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Roxy Music History 'Re-Makes' The Rock Bio Form

The conventional thinking about British art-rock group Roxy Music is that Brian Eno was the brains of the outfit and Bryan Ferry was just the beautiful bimbo in front. But as this fan swooned over Ferry's aquiline nose, silky voice and perfect hair, it was obvious he was a genius — just look at the way he dressed.

Michael Bracewell's history of Roxy Music does not go for conventional thinking — not about the band, and certainly not about how to write a rock biography. There are no stories of life on the road or time spent in recording studios. Bracewell, a British novelist and journalist who has written extensively on art, music and fashion, decided to focus on the path each band member took to get to Roxy Music. Eno and Ferry do not even meet until page 335.

From the start, Roxy wasn't just about the music; it was about image and pose, too. And Bracewell investigates every line of influence, from Ferry's tutelage under master painter and collagist Richard Hamilton to the player-piano scrolls Eno doctored as a boy.

In fact, there are large sections of the book in which members of the band do not show up at all. Instead, it examines the birth of Pop Art in the U.K., or the re-emergence of the centuries-old style of dandyism. Bracewell collects oral histories from artists like Hamilton and realist painter Rita Donagh, as well as the owner of a clothing boutique from Ferry's hometown of Newcastle.

The point of Roxy Music — which really was Ferry's brainchild — was to blend classical art and pop, high and low culture, blues-based rock and Gene Kelly. Taking their lead, Bracewell combines art history, music theory and a smashing sense of fashion to create a new kind of rock history, one worthy of its groundbreaking subject.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jessa Crispin