Song to the Siren

It’s been 11 years of writing this blog, and in that time I’ve covered a lot of things. My first post, on November 5th 2008, was a Zap Mama song, followed the next day by Nick Cave’s Abattoir Blues, and Barack Obama’s Presidential acceptance speech. Obviously, it was a very mixed bag right out of the gate. Inevitably, a lot of things have changed; my writing format for the better, the rest of the world for… not so much. If anything has been a running throughline that hasn’t changed, it’s the regular appearance of nearly identical fawning blog posts about Bryan Ferry. It seems that I always have the same damn thoughts when Ferry comes up: he is so dreamy, his hair is beautiful, he is the apex of all men, he makes me want to wander the moors in non-weather-appropriate evening wear, smoking is sexy, tuxedos are sexy, being sad in a castle is sexy, more men should wear tuxedos on a daily basis, why don’t real people make me feel like this? etc. etc. Ferry himself is an artist who found a format he likes and sticks with it like lipstick on a tuxedo lapel. So it’s not like there’s anything new to add. The formula is the formula and it elicits the effects it’s designed to elicit. Bryan Ferry makes me swoon, and I’m never – not in 11 years and not in 1,100 – going to come up with a more perceptive insight than that.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

Your grandmother probably slow danced to this song at her cotillion, if you’re from a certain type of background. The Platters’ version of this Jerome Kern tune was a number one hit in 1958, making millions of nice white debutantes swoon chastely to the vocal stylings of Tony Williams, who was neither white nor a debutante. In other words, it was exactly the kind of sexless, corny-as-Iowa romantic treacle that rock’n’roll set out to obliterate from the cultural landscape. By the 70’s being a fan of vocal groups like The Platters was crippingly uncool. Enter Bryan Ferry, with a well-honed sense of irony and an understanding that yesterday’s uncool is tomorrow’s cool again. Ferry was, of course, one of the first rock singers to cherry pick the corny golden oldies of yesteryear for gems ripe for reinvention. He was not above being utterly campy in his choices, but in this case, he picked something he could sing with a straight face. It’s a love ballad that just needed to be stripped of its pop-hit-of-58 arrangement for its emotional depth to shine through. (A sappy male chorus was very much the trendy production gimmick of the late 50’s.) And honestly, without the cultural context of segregated cotillions and the no-sex-no-fun social mores of 1958, The Platters’ song is not bad. In fact, The Platters were actually one of the best vocal groups of their time and among the first all-black groups to gain mainstream popularity.

Slave to Love

I think the lesson here is that if impeccably glamorous people can’t have positive romantic outcomes, what hope is there for people who don’t lounge around in evening wear? Or, relatedly, only the impeccably glamorous get to experience the full gamut of romantic emotions in the first place, while the rest of us just have to settle for settling. You all know how I feel about romance – it’s a social construct that does more harm than good, on my bad days, and a sport on the good ones – but I did learn my lessons from Bryan Ferry. It’s that everything is better with fashion, and that includes being sad. Ladies, find you someone who looks at you the way Bryan Ferry looks at a good tuxedo.

Sign of the Times

Come for Bryan Ferry’s gleaming hair, stay for the Marcel Duchamp references. With Ferry, you really get the best of both worlds. High fashion sophistication, obviously, Ferry being the world famous dandy and bon vivant that he is. But moody posing would just be moody posing without intellectual ambition, and Ferry, having been both an art student and a teacher, knows his reference points. He draws his poses from old Hollywood and beyond that, from the greats of literature and art. Which makes him the ideal package, a man who dresses better than you do and has also read more books. In short, he’s probably an insufferable prig, but you want him anyway.

Shame, Shame, Shame

Bryan Ferry does interesting things with cover tunes. It’s kind of one of his main things. Take something completely unexpected and obscure and make it over in campy lounge lizard drag. I don’t think anybody has made unusual covers such a strong career sideline. Who else would take a Jimmy Reed song and turn it into high glam? It takes away everything from the blues that  makes it the blues and comes up with… a Bryan Ferry song. And it works, like glitter magic.

Sensation

Bryan Ferry really knows where his bread is buttered, so to speak. He perfected his formula in the early 80’s and doesn’t stray from it very often. I for one, can’t complain. No one else does anything like what Ferry does, so as long as he can go on doing it, all’s the better. Sophisticated and versatile mood music is a necessity, and I always turn to Ferry for all of my mood-setting needs. My mood rut lately has been “drinking champagne alone,” for which Bryan Ferry’s brand of romantic moodiness is ideal, but it’s also ideal for hot dates or parties. There’s really no better way to signal that you have eccentric good taste than by putting on a mid-80’s Bryan Ferry album.