018-03-13 at 10.17.39 PM
Marilyn Monroe was one of the big iconic graphic figures that Richard [Hamilton] used, and Andy Warhol, and that might have rubbed off on me. And the beauty queen idea seemed to click with the music, there was the same sensibility at work.
-BF, interview, 2010

This hyper self-awareness or self-consciousness in Roxy Music may have created initial commercial problems in America (a problem solved less than a decade later) but the shimmer of initial fame in Europe emboldened Ferry to at once both expand his horizons, meet new friends, enjoy new experiences and expand considerably his artistic mandate to front a pop band that created beautiful “cinema music”. Drawing attention to the process of trying to achieve an emotional impact is what is on offer in the moving and clever ‘Beauty Queen’. Emotional sincerity in Roxy is to be found in the presentation of the music and in the lyrical process of revealing a song’s construction, of peeling back the layers that show how style and effect – i.e, Glamour – works, its potency and its effect on people. Acknowledging that the works of Warhol and his mentor Richard Hamilton had “rubbed off on him,” Ferry applied the principles of postmodern art to his song writing.

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Beauty Queen: My Marilyn, Richard Hamilton, (1965). Original, uncolored (bottom). Tinted Silkscreen (top).

Richard Hamilton is legend in this blog, and no introduction is needed (see: here, here, here). An astonishing artist in his own right, his stature for Roxy fans is unquestioned, for he is the man who was able to say “Bryan Ferry – my greatest creation” – and get away with it.  Take a look at Hamilton’s photo collage of Marilyn Monroe above (My Marilyn) created in 1965, two or three short years before Ferry studied with him, as the art work serves as a visual guide to the Roxy art-making approach: without us having doing research on this photograph (intentionally) we can come at it with uncluttered eyes. What do we see: we see Marilyn Monroe on a beach, probably late-period photo shoot. The photos may have been taken by Hamilton (or not), thereby confusing origin and “authenticity” of source. But look at the interesting way the collage reveals the process of deciding on what will be the eventually chosen as the ‘Good-to-use‘ shot – some pictures are discarded for consideration outright with giant red X‘s; one is a very good contender (upper left; red/yellow square box); the final one is circled in yellow and rather comically identified as “good” – and on the lower right this “good-to-go” shot is presented as the final shot (with modifications). Moreover, Hamilton does not simply replicate the Good shot and make that his final picture (as many artists would do) but keeps the construction and thought process as part of the final product. Depending on how you see these things, your own aesthetic bent, do you determine your emotional and aesthetic satisfaction at the result – do you like seeing the construct in play, the “fakeness” of the original shots revealed, the drawing attention to the process of their placement as messy, far from an ideal of beauty, or do you feel that revealing the tools that make up the picture to produce a powerful aesthetic response that feels, well, more honest, engaging and satisfying. Perhaps by seeing this process-making you feel a tinge of pity for Monroe, as she is displayed objectively on the beach, photographically hacked up and – is this the case? – posing at the end of a troubled career, the water’s edge denying the promise of the West, the sun setting:

All of my hope and my inspiration
I drew from you our life’s patterns drawn in sand
But the winds could not erase the memory of your face

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‘Beauty Queen’: My Marilyn, Bryan Ferry, (1973)

I’m not sure what Bryan thought his roots were, but they probably had more to do with Marilyn Monroe than with any musical influences.
Tim Clark, former marketing director of Roxy Music’s label

This zeitgeist of artifice, fake or stylized ‘ideal of beauty’, this drawing attention to the power and seduction of glamour and the processes in which it works, was part of Ferry’s strategy to create a “new” approach to stage-craft and music, based on his deep understanding of pop-art principles administered by WarholLichtenstein, and Richard Hamilton, coupled with his appreciation of classic novelists sense of depth and social exploration read in books by Scott F. Fitzgerald and J.G.Ballard. To quote our observations in Beauty Queen – Part 1:

There is the sense that love object Valerie is not actually present, no more present than Virginia Plain or even the woman behind that famous license plate CPL593H. Is the speaker looking at a photograph, a movie, or calling up a memory. The clue to the point-of-view is contained in the sudden shift from the plea-making of Valerie “please believe” to the voyeuristic gasp of Oooh the way you look/makes my starry eyes shiver. If the time to make plans has “faded” away, then she is no longer part of the present moment. The “way you look”, then, is contextual, and she lives or exists in some other form. The glare from the memory or photo is so bright he must turn away – too much for one day, at least.

‘Beauty Queen’ carries with it the faint ludicrousness of a man in love with, infatuated by, and possibly singing to, the picture of a woman on a magazine cover. “It could never work out,” is a good joke as it’s hard to have a relationship with a reproduction or reprint (trust me, I know). This also part of the painting/cigarette joke in Virginia Plain, and part of the cringing laughter in In Every Dream Home, a Heartache where the love object is synthetic (and willing). The magazine cover-girl picture is most likely a shot of her on the beach (while you worship the sun/summer lover of fun) and the scene feels like it has come straight off of Richard Hamilton’s silk screen My Marilyn:

While you worship the sun summer lover of fun
Gold number with neighbours who said that you’ll go far
Maybe someday be a star a fast mover like you
And your dreams will all come true

Here the glamour trope both shines (“gold number“) and reveals the dirty black coating behind the dressing room mirror (“fast mover“). ‘Gold number’ is a nice touch for it feels Northern and colloquial – “number” is slang for phone number = a treasured prize if you’re chasing sex. And the viewpoint in this stanza is small-town and a bit of a put-down too. Ferry internalizes the drive to be famous here by equating the girl on the magazine cover with his own dreams and aspirations. “Gold number”/”Fast mover” are the judgements of an older generation, people who distrust success, a particular cultural trait of the British perhaps (raised in Scotland, I recognize the sentiment) and this gold number is damned with faint praise, the sting in the voice palpable at 2.00-2.28. Then, we’re off to the races as the music takes a hold of the uppity wannabees and hurtles them towards the heavens (2.26-3.19). You can almost see the tongues wagging over the fence a la Coronation Street as Phil Manzanera‘s guitar propels the fast movers into the cosmos.

Utilizing the same technique he used in PyjamaramaFerry shifts authorial stance from “you” to “I.” In ‘Pyjamarama’ the shift occurs from the first stanza stance of “they say you have a secret life” to the personal pronoun “I” – I may seem a fool to you. In ‘BQ’ Ferry shifts in similar fashion from “your dreams” to “all my hope and inspiration“. Before the instrumental break it’s all about herwhile you worship the sun/you’ll go far/fast mover like you/and your dreams will all come true – and then there is the shift: “Our life’s patterns drawn in sand” he notes, utilizing a classic Hollywood image of water lapping onto the shore, chasing names etched in sand. Think Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity. This image contains part of the transition to the personal – the straight-forward process of remembering a past love is rejected in favour of seeing the world through a mediated cinematic reality and in doing so we get closer to the internal rhythms and thoughts of the narrator. Thereafter the gaze turns decidedly inward, merging the subject of the song (Valerie) with the thoughts and feelings of the narrator (Implied Author Bryan Ferry). While the life’s patterns drawn in sand are ultimately washed away, the “winds could not erase the memory of your face”: the imagination re-creates the moment, the dream outlives the dreamer. Only art – that treasure so rare that only devils may care – lasts forever.
 .
The moment of internal recognition in ‘Beauty Queen’ is in the last stanza, and serves as an thematic introduction to the next track on the album, ‘Strictly Confidential’:
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Deep in the night plying very strange cargo
Our soul ships pass by solo trips to the stars in the sky
Gliding so far that the eye cannot follow
Where do they go? We’ll never know
.
Brightness and sheen give way to darkness, deep in the night. The coldness of the opening piano refrain returns, completing the journey of outward impressions and glamorous sensation, the gaze now completely turns inwards to complete the song: man/woman; artist/model; voyeur/object – strange cargo indeed – are now separated into separate vessels, soul ships catapulted out towards the stars, egos unbridled, unchecked. This is a lovely and sad image, as it metaphorically identifies both a journey to the heavens (towards death) and the more earthly cliche of “shooting for the stars” – not just the name of a TV talent show (ha) but an identifier for all those stars and hopefuls that have escaped small towns in order to seek fame beneath the craggy rock face of the Hollywood hills. Ambition is under interrogation in these lines, a questioning of what it means to be on one of those magazine covers: 36 year old Marilyn Monroe ended up drug-addled, alcoholic, death-by-suicide. The creeping sense of “paranoid fame” that first made an appearance in Virginia Plain and continued into Pyjamarama, is now encoded deeply in For Your Pleasure, the masterpiece unfolding before us. The haunting image of soul ships passing by, not touching, no communication possible, shows our narrator haunted and alone – in front of a flickering television set, perhaps – for he is himself on those magazine covers now – locked in a solo trip into the unknown. A faint icy-echo in the vocal is introduced at the top of the line gliding so far (4.10) to emphasize the point, sounding like cold death itself and beyond the experience of us mere mortals (the eye cannot follow). The final question is stunningly posited as he looks towards his own future – Where do they go? We’ll never know. And lo and behold, the next song on the album is dedicated to you and I dear reader, the envelope pressed into our hands is marked ‘Strictly Confidential’, and with it comes a narrative of heavy loss and suicide.

m2Credits
Original Antony Price sketch for For Your Pleasure; the famous Elizabeth Hurley Versace dress has its own wiki entry; 1973 FYP photographed by Karl Stoecker (model Amanda Lear)/2013 FYP by Terry Richardson (model Catherine McNeil); time-wasting youtube nonsense or ultimate Beauty Queen?: check out Poppy; the brilliant Richard Hamilton and My Marilyn; Marilyn Monroe shot for the pin-up generation, 1940s.

