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Bryan Ferry, Channeling Bob Dylan

British singer-songwriter Bryan Ferry is probably best known as the frontman for Roxy Music, the experimental synth-pop band he founded in 1971.

But over the years, in between his Roxy music, he's recorded albums devoted to songwriters he admires.

The latest? It features his takes on tunes from "Simple Twist of Fate" to "Make You Feel My Love," and it's called Dylanesque.

57:23

Other segments from the episode on July 5, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 5, 2007: Interview with Carol Muske-Dukes; Interview with Bryan Ferry.

Transcript

DATE July 5, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Carol Muske-Dukes, author of the novel "Channeling
Mark Twain," on teaching creative writing at a women's detention
facility
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Carol Muske-Dukes, has written a novel about an idealistic woman in
the 1970s, who starts a creative writing program for inmates at the women's
detention house on Riker's Island. The novel is based on Muske-Dukes' own
experiences when she started a writing program at Riker's. The novel is
called "Channeling Mark Twain." The title refers to an inmate who believes
she's the illegitimate great-granddaughter of Mark Twain.

Muske-Dukes is the founder of the graduate program in literature and creative
writing at the University of Southern California, and also teaches at
Columbia. She's the author of two other novels and seven poetry collections,
one of which was a National Book Award finalist. She's also a former poetry
columnist for the LA Times book review.

"Channeling Mark Twain" is not only about the idealistic teacher and the
inmates she teaches, it's about the pimps who have a business interest in the
inmates. Here's a reading from the opening of the novel.

Ms. CAROL MUSKE-DUKES: "The pimps got on the bus at the stop just before the
end of the line. The end of the line was Riker's Island, and the stop before
was just at the foot of a very long bridge. I'd read somewhere that the
Riker's Island Bridge was only 5,000 feet long, and before it was built, the
only way to reach the island was by ferry boat."

"Now the bridge connected the island with the city, but the largest penal
colony in the United States was still remote. `But not so remote,' I wrote in
my notebook, `that pimps couldn't manage to slouch out past the great,
glittering skyline, hats on their heads, to haul in their booty.'"

"We were all riding the Hazen Street bus, which stopped daily in front of
Bloomingdale's in Manhattan, where I got on, then crossed the 59th Street
Bridge and trundled out through Queens all the way to the foot of that
mile-long span. Cars were not allowed on the island; only corrections vans,
work vehicles and prison shuttles, which looked like golf carts, and the daily
bus."

"As we crossed the bridge, planes skidded through the clouds above us, above
the flat-topped cell block buildings, nine jails for men, one for women."

GROSS: That's Carol Muske-Dukes, reading from her new novel "Channeling Mark
Twain."

Carol, why did you include pimps in the opening scene, riding to Riker's
Island?

Ms. MUSKE-DUKES: Well, you know, I tried to write about--this novel is
somewhat autobiographical, and I had tried to write about the experiences of
teaching poetry in prison for a long time, and I could never quite find a way
in to the experience, and I finally realized I had to just dive in to what was
the hardest thing to write about, the thing I least wanted to write about,
which was the reality of "The Life"--that is to say, capital T, capital
L--that most of the women in prison, most of the women at the women's house,
many of them, anyway, were prostitutes, and many of them lived the life and
gave all their money to pimps, and the pimps were, although not in the prison,
obviously, were outside of the prison were very much present, and so I just
decided to confront it head on.

GROSS: What were some of the crimes that the women on Riker's were there for?
And it's a detention facility, so, you know, for a lot of women, they weren't
even charged yet. Like, what was...

Ms. MUSKE-DUKES: No.

GROSS: Why were the women you were working with there?

Ms. MUSKE-DUKES: Most of the women I was working with were there for what
are called more or less victimless crimes. That is to say, they either had
been charged or had not been charged--they were being detained for, what they
would ultimately be sentenced for, victimless crimes like prostitution, drugs,
even shoplifting. However, it was true then, and I think still is somewhat
true, that "women's crime"--in quotes--would jump--in other words, from
prostitution, drugs, shoplifting, to murder. There would be very little
middle crime, you know, burglary, grand larceny, knocking over the 7-11, that
kind of thing. Women would either, as I say in the novel, they'd be charged
for, you know, stealing a Twinkie or shooting a pimp's head off.

