INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Creem MAY 1973 - by Lisa Robinson
ROXY MUSIC: TERROR IN THE RUE MORGUE
Word was out that Roxy Music was glam-rock, a hype, flashy, weird, '50s revival, electronic, esoteric, terrifying and incredible. So I was really pleased, when I saw them in London recently, that they were none of the above. Well... maybe all of the above. But much, much more. For the price of a ticket, you get ten years worth of rock and roll.
I was prepared to like them after having been presented with an import copy of their album last June by Richard Williams (of Melody Maker) whose taste I trust. Even though most of my American friends found the album hard to adjust to, I adored it, and played it over and over at the most outrageous volume, especially those parts I thought British DJ John Peel would have meant when he said that he thought they sounded like terror in the Rue Morgue.
To see Roxy onstage, opening by just standing there - swaying in unison, a sort of deadly ritualistic, unified gesture - and then to watch them perform their alternately shattering and rocking music, bathed in the tackily dramatic, thoroughly vulgar green, red and purple lights... It was music that made you want to dance, music that made you want to listen.
Onstage, lead singer Bryan Ferry seemed like a perfect rockstar sex symbol. There was something about that voice, the way he stood and slithered around the stage, the sly, slightly malevolent posing and humour - all of it seemed to contain a promise of danger and romance. And the voice, again terror in the Rue Morgue, indeed, with subtle shades of Smokey Robinson and Frank Sinatra.
I knew very little about the band except that about a year and a half ago, Bryan and Andy Mackay along with bassist Graham Simpson were fooling around with some songs and a synthesizer and wanted to hear some of their ideas recorded. Andy remembered Eno (short for Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno) from art school some years earlier and knew that he had been experimenting with phonetic poetry, tape recorders and allied electronics in making a sort of systematic music. Eno joined up and stayed on, first as musician-cum-engineer, now as avery integral part of Roxy. Having gone to art school and taught fine arts themselves, Eno, Bryan and Andy didn't really know any regular musicians; they were more a part of the art community. So auditions were held for the remaining spots - drummer, guitarist and bassist. (Graham left after the first album.) Paul Thompson, Phil Manzanera and Rik Kenton eventually filled out the Roxy Music lineup.
They apparently didn't have to wait too long or pay too much in the way of dues, a fact that irritates some British bands who have been at it longer. With the help of such British media personalities as John Peel and Richard Williams, who were instrumental in bringing their name to the public's attention, Island records signed them and their first LP - the one with that cover - was issued. Virginia Plain got to be the number four single in England and they were established as a concert attraction. Like a bolt out of the blue, as it were.
When I spoke with Bryan and Eno in London, I felt as if I were at home. After a week of frustration spent dealing with the London phones and the terror that hits a New Yorker when the TV goes off at midnight (especially when there is only one good movie a week - albeit Sunset Boulevard) I saw Roxy Music and we talked about Fred Astaire haircuts and Photoplay magazine and the bathrooms at Radio City Music Hall and the Gotham Bookstore and their booking agent, Frank Barcelona, and their upcoming trip to the States and I could feel a nice, warm glow settling in.
"Going to New York has always been a dream," said Bryan. "When I think of going to the States, I think of New York, and then of Las Vegas and Hollywood. I'd really like to see Las Vegas: the architecture, the lights, all those casinos - when it's dark, you know."
"I've always been stagestruck," said the man who wanted to give his band a cinema name, rejecting Ritz, granada, Astoria, Odeon and regal before settling on Roxy. Hollywood has always been Mecca, a city of glamour.
"I feel terribly excited about going there because I feel that's my emotional homeland," said Eno. "I feel that there are two places where I'm emotionally based.. One is the English countryside, where I was born and bred, and the other is the heart of New York City, partially because where I was brought up there were two American air bases which left their mark on me in terms of music in particular, and I kind of lived with that mood. And I've got this feeling, which is totally unfounded in fact, that I will be totally at home in New York, and that I really know it very well. I've always been attracted to whatever place on the planet seemed to be the center of the most tension and energy, and New York seems to be that. For awhile, London was that, but I've been living here for awhile and now the grass seems greener on the other side."
"The American thing is important to me because at least fifty percent of the things that influenced me were American things," added Bryan. "The best films were American, the best stars were American stars, because there were no English equivalents - and the best music was American music. Until The Beatles came along. That's why I sing in American voices on some of the songs... at least I try to have American inflections."
