INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Creem JUNE 1975 - by Richard Cromelin
SNAPSHOTS OF A SHY COXCOMB
In which Bryan Ferry reveals that genius may not be pain, but interviews are something else again...
"He'll be very nice, and he will talk, but when you listen to your tape you'll find there isn't anything worth quoting. He hasn't really said anything."
"He's terrified of journalists. He'll be polite, but he's extremely shy."
"It'll all be superficial. When you get beneath that surface you find this seething mass of neuroses."
All helpful, if discouraging, advice from his acquaintances on what to expect from Bryan Ferry, given to one seeking to wring from him - what, exactly? "I hate doing interviews," Ferry says during the interview. "I hate to discuss. I like talking to people who are interested in what I do, but I resent the fact that you have to do that sort of thing... I think it kills the interest in a way. It destroys it to actually sit and talk about it and analyse it. I like spontaneity, I like to feel I get a kick out of what I do, and to discuss it exhaustively is very destructive."
OK. So we're not here to squeeze the secret of life, or even of Roxy Music, out of you. Don't really care about your favourite colour, or if you write the words before the music. Just a few routine questions, sir, so why do you writhe as if you're being grilled by a team of the CIA's most ruthless inquisitors? Don't keep looking at the tape recorder as if it's a time bomb, it's just sucking up your words. Would a bare light bulb hanging over your head make you feel more at home?
Ferry starts squirming as soon as the recorder goes on. Legs locked stiff as stilts extending beneath the coffee table; one leg draped over the chair in a bobby-soxer telephone-call pose; head resting wearily on hands, a quietly florid tableau of the artiste in suffering. He switches from one position to the next like a rapid-fire TV demonstration of some fantastic new piece of adjustable furniture. The agony of the interview compounding the tribulation of touring, which is another thing he could do without: "To spend five weeks of your life doing that seems a great sacrifice to make. I'd much rather be in the studio working on the next thing... It's part of the work, yeah. It's just the part I don't like."
On the Continental Hyatt House elevator, plastic-wrapped western shirts straight from Nudie's in hand, Ferry was disarmingly affable, emanating the sort of easy, upper-crust charm that must be what makes middle-aged women adore the Kennedys. His gentleman's wool suit looked properly tailored then, but now it's having trouble following his contortions. His navy-and-gold striped tie is loosely knotted, and the casual fall of his hair starts to look unkempt. Two of his shirt buttons are undone. OK, Ferry, if that's the way you want to play, we know it was your boys that pulled the job, and we've got a hunch that you just might know where the commissioner's daughter is. If you don't start talking it's gonna be the rubber hoses for you (and remember what Paul's grandfather said - "Watch your brisket").
No, really, relax. Just a few routine questions. Like, how was the first American tour of '75 (there should be another in November), whose final date is tomorrow night in Santa Monica? "Amazing. It's been like a breakthrough for us. Everywhere it's been kind of, it's like crowds are standing up and cheering, and everywhere it's been kind of - well, it's boring to talk about it really."
Roxy Music's first tour of the U.S. was more than two years ago, and there was a fair amount of turmoil involved on that one. Musically frustrating, being billed second and third on Jethro Tull, Edgar Winter and Humble Pie shows; internally explosive, what with that scene-stealing Eno primping at stage right while Ferry toiled unnoticed over his keyboard. How, may we ask, were you feeling at the end of that one?
"Really depressed," says Ferry, luke-warming to the subject. "We'd been spoiled, you know, by immediate success in England. The first album did incredibly well, and the single, and the tour matched that, and we were a kind of cause celebre. And to come over here totally unknown was a real jolt to the ego. It just wasn't right, because we could never function properly as a warmup band for anybody. People didn't know who we were, what were. It was just disastrous...
"Everything about America at that time was wrong for us. I think the record was wrong. I remember cringing with acute embarrassment at the press releases I saw that they put out. They just gave the totally wrong impression, I thought, of the band. But it seems to" - he starts rolling into an impulsive laugh that's just a little too intense, and so disturbing - "with Atlantic, and the new deal, things are different, things are looking up, and life now has taken on a new meaning for me."