GROSS: Well, I want you to read one of the poems that one of the women writes
in your novel, and this is a woman who's charged with a violent crime, and the
poem is called "My Face." Tell us like who writes this in the novel, and then
read it to us.

Ms. MUSKE-DUKES: The woman who writes it in the novel is named Sally Keller,
and she is a woman who's in--is waiting to be charged with homicide. She has
killed her pimp, and she has been with this pimp for many, many, many years.
I should also say that, for prostitutes and pimps, there's a sort of
transactional agreement that the worst thing that can happen, or the worst,
most indictable, reprehensible thing that can happen between the pimp and the
prostitute is that the prostitute will hold out money from the pimp, hold
something back. And if the pimp finds out about it, he takes revenge, usually
a physical revenge, that is to say some sort of bodily harm or even death on
the prostitute.

GROSS: Now, before you read this, you should describe that the character in
the novel who's based on you, when she first meet this woman...

Ms. MUSKE-DUKES: Oh.

GROSS: ...is just appalled at how she looks. Describe how she looks.

Ms. MUSKE-DUKES: Yes. The main character, whose name is Holly Mattox, who
is a young woman, a young poet, who has come in to teach poetry in the
prisons, on the first class meeting, the women come into a classroom at the
prison, and she greets them all, and finally, the last woman to come in is
Sally Keller, who is shocking. And she's shocking in appearance because her
face looks like a cubist baseball, it looks like a hot dog split open on a
grill. Something very awful has happened to her face, and her eyes are on two
different levels. And Holly Mattox, the main character, the narrator, can
barely look at her, and yet can't stop looking at her.

GROSS: So here's the poem that the woman with the horrible face writes.

Ms. MUSKE-DUKES: "My Face."

You ask how I got this face,
And I say I got this face by having a mind
To stand up to the bloodsucker took my body,
Took my arms and legs,
Breasts and tongue,
My pretty hair,
Sold them all to bad 10 years and cheated me straight up.
And when I took my own body back from him and all he stole,
He come looking for me
And when he show up and find me, he bend a hangar straight,
Heat the wire white,
Tie me up in front of my baby son
So he could get see how my face open up by that wire
He slice all ways,
Rip side, rip back,
Rip slash over my nose bone and up,
So he say `You never look good to no man again.'
And so right.
I look no good to him,
That other day when I shot him once
Then got the gun up under his chin
`Slick,' I say,
`Better smile one last for me, 'cause now you get to have a new face, too.'

GROSS: Is this character based on a real woman who you taught at the
detention center? And is this poem based on a real poem that was written?

Ms. MUSKE-DUKES: This character is based on a composite, really, of a couple
of women whose faces were scarred very badly, who were in my class in the
workshop at the women's house of detention. And after a long period of time,
after we all knew each other pretty well, it came out that they had been
scarred, their faces had been cut in this way by pimps, this--I don't want to
call it a technique, but this custom of bending a hangar and then heating it
and then using it as a kind of surgical device to just completely damage the
face, and the appearance of the face, was apparently pretty common.

GROSS: And what about the poem? Did somebody write a poem like this in your
class?

Ms. MUSKE-DUKES: Actually, I had to make--this was a very hard job for me to
make up the poems, because, you know, there were poems that were about these
kinds of things but I obviously couldn't--and I actually put together a little
anthology at one point of some of the poems the women had written. So, you
know, they were still in my mind and I could read them. But I didn't want to,
of course, take the words of the women, so I had to write my own poems, but in
their voices, that is to say, or try to get close to the sound of their
voices. So this is my poem, and yet I, you know, tried to remember some of
the things that were said and some of the other poems that were circulating,
you know, that had bits and pieces of this experience, and put them together
into my single voice.

GROSS: So when you met women who had like shot their pimp or, you know, shot
someone else, were you shocked by that? And did you find it hard to relate to
them once you knew what they had done?

Ms. MUSKE-DUKES: No, I didn't because, you know, the experience of meeting
those pimps, they did stand outside the reception center at Riker's Island,
and I very quickly got a sense of what they were like. And then of course the
women talked about them a lot, or off and on. I got a sense of them as
absolutely ruthless, that the women meant less than nothing to them. And
usually they strung the women out on drugs so that the women would be
essentially slaves. They'd be slaves to the drug habit and then a slave to
the pimp. So I don't think I was shocked. I think that, you know, I just
didn't feel sympathy for the pimps and when they got what they essentially
deserved.

