INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Independent SEPTEMBER 12, 2003 - by Robert Webb
STORY OF THE SONG: VIRGINIA PLAIN
Roxy Music, 1972
The original "Virginia Plain" was a painting by Bryan Ferry, who in 1964 was studying at Newcastle University under the pop-artist Richard Hamilton. The picture was of the Andy Warhol film star "Baby" Jane Holzer on an American plain, designed as a vast cigarette carton. It was a visual pun: girl, landscape and ciggies were all Virginia Plain.
The title moved to vinyl with Roxy Music's first single. "It was a part of the whole Warhol movement," Ferry recalled as Virginia Plain climbed the charts in 1972. Like many art students of the period, Ferry ached to escape provincial England. "That's what the single Virginia Plain is all about: dreaming of going to New York and living in an attic and painting." Ferry's America is refracted through celluloid and acrylic. He imagines gliding across midnight-blue casino floors and taking off in his Studebaker to catch The Last Picture Show at the drive-in. "What's real and make-believe?" he asks, as he name-checks Warhol's Baby Jane and her "Holzer mane".
The whole thing sounded extraordinarily modern in 1972, couched in glammed-up nostalgia and packed with unusual noise from Ferry and his bandmates, including Brian Eno. A motorbike revs over the line "teenage rebel of the week": "We had a roadie riding up and down Piccadilly with stereo mics on long leads," Ferry explained.
The guitarist Phil Manzanera's tensile solo was played off the cuff. "I got into the studio, and I still hadn't the faintest idea what I was going to do," he said. "The break arrived, and I just went blam! I could have put my fingers anywhere. I've tried to reproduce that solo and I can't work it out at all." Ferry planned to recreate his painting for the sleeve, but there was no time.