Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mother of Pearl

Man Ray (Emmanual Radnitzky) (American, 1890-1976), Nancy Cunard, 1928
If you're looking for love in a looking glass world, it's pretty hard to find. --Bryan Ferry

I've fallen in love with an older woman. I can't tell you much more than that.

There is a song by Roxy Music called "Mother of Pearl". This song has enthralled me for many, many years . . . and every time I listen to Bryan Ferry's histrionic voice, every time I hear the tempo changes and rollicking rifts, I illuminate from inside out.

I glow from this music and I cannot explain why.

Like a personal anthem, the song speaks directly to me, encompassing my reality. The music is fantastic, but it's the near-perfect fusion of lyrical poetry and transcendent Rock 'n Roll that gives me euphoria.

You know, I could never get to the bottom of "Mother of Pearl." It kept me guessing into my late twenties.

The language, always enchanting, mystical . . . funneled through electric sound. There were lines that eluded me.

I didn't have the experiences to match the words.

But I felt the meaning of the song in my bones.

Because of this mystique, I retained a heard-for-the-first-time experience every time I pressed play.

We make meaning out of poems, and "Mother of Pearl" is a poem.

At first, you find the smaller pearls strung together on chords and in between lines; only later--if you are lucky--do you find the mother pearl.

This song explains my trials in love, my delusions, and my late-blooming revelations.

Mother of Pearl--Roxy Music

Salvador Dali (Spanish, 1904-1989), Mae West's face which may be Used as a Surrealist Apartment, 1934/35

Mother Of Pearl

Turn the lights down Way down low
Turn up the music Hi as fi can go
All the gang's here Everyone you know
It's a crazy scene Hey there just look over your shoulder oo oo
Get the picture? No no no no....Yes

Walk a tightrope Your life sign line
Such a bright hope Right place, right time
What's your number? Never you mind
Take a powder But hang on a minute what's coming round the corner, ooh.. oo oo
Have you future? No no no no....Yes

Well I've been up all night.. Again?
Party time wasting
Is too much fun

Then I step back thinking
Of life's inner meaning
And my latest fling

It's the same old story
All love and glory
It's a pantomime

If you're looking for love
In a looking glass world
It's pretty hard to find

Oh Mother of Pearl, I wouldn't trade you for another girl

Divine intervention
Always my intention
So I take my time

I've been looking for something
I've always wanted
But was never mine

But now I've seen that something
Just out of reach, glowing
Very Holy Grail

Oh Mother of Pearl, lustrous lady of a sacred world

Thus, even Zarathustra
Another time loser
Could believe in you

With every goddess a let down
Every idol a bring down
It gets you down

But the search for perfection
Your own predilection
Goes on and on and on and on

Canadian club love
A place in the country
Everyone's ideal

But you are my favorita
And a place in your heart dear
Makes me feel more real

Oh Mother of Pearl I wouldn't change you for the whole world

You're highbrow, holy
With lots of so
Melancholy shimmering

Serpentine sleekness
Was always my weakness
Like a simple tune

But no dilettante
Filigree fancy
Beats the plastic you

Career girl cover
Exposed and another
Slips right into view

Oh looking for love
In a looking glass world
Is pretty hard for you

Few throw away kisses
The boomerang misses
Spins round and round

Fall on feather bed quilted
Faced with silk
Softly stuffed eider down

Take refuge in pleasure
Just give me your future
We'll forget your past

Oh Mother of Pearl
Submarine lover
In a shrinking world

Oh lonely dreamer
Your choker provokes
A picture of cameo

Oh Mother of Pearl
So, so semiprecious
In your detached world

Oh Mother of Pearl I wouldn't trade you for another girl (repeat)

Lyrics from eLyrics



windspirit-girl said...

I am going to HAVE to listen to this song. Wonderful lyrics. So happy for you, btw. :)

TrinaMb said...

I like how you drop little bombs, then softly spread the shrapnel with some of your most deepest thoughts.
These type of posts with music, its' relevance to you, the lyrics - are sublime.
Love me RosyMusic, thanks for the trip down memory lane. Brian Ferry has such a haunting voice. Love is the Drug is myfave, but hard to beat out More Than This, and Jealous Guy. Avalon spun relentlessly back in the day.
Did you notice in the 'eLyrics' how 'scared' in the MofP chorus replaces the sung 'sacred'?

Lethe said...


Thanks for catching that!


kira_arg said...

Congratulations on finding love, “in a looking glass world”! So happy for you!