The novel is, to a large degree--or I hope it is--is about justice, and
justice being what it is, very contradictory in its application, one gets a
sense in prison of a sense of justice haven been taken into somebody's hands,
and that's what the feeling I got from these women often. Not that it's right
to kill people, but that when it came down to, for example, a woman who had
been beaten for 15 years by her husband and suddenly walked into church and
God spoke to her, she heard a voice telling her that she should shoot her
husband, I could understand that, rather than--or try to understand it rather
than be shocked by it.

GROSS: My guest is Carol Muske-Dukes. Her new novel is called "Channeling
Mark Twain." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest is poet and novelist Carol Muske-Dukes. Her new novel,
"Channeling Mark Twain," is based on her experiences in 1975 when she founded
a creative writing program at the women's detention house on Riker's Island.

What are some of the things that you learned by teaching at the women's
detention facility on Riker's Island that you don't think you otherwise would
have learned?

Ms. MUSKE-DUKES: I learned that people wrote--and I know this is going to
sound really dramatic, but people wrote to stay sane, they wrote to keep
alive. I have not, since then, encountered a need to write so fierce that
simply getting words on paper was a way of keeping oneself whole. That was a
huge thing for me to understand, a difficult thing to understand. And when I
understood it, it moved me so much. It moved me emotionally, and it educated
me as a teacher. It allowed me to see that expression is truly a lifeline. I
hadn't understood that before. Now I understand that, you know, no matter how
you teach, that's true, or where you teach, that's true, but it was really the
women at the women's house of detention who helped me to understand that.

GROSS: So what do you think was so lifesaving to the women who you taught in
the detention facility about writing?

Ms. MUSKE-DUKES: Well, I think that they could lie, for one thing. Writing
is not always about, obviously, the truth. What is the truth? I think that
writers of memoirs get into trouble often because remembering and imagining,
to a large degree, are the same thing. And so they were allowed to make up
stuff about themselves, and making up stuff about themselves provided this
larger emotional truth, which is aesthetic truth, which is the truth of the
poem or the truth of the story. And that was profoundly freeing for them,
once they saw that they could do that, you know, that it was OK, they didn't
have to sort of recite their charges or talk about their failures. They could
somehow talk about their lives in a way that made them more alive to
themselves.

GROSS: If you had gone into, say, an inner city public school and tried to
teach poetry, I'm not sure you would have had a great reception initially,
because it's really hard for any new teacher in a public school in a tough
neighborhood to get past the period where they're challenged by all the
students. Did you have to go through anything like that in a detention
facility? I mean, the people are forced to be there, and here you are coming
in from the outside, you know, wanting to give them something, and in this
case, give them, you know, poetry and writing.

Ms. MUSKE-DUKES: Yeah. Actually, I have gone into inner city schools. USC
sits, like a few universities--Columbia, Yale--in the middle of what is called
a, you know, difficult socioeconomic area, and there's something called the
Neighborhood Academic Initiative. I've gone into, you know, grade schools,
high schools, and taught students there. It is very hard, it's everything you
say. It's much harder, in a way--or much more challenging, at first.

When I went into the prisons, I was kind of amazed by the fact that the women
were so responsive immediately. But they are so hungry for contact from the
outside, any contact from the outside. And of course people were a little
suspicious of me, that was true. And they were actually resistant to certain
things at first. But finally it became, you know, this conduit to another
world, and that's what really opened it up, and it was easier in that way for
me. I think I had more trouble from the guards, ultimately, than I did from
the students, the inmates.

And our, you know, ultimately this became a program that went statewide. It
was called Free Space/Art without Walls, and we went everywhere in the New
York state prisons. So, you know, we had a lot of experience doing this, and
it was always the same.

GROSS: What kind of trouble did the guards give you?

Ms. MUSKE-DUKES: Well, the guards don't--you know, again, I'm not--I'm sure
this is still true. I was going to say I'm not sure it's still true, but I'm
sure it's still true that guards, correction officers have a really tough job.
They have to keep order inside the institution, obviously. They also have to
protect people who come in from the outside. And it makes their job
manifestly harder to have people coming in who don't know what the deal is.
That is to say, you go through civilian orientation, you're taught not to do
this, not to do that. You know, you never go anywhere unless there's a guard
somewhere in the area. You don't accept anything from inmates, you don't
bring them anything. And so they are very suspicious, typically. Though this
changes, too, after you go there for a while. And they resist a lot of the
traffic of people coming in.