Titbits
Do-it-yourself Postmodernism. The influence of meta-culture on our lives. Not-famous but now-famous “Amy” has fun with a Richard Hamilton classic. “Amy Amy Amy”:  human figure response to Richard Hamilton’s ‘My Marilyn’ silk screen prints. Nice!

amy

 


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Beauty Queen – Part 2

bqmodel4
Beauty Queen
Beauty Queen (Live, 74)
Beauty Queen – Part 1

The ideas we’d explored on the first album became more real and intense
Bryan Ferry, interview, 2002

Roxy Music came out of the gate hard on For Your Pleasure with ‘Do the Strand‘, a knees-up rocker that defined the new sensation and delivered an instant classic. The sound on Roxy recordings had improved considerably since the debut Roxy Music and the fullness of the sound on ‘Pyjamarama‘ (the first song recorded during the FYP sessions) was much in evidence on the new album. The introduction and warmth of ‘Beauty Queen’s highly treated phlanged electric piano – Brian Eno’s career dedication to minimalism starts here, and it’s glorious – slows the proceedings down and allows us to take a breath and pause: Valerie please, the singer asks, and we are drawn into a declaration of loss and breakdown – it never could work out. Called out as “the best love song Bryan Ferry has written”(Rogan), the general take on ‘BQ’ over the years has landed on a common theme: the “beauty of lost love”(Rigby); the “resigned mourning of lost love”(Stump); a “tender farewell to lost love”(Rogan) and everything generally in the universe confirming this is a song about lost love. While we can agree that ‘Beauty Queen’ is indeed a song about lost love, we differ in opinion about who the declaration of loss is for. Standard reading points to a Bryan Ferry pre-fame girlfriend – some even offering up the name of actress Valerie Leon, one-time UK beauty queen, B-movie actress and model working in the Newcastle area – but there’s nothing to even remotely substantiate the claim (most mentions getting her birth place wrong) and besides, if you’ve been following the narrative so far we know the subject matter of Ferry’s songs are typically crafted to point back to himself or his constructed self (‘Re-Make, Re-Model‘/’If There is Something‘/’Virginia Plain‘/’Pyjamarama‘). Apply the term the Implied Author to Ferry’s writing and you have a handle to describe his self-reflective song craft, works of meta-analysis which pokes fun at his obsessions, influences, romances, and increasingly, more serious matters concerning life’s purpose, the impossibility of perfection and the loss of innocence. Peel back the surface of ‘Beauty Queen’ and the name “Valerie” is a merely a surrogate vehicle for implied author Bryan Ferry as he writes of his new experience of fame, his farewell to his Newcastle authentic self, and the realization that the mask he had architected at University was, by early 1973, attaching itself firmly to the surface of his skin, like fingernails digging into flesh. Just look at the cover of For Your Pleasure: it contains all the detail you’ll ever need to dive deep into ‘Beauty Queen’s cold dark heart.

Musically, ‘Beauty Queen’ is so well executed that, to these ears, this is the moment where Roxy Music really kick off and go for a deeper and more profound groove, leaving behind the glossy shining pinks and blues of the first album for something at once looser yet steely focused, settling into darker territory while attaining a result that can rightly claim classic status. The band put no foot wrong here and demonstrate compellingly the talent and massive influence the young musicians will have on the art-rock of the 70s – this the onset of Diamond Head and 801, Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, ‘Miss Shapiro‘ and the great Roxy Music albums to come, Stranded, Country Life, Siren. Paul Thompson’s drum kick at .18 says as much, breaking in time to the vocal, Bryan Ferry now having to keep up to the unified musical synergy: “Everybody in the band featured on that record,” he observed years later, “there were no passengers – everybody was there, omnipresent in the sound(BF). “Omnipresent in the sound” – there is no better way to describe it, as the song captures a poignant synergy between vocal, drums and bass – the bass in particular being extremely strong and creative, presenting a parallel melody line, a tasteful weaving of root notes that wrap themselves around Ferry’s unconventional vocal while providing much needed space to Thompson’s canny and consistent beat. The stalled hesitancy of the instruments during The time to make plans has passed/faded away (.40-.44) reflects the odd and somewhat comic abstraction of the moment, before the bass snakes up the fret-board like a needy lover after starry eyes shiver (.52-.56), repeated in the next verse after One thing we share/is an ideal of beauty (1.12-1.23) where again the expressive bass line wraps its arms around the lover, but this time ascends differently – same effect, but landing on a different set of notes, the ear recognizing motif and pattern while simultaneously engaged and delighted by the creative and difference in approach. Double-plus good.

The bassist on For Your Pleasure was the talented John Porter,  a local Newcastle boy and school friend of Bryan Ferry. He was also a student of Fine Arts at Newcastle University, where he joined Ferry’s R&B/soul outfit The Gas Board (a band, surprisingly, who in 1967 were invited to lay down some tracks at Pye Studios in London for an American producer. Ferry’s first brush with fame). The story of Roxy’s revolving door of bass players is legendary, and many feel it to be an odd characteristic of the band’s make-up. In truth, given the immense talent of the individual members of Roxy, it made better sense to bring in a bass player to provide support and fresh ears at different moments in the band’s career. There’s little doubt the group would have stuck with founding member Graham Simpson had his ill-health not precluded this option, and so after the first album the revolving door die was struck – Rik Kenton came in for ‘Virginia Plain’ and did a fine job; Sal Maida was recruited for touring, and Ferry’s Gasboard collegue John Porter contributed to the For Your Pleasure sessions. (Then later of course, the brilliant John Wetton and John Gustafson – but more of those chaps in good time).  John Porter however was a keeper, and Ferry knew it: not only an excellent guitarist and bassist, Porter also co-produced Ferry’s first solo album (These Foolish Things) and moved to America, master-minding and producing Buddy Guy’s career-revitalizing Grammy-winning Damn Right, I Got the Blues and bagging nine additional Grammy’s over the years, in addition to producing the first album by The Smiths – including the brilliant tremlo-drenched blues anthem ‘How Soon is Now‘. The rewards of Porter’s contribution to FYP can be seen in this unique combination of musical ability and sensitivity to sound and texture. So good was the fit that Porter – contradicting the theory that Roxy didn’t much care for having a long-term bassist as part of the band – was asked to join Roxy Music as a permanent member: “he wouldn’t join Roxy,” admitted Ferry, who still pines to go to New Orleans and make a record with him. “I asked him to … John was the one who got away”(Uncut). As an interim measure, Porter agreed to cut FYP and support the subsequent tour while the band looked for a permanent member. And the record is all the better for it.

Brian Eno Notebook (Roxy, early, 71-71)
‘Beauty Queen’
Bryan and Eno return into pools of light. Spots on each at stage side – others slink into place lightless – drums in on second verse. Bryan and Eno lights cut and Andy and Phil freak out. We move off and return with guitars..
– Eno invents stage directions in his diary, quoted in Bracewell (p355).

It is perhaps significant that ‘Beauty Queen’ was the last song that the original Roxy Music line-up performed live together. Five months after recording For Your Pleasure  in the chilly winter of 1973, Eno played what would turn out to be his final concert that summer at the “New York Festival” York England, July 2nd. In addition to being on the bill with Roxy Music, Eno was also performing with music deconstructionists The Portsmouth Sinfonia. As a result, there was a considerable crowd support for Eno, and music journalists were keen to know more about his rumored collaboration with King Crimson front man Robert Fripp (on what would become the seminal No Pussyfooting). The story goes that when Roxy Music kicked into ‘Beauty Queen’, and Ferry presented his starry-eyed ballad and inspired vocal to the festival crowd, many of the audience shouted for Eno. Embarrassed, Eno walked off stage in an attempt to quell the unease, but this only made matters worse. Legend has it that Ferry fumed that he’d never go on stage with Eno again. ‘Beauty Queen’ thereby serves as a metaphor of the energies that broke the original Roxy, which, at the time of ‘BQ’s recording, were at the peak of their power. With all band members “omnipresent in the sound”, Ferry presented the track as a ballad, and he and the band crafted a song of beautiful oddness that all band members embraced,  hip to the modern art-rock manifesto. For Ferry, the goal of writing ‘Beauty Queen’ was to create an “ideal of beauty“, “a treasure so rare”. Eno wanted to explore generative music, systems, randomness, process, and Honor Thy Error As Hidden Intent. Eno’s favourite Roxy Music track was ‘Beauty Queen’. And so it goes: split an atom and you get a release of energy, the broken pieces becoming atoms for other elements: solo trips to the stars in the sky..
eno shine
The benefit for Roxy Music in early 1973 was that these solo trips were in the process of becoming and not yet fully formed. While listening to ‘Beauty Queen’ it is apparent that Ferry wrote the song with Roxy’s idiosyncratic approach in mind, and you can feel him keen to get past the uptempo feel-good stomp of ‘Do the Strand’ to something more thoughtful while still delivering the much coveted avant garde off-center tone. In his book Rock, the Primary Text, musicologist Allan F. Moore notes that “the harmonic structures in early Roxy Music songs were simultaneously extremely simple and frequently rather odd” (quoted in Pattie, 21). The crash of instruments at .40-44 is a perfect example of the quirkiness and self-deprecating humor expressed in a song that, as smooth as it is, presents in musical form the slammed door of a relationship’s end. By the time we come to the time to make plans has passed/faded away, we hit an obstacle, re-configure and start again. What is especially striking is that we’ve heard it before,  playing on the ear like a subliminal tick – on ‘Sea Breezes‘ from Roxy Music. Take a listen to ‘Breezes’ at 3.33-6.12 and you’ll hear Ferry and Co. throw the listener a curve ball as we move from a contemplative Andy MacKay solo into a discordant, abrupt rhythm: Now that we are lonely, the narrator complains, Life seems to get hard. The loveliness of the song dissolves into a slap of cold air from the ocean, much like the realization in ‘Beauty Queen’ that the time to make plans has passed, faded away. Now, if one was courting the possibility of submitting an essay to the New Yorker (and who would bother with such a thing) we might flirt with the idea of mapping the related imagery between ‘Sea Breezes’ and ‘BQ’ – there’s much synergy between the two songs – but the one worth teasing out is the one Ferry presents under our noses:

