Ferry had charted an academic course during his young adult years; working as an art teacher while music was an outlet that manifested itself in his early R+B band The Gas Board. He had plenty of time to think long and hard before he made his next move. And what a move it was. He took the latest critical, theoretical components of contemporary 20th century art and interpolated these schools of thought as rock music. Ferry managed to inject music with post-graduate thesis-level work as he introduced Post-Modernist thought into the aging rock corpus. The oxymoron of heartfelt irony was now free to inform the work of those who followed following his groundbreaking work.
John Foxx was somewhat more conventional in his origins. He was also a product of art school, but as a young man, he was influenced by Pink Floyd and The Beatles. As he became older, the likes of Roxy Music and Kraftwerk were additional beacons to him. His first three albums with Ultravox are the sound of a man rifling through his art supplies in an urgent search for style. By album three he had hit upon his basic sound [electro-psychedelia meets krautrock] as well as his life’s work thematic focus, which manifested itself in his journal/novel “The Quiet Man.” It was an examination of the relationship between a being [man], a city [society/environment], and the mutability of identity between the two forces. The rest of his music, by and large, would examine these themes while the music surrounding these concerns would change and mutate. Sometimes wildly.
Both artists recorded their debut singles when they were the advanced [for rock] age of 27. What this has meant for their body of work is that it is not adolescent at all, which is generally, a hallmark of rock and roll music. Both artists have a Romantic aspect to their work, but it is filtered through a somewhat dispassionate Apollonian point of view. Romance as an ideal informs their respective struggles. Neither artist has a Dionysian bent whatsoever! It is inconceivable that either would ever write about “getting high” with their “sweet mama.” That’s not how they roll.
Both artists triangulated apart from the most significant Post-Punk meta-influence [apart from each other] in the person of David Bowie. Bowie was involved with conventional rock bands [who have left traces to follow] from the age of 16 and he [unlike Ferry and Foxx] grew up in public through a prolonged adolescence as he tried things that did or didn’t work in the process of creating his artistic persona. When Bowie became a superstar in 1972, it was after a decade of hard work trying! How he must have been sideswiped by the emergence of Ferry with all of his ducks in a row, as if issued from the Head of Zeus. Bowie has long admired Ferry’s achievements and it was not for nothing that he gave the band choice placement as an opening act on his Ziggy shows. Within a year, Ferry was considered one of Bowie’s few peers. Five years later and Bowie was ensconced with Eno in Hansa studios in Berlin. And we all benefitted. Similarly, Bowie picked Foxx as one of the next generation that bore his influence who might go on to significantly offer something on his own even as he spent considerable effort sniping Foxx wanna-be Gary Numan in the press of 1979. But Foxx’s debut album [“Ultravox!”] had been produced by Eno as early as 1976. In fact, Foxx remembered Bowie’s call coming through and the word getting to Brian Eno on his next assignment. Destination: Berlin!
Furthermore, Ferry and Foxx’s careers have been inverse mirrors of each other as Ferry began in academia as an art teacher before conquering the charts to become a star. He’s stayed in the firmament of Rock ever since. Unlike Foxx, who had less financial success and never crossed over to the pop charts. Foxx ultimately took a 12 year “sabbatical” from rock music beginning in the mid-80s, a darned good time for him to have had the foresight to know when to get out; unlike scads of my other favorite artists who unwisely soldiered onward. He reverted to his graphic design degree as a practitioner as well as instructor during that period. As late as 2007, he was still attached to the London College of Music and Media at the University of West London as a senior lecturer.
When Foxx re-entered the sphere of music in 1997, it was with the renewed vigor of youth as he proceeded to release approximately thirty albums both solo and in collaboration with others, such as Steve Jansen [Japan], Harold Budd, and Robin Guthrie [Cocteau Twins]. His work of the last three years with The Maths stands as his acme as in Ben “Benge” Edwards, he’s found an artistic foil who is clearly his best ever. Foxx calls him his own “Conny Plank” and as someone who had his breakthrough album produced by Plank in 1978, he knows whereof he speaks.
Meanwhile, Ferry; having burst onto the scene like an artistic supernova, had adopted a glacial pace of artistic development by the early 1980s that saw him making painstaking albums that took years and years of production typified by much rethinking and re-working. While his later albums offer subtle pleasures of refinement, his salad days are clearly behind him. I’d go as far as saying that they were over by 1974, actually. But in that brief period, he defined whole new realms of art rock from point zero. This is hardly anything to wail and gnash over. He’s become an elder statesman of art rock even as Foxx is finally getting his due as an innovator and meta-influence on his own. But Foxx has the eye of the tiger and he’s not resting on his laurels. His new album with The Maths, “Evidence,” is released this month, and I await its arrival on my racks with anticipation!
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