GROSS: Did you go back to Riker's Island before writing the novel, in the
hopes that it would kind of enhance your memories of your experiences there?

Ms. MUSKE-DUKES: I did not. I was living in Los Angeles. I moved to Los
Angeles in 1983. I came back. I've moved back. I'm now that dread word
bicoastal, but I actually have not gone back. I'm working right now in trying
to start a new program at the only women's prison remaining in Manhattan, it's
called Bayview. And I hope to start a poetry writing class there in the fall.
But I haven't gone back to Riker's. I think that--I've talked to many people
who--I've talked to a few people who teach there, so I have a sense of what's
going on there, and I've written about it since then about the suicide rate,
which has gone up there, as it has in most prisons, but it's really gone up at
Riker's. And so I've kept in touch with what's going on up there, but I
haven't been out there.

I wanted to say, too, that, you know, I broke rules, too, when I first went
into the prison. I had this very--it wasn't really a cavalier attitude, but I
had this attitude that, you know, I was a '70s radical. I thought that you
could, you know, the establishment couldn't tell you what to do. So when I
was told--you're told in the civilian orientation before going into
prison--you're not supposed to bring in things like pens, ballpoint pens,
because the wires, the coiled wires inside, the spiral wires can be
straightened out and made into weapons. Same thing for notebook wire, those
spiral wires. Same thing for chewing gum, impressions of locks could be made,
and so on. Candy. I brought all those things in.

They, at that time, didn't check very carefully at the different checkpoints.
They did randomly search, and I was caught a couple times. But I just
thought, `Well, I can bring this stuff in. I have to have notebooks. The
students have to have notebooks. We have to have pens to write,' and so on.
But I realized later that I was making a mistake by doing that, and there's a
scene in which the warden instructs Holly Mattox, because of something that's
happened, very dramatic incident, that shows how contraband can really hurt
the inmates. And so, ultimately, one is supposed to work within a writing
class with, you know, little rainbow tablets and pencil stubs, and that's what
we did.

GROSS: So you think you were naive in some ways?

Ms. MUSKE-DUKES: I think I was naive. I think, again, I thought I was very
political. I thought that I was, you know, I knew better than the Department
of Corrections. And in some cases, I think that civilians do know better, and
when there's a, you know, a case of clear-cut abuse or something. But in this
case, no.

GROSS: Well, one of the inmates in your novel escapes from Riker's Island.
And that character, I believe, is based on a real inmate who was a member of
the Black Panther Party in the '70s when you taught at Riker's Island. Was
she one of your students?

Ms. MUSKE-DUKES: Yes, she was. Her name was Assata Shakur. She was
actually a member of--I'm trying to remember--I think it's called the Black
Liberation Army. She had been a Panther, too, as you said, and she was
charged with the shoot-out murder of a New Jersey state trooper on the
turnpike, New Jersey Turnpike, and she claimed her innocence. But before she
was brought up on trial, she escaped. Now, she didn't escape from Riker's
Island. I, obviously I fictionalize a good bit about her, but she escaped
from a prison in New Jersey. Nobody knows exactly how, but she got to Cuba,
where she is today, and there's a million dollar reward out on her head from
the families of the New Jersey state trooper. So, you know, she's still
wanted. She's written an autobiography called "Assata," and she's, you know,
kind of mythic figure.

GROSS: What was it like for you to know like a prisoner who became this kind
of like mythical story because of her escape?

Ms. MUSKE-DUKES: Well, she was very guarded. She was in the workshop for
quite a while, and as I mentioned, the other women began to write more about
their own experiences. She did not, until towards the end of the time that
she was there, and she wrote more about her daughter, who had actually been
born while in prison, while she was incarcerated, and then of course taken
away from her. And she ended up writing very moving, emotional, personal
poems, when one would have expected what some of the other women were writing,
which were very rhetorical, you know, "power to the people" kind of poems. So
that was an interesting contradiction.

GROSS: Carol Muske-Dukes is the author of the new novel "Channeling Mark
Twain." She'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and
this is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with poet and novelist Carol
Muske-Dukes. Her new novel, "Channeling Mark Twain," is based on her
experiences in the '70s, when she founded and taught in a creative writing
program at the women's detention house on Riker's Island.