One thing we share is an ideal of beauty
Treasure so rare that even devils might care
Your swimming pool eyes in sea breezes they flutter

Sea Breezes/Re-Make/Re-Model
Building on a modest body of work (one album, a few singles) ‘Beauty Queen’ is the first time Ferry is explicit about the intertextuality in his work, having fun referencing an earlier song. In ‘BQ’ the lyrical focus is on the eyes – that critical sensing tool of glamour and cinema that Roxy were so plugged into – nay, defined by – and by quoting ‘Sea Breezes’ we are tipped off to key insider information. Here’s how it works: Take the line Oooh the way you look/ makes my starry eyes shiver.  The object of desire in this line produces the effect of stardom, her image is reflected in the eyes of her admirers (she is a star and her admirers are her mirror). With his gaze he consumes her star-power, he is the audience. Yet, as he absorbs the image, he chooses to encode his sensibility into the reflection and send it back as a popular product – a pop song. (He is the star and we, his pop audience, are his mirror). Literally, beauty in the eyes of the beholder. This is a critical strategy in Ferry’s work: in recognizing the presence of beauty, art, style, fashion as a major input into who he is, the singer digests, constructs and sends back to us the very core of who he is by telling us how he sees the world. His art is the art of process and perceptions. ‘BQ’ is therefore less about Valerie, that “gold number” beauty queen from Newcastle, and more about how Ferry’s perceives the process of recognizing and creating a ‘beauty queen’. And, because of own increasing fame, the writer recognizes that this process of art-making is evolving for him over time, based on his radically changing circumstances. The previous year, for example, on Roxy Music opener, Re-Make/Re-Model, Ferry recognizes the beauty queen on the street (in a bar, at a gig). Yet he doesn’t start writing “She had honey sweet lips. They were lilac soft” and so on; instead he captures the memory of the moment he sees her – for him (humorously) the trigger is the car license plate CPL 593HShe’s the sweetest queen I’ve ever seen! Ferry “re-makes” and “re-models” what he sees, and ‘Re-Make/Re-Model’ serves as a celebration both of her beauty, and of his sensibility and the process of pop art creation. Everyone wins, and ‘Re-Make’ is still a love song to boot!sioux
Quoting ‘Sea Breezes’ in ‘BQ’ is clever, for the comparison pokes fun at the heightened sensibilities of the love poet – a man so sensitive he can declare (without irony) that Now that we are lonely/Life seems to get hard/Alone what a word lonely/Alone it makes me cry. ‘Beauty Queen’ rejects this notion of innocence, and mocks the young delusional Romantics that peppered the first album, those so in love (and in love with themselves) that they want to settle down and “grow potatoes by the score.” After the successful Roxy Music British tour of late 1972 and the success of two hit singles – whose content was already mapping the shift from pre-fame dreams to a life of opening exclusive doors (oh wow!) – the recording of FYP offered Ferry and the band a chance to play with image from the vantage point of popularity and success (in Europe at least). Ferry and Roxy Music had created a glamorous, campy, slightly sleazy image of themselves over the course of the previous year, and in doing so had created a product baseline that contained high audience expectations for something different on The Second Roxy Music album. The innocence of the first record is gone – it’s a shame to think about yesterday, opines the narrator in ‘Sea Breezes‘ (a shame A shame, a shame, a shame), but no such sentiment comes across in ‘BQ’, for the narrator rather coldly tells his subject that the time to make plans has “passed” –  the message delivered with narry a word for her or her emotional well-being, in fact, she is barely there, reduced to magazine, newspaper, TV image. These are his eyes and they are starry and shivering. This is cold and distant indeed, and the song is written as a farewell to an earlier time, before the fast mover became a star and the dreams started coming true. He is the star (not Valerie) and we, my friends, are his mirror reflecting back. This record is all about our pleasure, after all.bq model 5Part 3 – late Feb: Next – BF pokes fun at himself as a rising star and ‘beauty queen’ then gets moody again as he contemplates the design of the cover for For Your Pleasure. Amanda darling, are you a man or a woman? Might as well play the game..

Credits
“Walking Panther” shots photographed by Mikael Jansson, Vogue; Bryan Ferry edited; John Porter then and now, http://www.johnportermusic.com/about.html; Brian Eno tinted; Siouxsie Sioux, photographed by Pierre Terrasson

Titbits
Jan-April 1973 saw the release of several albums that would make their mark on the 70s and still be a staple of rock playlists 44 years later.  Roxy Music released two albums in ’73 (For Your Pleasure/Stranded), a feat bettered by Elton John (Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player/Goodbye Yellow Brick Roadthe latter being a double, so technically three albums) but this only beats Roxy if we don’t count Bryan Ferry’s solo These Foolish Things (of course we won’t count it – it ain’t Roxy innit).  Bowie released two albums in 1973, Pin Ups/Aladdin Sane. The former was also an album of covers, and the latter was rushed in both the writing and production but spawned  ‘Drive-In Saturday’, Panic in Detroit’, ‘Jean Genie’, and the brilliant title track, so who cares. Bowie rescued Iggy from the loony bin around this time, getting Pop and the Stooges signed to his own label MainMan after they failed to sell any records, anywhere. For some reason MainMan allowed out-of-his mind novice Iggy to produce Raw Power, with our hero comically utilizing only 3 of the 24 available tracks (voice/guitar/band). Bowie was brought in to do a salvage job on the recording, which is an incredible story in itself as Bowie remixed the 7 tracks in a single day during the 1st Ziggy Stardust tour in late ’72 when he was a complete unknown in America and trying to break the US market himself. (Say what you like about Bowie, but he ponied up for his heroes when no one else would – Iggy, Lou Reed, Mott the Hoople). Bowie used the cheap but efficient Western Sound Recorders studio complex on Sunset Boulevard where Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, and Elvis Presley recorded some of their best known songs – can’t you can just hear ‘Search and Destroy‘ rattling the ghosts of ‘Fly Me to the Moon’…

In contrast, the supremely well-recorded Dark Side of the Moon (co-mixed by Roxy Music producer Chris Thomas at roughly the same time For Your Pleasure was being recorded) made the most of its 16 available tracks and, despite its familiarity, still sounds wonderful today. Yet the closest to the Roxy Music high-glam darkness of FYP and released one month before it in February 25 1973, is the still-potent, tuneful and hard-rocking theatrical album Billion Dollar Babies by Alice Cooper. Screen Shot 2017-10-08 at 9.22.27 AMProduced by Bob Ezrin (who co-produced The Wall for the Floyd and Peter Gabriel’s first solo album – hear that wonderful multi-tracked guitar on ‘Solsbury Hill‘!) this is the real Alice Cooper band (before Vincent Damon Furnier changed his name to Alice and became a regular on Hollywood Squares) and offers ample evidence of the superior instrumental skills of the original Buxton/Bruce/Dunaway/Smith line-up. Listen to the title track burn as Cooper and 60’s folk guru Donovan trade vocal licks (“we go dancin’ nightly“) and Buxton and Dunaway mash up savage guitar lines and deliver the most frightening bass line ever. Ezrin’s production is massive and unforgiving.  Friends, do me a favour, bury me with the cassette and green snake-skin wallet and, as always, PLAY IT LOUD.


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Beauty Queen – Part 1

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Beauty Queen
Beauty Queen (Live, 74)

The Sphinx, by British painter Augustus John, from Bryan Ferry’s personal collection

He is clearly a very serious collector. You do find some celebrities try to be snobby or elitist about their collection but this suggests something else… –Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones

One of the delights of 1970s Roxy Music is the way the songs push up against one another, jostling the ear for attention. Band preference for songs was to favour eccentric pairings and stylistic collisions, jigsaw pieces mapped across the span of a record, mini-adventures in style and form. In his 1976 essay Generating and Organizing Musical Variety in the Arts, Brian Eno defined the process as “generating new hybrids.”  The hybrid approach, particularly evident on the first album Roxy Music, was carefully and self-consciously applied with strange sci-fi adventures (Ladytron) placed beside love-sick emotional epics (If There is Something), for example. This trend continued on the 2nd record, For Your Pleasure, recorded in the chilly British winter of 1973, as Bryan Ferry settled in to explore and tease out a new side to his writing. ‘Beauty Queen’ is the first attempt at writing a ballad in a career that would soon go on to define excellence in the form – heightening the song’s impact by placing it right after the bombastic opening  ‘Do the Strand‘, that hard blast of lyrical and musical virtuosity. True to form, ‘Beauty Queen’ is a study in contrasts, a lithe ballad in C major (signifying innocence, simplicity, naïvety); an affectionate fan favourite; a source of musical collisions (the ballad contains a blistering hard rock break at 2.30), and a love story without a partner, replacing emotion with an ode to art and artificiality, and a succinct farewell to the past with no trace of sentimentality, tears, or regrets. Soul ships passing in the night, Ferry observes. Where do they go? We’ll never know.

