May 042008

At the risk of offending anyone, let’s get real here. I know some of you are uncomfortable dealing with issues of your natural sexual leanings let alone speculation and examination of the role that a broader range of sexual perspectives might bring into play, but I’m willing to take the lead here. The hope is that I’ll learn a little more about myself and maybe be able to hear other artists in new ways.

I don’t mean to offend anyone by stating that one of my hang-ups with Bowie, when I was younger and to an extent today, is that he strikes me as representing a “pussy” point of view, in the way that vague notions of homosexuality and lack of “manliness” is called into question beginning in early adolescence, if not earlier. I honestly am put off by the fact that I usually don’t have a clue what the hell Bowie is singing about, and just as honestly I think of him as being “less a man” for “hiding” behind his characters and “cut-up” lyrics. Ferry, on the other hand, goes over the top in his late-19th century aesthete persona, but he makes no bones about the fact that he’s thinking about life’s inner meanings and his latest fling. What the hell is my problem when I judge one man as being somehow more “gay” than the other, even when I know, from scant biographical details, that both men have probably been as “straight” or straighter than myself? In other words, I’m fairly confident that each of these artists has gotten more female tail than I will if I live 300 years.

As I’ve stated before, there’s no artist who’s put out so many individual songs I love (and even a couple of albums I like a lot) whom I refuse to rank in my personal “Favorites” category as Bowie. In fact, I probably love as many individual Bowie songs as I do Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry songs, but Ferry’s the man for me. I’m certain that the more identifiable lyrical point of view and the humor play as much a part in my preference for Ferry/Roxy Music as does the tough, fluid rhythm section, but can I separate the more confusing, possibly depressing aspects regarding gender roles out of the equation? Or by acknowledging these issues, have I finally outgrown the homophobic dynamic of my youth and finally worked through all this in terms of a more mature, deeper set of values?


  10 Responses to “Ferry Interesting”

  1. whatever the reason is that you like him, i don’t think it’s because early Roxy gets any “gay points” taken off one’s resume.

    i think Avalon is their best album, and that’s barely Roxy right? Isn’t it more like a Ferry solo album?

    Don’t Stop the Dance is my favorite thing he’s ever done, and that’s well into his solo career no?

    Nothing wrong with liking a fop.

  2. sammymaudlin

    As long as we’re being frank…

    I’ve had many of the same conflicted emotions regarding specifically Ferry vs. Bowie. (I consider Freddie Mercury in a category of his own and think he’s great.)

    I have always regarded Bowie as a second-rate Bryan Ferry wannabe. That’s not to say that I don’t like a lot of Bowie. I do. I dig most of the Ronson era stuff and really dig The Man Who Sold the World album, irregardless of how ridiculous he looks in that dress on the cover.

    This is what I’ve come down to. My impression is that Ferry built his personae around the music and that Bowie built the music around the personae.

    If Bowie had gone to my highschool (think a cross betwen Ridgemont High and Dazed and Confused) he would have been relentlessly called a “Theater Fag.”

    Bowie held the theater above the music or, at best, on the same level.

    That’s one.

    Two, Ferry’s personae is rooted in a manly history. Bowie’s personae is rooted in the “fantastic.”

    Ferry’s image is, by and large, rooted in the vintage lounge singer. Even his boy scout thing, which is pushing it, has a sort of 40s Andrew Sisters thing going on.

    So Ferry has solid ground under him where Bowie is miles above the earth.

    As far as sexuality is concerned, I a always imagined Bowie’s genitalia having the same plastic smooth mound as a Barbie™ doll.

    It is Bowie’s ambiguity that gives me more pause than if he was full-on out of the closet.

    Further enhanced by the constant character/costume changes. Its like if he doesn’t know who he is then how should I.

    I understand that likely this is also his appeal but I prefer a band/performer with a POV.

    I will bring Freddie Mercury in here as it was pretty evident, even to my 8th grade mind, that Freddie was gay and I had no problem with that because Queen rocked. Everything was understood with Queen.

    Ferry can get away with his flair due to being grounded in a manly era of yester-year. That and the hot chicks on the album covers leaves no questions as to what Bryan Ferry likes to do offstage.

  3. My issue with the “Bowie is an AC-tor!” meme is that it’s more of a talking point (granted, propagated originally by Bowie himself) than an accurate description of the actual lyrical perspectives contained in his music. It then got turned into a pejorative by the likes of Lester Bangs, and that ruled the standard critical line on Bowie for quite some time.

    I appreciate the honesty of this post, though I’m not sure how to tell you why you like what you like. I like Roxy and Bowie both. I got into Roxy first, but like Bowie more now, because he wrote more Great Songs. I also would like to amplify killroy’s pro-fop worldview. I even have a “Fops and Dandies” playlist on my iTunes.