When you were writing your novel, did you ever look back at who you were in
1975 when you started the writing program at Riker's Island and think, `Oh,
she was really naive,' or `She was really unformed' or `She was really
whatever.' Like what do you think of that person when you think of her?

Ms. MUSKE-DUKES: Well, yeah, I mean, you know, what I think of that person
is she was a mess, and she was naive. But she was very young. I realize that
I was, you know, I was 24, I think, my daughter's age now, and I know now that
I was barely conscious in certain ways. But I--there's a scene in the novel
where Holly Mattox, that character, takes up the cause of a woman who has lost
her daughter, whose daughter has died, and who wants to go out, be released
for her daughter's funeral. And I wrote this character, Holly Mattox, her
passion for this woman's cause in a way that I hope allowed the reader to see
that she didn't know how naive she was. And she walks into the warden's
office and demands that this woman be released, and then the warden, very,
very effectively educates her about what really has happened in terms of this
woman and the loss of the daughter.

It took me a long time to think about that. Even though I learned a great
deal at the moment, it took me a long time to think about how to write that
scene and understand how truly naive I was, Holly Mattox is, and how that kind
of naivete can actually be a damaging force.

GROSS: What did the warden tell you that showed how naive you were?

Ms. MUSKE-DUKES: Well, in my life, there was a woman whose daughter had died
after she was arrested, and she was arrested with what turned out to be her
pimp, she said it was her baby father. And the baby, her two-year-old, had
somehow fallen through the floorboards in her house, and had died underneath
the house, and the cops hadn't found her. And so she, this young woman, found
out about the baby's death, she said, after she got into Riker's Island and
wanted to be released to be at her funeral.

In fact, what had happened, I found out--the warden explained to me--was that
this child had been abused for some time, molested by the pimp, the baby
father, maybe, who had in fact beaten the child to death and then pushed her
down under the floorboards of the house so that the police found the body
later. But this woman, who was in love with her pimp, as some of them were,
and who was very, very addicted to drugs, claimed that the baby had died
naturally, and I believed her.

GROSS: So did that make you very skeptical of what everybody else was telling
you?

Ms. MUSKE-DUKES: No, it made me realize, though, that I had been moved by a
poem that this woman wrote. It was a very, I felt, moving poem, a poem of
great truth and--see, here we go again, you know? A poem of great truth, and
it was a poem about, you know, how the system was wrong, and how her child had
been destroyed by the system. And I was so ripe to believe that. I had that
view of the world. And so when the warden showed me, you know, the coroner's
photographs of the child and talked about the pimp and the pimp's record and
the woman's drug history and history with the pimp, I realized how naive I'd
been, and I got it that my political views perhaps needed some retuning.

It didn't make me completely cynical because, again, when you're working with
people who are writing and they really are expressing themselves as best as
they can, you have to believe that they are acting earnestly and sincerely,
and the workshop won't function unless people trust each other. So I couldn't
lose that, and I didn't lose that.

GROSS: But at the same time, you had to realize that sometimes they'd be
writing lies?

Ms. MUSKE-DUKES: Yes, and--but that's what I said, I understood gradually
that to write a lie is as liberating as to write the truth, and after all,
you're writing fiction, you're writing poetry, you're creating a reality.
This is the imagination at work. Again, it's not therapy, and it's not
testimony in court. It's an act of the imagination, and that is different
from, quotes, "the truth." It's aesthetic or emotional truth, perhaps more
real than what we call the facts.

GROSS: Did you start reading poetry any differently as a result of your
teaching experiences?

Ms. MUSKE-DUKES: Well, I mentioned my mother, who has, from that last
generation of Americans who recited poems by heart, who had learned, you know,
in school how to memorize poetry and to speak it for elocution. And I grew up
in a sea of words. My mother reciting poetry, but badly. She would interrupt
herself while reciting, for example, you know, `"Let me now to the marriage of
true minds"--put that down right now--"admit impediment."' She would talk to
her kids and yell at her kids and sort of break into...(network audio
difficulties).

Again, here we go with like, you know, the idea of languages, different
languages, breaking into each other, you know? The language of my mother's,
you know, ongoing life breaking into poetry, and then later the language of
the street, how does that break into poetry. So, yes, I mean, I had been sort
of, you know, geared by my past to accept the fact that poetry could be rated,
the language could be rated midline. And that happened a lot, you know,
obviously, when I was working with women in prison. They would use the
language of the street, and it would alter--you know, they'd start out by
writing something very formal, suddenly it would break into, you know, some
street patter.