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Valerie please believe it never could work out
The time to make plans has passed faded away
Oooh the way you look makes my starry eyes shiver
Then I look away too much for one day

The crooner starts in high style, at top of his range – Vale-rie ple-assse, he pleads, before clenching down on the word be-lieve (gentle pause) – it never could work out. It’s an astonishing moment and arguably Ferry’s best vocal performance to date – well recorded and produced, the thinness of the first album is replaced by a sound thick and present, courtesy of George Martin‘s AIR Studios and Chris Thomas’s co-production.  Oooooh the way you look, the singer croons (second pregnant pause) – makes my starry eyes shiver. The spacing and alliterative timbre of starry eyes shiver is expressive and emotional, but wrapped in that exaggerated tremor voice is an important message: this is a performance. This is Ferry’s singular achievement at the beginning of the 70s – the vocalist singing a love song, requiring an emotional connection so deep that he is afraid of not doing it justice: so he invents a new way to sing it. Not even Bowie (at this point) bothered to alter the timbre or affectation of his vocal delivery (thin in 72/73; deeper baritone by 1975 and Young Americans, see ‘Win‘). Mick Jagger sung straight up rock n’ roll. Bolan teased but kept it straight. Lou Reed played with words and meaning but was largely sullen: but Bryan Ferry acted out a role, played a part, creating yet again a marked distance between signified and signifier. Influenced by the classic vocalists of the 20th century – Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Otis Reading – Ferry understood that these singers connected directly with the emotion they were expressing, their singing was felt at that moment: my lover has left me, these are my tears. Years later people like Whitney Houston would slaughter the idea of emotive sincerity by merely turning everything up to 11, making you reach for the cotton wool and ear plugs (and Jack Daniels). But the Roxy manifesto was to “reach for something new,” and they did so in their music, presentation, subject matter, and perhaps most strikingly, in the limited but wholly unique presentation of the singer’s significant vocal range and stylized quiver. A neat summation of the Ferry technique might read: I write because I feel emotion and want to convey it as honestly as possible; but the medium in which I express that emotion is inauthentic, I am a performer performing – at best –  a re-telling of an emotional experience, therefore to get to the truth of that moment I must give equal weight to the way I am articulating that emotion, the performance must be as entertaining, meaningful and informative as the content of the lyric and the drive and seduction of the music.

This is quite the task, but Ferry was born to it: the ballad croon of ‘Beauty Queen’ morphs into the psychotic games of ‘Bogus Man’; distance and disconnection dominate the male voice ‘In Every Dream Home, a Heartache’, and later in the year, on the next album Stranded,  his vocals act out evangelical zealotry (‘Psalm’);  playboy comedy (‘Mother of Pearl’); and the last gasp of a dying day (‘Sunset’). All perfectly contained and presented.

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When we doIf There is Somethinglive, people always seem startled
by the juxtapositions. It’s tilting alone pleasantly and suddenly this
agonized voice bursts out. I find doing it quite embarrassing sometimes
because it’s just raw emotion…You have to be an actor, project yourself
into it. 
BF, Interview, 1972

The structure of ‘BQ’ is pure romantic ballad, a form dating back to the late medieval period through the 19th century, relying on an oral tradition that favoured repetition, clear enunciation of narrative, and good guy/bad guy, good girl/bad girl stories, mostly of love, loss and redemption. Ballad story-telling was brought into the modern age vis-à-vis popular songs such as Marty Robbins gunslinger narratives (see Cool Iron, a story about a man and his mule and a mirage in the desert) and extended out into ear-destroying mediocrity by hair glam bands like Motley Crue and Poison. For Bryan Ferry the narrative ballad held particular sway, for his pop idols were classic crooner story-tellers such as Nat King Cole or Frank Sinatra. Indeed, in the same year For Your Pleasure and Stranded were recorded (1973), Ferry also managed to record and release his first solo album of covers, These Foolish Things, a collection of mostly love ballads such as Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party,” and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “The Tracks of My Tears.” Of the covers album Ferry said, “Some will presumably dislike it for the wrong reasons though I hope the general point of it will be understood. It’s amusement value. I think” (VR).

Ah, we’ve hit upon something here: an album of serious intentions, constructed to draw attention to a classic form, re-done by a futurist rock star with the goal of provoking a smile and a dash of insight – Modern Irony, in other words. As rock critic David Marsh noted in the New Rolling Stone Album Guide,”Ferry views pop as a kind of continuum, extending through all sorts of Tin Pan Alley and Brill Building craftsmanship and incorporating visions as radical as Dylan’s and as banal as Gore’s. Within such a sensibility discerning what deserves to be dismissed as “trash” and what deserves elevation as “art” is not a simple problem… By altering tempos and singing every song with the deadpan emotional blankness he largely avoids with Roxy, Ferry exposes these issues as effectively as any pop singer in history.” Check that out: as effectively as any pop singer in history: low art vs high art; sincerity vs performance; what constitutes worth, or worthy subject matter, in a word, What is Art, the great subject matter of pop-art giants Andy Warhol and Richard Hamilton, and, of course our man in Havana, Bryan Ferry. (Once a keen painter, the Roxy front-man didn’t pick up a paint-brush after 1972, and who can blame him – his musical pop art experiment was as engaged and serious as anything by Warhol, but the pop star’s job came with a cache of cool clothes, a bit of money, a gig and a girlfriend in every port, and presumably, a cool pad in Chelsea).

What then is the narrative subject matter of ‘Beauty Queen’ and how does it use the modern pop ballad to tell a contemporary love story. Well, it pays to keep two ideas close to the chest: keep an eye on who or what the love objective is, and be willing to let go and indulge in a bit of “amusement value”. Screen Shot 2017-11-18 at 12.01.21 PM

Coming hot on the heels of ‘Do the Strand’, ‘Beauty Queen’ slows the tempo down considerably with a shimmering Eno-treated electric piano introduction,  similar in texture to the music he would soon develop on his solo albums, particularly Another Green World (1975). This thick warm start to of ‘BQ’ is a study in contrasts to the bombastic ‘Strand’ and serves to re-situate the listener’s sound-space: we enter ballad territory with a languid 52-55 beats p/m, placement in the key of C major, that stalwart signature for ballads and love songs throughout the ages. The singing is mannered, yet sincere, a performance that begins with heightened emotion, an appeal for forgiveness (Valerie please), and a Dear-John letter (it never could work out). The time to make plans has passed we’re told. The love has merely faded away, which, in its own terms, sounds sadder than the doomed love affair of society egotists in ‘Pyjamarama‘ or the chilly presence of the spurned male lover in ‘Chance Meeting‘.

Starry Eyes – Verse 1
Valerie please believe it never could work out
The time to make plans has passed faded away
Oooh the way you look makes my starry eyes shiver
Then I look away too much for one day

Valerie please: there is the sense that love object Valerie is not actually present, no more present than Virginia Plain or even the woman behind that famous license plate CPL593H. Is the speaker looking at a photograph, a movie, or calling up a memory. The clue to the point-of-view is contained in the sudden shift from the plea-making of Valerie please believe to the voyeuristic gasp of Oooh the way you look/makes my starry eyes shiver. If the time to make plans has “faded” away, then she is no longer part of the present moment. The “way you look”, then, is contextual, and she lives or exists in some other form. The glare from the memory or photo is so bright he must turn away – too much for one day, at least.

The killer line here is of course Oooh the way you look/makes my starry eyes shiver, an image that deliciously identifies the silver screen obsessions of the singer/narrator – he is literally star-struck, dazzled by what he sees before him, physically present or otherwise. Contained in this image is a reflexive hall of mirrors identifying not only what he sees but how he sees her. These are his starry eyes, after all, Ferry’s word-choice suggesting a self-aware narcissism – an increasingly important element in Roxy’s songs as the singer/song-writer starts to unhinge a little as his fame increases and an emotional disconnection begins to settle into his relationships and word-view, a factor that will play a significant role in several key For Your Pleasure tracks such as ‘In Every Dream Home, A Heartache’ and ‘The Bogus Man’.

Starry eyes shiver is a phrase of poetic language that draws us away from naturalism towards pure cinematic magic. One of the greatest pop magicians is, of course, Beatles main man John Lennon. Lennon wrote and published two books of stories, cartoons and funny poetry (‘In His Own Write‘/’A Spaniard in the Works’) and crafted a series of brilliant postmodern masterpieces that highlighted pop artifice at its best, including ‘I Am the Walrus‘, perhaps the best example of a kind of self-conscious writing that explodes the myth of what a pop song is and can be (Yellow matter custard/ dripping from a dead dog’s eye/Crabalocker fishwife/Pornographic priestess) all the while taking great delight in rendering language meaningless – Goo goo g’joob, indeed!

One of Bryan Ferry’s greatest covers was, tellingly, a Roxy Music recording: John Lennon’s ‘Jealous Guy’ was taped as a tribute two months after Lennon’s death in December, 1980. This greatest of songs – that rarity when the original stands untouchable yet is enhanced and extended by the cover version – demonstrated an emotional honesty and a self-questioning maturity not seen during Lennon’s Beatle years. Fed up with word-games and LSD, Lennon moved towards a more concise language whereby tangerine trees and marmalade skies (’67) gave way to the clearer and calmer images of Thoughts meander like a restless wind (’68), to the near-nuclear clarity of the John Lennon/Plastic Ono band and ‘My Mummy’s Dead‘ (’70). Incredible stuff. As a student Bryan Ferry was clearly listening and taking note, as any aspiring artist would. As much a fan of Cole Porter as Bob Dylan, Ferry was keenly aware of the song-craft excellence of the writers of the 40s and 50s, and the music of the imaginative 60s and the incredible changes that had taken place during that time (see: ‘Revolution in the Head‘).  It is no surprise therefore that in coming to compose ‘Beauty Queen’ Ferry chose his hero John Lennon’s late 60s haunting ‘Julia‘ as poetic inspiration and linguistic baseline for the Roxy ballad.  Here’s the Lennon’s lyric in full:

Half of what I say is meaningless
But I say it just to reach you, Julia

Julia, Julia, oceanchild, calls me
So I sing a song of love, Julia
Julia, seashell eyes, windy smile, calls me
So I sing a song of love, Julia

Her hair of floating sky is shimmering, glimmering,
In the sun

Julia, Julia, morning moon, touch me
So I sing a song of love, Julia

When I cannot sing my heart
I can only speak my mind, Julia

Julia, sleeping sand, silent cloud, touch me
So I sing a song of love, Julia
Hum hum hum hum…calls me
So I sing a song of love for Julia, Julia, Julia

Half of what I say is meaningless...Lennon acknowledges the limitations of language and of the chance of making a real connection, but he soldiers on nonetheless just to reach you, Julia. Ferry delights in matching Lennon’s hippie phrasing (windy smile vs patterns drawn in sand; silent clouds vs swaying palms) and Lennon’s preferred alliterative use of “s” is adopted by Ferry throughout – seashell smile/sleep/sand/silent becomes starry/shimmer/swimming/ sea. Metaphor is shared (Lennon’s “seashell eyes” become Ferry’s “swimming pool eyes“) and adjectives are interchangeable – Lennon’s floating sky shimmering becomes Ferry’s starry eyes that shiver, and so on. There is no meanness of spirit or intent in Ferry’s utilization of the tricks and techniques of poetry – nor did Lennon invent the form – but you can tell that Lennon’s lyrical and linguistic approach was in Ferry’s blood, and who better to tip his hat to those 50s/60s references and influences than the man who had laid down his 70s cultural manifesto in Elvis Presley Vampire gear on Top of The Pops.

Just as the subject is absent in ‘BQ’, so too with ‘Julia’: Lennon’s mother was struck by a car and killed at age 44 – and only a few photos of her remained. Having recently re-kindled his relationship with his mother in his early teens (Julia had left the boy when he was a toddler) the blow to Lennon, understandably, was incalculable and contributed to his cynical and sarcastic view of his life and the fame game (they didn’t want me so they made me a starI Found Out). Screen Shot 2017-11-26 at 8.27.15 AM For Lennon, ‘Julia‘ marks the acknowledgement of a shifting of influence of his muse mother to over to Yoko Ono – the line “Ocean child calls me” refers to Ono, whose name means ‘child of the sea’ in Japanese. For Ferry, Valerie is similarly a staple of the past (faded away) and an ocean child calling to him (winds could not erase/The memory of your face). And it is here that Ferry leaves the stratosphere (literally, as we’ll see in the final verse) as he subverts the very idea of poetic revelation – that is to say, he takes Lennon’s idea of “half of what I say is meaningless“, absorbs its lessons and conjures up his own-style modern love song. The difference between the two ballads is that, although both writers call on their mystical muse, Ferry cannot take its value or “message” quite seriously, as he recognizes the limitations of memory not only as a process of recollection but also how it recreates or re-constructs the past. This is a familiar Ferry motif, and is captured most completely in Re-make/Re-model:

I tried but I could not find a way
Looking back all I did was look away

In looking away from the memory of the past, the singer candidly admits he cannot take basic emotional stimuli seriously: looking back provides no answers, no way forward. In both ‘Re-make’ and ‘BQ’ the narrator turns from the emotional connection of memory in favour of something more… artificial. In short, there is absolutely no way this singer-songwriter is going to look back on the memories of his life – the loves, losses, pain, growth – and write it straight. He may admire Lennon’s linguistic gifts, he may go back to the classical song structures of the 40s and 50s to understand and utilize popular song structure and appeal (in time the lessons would be useful and lucrative) but this was merely a secondary consideration to the essential purpose of fulfilling the requirements of the recently declared Roxy manifesto: So me and you, just we two, got to reach for something new.

For Bryan Ferry the only reliable truth is the truth of Art, of the act of living, recording, and re-playing life’s experiences in a playful, self-aware construct of your own choosing – preferably those fantastic starry dreamscapes based in part on the Rich & Famous, and the Glamour of Cinema and Hollywood. This is not necessarily the truth of the matter as Brian Eno and Andy Mackay would come to see it – more of that later –  but all Roxy members at the time believed in the pursuit and definition of a new kind of popular music and artistic intention. ‘Beauty Queen’ uses as its starting point the ballad form and subverts its by utilizing the poetic mannerisms of 1960s celestial and shiny prose and wrapping it up in imagery that is filtered through a cinematic or ‘modern’ sensibility: Oooooh the way you look – part parody, part earnest. The result becomes a wonderful mixture of the heartfelt and ironic; the song’s warmth and popularity with fans defines success in part because of the utilization of old tricks wrapped in an approach that screams “performance”. But within this achievement lies a core question – how to move forward? The subject of the second Roxy Music album is the story of Ferry searching for a new muse, for himself and for his times, and during the unfolding of For Your Pleasure, we witness him using all of his creative powers to identify and harness (and tame) that muse, and he knows, intuitively, that danger lies ahead..

Credits
The Sphinx, by British painter Augustus John, from Bryan Ferry’s personal collection; BF performing with Roxy Music 1972; Roxy mural; the fantastic Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, I Was a Rich Man’s Plaything, 1947; Our “Man of the Decade“, John Ono Lennon; John and his mum, Julia; Amanda Lear For Your Pleasure cover out-take (panther and photo liberties, yours truly).

Beauty Queen Part 2 – December 2017

Titbits
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http://www.beatlesagain.com/btwhite.html

With the anniversary of John Lennon’s death nearing (December 8) it is enough to say that the love for the man never fades. Though deified as a Saint by his peers and subsequent generations, Lennon was actually a man of his time, misogynist, heavy-handed, difficult, but ever-searching, massively talented, and, safe-to-say, like all of us, his search and desire to make himself a better person would have been better suited to a longer life, if only he had been given the chance.

While we’re imagining the universe and its infinite possible outcomes (a side-step here, a ride to the front door instead of a moment to talk to fans) think about the Beatles White Album as it almost was, provisionally titled A Doll’s House, with the proposed cover, above. Now, wouldn’t that have been something? Or just one of many possible outcomes. We miss you JL.

 


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Do the Strand – Part 2

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!).

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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
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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 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.

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Next: Beauty Queen/November 2017

 


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Do The Strand – Part 1

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Do the Strand
Do the Strand (Live, Viva!)

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 evergreensfoliage 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

jr
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.

-Lenny Bruce

Came across this Melody Maker piece after the post was published. Nice one!

dancable solution

Part 2 – October 20 2017

Credits
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

Titbits

lady biffing dork
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.


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Pyjamarama

Screen Shot 2017-07-24 at 8.27.51 PM

Pyjamarama
Pyjamarama (Viva! live)
Pyjamarama (Polydor Mix, 1976)

‘Pyjamarama’ is a great song, funky and cool, and very stylized. Yet it fits uneasily within the Roxy canon, feeling much more like an album cut. But then – on which album would it be placed, and what running order? Recorded and released as a singles-only promotional track for the upcoming (not yet recorded) album For Your Pleasure, ‘PJ’ marked a few important “firsts” for the band: first use of George Martin’s newly opened Air Studios on Oxford Street, first use of Beatles/Pink Floyd co-producer Chris Thomas, first Bryan Ferry composition on guitar – check out the “ta-da!” opening to hear the grandeur and importance of it all. It was also the first time the production sounded really good: Ferry’s voice is clear and thick, and intelligible; Paul Thompson’s drumming is robust and placed high in the mix, and it can be said with no hesitation that musically this is a great performance from the band, as Andy MacKay and Phil Manzanera join Thompson to define the collective synergy that enabled Roxy Music to produce its very best music over the next decade.

Brian Eno didn’t think much of ‘Pyjamarama’  (“We should never have put it out as a single“), but John Peel loved it (“another dandy pearl from the boys,”) and it was popular with fans and easily made Top 10 in the UK. The hesitation came mostly from the circumstances of the recording, which were by all accounts rushed: between ‘Virginia Plain’ and ‘Pyjamarama’ (June 1972-Feb 1973) the band played at least 77 concerts, had their lead singer hospitalized for tonsillitis, replaced two bass players,  played a triumphant re-scheduled tour of the UK, played a dispiriting, unsuccessful tour of the USA, and now were back home, welcomed into a chilly London winter and tasked with creating a follow-up hit single and album.

