Life & Culture

What Roxy Music Means to Me

Thomas Gorton shares what the band – specifically the artwork of their 1974 album Country Life – means to him

  • TextThomas Gorton

In 1972, Roxy Music released a self-titled album that would change the course of pop culture forever. 45 years on, the band are re-releasing this album and, with it, a stream of previously unreleased demos, outtakes, radio sessions, rare footage and a 136-page book. To celebrate, we’re devoting the next 24 hours to Roxy Music, presenting a series of articles curated in collaboration with the band.

One knock on the door and I’d be let in. A ritual I’d share with my father, when I was around seven or eight years old, was the chance to enter his study each evening. There he’d be writing or listening to music and I’d have a chance to sip his Carlsberg Special Brew, an ashy, trampy, forbidden drink that contained the key to an adulthood I craved but didn’t understand.

I’d try to drink as much as I could, and three glugs or so down he’d tell me to stop. We didn’t live in a particularly big house, but it still felt secret, the act of entrance into a place I knew wasn’t mine felt like a sacred element of suburbia – I’d enter rarely, regularly.

The dim glow of a lamp and the gleam of a PC illuminated the room just enough to cast light on a record that had always stayed nestled underneath the legs of his bricky Yamaha keyboard, a prohibited part of the corner of my eye – two women in underwear, one almost masculine, her hands covering her nipples, the other covering her crotch, both with bright red lipstick and dark, metallic eyeshadow. It was my first experience of seeing a body that I probably wasn’t meant to see. I’d always look, and never ask. It was simply a secret curiosity – I didn’t mention it to my dad and he likely didn’t know I was looking at the album.

I grew up with Roxy Music vicariously. I heard my dad say the words around the house as a kid, but at first I understood it as a genre – like you may have jazz, grunge or roxy. Virginia Plain and Do The Strand were boisterous glam anthems lent an intimacy through the way in which I heard them – reverberating through narrow corridors, echoing out from a room I wanted to be in, intriguing secondhand noise. Even in private moments as a kid, I always thought about the cover of (what I later found out to be) Country Life. Who were those women?

I became a teenager, one with designs on making music of my own and playing in bands. That means doing your research, and Roxy Music went from being my dad’s band to mine. I remember opening the vinyl of For Your Pleasure and being blown away by the drama of it all – the psychedelic noir of their looks on the gatefold inner sleeve, the pre-Blade Runner skyline and menacing black hound on the front, the relentlessly smacky, menacing sound of “Bogus Man”. It was strange to be surprised by a band I already knew.

Memories live in you at random, impossible to shake, and the ones that don’t happen by design can linger the longest. Those repeated glimpses in my dad’s room of Contanze Karoli and Eveline Grunwald on the cover of Country Life were as stressful as they were exciting – I was semi-comfortable in the presence of something that must be OK ’cause my dad has it, but nervous being around an image that I thought was considered “bad”, and even more anxious about the idea that my dad would know I was either comfortable with it, or nervous about it.

Despite a wall of silence between us around the Country Life sleeve, Roxy Music became something that me and my father bonded over – him proud and likely relieved that younger people still jammed his stuff, me excited to lose myself in Roxy’s world of opulent, faded glamour and tell my friends that yes, I do have the vinyl. Country Life is not one of my favourite Roxy albums, but the sensation of uneasiness and intrigue I felt being in the presence of its artwork before I had a concept of sexuality is a memory that will live with me forever.

Thomas Gorton is the Editor of Dazed Digital.

Roxy Music: The Debut Album 45th Anniversary Four Disc Super Delux Box Set will be released by UMC on February 2nd, 2018. Pre-order a copy here.