So I did start hearing poetry a little bit differently. I'm not sure--that's
a whole other discussion--I'm not sure how exactly affected, you know, how I
read it, but I heard it differently.

GROSS: Well, Carol Muske-Dukes, thank you so much.

Ms. MUSKE-DUKES: Thank you.

GROSS: Carol Muske-Dukes is the author of the new novel "Channeling Mark
Twain." She founded and is a professor in the graduate program in literature
and creative writing at the University of Southern California. She also
teaches at Columbia University.

Coming up, Bryan Ferry sings Bob Dylan. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Bryan Ferry on his new CD "Dylanesque," a collection
of reinterpretations of Dylan songs
TERRY GROSS, host:

Since co-founding Roxy Music in the '70s, Bryan Ferry has sung a lot of
original songs and covers. On a 1973 album of covers, he interpreted a
diverse range of songs, including the romantic old pop ballad "These Foolish
Things," Smokey Robinson's "The Tracks of My Tears," Lesley Gore's "It's My
Party," and Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall." Now Ferry's done an entire
album of Dylan covers called "Dylanesque." Reviewing the album in the Chicago
Tribune, Greg Kot wrote, "Ferry isn't just a great singer, but a terrific
listener and thinker. His smoothness masks a subversive streak that is
essential to great interpretive singing. It's disconcerting to hear the
surrealism of "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" played as pop, and stunning to
hear the biliousness of "Positively 4th Street" channeled into bittersweet
regret."

Let's start with the opening track of "Dylanesque," "Just Like Tom Thumb's
Blues," which Dylan recorded in 1965 on "Highway 61 Revisted."

(Soundbite of "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues")

Mr. BRYAN FERRY: (Singing) When you're lost in the rain in Juarez,
And it's Eastertime, too
And your gravity fails
And negativity don't pull you through
Don't put on any airs
When you're down on Rue Morgue Avenue
They got some hungry women there
And they really make a mess outta you

Now, if you see Saint Annie
Please tell her, `Thanks a lot,'
I cannot move
My fingers are all in a knot
I don't have the strength
To get up and take another shot
And my best friend, my doctor,
Won't even tell me what I've got

Sweet Melinda...

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's Bryan Ferry, from his new CD "Dylanesque."

Bryan Ferry, welcome back to FRESH AIR. You first covered Dylan in 1973 on an
album of covers that you made, and the song that you choose from Dylan was "A
Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall." Why did you decide to do a whole album of Dylan
songs?

Mr. FERRY: Well, I remember at the time when I was looking for a song for
that first solo album, you know, I eventually chose "Hard Rain," but there
were so many great songs that I was looking at, and I thought, `Well, you
know, one day I must do a whole album of these.'

GROSS: What was your process of figuring out which songs to do?

Mr. FERRY: Well, just songs that reach out to me, really, I mean, it's songs
I had a feeling for. Songs, really, where I love the lyric. And, you know, I
love Dylan's lyrics, especially these early songs that he wrote where they're
such a kind of strong imagination and strong poetic facility. I think he
brought a real kind of--for the first time, a real sense of poetry, I think,
to, you know, songwriting.

GROSS: You know, some of his lyrics are so elliptical, like the words are
great, it sounds like great poetry, but who knows what it means? And, like,
an example is like on "Gates of Eden," which you sing.

Mr. FERRY: Oh, yes.

GROSS: And I just like, for anyone who doesn't remember the lyrics, here's
one of the more elliptical ones: "With a time-rusted compass blade, Aladdin
and his lamp sits with utopian hermit monks side saddle on the golden calf,
and on their promises of paradise you will not hear a laugh, except inside the
gates of Eden."

Mr. FERRY: You read it very well.

GROSS: Yes, thanks, right. Sorry for butchering that, but...

Mr. FERRY: I think it's great, that song, because each verse seems to take
you off into a different place, into a kind of surreal landscape. They're
like vignettes, you know, different scenes that he creates very beautifully.
And I don't really think that you have to analyze every line for it to kind of
make sense, but it does kind of put over a strong kind of sense of unreality,
if you see what I mean.

GROSS: Well, as somebody who loves like pop songs, you know, like one of the
songs you recorded was "These Foolish Things," you know.

