For this installment of Your Favorite Band, Zac Pennington from Parenthetical Girls gets dreamy and dramatic with Bryan Ferry.
Illustration by Adam Mignanelli mignanelli
The room was deep and yawning, the ceilings high, sheer white drapes obscuring the street-level traffic just outside of the Viennese hotel, its pretensions of elegance a pitch-perfect parody of European sophistication. At least that’s how I remember it. In retrospect, I admit that it all sounds a little too apropos, but I have to appeal somewhat to your charity for much of what follows. I’ve never been a person to remember the sensual details of my life’s pivotal moments, to be able to call upon the tactile or olfactory sensations of a memory at will the way I’m lead to believe other writers can. I have a famously unreliable memory for details. What I can tell you with some assurance (if only because I am a creature of habit) is that that morning I went looking for a bowl of muesli, but found instead Bryan Ferry.
The promoter for our show the night before had made mention of the rumors that Ferry might be secretly staying at the same hotel where we would be stationed for the night, but I hadn’t given the suggestion a second thought before absently making for the continental breakfast the following morning. I entered the Austro-caricature dining hall of my previous (dubious) description to find it nearly empty, two hotel staffers clearing away the last of the room-temperature milk and preserves the only people separating me from a small group convened at the furthest table. The manner of the man must have been palpable at that great distance, because even without my glasses, he was absolutely unmistakable, all careful coif, and refined detachment. I recognized a production manager from the previous night’s show amongst the handful of sycophants hummingbirding the table, all (less one on a cellphone, a beautiful creature [naturally] I can only describe as looking something like a prep school version of the Afghan Girl from that cover of National Geographic, whom I later discerned was either his assistant or his god-daughter, or some hybrid in between) sheepishly trying to contain their excitement, and all failing miserably. The gregarious PM gestured me over, the radiant blush of his Austrian features betraying the detached supine of his posture to anyone within a fifty mile radius. Anyone, that is, who didn’t have the sum total of their faiths, trusts, and desires fixed upon one Mr. Bryan Ferry, of which I could effectively count zero.
Introduced plainly by name, he extended his hand to me, broad and delicate, firm yet soft, workingman’s hands gone effete, a touch like a draft horse raised entirely free from its evolutionary function. With elegantly feigned interest, he asked me what it was that brought an American to Vienna, muttering some rote quip about Freud that was both well-timed and very funny, but whose essential delivery entirely escapes me now. I told him that I was a journalist, which is what I say to people when I’m embarrassed to use the word “musician,” which is nearly all of the time. (It should be noted that from that point on, our moments of interaction, such as they were, segued seamlessly into a Q&A counterpoint, me playing the dutiful Q to his generous, strangely precise A). I don't remember anyone ever explaining why he was there.
This is where my memory begins to fail me, but there are a few stray observations I can recount with some certainty, having written them surreptitiously on my hand as bullet points of just how I intended to recount the exchange, all as it was still happening:
• His suit is Dior (it is 11am), jacket but no tie, an understated scarf around his neck, and in stocking(!) feet.
• 16oz glass of apple juice, half-finished, to his left. Perhaps a seemingly trivial observation, but just pause for a moment and consider the last time you saw an adult drinking a large glass of apple juice. Wholesome and unsettling.
• There is an ashtray at the center of the table with a single still smoldering cigarette, its filter rimmed with harlot red lipstick. No one at any point touches it.
• He wears no wedding band.
• An almost sub-audible hum… [author's note: text sweat-smeared and unintelligible]
As the clock approached noon, my stomach began to remind me of what had brought me to this inelegant setting in the first place, my gaze casually absconding with my rising hunger, toward the now-empty breakfast bar at mid-room. Seeming to sense a momentarily lapse in his otherwise undivided field of sexual gravity, Bryan gracefully halted the conversation to affix his attentions upon me, inquiring benignly if anything was the matter. I shrinkingly apologized for my distraction, and explained my situation, at which point, and I remember this without question, as I will until the day I die, Bryan Ferry said to me, with startling sincerity, “Oh, you poor thing!”
The atmosphere shifted dramatically, as Bryan swiftly arose, a towering man, considerably taller than his seated self suggested, motioned toward the door, and insisted that I come with him. He excused himself politely, and soon the Afghan Girl was ushering the both of us to the customarily miniature European elevator, and up to Bryan’s suite. There was small talk, but god help me if I can remember a single luxurious word of it. Nor do I remember any explanation for this sudden detour, it’s just safe to say that when Bryan Ferry gestures for the door, it is unquestionably time to go.
We arrived at his room, where I was immediately greeted with a glass of turmeric water (“it’s good for the throat”), and instructed to sit and wait. A few silent moments passed between me and Afghan Girl before Bryan reentered proudly, presenting me with a Styrofoam container clamshelled open to reveal its contents: the remains of a half-eaten Döner Kebab. Bryan Ferry was offering me his leftovers. Leaving me to my meal, Bryan disappeared down the deep, receding corridor of his suite. I finished gracelessly, and waited for some kind of social cue as to how to proceed. The Afghan Girl glanced up momentarily from her Blackberry, her eyes returning to the screen before sighing through her Euro-mutt cliché of an accent: “You are velcome to stay for as long as you like. Mees-tah Ferry vill not be return-ink.”
Previously: Your Favorite Band - Mama Cass