Bryan Ferry ? Einsam ?ber den Wolken - Sun 8th Aug

Bryan Ferry – Einsam über den Wolken
08 August 1982

This interview is from German „Musikexpress“, 8th August 1982

Original Interview by Kristine McKenna;
Translation by Beate Ludwig

Bryan Ferry - Loneliness above the clouds

His image is that of an oily lounge lizard in a decadent world of champagne and cruelly beautiful women. Taking a closer look behind this stylized façade however you find an insecure and shy person. His style mania appears to be an attempt to create a kind of artificial putting in order. Both Ferries were interviewed on the occasion of the forthcoming Roxy Music tour.

I meet Bryan Ferry in the London Bureau of his record company EG records in King´s Road.
He looks like …..well, like only Bryan Ferry can look like: Splendidly groomed, tooth-paste smile, long, thin locks falling over his water-blue eyes in just the right angle. He is a scandalously handsome man.

But I am surprised, how juvenile he looks in his blue mottled suit. Ferry is insecure in a very inciting way and – hard to believe – amazingly shy. Please, do not get me wrong: God knows that he has style ! Cigarettes, for example, he treats with incredible elegance and – this reveals the real gentleman – there is an air of man-of-the-world calmness that surrounds him.
Nevertheless, his aura has a touch of melancholy and vulnerability, characteristics which do not seem to fit with his image as a dandy, swaggering through Helmut-Newton-Worlds of women too divine to be real, champagne and Persian carpets.

Ferry is often called a decadent escapist, a fin de siècle-dandy who makes his doubtful fortune as a chronicler of the prickling convulsions of vain jet-setters.

The truth is a different one, the central theme of Ferry´s life is love – romance functioning as an arena offering plenty of space for heroic gestures. His foible for shape and style – many times stigmatised as shallow and superficial – can also be interpreted as an attempt to preserve the impression of an (artificial) order in a chaotic world. Seriously: What else can you do in a crazy world ….. than plucking a rose for the beloved ???

On the new LP “Avalon” Ferry even more retreats into the vapour of love. The title “Avalon” originates from the Artus-saga and stands for a place which – in Ferry´s words – “is the ultimately romantic land of imagination”. The album, lyric and smooth, conjures up this place with impressing elegance, without any rough edges.
The music floats by like a glittering mist, Ferry´s shivering crooning sounds as if he came right out of this mystical empire.

His private realm is well protected, as he does not give many interviews. Although, in the following interview he reveals some inner details of his personality, I cannot get rid of the feeling, he once again escaped with a lot of untouched secrets. Style, soul and secrets, these are the subjects pop heroes are made of.

Many critics describe your music as detached from the world and a flight from reality. Does an artist actually have the duty to response to the political problems of his time ?

For an artist it is surely of advantage to reflect and interpret the presence – and this certainly includes political topics, yet it is not an obligation. Some years ago I covered Dylan´s “ A Hard Rain´s A-Gonna Fall”, but I did not enter into the political message of this song further. The song just has wonderful lyrics – like so many of Dylan´s songs – and I was attracted by its rich imagery. It is a good example how to transpose something that has a complex and far-reaching meaning.

Are you sometimes surprised by the diversity of interpretations people draw from your songs ?

No, ´cause if you wrote something and then contemplate the result, you become very analytical yourself and suddenly you see all those possibilities. The same with Shakespeare, there are permanently several meanings to a sentence.

So you are writing without wanting to make a concrete statement ?

No, not unconditionally. But I admit, in a few songs I actually only play with words.

What impact can popular music generally have on the society, I mean, can it really give rise to social changes ?

Perhaps popular music has an influence as the one special form of fine arts – if that is the appropriate term – people are very close connected with, much more connected than with the cinema, at least this is true of the young generations, at the latest since the Beatles.
So far, yes, in my opinion it has an influence on the culture. For example the way musicians look like has become very important throughout the last years, their impact on the people as for the clothing.

Do you feel – as a role model - in a way responsible ?

Up to a certain degree, yes, but I do not worry about this too much. I do not feel inhibited and think all the time “God, I cannot do this or that…..”

How important do you think is a subtilized , impressive image for the commercial success ?

Enormously important. The cover of a record is the absolutely most important thing (laughter). My own image is not defined very clearly, for this reason I may not be too successful.

You think you have little success…..?

Yeah, perhaps. Not that I want to complain. It is interesting that you can apply to America: the simpler the image, the bigger the success, no matter if in films, on TV or whatever. This is not true for England, the people here in Europe have more understanding for eccentricity and complexity.
In America much more money is involved, so only the commercial success counts. When an American record company decides to push an artist, they spent a lot of money. In my case, this has never happened.

Your image is that of a wealthy gentleman, a country aristocrat with much leisure. Is this description in your view correct ?

Yesterday I visited an old friend of mine, a typical English eccentric. He is a dean in Oxford. We took a walk and I fell in love with the place. I said to myself :”Jesus ! This is the way you should live !” Surrounded by calf-bound books, ancient buildings emanating the learning of centuries. But after all, this is not my line of conduct, I like electric guitars too much. Besides I need a steady diversion.

Do you play a role like an actor when you perform on stage ?

A bit at each song. You take a little aspect of your personality which you either simplify or overdo. A 1 ½ hour show in which you pass through totally different moods, one after one. Naturally no one behaves like this in reality. Sometimes you wonder “What was the performance according to this song ?” – but then you rapidly adopt the role and leave it again at the end of the song.

