I was fifteen years old and in summer school again. I hadn’t eaten lunch in a week to save up
some money to buy a new album. At the time, my music tastes could be defined in
two words: Classic Rock. I listened to what WNEW or KRock told me to. For poor kids it was either that or heavy
metal, or you were a fag. I read books for fun, which was already pushing it,
so I did what they told me to do while desperately trying to prove my
heterosexuality. (Mind you, trying without actually having sex or anything in
the general area of sex or being around any girls…)
My hands were elbows deep within the bargain bin at the
Union Square WIZ. Suddenly I saw breasts and I dove for them. The cassette had
two women on the cover, a redhead and a brunette. The redhead barely covered
her breasts with her hands and wore only panties. The brunette wore a very,
very sheer bra; her hand covered her bare, pantyless crotch and the other
shielded her eyes. They didn’t look like the plastic women I had seen on MTV
but like women that you could actually meet. I needed this album. It was called
Country Life by the band Roxy Music.
It was better than porn.
Godard, while playing himself, said, “The problem with capitalism is that you can’t get a good cup of coffee.” Roxy Music was a great cup of coffee.
Their fingerprints are all over modern music. Without Roxy Music, there could be no Television, David Bowie (at his best), Duran Duran, Blondie, The Talking Heads, INXS, Suede, Pulp, or Franz Ferdinand.
Their first album was glam rock at its finest, and listening
to it brings to mind what rock would sound like if it was cut on Venus, as if a
crazed tribe of lusty space Amazon warrior chicks hungrily awaited their every
single. Paul Thompson on drums, Rik Kenton on bass, Ray Manzanera on guitar and Andy Mackay on
sax (only one letter from sex) did choreographed steps as if they had danced
out of a STAX records release. Brian Eno would run synths and tapes backward
and forward while Bryan Ferry, the son of a coal miner, sang songs of love.
Look at Roxy Music and you might think that they’re just jumping on to a kitch bandwagon. Listen to them and you’ll bear that there’s more going on than publicity gimmicks. Their enthusiasm for the music of the fifties (and forties and thirties) always leads to more than camp recreation. The whole band goes through Eno’s synthesizer, and it all comes out as new music - Roxy Music. Bryan Ferry writes the songs and the words: they are arranged by the band. To get some idea of the range of the writing, listen to the lyrical ‘Lady’ who turns into a vampire; and to the Velvet Underground-like energy of ‘Remake/re-model’ which drives them to conclude the set. The silver lamee and the leopard skin is a very serious joke.
—Alice Cooper programme sleeve notes, Empire Pool, Wembley, June 30th 1972 — Bill Ashford
If they had stopped there, they would just be a minor
footnote in music history. It was the single they released next (quite
radically because at the time, albums where in, singles where out) that would
change the landscape like an earthquake. The single, now misleadingly included
on the first album, conceived the process of creating music in an entirely new
way. It was a Copernican revolt and its name was “
Music history will remember Roxy Music as the band who first
placed forward the idea of the studio as an instrument. Les Paul and Buddy
Holly had pushed the limits but that was to capture a higher fidelity. Phil
Spector would create walls of sound, but that was to cover the poverty of the
musicians’ talents. Jimmy Hendrix, The Who and The Doors would have guitars
flying around your head, but that was to hide the fact that the live experience
would eternally outclass whatever was on tape. The Beach Boys would layer sounds
and create Bach-like soundscapes but that was to create the image of a
perfected sound experience which could never exist. The Beatles would dip tapes
in Coca Cola and LSD, searching for new sound possibilities, but they were the
Beatles and, in the end, they threw all this out. Roxy Music, a band with one
album that didn’t even touch the
There are no mistakes in the studio, just new potential musics. The second album, For Your Pleasure, would fully develop this concept. It is a listening experience beyond compare. It also featured a blond woman walking a panther for the cover art. (How cool is that?) It was all too good to last. Ferry would end up forcing Eno out of the band. Taken aback, Eno wondered what he would do next:
You see, the dancers in the Lizard Girls could also be wired up to my new instrument, the ‘Electric Larynx’ which I humbly consider to be a major innovation of sorts. It had its origins in, uh, bondage - it was actually an excuse to legitimize bondage by convincing the bondee that it was actually a musical instrument they were wearing rather than just a form of restraint. It’s a series of microphones built into a choker fed through a complex series of electronic devices to produce from the sound of human voice the highpitch of an electric guitar while still possessing the flexibility of the ‘vox humana’. The player - or the captive as we prefer to know her - is wired up from the back of her neck directly into the synthesizer…
Tragically, neither the band nor the Larynx would ever see the stage. Eno would instead go about the process of making some extremely good music as both an artist and producer (or studio virtuoso). David Bowie, The Talking Heads and U2 would follow Eno and this new conception of the studio into some of the best music ever made.
Meanwhile, sans Eno, Roxy Music was left with only talent, genius and really great hair to fall back on.
—Brian Eno interview - Nick Kent, NME, July 28, 1973
For your pleasure
In our present state
Part false part true
We present ourselves…
-“For Your Pleasure,” by Bryan Ferry
Why do we listen to The Rolling Stones? They really were never very good. In fact, there are cover bands that play their songs with far more skill then they ever were capable of. (The same could be said of The Sex Pistols, or hundreds of other fondly remembered bands.) The reason is that they (re)present themselves in their music and that is what the viewer desires. To hear the songs well played seems silly because what is interesting to us is the band. Not them as human beings, but Them as a character. Just like in literature, the author is just another character in the novel. There is a chasm between the genetic locus of art and the author’s signature. It is the realization of this chasm that made Roxy Music. (It would also allow Ferry to do some of the best cover songs of all time).
To say that Manzanera is one of the all time great guitarists, or that Mackay is a stunning talent or that Ferry wrote some of the finest lyric verse in the English language is besides the point. What we desire from them is not their talent (which, from what I saw in 2001, remains extraordinary eighteen years after their breakup). What we desire is Them in a stew of fact and fiction.
Roxy Music transformed me in an instant. Tossed out was the
denim and with it the desire to dress like a rocker, punk, goth, or anyone
else. Instead I would try to dress like
myself, whoever that was. A woman that would want to sleep with me, wouldn’t
want to sleep with anyone else. A smile,
a wink and poetry worked far better than pubescent rage. Sure, I could have
learned the same lesson from others, but I could never have put on Barry White
during a date; I would have gotten laughed out of the bedroom. Roxy Music fit me perfectly.
Roxy gave me an appreciation for the finer things in life and for glamour without ever forgetting that there could be something more. They taught me something that today’s pimps would do well to learn: It’s not the cars or the rocks or the shoes that makes me cool, it is I that make them cool.
Finally they helped me realize that
woman in love
Can make you feel good—
You know what you’re living for.
She’ll give you so much
And keep you in touch
With all that’s worth living for.
Oh once she gets in
Through thick and through thin
She’ll show you what living’s for.
The rhythm of love
It must go on
The beat of your heart
Is like a drum
Will it stop?
—“Sentimental Fool,” by Bryan Ferry and Andy Mackay