Mr. FERRY: Mm. Mm-hmm.

GROSS: "A cigarette that bears a lipstick traces, an airline ticket to
romantic places."

Mr. FERRY: Mm. Mm.

GROSS: `Blah blah blah, these foolish things remind me of you.' I mean,
that's a such a kind of like beautiful images but really straightforward. Do
you love both? That kind of straightforward pop song, but also the really
elliptical, dense language of Dylan. And did you learn it at the time?

Mr. FERRY: I do.

GROSS: Or were you initially kind of put off by it?

Mr. FERRY: No, I was never put off by the words, no. I was put off by the
instrumentation to begin with. When Dylan was kind of acoustic, I didn't
really show a great deal of interest. And I was very much at that time. When
I first saw people when I was at university, say, wandering around with Dylan
albums, as they did, I was very much into Otis Redding and all the kind of
Stax musicians, and R&B. Electric guitars, shiny suits, and I was in a
completely different place from where Dylan was at that time, I think, and it
wasn't really until he started playing with a band and, you know, turned
electric, as it were, that I sort of got interested in him. And then I became
a great fan, and subsequently come to listen to his earlier albums where he
was, you know, just him and a guitar and a harmonica, and discovered what
great songs he had there.

GROSS: You know, one of the things that surprised me about this CD is that
what you represent as a singer and a songwriter seems so different than what
he does. I mean, he's had all these different personas and stuff, but you're
on stage persona is so different, you know, than him. I mean, you're so
associated with kind of being like sophisticated and into high fashion and,
you know, a certain amount of like irony, but also, like Tin Pan Alley kind of
pop.

Mr. FERRY: Mm. Mm.

GROSS: Early rock 'n' roll. And Dylan's associated with a certain kind of
like seriousness and mysterious--because you never really know who he is, you
basically always know like what the persona is that he's embodying at the
moment, but you--like it's hard to know who the man is behind all those masks.
But you seem to like represent two really different kinds of styles. So I
just wonder like if you feel any connection to him like stylistically, and in
terms of what he represents in music?

Mr. FERRY: Well, I think, you know, there's an earthiness in Dylan which I
like very much, which--surprising, I feel, is there in me also. I mean, we
both come from kind of I suppose what you'd call blue collar mining areas, him
in the Middle-East of America and me in the northeast of England, so there's a
kind of similarity in background in a way. I think perhaps in personality
there are some similarities in so much as we're both fairly, I imagine,
solitary people. And I think he keeps his own counsel, and so do I myself at
time.

GROSS: I want to play another song from your CD "Dylanesque," and this is
"Knockin' on Heaven's Door," which was featured in the movie "Pat Garrett and
Billy the Kid." And what I really like about your version of it is, first of
all, just your singing, just the way your voice sounds on that. And I think
you kind of get a certain chill of death, the way you sing it.

Mr. FERRY: Mm.

GROSS: Do you want to say like why you chose this song, and what you wanted
to bring to it in your version?

Mr. FERRY: It's a bit of a dangerous one, really, because it's been covered
by so many people, but then so has "These Foolish Things," you know, or "Smoke
Gets in Your Eyes," both, you know, two songs from the 1930s, and I've
covered, as well. And what, you know, at a significant point in my career.
With "Heaven's Door," I thought, `Well, you know, it's a beautiful song, I
think.' And I thought, `Well, the Dylan version that I heard was very short,
and so maybe I'll do a nice long version where the band can kind of stretch
out.' And also I just wanted to sing it. And, you know, the words are
beautiful, and maybe I was, you know--tell you a bit about death. And I've
seen it, death, and I thought maybe, you know, your experiences sort of do
come out, you know, when you are doing a song.

GROSS: Well, why don't we hear it? This is "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" from
Bryan Ferry's new CD of Dylan songs called "Dylanesque."

(Soundbite of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door")

Mr. FERRY: (Singing) Mama, take this badge off-a me,
I can't use it anymore
It's getting dark, too dark to see
I feel I'm a-knockin' on heaven's door

Mr. FERRY and Background Singers: (Singing in unison)
Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door
Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door
Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door
Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door

Mr. FERRY: (Singing)
Mama, put my guns in the ground

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's Bryan Ferry from his new CD "Dylanesque," it's a whole CD of
Dylan songs.

Now, your voice has, of course, you know, gotten a little older, and I really
like how it's changed.

