Dashing and determined, Bryan Ferry sat down to dinner at Il Cantinori, a posh Greenwich Village eatery, for a discussion of his new album, Taxi, his third collection of songs by other writers. Now forty-seven, Ferry put away two martinis before starting in. Rolling Stone picked up the tab.
Taxi is dedicated to your mother. What was your relationship with her like?
Very, very close. She was marvelous. My father – he was like a country yokel, farmer guy. My mother was like a town person, very bang-bang-bang. My dad never knew how to drive a car or use a phone. He was very proud of winning prizes for his plowing – it was a different world. When I was young I was embarrassed by this. When I got older, I thought, "This is fantastic." They courted for ten years before they got married: my dad on a farm horse riding every day to see her – in a bowler hat and spats, like from Thomas Hardy.
When he died in '84 it was a huge blow. So I was conditioned by that for my mother dying two years ago. But even then I just couldn't . . . I found it very hard to deal with. But it's strange, after a year or so the physical absence turns into a spiritual presence. You feel they're with you all the time.
Did Taxi begin as an album of other people's work?
Four years ago I did a tour, which I hadn't done for six years. It was wonderful. I finished the tour and started writing. Within three to six months the music was all there – some of the best tunes I'd come up with ever. I was trying to do an album in six months and then go back on tour. It backfired. I hit my usual lyric block in a very hard way. At that time I had no producer, no manager. A lot of things went wrong.
With the strength of retrospective, I should have just written the lyrics and got on with it. I got to the point where I'd worked on Horoscope for three years. I said, "Well, I'm going to start looking at other songs." In America you'd call them covers – I hate that term. To me a cover is just changing the vocal performance. I like to redesign a song.
It's really a modern idea, after Dylan –
That you have to write your own stuff – that's right. The idea that you can write your whole repertoire yourself seems to me rather conceited. I did like Dylan's latest album, actually, which was an interpretive album.
It was an interesting move for him at a point when people –
Were beginning to doubt him.
And also beginning to canonize his songs, like at that Madison Square Garden show.
It was strange that they didn't ask me to go to that – not that I would have gone. "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" [which Ferry recorded in 1973] was, I think, a very good homage to him. Dylan and Lou Reed are two lyricists I respect – and there are not many. Gerry Goffin of Goffin-King - I did "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" for this album. When you do this, it's like being in the studio with a few great collaborators. Goffin and King are there, saying: "This is the tune. This is the lyric. Have a go?"
I met his daughter quite recently, Louise Goffin. She told me that her father wrote the lyric, which is quite interesting because most people say, "Oh, it's very much a woman's song."
And "Amazing Grace"?
That's different. "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," where I had the 45 when I was a teenager – it's part of your life. "Amazing Grace" I never really took too much notice of. Hundreds of versions have been done. Beautiful lyric. Singing those words was very nice. In this world of hideous rap, the horrors of the modern world, it seemed very old-fashioned, quaint and beautiful. Pure. I liked it.
There's an elegiac feeling to that song.
To me it sounds very European, medieval, with this droning sound, muffled drums. John Cale and Lou Reed – it was where they met in the best place. And Nico's doom-laden voice.
What are your favorites among your own work?
For Your Pleasure, from '73, and Avalon, from '82. Both turning points, points where I made big changes.
Do you feel sanguine about what's ahead?
I feel on a roll. There are so many things I want to do. I've got my original manager back after years of horror. The Horoscope album – I listened to it two weeks ago after a year's distance. It sounded great to me. I want to finish it and have it out next spring. I want to do a tour this fall. Possibly a Roxy record. People keep asking me – they're so keen on that.
What is Roxy Music now?
It's a name people are very fond of. I think it would mean having [saxophonist] Andy [Mackay] and [guitarist] Phil [Manzanera] coming on.
Do you and Eno speak?
I saw him two weeks ago. We got on very well, indeed. Extraordinary – we hadn't really been together for twenty years. I thought: "Oh, yes. I remember his talent, common sense, words of wisdom." He's very bright, Brian. I'd like to work with him very much – him producing or coproducing me.
What split you up in the first place?
Perhaps my ego was overfertile. I was just very conscious of being the artist. That's all it was.
Where did you see him?
In the Caribbean with our families. I heard he was on the island, and I said, "I must call him."
Two Englishmen in the tropics.
It was very Somerset Maugham.
This story is from the July 8th, 1993 issue of Rolling Stone.