Thursday, February 27, 2014

DB's Song of the Day (day 58):"A SONG FOR EUROPE" (1973), Roxy Music

I’ve been in a Roxy Music mood of late, not sure why. I will say that when I hear bands like Franz Ferdinand or even Echo & the Bunnymen, I find myself thinking back to Roxy and the great sounds they created from 1972-1982. No album in that span is bad, though Manifesto (1979) is the least of them (though that's the tour I saw them on); my favorite has always been—“for purely personal reasons,” as Rob in Hi Fidelity might say—Stranded (1973), from which comes today’s song.

A Song for Europe” was my introduction to Roxy Music, that and “Mother of Pearl” (which I’ll save for another time). I first heard both on late night FM radio in 1973. And then, on The Midnight Special, I believe, saw Roxy perform “Europe”—I remember Bryan Ferry, with his expressive forelock, in a white tux.

The song, hearing it in those days when I was steeped in the likes of Hermann Hesse and Albert Camus, spoke to me immediately of Weltschmerz. It could be said that Weltschmerz was rather unfashionable in 1973, at least among fourteen-year-olds, but I drank it up. And to hear it given such an au courant presentation was remarkable. Ferry sings in English, then Latin and French to convey the different eras of Europe. All doomed to look in languishing retrospect on a previous l’age d’or.

Stranded, Roxy’s third album, was their first album sans Eno. Only much later would I come to know the LPs with Eno, and the LPs Eno himself created. Actually, my intro to Eno was via John Cale’s Fear, but that’s another story. Roxy without Eno was less aurally innovative, true, but Stranded has some of the band’s best songwriting, and it's still early enough that Ferry hasn’t yet become a contemporary lounge crooner. He started out by sending-up that kind of romanticism—as here, where it's both ironic because so flamboyant and so flamboyantly unironic—and ended up entrapped in it. It’s OK, don’t cry for him. He seems to have had a grand old time.

A few years after I first heard this song, my older brother—who was gainfully employed whereas I was just a kid in high school—went out and acquired the Roxy albums then in existence, or at least three or four of them. I immediately taped Stranded and it became a key ingredient of my soundtrack in the summer of 1976. I remember taking a walk pre-dawn to Old New Castle on my 17th birthday, to see the sun rise on the Delaware. Full of romantic longings, no doubt. I remember “A Song for Europe” was sounding through my head for most of that trek. “And here by the Seine / Notre Dame casts a long, lonely shadow.”  I would sometimes alter it to “I’m here by the Seine / Not a dime” . . . where the long, lonely shadow is my own, stretched out on the pavement before me. Could you spare a coin for a fellow American down on his luck?

Romantic vistas were hard to come by in New Castle, Delaware, I can tell you. And yet the song’s mood has a way of making its brooding sense of dark fatality overwhelm whatever might be around you. You hear this song and become dissatisfied. It’s in those big crescendos—“Now, only sorrow / No tomorrow” and “Nothing is there / For us to share / But yester-dayyyy-yayyy.”  And Andy Mackay’s sax is nowhere more expressive.

Ah, yes, the wine of life is drawn, and the mere lees is left this vault to brag of, as The Bard doth say. That’s a good feeling to know in your teens; it prepares you for so much future disappointment.  And I just love the way Ferry says “Ecce momenta / Illa mirabilia.”  But it’s the “jamais, jamais, jamais” (never, never, never) that used to always floor us. We all knew what Ferry was going for there, like some kind of glam Charles Aznavour pining for lost youth. And then he goes whistling down the Seine at the end.

This was the era of glam and Roxy Music outdid Bowie and T.Rex and whoever you want to name as the best of the time. The sonic attack of Phil Manzanera, on guitar, is a never-ending source of delight to me as I reprocess the tracks from Roxy’s prime. And even though, in 1973, the only “moments of wonder” I could reflect on was something like Rimbaud’s childhood written on pages of gold, I certainly have a better sense these days of what Ferry and company were on about: 
Tous ces moments
perdus dans l`enchantement
qui ne reviendront,
Pas d’aujourd´hui pour nous,
pour nous il n’y a rien 
à partager
sauf le passé.

All these songs are in the past too, and their greatest is behind. Yet, thank God, they're still with us.

Manzanera, Ferry, Mackay, Jobson, Thompson

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