Roxy Music will attempt to dazzle the States with the added glamour of being a British band, something that once again, though for different reasons this time, is very much in vogue.
Roxy know that when they perform in the United States in all of the cities that have been booked for them on their first tour, they'll be starting at rock bottom. Many audiences won't know them, and will becoming to see another act rather than bottom-of-the-bill Roxy. "We'll only be performing for about a half hour," said Bryan, "I guess we'll try and pick out the liveliest half hour - although we don't want people to get a distorted impression of us. It'll be a drag that we won't be able to have our lights with us."
Those lights! Purple, red and green. Sleazy and fabulous. Bryan's never seen the light when the group's been onstage, of course, but he knows it looks good, just as he knows they all look good: whether it's Paul in his butch leopard skin or Bryan in his Student Prince outfit.
"We're concerned with presentation because it's important to the music," Eno emphasised. "It's not like it's a bonus or something added to sell records. Besides, we're all like that anyway. I'm not the sort of person who would go onstage wearing ordinary clothes. I like to make an event out of it. The whole ritual of performance is very interesting to me and the others. The thing is, it needn't develop in the obvious way of being more sparkly and flashy and all that. We've talked quite often of going onstage in white tuxedos..."
Bryan added, "A lot of bands are dressing up now as a reaction against shoddiness onstage. Some bands are sort of camping it up, which I don't think we do. We treat makeup the same way a ballet troupe would - obviously, if you're going under lights, you need makeup."
"As far as any rock and roll revival thing is concerned, I don't really freak about the '50s. I mean, I love Elvis and I remember going to see Bill Haley when he came to Britain - they were so visual in their tartan suits and all... but I also like singers like Billie Holliday and Frank Sinatra. I think we're updated rather than just '50s. As far as my hair is concerned, well - there are just so many ways you can wear your hair, and obviously, everything is going to remind you of something".
"What I'm doing now is the most creative thing I've ever done," Bryan continued. "To talk about what you do is difficult without sounding pretentious. But for me it's almost totally fulfilling - a complete unity between mind and body. Because what we do is very sexual, I think, and there's also a lot of thought going into the music. So when you get a good balance between the sensual and the intellectual - any thing can happen."
"We wanted to be able to draw on any parts of the history of music, or features of music," explained Eno. "So we obviously wanted to keep what we were doing open and unspecific enough to do that. The other thing we wanted to do was produce the richest variety of sounds. Obviously, if we're going to do the first - which is draw on all kinds of musical forms - then we'd have to have available to us a very wide range of sounds, as well. One of the problems with most people who use synthesizers is that they're veterans of regular music so they think of it as an extended organ. Like all of a sudden there'll be this freaky sound in the middle of a number, and then the number will carry on, and then there'll be this freaky sound over the top again. I'm not particularly interested in that. What I do is texture the piano, saxophone, guitar - and the only reason I don't texture more things is that the technology to be able to do that is very complex. I've just designed something that will enable me to do that, but so far I haven't been able to. The most important thing is to know what to do when and when to do nothing. I came from a position of not really understanding electronics, and not really understanding music, either. I think it's certainly helped in the way that I've been able to do things that people didn't think were possible."
"We deal on so many different levels that people tend to get different things out of it," said Bryan. "There really is something for everybody, I think. My idea is to take the audience through as many moods - to have as much variety - as possible. Some of the lyrics may be obscure to some, but the songs have a mood that people can relate to."
"Most of what the band is now was well-defined in the early stages," Eno went on. "But until recently, we could never hear what we were doing onstage. It was utter chaos, because we didn't have proper monitor systems. Which meant that we tended to play safe, what we had done before. Now we have a better system and we have more fun - it's not perfect but it's much better. It used to be an ordeal."
"I think potentially we could freak out a lot more people," Bryan said. "I'd like to do a guitar solo onstage at some point... actually, I'd like to feature a bizarre sort of guitar solo somewhere in the act. All of us could play guitar solos at the same time. Except maybe the drummer... Just the five of us, playing guitar solos." He trailed off...
• • •
The first tour, however, didn't provide much of an opportunity for the realisation of such fantasies. It was strictly business and their scant thirty minutes had to be programmed for a non-stop assault on audiences that came, for the most part, not having the faintest idea who Roxy were. The next time around (and it won't be long now) they'll hopefully have more of a chance to let audiences know exactly what the band is capable of. If they should come to your neighbourhood, don't miss them. Roxy Music may be just what you've been waiting for.