Brian Eno is MORE DARK THAN SHARK
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"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno

Sydney Morning Herald DECEMBER 8, 2007 - by Angela Bennie

RE-MAKE/RE-MODEL

Despite a central flaw in its philosophical argument, this exploration of Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music is a fascinating read.

"He appears to caress the microphone with the space just before his face, preening, smirking, deadpan - one moment Dietrich, the next Johnnie Ray... The effect is reminiscent of the exaggerated acting style required of silent cinema," writes Michael Bracewell with a flourish as he begins to marshall his language to bring his long study of the pop phenomenon Bryan Ferry - and the band he formed in the early 1970s, Roxy Music - to its close.Captain fantastic... Bryan Ferry surrounded by his Roxy Music bandmates in the 1970s.

"Vocally, he was utterly original and distinctive - vibrato, impassioned, suave, manic, breathless," Bracewell continues with something close to breathlessness himself. "His genius lay in collaging vocal styles while retaining an inimitable singularity."

And there and then, does he perhaps unknowingly reveal the fundamental flaw that underpins the argument he makes throughout this fascinating study of a moment in pop music history - a moment that brought together "a constellation of talents", as Bracewell calls them, who were to rise into the realms of stardom, flare for a brief period of time, then recede into the fog of pop music history.

Individually - Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno particularly - these talents would reappear, refurbished, rehabilitated, remade, regurgitated as pop product: but that is another story. As Bracewell says himself, "we leave Roxy Music, in this account, at its moment of becoming".

This rather precious kind of rhetoric relentlessly pervades Re-make/Re-model: Art, Pop Fashion And The Making Of Roxy Music, 1953-1972, right up to its title. Scrape away the rhetoric and the accompanying florid pretentiousness, however, and there emerge two fascinating strands that weave their way through Bracewell's tale.

One is his absorbing study of postwar Britain captured in the flux of social and cultural change - especially the philosophical changes sweeping through the art, music and applied art schools across the country - during the 1960s and early '70s, the very time of Ferry's induction into the fine art department of the University of Newcastle, his inculcation into the prevailing theories of fine art and department of the University of Newcastle, his inculcation into the prevailing theories of fine art and his subsequent formation of Roxy Music.

Second is Bracewell's convincing analysis of the nexus between pop art and popular music, his carefully argued proposition that the tenets of the pop art movement fed the aspirations and ambitions of talented but intellectually drifting students such as Ferry and co.

The ideological framework of this movement was pragmatic, unsentimental and radical. Fundamental to pop art theory and practice was the determination to blur the distinction between "high" art and "low" art and the determination to dissolve distinctions between fine art and popular culture. There was also a fascination with the relationship between fine art and the condition of modernity, with pop art at one and the same time a critique of and a homage to the products of popular culture and the culture's obsessive consumerism.

The language of pop art was the language of collage, its rhetoric the rhetoric of style, of the poseur, of pastiche and appearance rather than substance, of the ephemeral rather than the immutable. Pervading all was the obsession and preoccupation with manifestations of Baudelaire's famous dictum - "By modernity, I mean the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art whose other half is the eternal, and the immutable".

Bracewell allows plenty of time for all these ideas and their implications to percolate through his account, to develop there and take hold, so that when we arrive at Ferry's determination to switch from visual art to music, and popular music at that, where he is determined to put these ideas into practice, there is no sense of any incongruity.

Bracewell traces Ferry's intellectual development, from his childhood in a working-class family in a small mining town in north England to his years at university. It is here he is to meet perhaps the most important figure in his intellectual development, his fine art lecturer, the charismatic "founding guru of pop art", Richard Hamilton. Bracewell gives a good account of Hamilton and his ideas and their place in the history of British contemporary art - and in the arguments that sustain this book.

What is particularly fascinating is the way Bracewell tracks Ferry's slow metamorphosis from callow student into ambitious artist, who uses Roxy Music as his means of "reconciling the differing emotional and artistic demands of pop music and fine art" in his performances.

Bracewell also develops and expands on the strange skein of romanticism that more and more comes to dominate Ferry's thinking and behaviour.

By the time of Roxy Music's "becoming", Ferry would be unafraid, for example, to mix echoes of Glenn Miller and Fred Astaire with the sounds of skiffle and ragtime, or Cage and Reich, all with equal measure, all executed with panache, technical competence and, above all, in high style.

Indeed, style, elegance, rhetoric, the surface sounds of the lyrics rather than their meanings, the placement of vocal light and shade in strategically planned riffs, Brian Eno's acoustic idiosyncrasies, costume, "the precision of Roxy Music's earliest palette" in the way they staged their music, all this was Roxy Music.

But what of the fundamental flaw at work at the heart of this book, alluded to earlier? There is a contradiction operating throughout the telling that Bracewell seems to be unaware of, one that undermines the philosophical underpinnings of his argument.

In this book, Bracewell gives us, on the one hand, an account of a maverick whose genius relies for its power on collage and appropriation, who offers us, ultimately, a commodity to consume made up of borrowed or appropriated forms, tempos, rhythms, sounds and effects. The pose is the meaning; the pastiche is the method, the appropriation is the message. It, too, is both a critique of and homage to consumerism. This is Roxy Music; and this is Bryan Ferry's art.

On the other hand, Bracewell gives us an account of a maverick whose genius and music, Bracewell argues, is its "inimitable singularity". Bryan Ferry is a one-off, the book tells us, a singularity, of the genus "genius".

The two arguments are contradictory; and the second one undermines the book's entire philosophical argument and structure.