The recording sessions for ‘Pyjamarama’ saw bass player Ric Kenton replaced by John Porter, a friend of Bryan Ferry’s and musical partner in the pre-Roxy University band the Gas Board. Porter was a strong influence in the group, very musical, and went on to do solo Ferry and Andy Mackay records, in addition to producing the first Smiths album (a place in the history books thereby assured).  In the 70s the ongoing joke about the displacement of Roxy Music’s bass players was that they were most often the worst or dullest dressed in the band. In point of fact, switching out bass players made perfect musical sense. Mackay, Manzenera, Eno and Thompson were a heavy-weight of talent ready to coil and fire, given the chance.  Despite that Roxy Music had been voted as Best New Act in all of the rock music papers (Record Mirror, Disc, NME, Melody Maker) Eno was chomping at the bit to change things up, to stretch his musical boundaries. As Ferry recuperated from his operation and the UK tour was re-scheduled and performed to glowing reviews, Eno joined his art-performance ensemble friends The Portsmouth Sinfonia for a concert at London’s Queen Elizabeth hall, performing such feel-good hits as Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet and The Raising of the Titanic. Yet despite general band misgivings about the rush-job and timing and recording session,  ‘Pyjamarama’ is actually fairly experimental, both in its sound and its execution. For starters, it was not an overtly commercial song in the sense that ‘Virginia Plain’ was; and just like VP the band again achieved a Top 10 hit without the aid of a chorus or discernible hook.  The “hook” in this case is replaced by two dissonant instrumental breaks, the first is by Andy Mackay and is completely mental in its sound and execution, producing the famous “handsome noise” that John Peel commented on in his glowing review of the single.

Much had been made of ‘Pajamarama’ being Ferry’s first use of guitar as compositional tool, yet the strummed  introduction (“ta-da-da”) is the only place were this in fact makes much of a difference. The opening bars are high-drama bravado, an overture to announce that Roxy Music were back, ready for action and as full of promise and excitement as ever. The opening was a big tease, sly even, and unabashedly earnest. Ferry chose to set the song in Eb (E-flat), defined by Classicists as the key of  “love, of devotion, of intimate conversation with God.” (Musical Keys).  The “lifting-up” introduction is very effective as a scene-setter: check out the version on Viva! and consider for a moment that the song’s natural role should have been as a concert opener for every show they ever did. (No complaints from this side of the house). Shifting to the verse 30 seconds in, the reverie turns funky, and by all accounts, solicitous: couldn’t sleep a wink last night we’re told, and all at once we are set up for a classic Roxy Music faire une confession, and this one has considerable bite to it. In ‘Virginia Plain’ the author made a deal with the devil for fame and money: what now were the effects fame would have on love?

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Couldn’t sleep a wink last night
Oh how I’d love to hold you tight
They say you have a secret life
Made sacrifice your key to paradise
Never mind, take the world by storm
Just boogaloo a rhapsody divine
Take a sweet girl just like you
How nice if only we could bill and coo

Couldn’t sleep a wink takes us out of the fan-fare introduction and into a catchy but kooky and idiosyncratic musical funkiness, followed by an equally kooky and idiosyncratic vocal delivery by Ferry.  The music is tight and percussion and tambourine and bass are in lock-step here, with Porter’s new sound fitting right into the groove, perhaps even creating it. Eno has a nicely urgent bleeping synth note chasing down Ferry’s ultra-cool delivery and Paul Thompson’s drumming is exactly right, as the song is a tough one to get to swing properly, and in contrast to the opening section, the verse is considerably cooler, and is to be held together, held in place, oh just so. Then Andy Mackay comes along and throttles the bejesus out of the proceedings at 1.03, holding his opening note a full six seconds as the unwilling air around him is sucked into the saxophone and spat out the other side as if abused by a wrecking ball. It’s a lovely little lick Andy plays, very lively and clever, so lively in fact that Eno decides to goose-step the solo by programming his VCS3 to simulate the sound of the saxophone drowning – so incongruous is the juxtaposition of sax and synthesizer that, if you think about it, and you add Ferry’s hilarious ‘if only we could bill and coo-oo’ you may have actually found the secret sauce to which Roxy Music is built on. Lively, catchy, coy, funny, dissonant, urgent – you heard it here first.

As a package, ‘Pyjamarama’ is presented as a mystery.  The atmosphere of the song is utterly unlike ‘Virginia Plain’, that road movie on amphetamines. Instead, ‘PJ’ is like a dose of your favourite drug, administered by acolytes while a Turkish bath is being slavishly prepared across town at your private villa. You get the picture – above all, sensual. ‘Virginia Plain’ flirted with mystery too, its puns and illusions, its slippery surface in no hurry to reveal the identify of the love object. It was this aura of mysteriousness and seduction that was at the heart of Roxy Music’s appeal and popularity in early 1973, and the band enjoyed to tease, presenting the single and the upcoming album as an exercise in seduction and play, designed especially ‘for your pleasure’.  The voice hooks you right away with its graceful appeal to longing and desire, Couldn’t sleep a wink last night/Oh how I’d love to hold you tight.  Then it very quickly turns to the mysterious: They say you have a secret life/Made sacrifice your key to paradise. What a remarkable thing to say so early in the song –  I am crazy for you, I physically yearn for you, but people say have a secret life and that you may actually be dangerous. The “You” here is the object of desire (hold you tight); a subject of gossip (they say); mysterious (secret life); and strong (made sacrifice). This is almost a stock representation description of a 1940s and 50s cinema’s femme fatale archetype.  While it is true that Roxy did not go into Air Studios with a overarching plan for the next record (only one or two tracks having been written when recording started) Ferry’s cinematic interests extended to the film noir style, especially the themes of the mysterious and seductive woman whose “charms ensnare her lovers”(Wiki)  – just look at the cover of For Your Pleasure, where the femme fatale is so omnipotent she is leading a black panther on a leash. In literature, a black panther is an age-old symbol of death, hence the femme fatale is literally leading death around on a leash, choosing her moment to release her darkness and terminal ruination on any unsuspecting (male) victim – in this case a rather happy-chappy and recognizable chauffeur. As even the most casual Roxy fan knows, this particular femme fatale was the socialite and model Amanda Lear,  the subject and prime-mover, arguably, of ‘Pyjamarama’s secret life.

for your pleasureIn Italy I’m big because they’re all so sex-obsessed,” Lear once said of her Italian fan-base. “In Germany I succeeded because they’ve been waiting for someone like Marlene Dietrich to come along ever since the war. I played on their need for a drunken, nightclubbing vamp” (Guardian). In the same manner that ‘Virginia Plain’s Baby Jane Hozer was a strong-willed, independent woman from high-society background, Amanda Lear was also part of the 60s and 70s nightclub scene, her name linked in with David Bowie, Bryan Ferry and others, including Brian Jones, who wrote the Rolling Stones track Miss Amanda Jones about her. What is more interesting than her affairs with rock stars however is her relationship with Salvador Dali, the prominent Spanish surrealist painter and artist and publicity hound. Now, Dali is an interesting case in his own right – his subjects and interests included symbolism, science, sculpture, fashion and photography, theatre and film, literature (he wrote a novel). Tagged as a gimmicky art merchant in the 70s and 80s, Dali has since been cited as a major inspiration by many modern artists, such as Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, and Roxy Music muse Andy Warhol proclaimed him an important influence on pop art. Dalí met Amanda Lear at a French nightclub in 1965, when she was still known under the incredible name of Peki D’Oslo. According to Lear, she and Dalí were united in a “spiritual marriage” on a deserted mountaintop. Lear took the place of an earlier Dali muse, Ultra Violet (Isabelle Collin Dufresne), who had left Dalí’s side to join The Factory of Andy Warhol (the plot thickens!).

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 also ‘Rebel Rebel‘, ah hem). 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).

dali

There are several different versions of how and where Bryan Ferry and Amanda Lear met – some say in August 1972 at the Rainbow Theatre in London during the support gig for David Bowie; others, that Ferry saw her on stage at a fashion show (Q). Some reliable sources even say they were engaged for a time, but we do not much care for these private details here, as our concern is primarily a careful reading of the lyrical and music content of the songs and not the social life of its authors. However, you can’t help but make associations, as Ferry’s style was quickly evolving into, as Nick De Ville would say, “I have this problem, I’m writing this pop song” – a meta-analysis of the world in which he had only recently entered, the work buffered and protected by dense literary and social puns, allusions, and inventive narrative imagery. Yet, make no mistake, his work was confessional in the sense that his experiences were being analyzed and interrogated, and the deeper search for meaning in a “looking glass world” was starting to be pushed front and center now that he had joined the fame game club. In ‘Pyjamarama’ the party is in full swing as the clandestine couple grab a private moment and our narrator leans in and whispers, Couldn’t sleep a wink last night/Oh how I’d love to hold you tight:

They say you have a secret life
Made sacrifice your key to paradise
Never mind, take the world by storm
Just boogaloo a rhapsody divine
Take a sweet girl just like you
How nice if only we could bill and coo

They say you have a secret life: ‘Secret Life’ is the title of Dali’s famous book
Made sacrifice your key to paradise: sex-change; deception of age and origin
Never mind, take the world by storm: the sacrifice will lead to success

Then, another shift in tone, and a move to judgement:

Just boogaloo a rhapsody divine: the text book meaning for rhapsody is an “effusively enthusiastic or ecstatic expression of feeling”, an intensity of emotion that is almost religious in its intensity – we hear this during the song’s 30 second intro. Ferry undercuts the sentiment by suggesting the woman “boogaloo” the divine – that is to say, turn rapture into a cheap (Latin) dance move. Cheapen the experience, commercialize it. High art becomes low art and Roxy Music continue their examination of trash and its increasing value in modern culture.