His burst of hilarity subsides, and he reverts to his nervous, severe demeanour. "Perhaps it's just the fact," he continues, "that this is now the fourth album, and people take more and more notice of you gradually as they realise you're not going to disappear after one album without a trace and are going to keep on producing work."
What the receptive and diverse audience that viewed Roxy Music on this tour discovered was that the baud is an extremely formidable musical aggregation and that the Ferry image, a distant controversy for so long, is entirely effective. His manner is so much more coherent in front of a pack of fans than it is before a lone inquisitor. He wears that tux so damn well that you're ready to believe he could even get away with a Hollywood gaucho outfit, and he banishes the catcalls of gimmickry with an impeccable, well-placed flick of the wrist.
At the centre of his charisma, perhaps, is his maddening unapproachability. It's something that intensifies the set's intimate moments and which creates a delicious tantalising craving when he grows more distant. The image, frozen stop-frame, is riveting: the man, in his tuxedo, is from another time, another place, and during a roaring instrumental break he is found at the back of the stage, just to the left of the drum kit, drenched in a hazy, torch-song nightclub light, his back to the audience, undulating slowly like some young scion of the diplomatic corps twisting the night away at an embassy party. It's poignant and lonely, stylised but touchingly human, and it cuts his imperious command with a gripping vulnerability.
Ferry remarks time and again that the visual side of it is totally supplemental to the music, but apparently he finds it easier to talk about because his longest and most enthusiastic discourse of the late afternoon concerns the image. He picks up a program from his solo concert at Albert Hall ("Want one? They're going cheap.") and rapidly pages through it. "There is a very good photo of that over here, sans hat... That was a very classic look I thought, like a cruise ship kind of look... That silly look, which I alternated on certain nights with that one, which looks a bit Third Reich, Hitler Youth... I think people look good in uniforms... A very butch, down-to-earth look with a black t-shirt... The Hollywood, oblique-stroke Italian movie kind of thing... That's my mother's favourite picture."
Explains Ferry: "I just like attractive presentation. I always have done, whether it's in a book jacket, an album or a stage performance. One of the best shows I ever saw was the Otis Redding tour with all these Stax people, and they were looking immaculate in their outfits, and all playing and moving tightly. You can either do a thing well or not bother to try."
A wistful melancholy pervades Ferry's description of an earlier look, one that connects neatly with what would follow, from the moody Kim-Novak-on-the-baby-grand through the emerald poolside soiree on to today's streamlined elegance. "The look of the rock 'n' culture never got on to me very much," he says. "Anyone who ever comes to my place finds above the fireplace a poster from an exhibition I had when I was a student in 1967, which is a real prototype of what I got to later. Because instead of having one of the paintings on the poster, it's just a picture of the car I had at the time, which was a beautiful Studebaker, and me standing with a blue mohair suit and a tie. It's just style of looking I've always quite liked." 1967 maybe, but he makes it feel like all of the century's decades formed into a heart-wrenching whole.
"And," he forges ahead, "I suppose the movies were always important to me... I've always liked Hollywood-type movies. Especially for the fantasy aspect. It's interesting for me to find that the areas where I'm probably most popular are places like where I come from, which is a very hard area, like Cleveland, I suppose, or Detroit in America... They see it as a means of escaping all that."
Before we end his misery with a jab at the stop button, one more inquiry is tendered: What scares you the most about this life?
"Just losing track of yourself really, because you don't have time really to sit back and think. I'm basically quite a lazy person somehow, and yet I work very hard. That's probably because I started so late doing it... I was frustrated for such a long time. I had so many ideas I wanted to realise, and suddenly I found I had a chance to do it. And so I've kept up a very fast output, and combined with all the incidental things like touring and so on, and photograph sessions and all that sort of thing, it leaves very little time to lead a real life. So I have to try and guard my time quite preciously, try and see people who aren't in the music business, which I do. I like doing different things. I've got friends, or acquaintances, in different areas other than music. In fact I don't really hang out with any musicians. I meet such-and-such a person who played in that group, I don't, I just can't become - I came into it as an outsider, really, and I've kind of remained that way."
You'd think that, with time, he might learn and make some progress in keeping track of himself in this whirlwind life. Right?
"No," says Ferry, "it's worse really," and he laughs one more time. Has there ever been a more neurotic car than the Studebaker?