Being a fellow RoxyMusic/Bryan Ferry fan I have to say I love ‘Mother Of Pearl’. This much is true about so many RM/BF songs: They can be read as poems, they can be sung as songs but there’s so much more. Take ‘Mother of Pearl’. The lyrics overlap i.e. “Get the picture? No no no no....Yes”. It might as well be impossible to sing it alone; it’s like an elaborate composition of lyrical poetry, voices and enchanting music, like a beautiful and successful experiment.

I love that you describe its effect as, “I glow from this music and I cannot explain why.” I had a similar experience with the very first Bryan Ferry song that I’d heard when I was quite young - ‘Don’t stop the Dance’. Whenever I hear that song I am transported into a mysterious, sacred place and when the song ends I get a feeling of having lost something. So I keep listening and keep losing myself in these songs. And just as you described, I feel the meaning of these songs in my bones, in my blood, in my soul. The feeling is akin to sacred mantras: when you speak them aloud, you break their sanctity; likewise I believe the magic of Bryan Ferry is to be felt by oneself, within oneself.

johnrcornwall said...

A week or so back the fact of my age in chronological terms was brought forcibly home to me when I was with a young student in the music room who expressed an intense delight having discovered Eno's work. A puzzled expression drew across his face when he said 'He used to be with some band or other'
Roxy Music, I said. 'I thought he just worked with U2', he said. In the room rack after rack of keyboards were fixed to computers, mixers, sequencers, double-fold microphones and an intense ignorance of what musically had gone on before. Had that been poetry -- and in a way it is -- Eliot would have been spinning in his grave. 'Mother Of Pearl' isn't the best the divine Mr Ferry has offered us. 'In Every Dream Home A Heartache' is a song that adopts a persona, pre-Bowie, whose very presence is as exact as a remembered dream but with real intent. I had the good fortune way back when to see Roxy Music in concert at least a dozen times and always things ended with 'Song For Europe' with Mr Ferry, then dressed as an American GI, whistling the refrains at the end that slowly dissolved into an unutterable silence at which point the house lights went down only to re-fire for the encore, always 'The Strand',
following vociferous chants of 'Roxy, Roxy, Roxy', myself included. And I make no apologies for that. It simply was, still is, that kind of magnificence that comes around once only in a lifetime. Yet like yourself I am now happily immersed in Bach and Beethoven both of whom afford me an enormous pleasure. One follow on though -- in the '80's a certain David Sylvian formed a band called Japan. Although their career was short David Sylvian transformed himself from pop star -- he was voted the most beautiful man in the world seven years running -- into an art form unto himself. His solo output has reached, to date, 31 albums and with each one there is a progression. The latest 'Manafon' a title derived from the town in Wales in which the poet and priest R S Thomas grew up and whose lyrical influence Sylvian extorts to a great and agreeable degree is far more stripped down than anything Cabaret Voltaire manage in the early '70's. There are those sparse vocals, the slight yet never intrusive input of saxaphone and oboe, electronic distortion being the measure. On that album there are eleven tracks and when played and listened to as a whole they begin to sound like a protracted suicide note. Sylvian is a character, at least in public life, akin to any character in 'The Waste Land', Tireseus the oracle on divan beds with the wayward secretary, Stetson on London Bridge....David Sylvian does all of that kind of Angst but at the same time is removed from it -- 'Here it is', he seems to be saying, 'this is me', and who the hell are you'? If you fnd links to any of his work your readers would be pleased. And as for the cigarettes, who the hell cares. But yourself.
Continue the good work,


Lori said...

This entry made me smile for a thousand reasons. Thank you for that.

Lethe said...

Thank you Lori

mark said...

Wonderful post. My first exposure to Roxy Music was as a 9 or 10 year old kid, parents out of town, older sister having a wild chaotic party, I am drunk, one of my 1st times (she didn't know! not her fault!), people passed out all over the livjng room which is very dimly lit, I'm sitting there, staring out the dark picture window. And then Mother of Pearl erupts out of the speakers. I became intoxicated, transported, enchanted by that magical, impossible, beautiful song. When his voice alone, repeats the title line at the end, it's like I was in another world.

'Have adored the band ever since (I'm 45 now). Saw them at the Guthrie Theater in 1980 or so (Manifesto tour). Thanks for bringing me back to the magic.

elspeth said...

What a lovely post. So many Roxy Music songs move me intensely, Mother of Pearl included. I love the loud frenzy of its start, mellowing out into the slow sweetness of the middle, ending in that vulnerable quavering chant at the end. RM were always so good at those jarring mood changes in their songs.
I really enjoyed reading your own personal and emotional responses to this song, thank you.

todd said...

That's funny. I have the same feelings when I hear this some-what hypnotic song. It's my favorite Roxy Music song for sure. The changes are brilliant. Bryan Ferry was in the game way before the Talking Heads front-man, David Byrne - who tried to come close.

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