Take a sweet girl just like you: again, there is a trace of salt in these words – based on what we’ve seen so far this femme fatale is far from “sweet” and the “take a girl just like you” quip suggests she (and her fame dream) are dime-a-dozen, with thousands of hapless others willing to re-create and pimp themselves for stardom (Ferry, once citing himself as an “orchid born a coal tip” includes himself in this equation, obviously).

How nice if only we could bill and coo: one of the singer’s funniest lines, with a brilliant camp delivery (bill and coo-u-ooo). Again, there is shade and contrast here, as these two rather sophisticated types, full of self-interest, are placed in the context of a soft nest in which to nuzzle and purr and coo at one another. Secret lives, mysterious origins, affairs, world domination – these two would never win the lead roles in Bill and Coo, the 1948 film directed by Dean Riesner, a film that Ferry is sure to have known as it was a very popular entertainment for children in the UK, as a town of  birds is terrorized by a crow known called the Black Menace. Turn to the archetype of Lear as femme fatale and darkness incarnate and you can see the vision of For Your Pleasure being built in Ferry’s mind in this, the first song recorded at Air studios for the album.

Andy Mackay’s wonderful “handsome noise” solo at 1.03 propels us into the second half of the song, which is a mirror image of the first half, with the subject of the narrative focusing shifting to the male suitor and Andy’s musical solo being repeated on guitar by the magnificent Phil Manzanera, the musician who around this time stepped out of the shadows to contribute and define the classic Roxy Music sound.

I may seem a fool to you for ev’rything
I say or think or do
How could I apologise for all those lies
The world may keep us far apart but up in heaven, angel
You can have my heart

In the first verse the subject is the woman, the “you” who has a secret life, who made the right sacrifices and is set to take the world by storm. The second verse shifts to “I”, the man, the narrator of the song, who is apologizing for his very existence I may seem a fool to you for ev’rything/I say or think or do. His plea for forgiveness confirms we are eavesdropping on a couple’s clandestine break-up (How could I apologise for all those lies). The issue is, we know there is no apology forthcoming (it’s how could I apologise as opposed to how can I apologise) and by his own standards of judgement (up in heaven) the man is guilty. Two things are happening here: the narrator starts out by identifying and judging the woman (he sees through her), then shifts to judgment on his own actions (he sees through himself). But really, who can you trust? (I may seem a fool to you). Well, the answer of course, as any Roxy fan can attest, is to be found in the following run of brilliant songs on For Your Pleasure and Stranded, particularly ‘In Every Dream Home, a Heartache’ and ‘Psalm’. Ferry lands on a narrative strategy here by developing an idea he first hinted at in ‘Virginia Plain’: the role divinity plays in the lives of people. From this point on during the 70s until Manifesto in 1979, Roxy Music would explore both musically and lyrically how divinity as a spiritual Ideal provides us mere mortals (and rock stars) with the sign-posts on how to live; for Roxy, the divine is much less about “God” as a thing or religion as a collective, but as a place where Nature or Art is seen as one of the means of connecting yourself to a higher spirit or intelligence. Bryan Ferry uses the divine as a totem to measure and judge his actions, his moral code, and, in the end, the worthiness and success of his art.

The world may keep us far apart but up in heaven, angel/you can have my heart: the temptations of the flesh in this beastly world mean, frankly dear, you’ll have to wait until we are pure Spirit before you stand a chance of holding me down. This is both wonderfully honest and of course extremely self-serving: Ferry is looking up to the heavens, and saying – fuck it, catch you later – the time for fun is now. Let me catch up to Immortality and Goodness when I’m done with this corporeal road trip. Come on Angel, why do you think I had to tell all those lies?

Boogaloo the Divine

The concluding lines of the song offer up an opportunity for you, the listener, to see where you land on a key question:

Diamonds may be your best friend
But like laughter after tears
I’ll follow you to the end

In your own emotional experience, what does laughter after tears mean to you? Is it an image of reconciliation, that all becomes good once the sobbing has stopped (as explored by R.E.M in ‘Sweetness Follows‘); or is it a mocking gesture, best articulated in private (as explored by XTC in ‘Me and the Wind Are Celebrating Your Loss‘). The final dedication is unequivocal however: I’ll follow you to the end. This is either an act of intentional damnation for all eternity (we are the same creature you and I, and this will be our ruination), or something much different, for this divine dance has been mostly played out on the human scale, with its social play, its concern with appearance and diamonds and gossip and dramatic romantic gestures played to packed houses. Think pyjama party with Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence in the play Private Lives. On the microcosmic scale this is a comedy of manners, a pyjama-drama played out by modern people who are unlikely to illicit our sympathy (he is a liar, she a manipulator). Yet by the time we get to laughter after tears, there are no regrets, and we turn to heaven where, at least in the world of Higher Ideals, he will follow you to the end.

Phil Manzanera’s wonderful guitar break closes the song – a genuinely fine and uplifting solo that repeats the central motif, then goes back on it, then forward again, with Paul Thompson’s juggernaut drumming propelling the whole scene outwards and upwards to a conclusion. This is a bursting forth moment, the musical equivalent of joy and rapture, a coming into the light, like laughter after tears.  We have come back full circle to the song’s opening celestial overture, our divine key of Eb (E-flat) with its emotional effect “of love, of devotion, of intimate conversation with God.” Remember this has been a Pyjama-rama, and Rama, in the oldest Sanskrit epic poem Ramayana, is the Lord of Virtue and he and and his wife Sita are the very essence of purity – a shining example of martial devotion that our two earth-bound lovers could only aspire to. Using the guitar as a compositional tool for the first time, Ferry playfully opens the song with a devotional overture to to God (“ta-da-da”!), and then proceeds to judge his own actions in the context of the Divine, a role he understands, perhaps, but can never possibly fulfill.

tina and kevin

Credits: a painting of the 10-headed enemy of love, the demon Ravana. Rava kidnaps Sita, and is rescued by the noble Lord of Virtue, Rama (http://www.ancient.eu/Rama/); Italian copy of the single; NME review of the single; PJ original inner label 6159-A (that oddly does not credit Chris Thomas as co-producer); For Your Pleasure gatefold sleeve w/Amanda Lear and Bryan Ferry, design Ferry, Nicholas Deville art direction, photography; The Secret Life of Salvador Dali (by Salvador Dali); Bill and Coo, the 1948 film directed by Dean Riesner; Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence in the play Private Lives; two prints of the divine love of Sita and Rava


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Virginia Plain – Part 5

dylan 1
Oh a false clock tries to tick out my time
To disgrace, distract, and bother me
And the dirt of gossip blows into my face
And the dust of rumors covers me
But if the arrow is straight
And the point is slick
It can pierce through dust no matter how thick
So I’ll make my stand
And remain as I am
And bid farewell and not give a damn.

-Bob Dylan, ‘Restless Farewell’, The Times They Are a-Changin (1964).

Every decade popular music re-experiences what Pete Townshend called “the bloody explosion” – the wonderful collision of music, energy and sex, the desire to get out of your head, break chains, kill boredom, be free. ‘Virginia Plain’ is a 70s road movie about that bloody explosion, and it is in the details of its flamboyance that is has been most celebrated. The song performed a career-defining double for the band: the university crowd bought the first album Roxy Music by the truck-load; and the kids bought ‘Virginia Plain’, not once but twice, propelling it to #4 in the charts in 1972, and then five years later their younger brothers and sisters took it to #11. This was cross-pollination of a kind that only happens once or twice in a band’s career, and it provided Roxy with longevity  in a tough and fickle business, re-uniting art, commerce, and accessibility most fully 10 years later in 1982 with Avalon.

In the meantime ‘Virginia Plain’ had to conclude its 2.58 minutes of pop art lunacy and Roxy had to get on with the business of taking a hit album and single on the road. Onwards and upwards and over to America, be damned, the country of origin for much, but not all, of ‘Virginia Plain’s imagery. One of the unexpected surprises of writing about VP over the past few months is the sheer depth and weight of its lyrical content – the five blog entries have totaled the same page count as that written for the first album Roxy Music. One song equaling one album! What a trip. And so it is fitting now to move on to the riches of ‘Pyjamarama’ and For Your Pleasure, as we arrive at the conclusion of our roller-coaster ride, destination reached, a place where Bryan Ferry, adopting the words of Bob Dylan, will make my stand/and remain as I am.Screen Shot 2017-07-02 at 9.30.02 AMAnd you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go to?
– ‘
Once in a Lifetime (Talking Heads/Eno)

Well, that highway could go something like this:

I: Make me a deal: The first verse presents the art project Roxy Music as they negotiate a music contract. As desperate as the band are to make the big time, the narrator reckons he may be making a deal with the devil. The verse cuts like a knife: make it/take it/show it/blow it.

II: What’s real and make belief: The journey kicks in, we lurch towards money, America, fame, and a walk with God. Don’t judge me or mess with my pride, the writer tells his Maker – isn’t it all just fiction anyway? The band hit the big time, leave Baby Jane in the dust and head for Rio. Take me/take me/take me.

