Old romantics


Cover of The Bride Stripped Bare (1978)

Cover of The Bride Stripped Bare (1978) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was never a New Romantic; I struggle these days to be an older romantic. I grew up in the midst of that era in the mid-eighties watching on Countdown the latest artists – usually English – hit the big time. I remember looking upon A Flock of Seagulls and thinking what a queer bunch of gits – and what a stupid haircut. I was not a big fan of their single great hit – I Ran – but more than anything I was bemused considering how the likes of them had diverged from the likes of me. I wasn’t much into Spandau Ballet either, or Boy George, or Marilyn, and it’s only in recent years I can appreciate Human League as I never did then. I hated Duran Duran, was sceptical of Wham!, but sorta liked Depeche Mode and Tears for Fears, which I considered to be at the respectable end of the New Romantic spectrum. In years to come I became a fan of The Cure, notwithstanding the fact that Robert Smith and I are almost opposites, and I liked the attitude and wit of The Pet Shop Boys.

I have a friend – Cheeseboy – who has photos of himself in that era, dark haired and good looking and with eye shadow on. We’re the best of friends now (now he’s ditched the make-up), but it’s fair to say back then I don’t know if we’d have had much in common. I wore the best suits I could afford through the week, matched with a swish tie; and jeans on the weekend. I was a wannabe jock, a heterosexual hedonist who lived for Friday night drinks, girls, and the footy – and my musical tastes fell into line. I was passionate about music, but looking back it seems my tastes were pretty catholic. I liked Bruce Springsteen. Later I cottoned onto U2 and REM in their early outings. Then there was Elvis Costello, Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads, the Smiths. I liked Hunters & Collectors here in Oz, and Crowded House, Midnight Oil, the Hoodoos, and throw in INXS circa The Swing. (Lest you think I was a white bread suburban yobbo wearing flannelette I was also big into Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke, and loved jazz, soul and even classical music, and my tastes remain as eclectic as that). The rest were odds and sods, tunes that took my fancy along the way while the musicians fell from my memory. I was a different sort of fish.

One I did like was Bryan Ferry. I liked him (and Roxy Music) in the seventies, followed him into the eighties, and beyond. He was, and remains a timeless performer, seemingly independent of trends and eras and the fashions that come and go. He’s always himself, a cool dude, tall, good looking with floppy black hair and an insouciant style. You don’t think of his music as being seventies or eighties or particularly being attached to any label. He’s been himself all throughout, and his music has reflected his individual aesthetic.

I reckon I have about 8-10 Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music songs in my iTunes, some of which are classic favourites like Let’s Stick Together, This Is Tomorrow, and Slave to Love, which has one of my favourite all time song lyrics:

“To need a woman, you’ve got to know, how the strong get weak, and the rich get poor…”

What a true lyric that was, and something in my romantic past I clung to, believing, understanding the push and pull of such strong feelings, a willing slave to it when I wasn’t remembering it when it was gone, anticipating it, fantasising how it might come, tell her I’ll be waiting in the usual place…

His music was different because he was different. Stylish to start with. He saw the world differently, elegantly, and with an artistic flair. While rock stars through the ages posture and prance he never had to. Compared to the likes of Adam Ant and the androgynous look-alikes that dominated eighties music he seems the urbane sophisticate against try-hard wannabes making more sound than music. He was sophisticated and grown-up and all that, but you figured he was somebody who had as much fun off stage as he did on it. As a bloke who liked style and girls there was a lot for me to admire in Bryan Ferry. I thought then, as I do now, that any man who can get Jerri Hall yelping on camera (and elsewhere for all I knew), had a lot going for him. Shoot, I was an arrogant kid looking to take big bites out of everything I could get my jaw around, but Bryan Ferry was one of those characters who would make me pause and for a few moments consider how much fun it might be to have his life for a while.

A few weeks back I saw an interview with Bryan Ferry on TV. He seems unchanged in so many ways. I tried to figure out how old he was as I watched. Over 60? You’re kidding me? But yes, over 60 and still tall and elegant and somehow unchanged, and still performing. He doesn’t have models for girlfriends anymore, and in fact has three grown sons. It was a good interview, in which he was affable and engaging, delighted it seemed to remember his roots as an art student starting out back in the sixties when everything seemed to be happening. Sitting there he seemed elegantly rumpled, and not quite the pristine hipster of yesteryear. He joked of how he was dressed in his “travelling clothes“, rather than one of his trademark (usually white) suits. He was polite and gracious, attentive to the questions which he answered thoughtfully, a smile often coming to his lips as he recalled something forgotten. I liked him, and in a different way from ever before. He struck me as being like an old-school English aristocrat like they probably don’t make anymore, a gentleman in every way, self-effacing, generous and engagingly reserved. Hope I age so well.