Bracewell's achievement, however, is that his book is simultaneously a biography of a time, of a life and of an ideology, and how and where each impinged upon the other. And for this alone, Re-make/Re-model is fascinating reading.

"He appears to caress the microphone with the space just before his face, preening, smirking, deadpan - one moment Dietrich, the next Johnnie Ray ... The effect is reminiscent of the exaggerated acting style required of silent cinema," writes Michael Bracewell with a flourish as he begins to marshall his language to bring his long study of the pop phenomenon Bryan Ferry - and the band he formed in the early 1970s, Roxy Music - to its close.

"Vocally, he was utterly original and distinctive - vibrato, impassioned, suave, manic, breathless," Bracewell continues with something close to breathlessness himself. "His genius lay in collaging vocal styles while retaining an inimitable singularity."

And there and then, does he perhaps unknowingly reveal the fundamental flaw that underpins the argument he makes throughout this fascinating study of a moment in pop music history - a moment that brought together "a constellation of talents", as Bracewell calls them, who were to rise into the realms of stardom, flare for a brief period of time, then recede into the fog of pop music history.

Individually - Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno particularly - these talents would reappear, refurbished, rehabilitated, remade, regurgitated as pop product: but that is another story. As Bracewell says himself, "we leave Roxy Music, in this account, at its moment of becoming".

This rather precious kind of rhetoric relentlessly pervades Re-make/Re-model: Art, Pop Fashion And The Making Of Roxy Music, 1953-1972, right up to its title. Scrape away the rhetoric and the accompanying florid pretentiousness, however, and there emerge two fascinating strands that weave their way through Bracewell's tale.

One is his absorbing study of postwar Britain captured in the flux of social and cultural change - especially the philosophical changes sweeping through the art, music and applied art schools across the country - during the 1960s and early '70s, the very time of Ferry's induction into the fine art department of the University of Newcastle, his inculcation into the prevailing theories of fine art and his subsequent formation of Roxy Music.

Second is Bracewell's convincing analysis of the nexus between pop art and popular music, his carefully argued proposition that the tenets of the pop art movement fed the aspirations and ambitions of talented but intellectually drifting students such as Ferry and co.

The ideological framework of this movement was pragmatic, unsentimental and radical. Fundamental to pop art theory and practice was the determination to blur the distinction between "high" art and "low" art and the determination to dissolve distinctions between fine art and popular culture. There was also a fascination with the relationship between fine art and the condition of modernity, with pop art at one and the same time a critique of and a homage to the products of popular culture and the culture's obsessive consumerism.

The language of pop art was the language of collage, its rhetoric the rhetoric of style, of the poseur, of pastiche and appearance rather than substance, of the ephemeral rather than the immutable. Pervading all was the obsession and preoccupation with manifestations of Baudelaire's famous dictum - "By modernity, I mean the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art whose other half is the eternal, and the immutable".

Bracewell allows plenty of time for all these ideas and their implications to percolate through his account, to develop there and take hold, so that when we arrive at Ferry's determination to switch from visual art to music, and popular music at that, where he is determined to put these ideas into practice, there is no sense of any incongruity.

Bracewell traces Ferry's intellectual development, from his childhood in a working-class family in a small mining town in north England to his years at university. It is here he is to meet perhaps the most important figure in his intellectual development, his fine art lecturer, the charismatic "founding guru of pop art", Richard Hamilton. Bracewell gives a good account of Hamilton and his ideas and their place in the history of British contemporary art - and in the arguments that sustain this book.

What is particularly fascinating is the way Bracewell tracks Ferry's slow metamorphosis from callow student into ambitious artist, who uses Roxy Music as his means of "reconciling the differing emotional and artistic demands of pop music and fine art" in his performances.

Bracewell also develops and expands on the strange skein of romanticism that more and more comes to dominate Ferry's thinking and behaviour.

By the time of Roxy Music's "becoming", Ferry would be unafraid, for example, to mix echoes of Glenn Miller and Fred Astaire with the sounds of skiffle and ragtime, or Cage and Reich, all with equal measure, all executed with panache, technical competence and, above all, in high style.

Indeed, style, elegance, rhetoric, the surface sounds of the lyrics rather than their meanings, the placement of vocal light and shade in strategically planned riffs, Brian Eno's acoustic idiosyncrasies, costume, "the precision of Roxy Music's earliest palette" in the way they staged their music, all this was Roxy Music.

But what of the fundamental flaw at work at the heart of this book, alluded to earlier? There is a contradiction operating throughout the telling that Bracewell seems to be unaware of, one that undermines the philosophical underpinnings of his argument.

In this book, Bracewell gives us, on the one hand, an account of a maverick whose genius relies for its power on collage and appropriation, who offers us, ultimately, a commodity to consume made up of borrowed or appropriated forms, tempos, rhythms, sounds and effects. The pose is the meaning; the pastiche is the method, the appropriation is the message. It, too, is both a critique of and homage to consumerism. This is Roxy Music; and this is Bryan Ferry's art.

On the other hand, Bracewell gives us an account of a maverick whose genius and music, Bracewell argues, is its "inimitable singularity". Bryan Ferry is a one-off, the book tells us, a singularity, of the genus "genius".

The two arguments are contradictory; and the second one undermines the book's entire philosophical argument and structure.

Bracewell's achievement, however, is that his book is simultaneously a biography of a time, of a life and of an ideology, and how and where each impinged upon the other. And for this alone, Re-make/Re-model is fascinating reading.


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