III: Sinking fast: Enter teenage waste land for a hipster jive with fame. Take a trip to the dead desert for the Last Picture show; shake hands with dead and disposable rebels; drive in your mummified car and visit the ghosts of the sheer and the chic.  Trying/jiving/driving (drive-in).

IV: Reach For Something New: Shaking off the vibes from the previous verse, we now enjoy the view from mountain peak, enjoying exclusive access to those blue casino floors. Oh wow! We are characters in the Great Gatsby, reaching for something new. Burn those blue jeans, slaps on some lipstick and join the revolution. Me and you/just we two.

V: Far Beyond the Pale Horizon
Far beyond the pale horizon
Some place near the desert strand
And where my Studebaker takes me
That’s where I’ll make my stand but wait
Can’t you see that Holzer mane?
What’s her name, Virginia Plain?

Verse 5 is a consolidation of the ideas and images that have taken us to this mythical place beyond the pale horizon. By the journey’s conclusion, Ferry has shared his dreams (Americana, fame), influences (jazz, dance, cars), and fears (clutching at straws, sinking fast). The song serves as a psychological review of an artist’s state of mind as it becomes aware of a radical change brewing on the horizon.  Thankfully Ferry would continue this self-interrogation right through Roxy’s first five albums and beyond. The reason why ‘Virginia Plain’ is not cited as an example of meta-analysis in the same manner as, say, ‘Mother of Pearl’, is that the music is locomotive straight, lots of fun and catchy enough to captivate the ear on first listening without necessarily having to worry about the detail.

Eschewing a chorus in favor of a thrashing two-chord verse romp, ‘Virginia Plain’s forward moment is aided by a sentence structure that emphasizes the accents within each line. Look at the first three lines of each stanza and you see the repeating 8/7/8 pattern:

/           /     /     /    /      /      /            /
Make me a deal and make it straight [8]
All signed and sealed, I’ll take it [7]
To Robert E. Lee I’ll show it [8]

Take me on a roller coaster [8]
Take me for an airplane ride [7]
Take me for a six day wonder [8]

Throw me a line I’m sinking fast [8]
Clutching at straws can’t make it [7]
Havana sound we’re trying [8]

Flavours of the mountain streamline [8]
Midnight blue casino floors [7]
Dance the cha cha through till sunrise [8]

Far beyond the pale horizon [8]
Some place near the desert strand [7]
And where my Studebaker takes me [9]

Stanza five breaks the pattern for no reason other than “studebaker” is a bit of a mouthful! With this movement forward we eventually arrive at our destination, that mysterious place beyond the pale horizon. ‘Pale’ is an interesting word choice because being pale is to be without color: “lacking the usual intensity of color due to fear,” (Cambridge). To be beyond the pale is to “travel outside of a boundary. To leave behind all the rules and institutions of English society,” (Urbandictionary). The Irish origin of the word identifies The Pale as a geographical district for the well-heeled and educated; to live beyond The Pale was to be part of the lower social classes and, presumably, live among the uneducated and the Great Unwashed. Bryan Ferry, channeling his creative energies into a new style rock band, states his desire to seek out the new and leave polite society behind, break the chains of conformity, and live life on the edge with his new art. If this was biographical criticism then we have the coal-miner’s son trying to re-invent himself and leave behind his working-class background and origins. He takes us with him to party on the midnight blue casino floors and greet the pink flamingo morning,  onwards and outwards as the day brightens (pale horizon) and intensifies (desert strand). Tracing both the desire and distrust of fame, Roxy Music move beyond the pale horizon and land “some place near” the desert strand. And where my Studebaker takes me…Screen Shot 2017-07-02 at 9.31.43 AMAcutely aware of the cruel nature of fame’s double-edged sword as lived by James Dean, Baby Jane, and Robert Johnson (he of devil-deal making) our singer/songwriter hero rides into the final scene of ‘Virginia Plain’ in his (un)trusty Studebaker, comically echoing the words of Bob Dylan and General Custer as he does so:  And where my Studebaker takes me/That’s where I’ll make my stand. Ferry is referencing Bob Dylan’s song ‘Restless Farewell’, the last track on the seminal album The Times They Are a-Changin (1964). The song was written by Dylan in anger in response to a newspaper article that he felt contained a number of hurtful comments and untruths. Dylan’s is a song of confession and moving on,  of saying, this is me, I’ve done my best, that’s all I can do, that’s how I am: Oh a false clock tries to tick out my time/To disgrace,/distract, and bother me/And the dirt of gossip blows into my face/So I’ll make my stand/And stay as I am. Ferry would have been well familiar with the song  – “[Dylan] brought poetry into pop music,” he told the Telegraph after completing an album of Dylan covers in 2007 – and the singer uses the sentiment to define his own professional modis operandi: remain as I am/bid farewell/not give a damn.

The problem for Ferry of course is that he does give a damn, and was sensitive to early criticisms of Roxy Music as a fake trumped-up band, dressing up, lacking talent, not paying dues.  At the time of ‘Virginia Plain’s composition, Ferry explained the criticism away as Roxy being an art-project first and a pop band second: “I came into pop music from a different angle. And a lot of people still resent me for it. That was one of the strengths and also the cross that I was sort of impaled on,” (Rogan, 44). This observation is written into the song as a statement of independence, echoing Bob Dylan’s make my stand/remain as I am. Years later the criticism continued and intensified. In 1978, Ferry, sporting an LA tan, mirror sunglasses and fashion-model girlfriend (Jerry Hall) experienced a ground-shift in his support base, and a deep suspicion was cast over his ability to speak – or have empathy with – his fans and ordinary people. At the time of the Queen’s Jubilee and the punk rock explosion, “entertainment” and artifice in rock and pop was under attack, as it had been when Roxy started out in 1971 during the earnest scraggly beard era. Authenticity was identified as political and class-based. Street-cred was everything. Even the best music writers were hard-core drug users (NME scribes Nick Kent and Charles Shaar Murray were heroin and meta-amphetamine addicts, respectively). Unfortunately, Ferry took the bait and errors in judgement was made. Scrambling for direction, the singer grew a beard to promote one of his best and toughest solo recordings, ‘Sign of the Times‘ – growing a beard in 1977/8 was like putting a sign on your head that read BORING OLD FART. Interviews with the singer were printed in a harsh unedited format that made you feel like you were eavesdropping on a Church confessional. In fact one article was actually called Darkness Falls: Ferry in the Confessional, and reads like ‘Virginia Plain’s deal with the devil had now gone all horribly wrong, and the song’s lost idols and ghosts were now closing in on the pop idol: “If people hate me, fuck them” he said. “I know how good I am, and as long as I have faith in myself, I’ll continue. And, as far as I’m concerned at the moment, everybody else can just go and fuck themselves” (Melody Maker, 1978). Markedly prophetic, the sentiment in ‘Virginia Plain’ is both open (where my Studebaker takes me) and defiant (That’s where I’ll make my stand). It is also forward looking (far beyond the pale horizon) and exciting (but wait). And then it posits that final question…custer
That’s where I make my stand… Battle of the Little Bighorn (The Custer Fight) by Charles Marion Russell

But wait…

There’s a wonderful moment in ‘Virginia Plain’ when Roxy Music asks us, the listener, if we are going to share in this new future:

And where my Studebaker takes me
That’s where I’ll make my stand but wait
Can’t you see that Holzer mane?
What’s her name, Virginia Plain?

One of the many gifts of Bryan Ferry’s song-craft is his belief in his art, and his willingness to share his most intimate feelings, joys, fears and inadequacies. For this he is on par with his heroes Bob Dylan and John Lennon, men who often stumbled in public but always strove to tell the truth as close as they could perceive it at the time. This level of self-interrogation takes guts and no shortage of humor to stay the course. Our hero rides into scene on his (untrusty) Studebaker to beat the critical insurgence coming from the South. In a quest for understanding, he turns to address his audience:

Can’t you see that Holzer mane?

Baby Jane Holzer, the signifier being her hair (not eyes or smile) but the appendage to which Warhol’s superstar is most famous for. Are you, the listener (just we two), seeing this as I do?

What’s her name, Virginia Plain?

The age old songs-about-women is both celebrated and undercut: undercut in that the mystery of the girl is never revealed in the song, nor mentioned at all in the romantic sense. This is not ‘Sweet Caroline’ as a mystery woman, or ‘Ruby’ as she takes her love to town, or even love object ‘Peggy Sue’.  This is a love story between singer and audience: Just as two flamingos look the same, me and you/just we too/got to reach for something new.  Do you see what I see, or more importantly, do you see how I see it? For I am everything that I hear, read and watch – I am the Great Gatsby; I am the Last Picture Show; I am the teenage rebel; I am the New York art scene in the 1960s; I am James Dean; I am a flight to Rio; I am Andy Warhol.

Just look at the surface of my paintings and films… And there I am.

maryln wink 2
Credits: Pete Townshend, Rolling Stone interview, 1968; Roxy Music promo and in the studio with Chris Thomas, 1972, More Dark Than Shark; Battle of the Little Bighorn (The Custer Fight) by Charles Marion Russell; Marilyn Munroe photographed by  Philippe Halsman.

Titbits

 

If Roxy Music never wrote a good song the rest of their careers, they still have that, and it’s great.
-John Lydon, interview, 2012