  4. Mr. Moderator

    I appreciate your facing these thoughts of mine head on and am not surprised that there may not be a clear answer to my dilemma. I hope that continuing to work through it will help me, among other things, like the other half of the songs on the very interesting and occasionally excellent Station to Station album, which I pulled out and have been spinning over the last week.

  5. alexmagic

    or is Ferry simply my would-be type, as much as I can assess the affect of someone of the same sex? Is it the fact that he’s got those big, broad shoulders and therefore comes off as a man’s man

    Yes. There you go. I’m glad you had this breakthrough on your own, as we would have all been hesitant to bring it up. I applaud your willingness to work through these issues.

    Regarding Bowie the actor/performer, I meant to bring this up in that earlier Bowie discussion, but I think one of the best things people should take away from Bowie’s overall career as a performer is a sort of modular rock fandom. I think that constantly coming up with new personae and changing styles – truly embracing the notion of Look in rock – was at least somewhat intentionally a way to say that you can and should take what you want from an artist’s work and leave the parts you don’t. I like Berlin Bowie, but I like the 1970-1974 stuff more, and with a handful of exceptions, don’t like much at all of what he put out from China Girl on. Same with Roxy Music, I much prefer the music on the earlier albums. Having people occasionally delineate their “eras” so blatantly is a nice reminder that you can be free to embrace the material you works for you.

  6. Mr. Moderator

    OK, this topic has not generated much discussion. That’s fine. Perhaps the whole set of questions was poorly stated. Perhaps few of us struggle with trying to figure out why we’re so more readily accepting of the foppish side of Ferry than we are the dandyish side of Bowie. No problem. Here’s another way we might look at my questions: Are Bryan Ferry’s covers albums from the ’70s good? What does he bring to covers of songs like “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”, “It’s My Party”, “These Foolish Things”, and even “A Hard Rain’s-a-Gonna Fall” (or whatever the exact title of that song is)? I like these covers, by the way, but sometimes I’m not sure why. If you like them, can you explain why?

  7. Never heard any of his solo records, Mr. Mod–when we joked years ago about the title “These Foolish Things,” I was dissuaded from exploring further. Could it be that Ferry’s solo work is not widely known?

  8. BigSteve

    I’ve been watching from a distance, but I’m not sure I can be much help. I’m afraid Ferry’s appeal is somewhat inexplicable.

    I’m gay now, but when I discovered Roxy Music I was still in the dark. I would have been mortified by the idea that liking Ferry was revealing something. I admit that similar feelings delayed my appreciation of Bowie.

    I’m still allergic to camp, but I think Ferry doesn’t usually fit into that category. He over-emotes, but somehow he comes out (sorry) on the other side and manages to express real emotion.

    The early solo albums with the corny covers are not that successful, because they don’t ever get past being campy. He’s much better in Roxy Mark I, where he’s walking the line. Is it camp emotion or is it real?

    Once he gets past Avalon he’s not walking the line anymore. He’s crossed back over into straight (sorry) emotion. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t hold the same fascination.

  9. general slocum

    I’m a fan of Bowie and of Ferry. I think it’s largely irrelevant to their broadcast sexualities. The
    fact that the women on Roxy covers are as often as not mannequins, transsexuals, or men in drag (Manifesto, For Your Pleasure, and the first album) only clouds that issue. I don’t know what the hell Ferry is that way, and I don’t need to know. I think what Steve said is true: he goes beyond his semaphore histrionics to actually express something. Bowie, too. Ferry’s covers of Let’s Stick Together, You Go to My Head, Carrickfergus, Jealous Guy – all work for me. And When She Walks In the Room is a beautiful recording.

    Bowie, I think was so much more innovative, especially from Young Americans through Low. His camp doesn’t get in the way, in that period, of my hearing the music.

    I guess one reason I didn’t respond to your post is that I agree with just enough of it, to a moderate degree, and don’t get some of it, but not enough to bug me. Ferry is a little bit of a guilty pleasure, so that when I hear some of it, a small portion of me cringes at his lapses in taste or restraint, and the rest of me pushes Play again. Those broad teeth, as it turns out, *can* take so much kicking. Oh, naughty sneaky.

  10. I was thinking a little more about this thread last night. I will say this about Ferry: His approach to love songs — meaning it but not meaning it, cataloging the ways a complete cad can get his heart broken — is much more conceptually strong than any of Bowie’s conceits, which were almost intentionally threadbare. I’d also say Roxy were more successful at taking the sound of the Velvet Underground to the next level. Bowie was obviously a Velvets fan, but you get the feeling that no one in his backing bands (until he hooked up with Eno) ever heard of the group. Bowie however does have more sonically innovative albums to his credit.

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