So does your interest in play-acting only reach up to this point and not further ?

Exactly. To be an actor you need more craving for recognition than I have. You have to be in love with you from the bottom of your heart, and there are actually people who do so.
Once I had a small role in a Swiss TV show – and I hated seeing myself on the screen. I rather like to be invisible, instead of delivering a poor figure. I think that is what you call vanity.

Is vanity a vice ?

No, not at all. Indeed it can ruin people, but everything depends on if and how you can integrate it into your life. I am only vain, because I am insecure. I would love to be someone, who never has to look into the mirror, ´cause he knows anyhow, that he looks marvellous.
Most of the time I have the feeling I do not look my best, therefore I do not like to be photographed. Cameras make me stiff.

Is this a reason for you to give interviews rather seldom ?

I feel always a bit embarrassed talking about myself. There always seems to be something fishy about that. Moreover, my work should speak for itself, without any footnote.

How far has success changed you ?

Not very much, may be because success gave itself time and entered my life comparably late. I did not start making music until I was 25, at this age your personality is usually already well consolidated and you are less susceptible to extreme situations. I have enjoyed most sides of success, although it brings along some restrictions. You just cannot live like a normal person, because you are not a normal human being any more.

In other words, your fame has driven you into isolation ?

Somehow, yes. Most of the time I live in my country house. The only large city I really enjoy is New York, there you are just a face in the crowd.

What does success mean to you, did it come rather accidentally or has it been your wish to leave a trace on this world ?

I have always felt different. Probably due to my place of birth – Newcastle – a really inhospitable hole which did not offer any kind of future, except of the flight from it. I was the youngest but one child of four and I had three sisters. My family always thought I was intelligent and encouraged me to pass school exams and afterwards go to university. Learning, for them, was kind of a ladder to something higher. They dreamed of me becoming a doctor.
Certainly I did not waste a second to such a thought, I felt attracted by creative tasks.

What was the first record you bought ?

I have been very interested in Jazz and my first record was an EP of Charlie Parker. I played it a million times over, and I still know all the soli by heart.

Do you think there are influences of Jazz and Blues in your own music ?

Sure. For me my music is a modern kind of Blues. Black American musicians influenced me the most, even though I am typically white and typically English. Everything takes place between these two poles.

So you see yourself rather in the tradition of Charlie Parker, Cole Porter and Frank Sinatra than in that of popular music ?

Add Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding and this would be my party.

Were there any occurances which in retrospective made you change direction ?

I think the 6 month I spent in L.A. in the middle of the seventies gave me additional tension. For a week or two L.A. is nice, but to live in the land of lost of souls is a really strange experience.

Do you consider yourself melancholic ?

Basically yes, but it changes, often very extremely. Now and then I am quite funny. People whom you laugh with usually are those you know best – and humour is the base for nearly all my closer friendships.

Do you write regularly or does it depend on your mood ?

I have to be in the right mood, unless I am under pressure to hand in something. I would like to be one of those composers who get up at 6 o´clock, work until 9 and then respond their letters. In my head there is a mess. I like it if things around me are clear and well-ordered, but on the inside I am chaotic, especially while working.

Lately I read in a book that physical beauty and romantic love are the most destructive notions of human history of ideas. What do you think about that ?

For me romantic love always was constructive, ´cause it goes around with unrequited love – and the best work of arts are probably written out of these feelings. Yearning leads to great art. It nearly seems as if you tried to create a substitute for something that isn´t there. In a certain sense, you create a substitute-lover. Above that you try to make something beautiful so that people applauds and love you (laughter).

Are you satisfied with your previous works or do you have the feeling your masterpiece is still to come ?

I hope it is still to come. I am exceedingly self-critical and in no way satisfied with what I have done up to now.

Which of your works is in your mind a central point ? A single song or an album, that you compare the other ones with ?

Perhaps my L.A.-album. Although I did not record “The Bride Stripped Bare” in America, it arose from my experiences over there. The record has an intensive, manic quality, which I like very much. Many people are able to write good songs and though I very much appreciate beautiful melodies, I am more interested in the things that lie under the surface.

Do you think you run any risks as an artist ?

Not often enough. So many times you get irritated by the managers and business-people. But may be I just go through a period of consolidation right now. As far as I can see, “Avalon” hardly is a risk. Nevertheless I think its quality work.

How important to you is commercial success ?

Rather important. There are times I do not care about it, then if I want to buy something and cannot afford it I say to myself (laughing) “Gee, I should sell more records.”
I think life would be very sad if you only worried about this. I see myself as a highly-paid artist – and that is a pretty comfortable thing.

Where do you see your strengths as an artist ?

I have a vivacious imagination and can work with people without any problem. I can motivate other musicians to get the best out of them by telling them strange things like “Think in green !” or something along that line. I listen to music in a very visual manner.

Is there anything in your life you would like to change right now ?

Nothing special. Sometimes I wish I would think more about my own person. That may appear odd, because doing my work I am nearly exclusively interested in myself. I am a person of competition, I want to win in every situation, even though I am also a fair loser – for example in sports. In the field of music I certainly wish that each one of my records is going to be a success and on top of everything of great artistic value. If I had to chose, I would prefer the artistic triumph to the commercial.

What was the biggest obstacle you had to get over in your life ?

Shyness. Meanwhile I have learned how to handle it, but I think I will always be a relatively reserved person. It is just my natural given role to be the distant observer.

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