Bryan Ferry Takes a Prim Look at Life’s Seamy Side

As the creative genius behind Roxy Music for more than a decade and a solo artist on the side, Bryan Ferry has taken great pleasure in elevating camp to art while reducing art to camp.

The British singer-songwriter, who performs Friday night at San Diego State University’s Open Air Theater, is to rock ‘n’ roll what French novelist-poet Jean Genet is to literature: a unique stylist whose work embodies the nihilistic belief that the only way to achieve purity is through debasement. Only when you hit the bottom will you be able to see clearly to the top--and, when you do, you are likely to find yourself staring into a mirror.

Accordingly, many of Ferry’s songs, both on his 11 albums with Roxy Music and on his seven solo excursions, explore the seamy underbelly of contemporary society as seen through the eyes of a prim and proper gentleman. First, there’s revulsion, then acceptance and, finally, extolment.

The common theme to Ferry’s lyrics is how easily idealism can turn into cynicism. On the hit single off Roxy Music’s 1975 “Siren” album, for example, he concluded that “Love is a Drug.” Thirteen years later, he observed in the single “Kiss and Tell” (from his solo album “Bete Noir”) that “Ten cents a dance/It’s the only price to pay/Why give ‘em more/When it’s only love for sale?”


Musically, Ferry welds the sweetest classical melodies to the most cacophonous garage-rock rhythms (with Roxy Music) or to the most frenetic techno-dance beat (on his last two solo albums, both of which have been huge commercial successes).

Visually, too, Ferry is a study in contrast. On stage, either with Roxy Music--before the band’s 1985 breakup--or on his own, he looks as much the elegant dandy as he does the decadent playboy. His attire is impeccable: black suit, black tie, white shirt. Yet his forehead drips with sweat, and his hair is an unruly mob of grease.

And his eyes are those of a man who dreams of heaven, but lusts after hell.

It has been exactly 10 years since Larry Farkas and Rich Horowitz decided to turn their record-collecting hobby into a business and open a record store of their own.


They set up shop on El Cajon Boulevard, just east of College Avenue, under the name Off the Record. With outlets for both Tower Records and the Wherehouse within walking distance, Farkas and Horowitz opted to concentrate not on the hits, but on little-known punk and new wave releases on tiny independent labels. They also stocked thousands of used albums, many of them rare collectibles from the 1960s that had long been out of print.

What really set Off the Record apart from the chains, however, was its impressive selection of singles, extended-play records, LPs and cassettes put out by San Diego bands like the Penetrators and the Battalion of Saints.

“We wanted to show our support for the local music scene,” Horowitz said. “A lot of bands spent all their money on recording and pressing a single or an LP, only to find the big chain stores didn’t want to be bothered with the paper work.

“But we welcomed that stuff; we put up flyers and pushed the bands, and we ended up doing very well.”


Indeed. When the record industry took a dive in the early 1980s and many chains went out of business, Off the Record expanded into the building next door and opened a second store in Encinitas.

Today, Farkas and Horowitz’s commitment to local music is stronger than ever. Both Off the Record stores now reserve a separate rack for records and tapes by San Diego bands, and new local releases are promoted through wall displays as prominent as the ones in Tower and the Wherehouse for the latest Bruce Springsteen or Madonna album.

One reason for this commitment is that five of Off the Record’s 22 employees, including co-owner Horowitz, now play in local bands. Steve Foth and Dennis Borlek make up the guitar duo Carnivorous Lunar Activity, which performs acoustic versions of vintage mod and rhythm-and-blues classics. Singer Cliff Cunningham and guitarist Keith Larson are members of punk metal band Drunk With Power.

As for Horowitz, he plays guitar in the Wayback Machine, which specializes in covers of obscure rock tunes from the 1960s by such “underground” bands as the Blues Magoos and the Seeds.


OLD TIME ROCK ‘N’ ROLL: The Trebels, from Imperial Beach, specialize in resurrecting the potent R&B; sound of such early 1960s English groups as the Yardbirds and the Animals. Last week, the quartet’s debut single, “That’s You,” backed with “That Girl,” was released by Whaaam! Records, an independent label based in San Francisco.

The 45 is available locally only at the two Off the Record stores in East San Diego and Encinitas.

IT TAKES TWO: On his new album, “Soul Searchin’,” ex-Eagle Glenn Frey co-wrote nearly every song with veteran North County tunesmith Jack Tempchin. The pair previously collaborated on several of Frey’s past hits, including 1985’s “You Belong to the City” and “Smuggler’s Blues.”

BITS AND PIECES: Last week, Oingo Boingo became the only pop act all summer to play two nights at San Diego State University’s Open Air Theater. . . . Reggae singer Andrew Tosh, son of the late, great Peter Tosh, will make his San Diego concert debut Tuesday night at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach.