There’s a biography of Roxy Music called Unknown Pleasures. I haven’t read it, but I like the title. It sums up the Roxy Music mystique rather nicely. There’s the obvious snob appeal, of course; Roxy Music’s pleasures are not widely known, and that’s its own appeal. Once discovered, though, it’s a rich world of glamour and seduction. Everything about Bryan Ferry, from his bangs to his taste in graphic design, implies a worldliness beyond the ordinary. Perhaps he goes home and eats last week’s leftovers in front of the TV like a normal person, but there’s nothing about him that implies mundane living, and who wants a mundane star? Stars are cheap nowadays precisely because they’ve become so open about the sandwiches in their pantry. Mystique, on the other hand, is in short supply. There really aren’t very many stars who can be imagined living a life of haute couture, private back street cabarets, and Ming vases full of cocaine – and that includes the fashion professionals whose job is to upsell that exact fantasy. I, for one, want that fantasy.
I’ve been listening to this song repeatedly lately, and pretty much in general throughout my life and have always found it very meaningful. If the title doesn’t tip you off, yes, it’s about faith and redemption, which are things Roxy Music fans are in need of after their inflatable pleasures have worn thin. Interestingly enough, when I was younger, I somehow completely missed the religious implications, explicit as they are. The idea of interpreting the lyrics spiritually never occurred to me, heathen as I am. For a very long time, what I heard was not an ode to Jesus, but a homoerotic ode to another man. The lines about trying on his coat and walking in his garden? Homoerotic. The lines about someday making his house your home? Homoerotic, while also possibly angling to subsume a rival man’s identity, Talented Mr. Ripley-style. Now, that’s not entirely a far stretch; the language of religious praise very often overlaps with the language of romance, and if you’ve ever studied art you may have noticed the loving care lavished on Christ’s naked torso in all of those Crucifixion paintings. But I think most faith-based people very strongly prefer not to make that overlap any more explicit, despite the best efforts of lapsed Catholics like Madonna. Meanwhile, in a more specific context, as far as I know, Bryan Ferry is a pretty solid not-gay on the Kinsey scale. But the idea of a vaguely homoerotic obsession and rivalry narrative appeals to me a lot more than one about finding God’s grace. So if you’re making another man’s house your home, it’s because you’ve seduced him and stole his identity, and you’re sliding down to the singles’ bar in a tuxedo of lies.
An ode to Texas, from one of the least Texan people who’ve ever lived. Bryan Ferry, a former working class stiff who’s made refinement a cornerstone of his image, would hardly set foot in a prairie or consider writing a song about one, were he not in a relationship with a Texan. This is, of course, a tribute to Jerry Hall, one of the most glamorous human beings to have ever come out of the great Lone Star State, and an inspiration for a great many great songs in her time. Bryan Ferry’s concept of country living may have leaned towards well-pruned gardens rather than cowboys and rattlesnakes, but he couldn’t resist the poetic appeal of the lonely desert moon. Never mind that, according to Hall, he was befuddled and embarrassed by her colorful use of southern slang and boisterous country-gal ways, and decidedly not into leg wrasslin’. Unsurprisingly, poetry aside, Ferry didn’t actually want to hang out on a Texas horse ranch, and Hall eventually left him for somebody a little bit less self-consciously urbane. But the poet got some of his best songs and the model some of her most iconic images, and that makes the failed relationship an artistic triumph.
You can ugly cry about getting over your love, or you can be suave about it. Yesterday we heard Lucinda Williams delivering the kind of breakup song that implies months of whiskey hangovers, unwashed hair, and the ritualized burning of keepsakes. Roxy Music delivers the kind of breakup song that suggests putting on your best leisure suit, cruising to the singles’ bar and possibly a discreet mournful sniffle or two post-rebound sex. Different separations call for different coping mechanisms. All are valid! The long, sordid hangover is not always inevitable; sometimes you can just shake it all off and stroll away with nothing more than a lingering tingle of sadness. A little melancholia just makes you look more cool, right?
If I were you I would stay for a little while / If you were me, would you walk out in style?
The 70’s really were weird. In what other era would the artistic insanity of Roxy Music be able to flower? They remain unquantifiable in style, only nominally under the umbrella of glam rock, as much for their posturing experimentation as their shiny epaulets. There has, since then, developed the Bryan Ferry style, which has hard boundaries and is, sartorially at least, easy enough to emulate. Nobody emulates Roxy Music, because there is no formula for Roxy Music, no constraints, no boundaries, nothing to point to except boundless idiosyncrasy. All you can do is watch and say “wow, that happened.”
It’s a little bit meta, a song about how a song plays a part in a life. Roxy Music have a great number of songs that are smoothly designed to be, quite simply, somebody’s ‘that song’. The song that tugs gently at the heartstrings, that easily soundtracks any moment, that brings back memories and evokes feelings (even feelings you may never have had.) Roxy Music songs are soundtrack songs, and Bryan Ferry knows it. It’s his magic power. For me, this takes me back, when my teenage self felt false nostalgia for romance that I hadn’t yet experienced. As for my adult self, well, now I know that romance is a mirage conjured out of hormones and thin air, and it’s songs like this one that help keep the shimmer on the horizon. Well played, Ferry, you elegant bastard.
Very obviously, this is a song about drug addiction. Which is a thoroughly mundane and unromantic subject. I shouldn’t have to point out that in real life, substance abuse can be life destroying; fatal at worst, best case scenario really bad for your teeth. People continue to fall into it, quite open-eyed, for a wide variety of reasons. ‘Because rock stars make it look glamorous’ is probably not the tippy top factor that motivates people to become alcoholics and junkies, but it’s in there somewhere. I mean, who hasn’t wistfully imagined themselves lying awake all night sweating it out cold turkey style? Point being, this very clearly is a song about just that, but damn, it sounds like the sexiest thing.