Mr. FERRY: Mm.

GROSS: You know, it's changed a little. And it seems, I don't know, you
might think I'm crazy, but it seems that there's a kind of emotional
connection in some of your singing now.

Mr. FERRY: Mm.

GROSS: I mean, I've always thought of you as having a certain amount of like
distance or irony or kind of like existential distance, you know, when you
sing.

Mr. FERRY: Mm-hmm. Mm.

GROSS: But there's this like emotional connection in your singing now.

Mr. FERRY: Well, that's interesting. I'm much more comfortable about
singing now, both live and on record, than I used to be. And one of the great
things about doing this album is that I was singing live with the band, which,
you know, on a lot of my albums, I haven't done that, because maybe the song
hasn't been finished when we recorded it, the music part of it, and I say,
`I'll go write the lyric and come back and sing it later.' And so in that
sense, it sometimes can be a bit more considered say, you know. The great
thing about doing this Dylan album--and other albums where I've kind of been,
you know, singing other people's songs, that the song is complete and I just
go in there. I like lead from the front at the microphone, instead of being
in the control room behind the desk, you know? So it's great to be able to be
out there leading from the front, as it were.

GROSS: My guest is Bryan Ferry. His new album of Dylan covers is called
"Dylanesque." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest is Bryan Ferry. He got his start in the '70s as the lead
singer of Roxy Music. His new CD is an album of Dylan covers called
"Dylanesque."

Well, let's listen to another song from "Dylanesque." And I thought this time
we could hear "To Make You Feel My Love," which is a more recent song than
what we've been listening to.

Mr. FERRY: Yeah.

GROSS: This one's from 1997, from his "Time Out of Mind" album. Tell us why
you chose this one.

Mr. FERRY: I thought, `Oh, something different here.' And I thought it was,
you know, very different from the other songs. It was much simpler, seemed to
be a rather bleak king of song of experience rather than innocence, and it
just appealed to me. I thought, `Oh, it's very beautiful, very stark, and
kind of sad.' There's a real kind of yearning or sense of loss. Sort of
feeling that I felt from the early blues singers that I loved. You know?

GROSS: Well, here's Bryan Ferry from his new CD "Dylanesque."

(Soundbite of "To Make You Feel My Love")

Mr. FERRY: (Singing) When the rain is blowing in your face,
And the whole world is on your case
I could offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love

When evening shadows and the stars appear
And there is no one there to dry your tears,
I could hold you for a million years
To make you feel my love

I know you haven't made up your mind up yet,
But I would never do you wrong
I've known it from the moment that we met
No doubt in my mind where you belong

I would go hungry, I'd go black and blue

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's Bryan Ferry from his new CD "Dylanesque."

Let's talk about what else is happening with you musically. Roxy Music
reunited for a tour, and you have a CD that's coming out--is it next year?

Mr. FERRY: It could be next year or the year after.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. FERRY: Not really sure really. It's one of those projects that will
probably take a long time, because we have other things that we all to do, and
it's good, you know, because there's a chemistry there, you know, there's a
history there. And it's good. Brian Eno came and played with us, although
he's not a say full part of the band anymore, but it was great to have him
come and do something, as well. He also did an appearance on this
"Dylanesque" album, as well. He came and played on "If Not for You," which
ironically is the, I guess, the least Eno song, you'd imagine. It's the most
pop song, I suppose, out of the set that I chose. And it was great to do
something with him again.

GROSS: Well, why don't we hear "If Not for You," which, you know, is featured
on--what's Eno doing on it?

Mr. FERRY: He didn't do a great deal on it, but sometimes he kind of takes a
feed from it, an instrument, and kind of distorts it a bit, or fiddles around
with it and changes the sound, you know. He did that a lot in Roxy Music
with, you know, guitar sounds and saxophone, whatever. Usually it was kind of
lead instruments. But nowadays he quite often does it in a more subtle way
with the background instruments, so this time he did it on the drum tracks,
and very interesting with the sound there.

GROSS: Let's hear it.

(Soundbite of "If Not for You")

Mr. FERRY: (Singing) If not for you,
Babe, I couldn't find the door,
I couldn't even see the floor,
I'd be sad and blue,
If not for you

If not for you,
Babe, I'd lie awake all night
Waiting for the morning light
To shine in through
If not for you

If not for you,
My sky would fall,
Rain would gather, too
Without your love I'd be nowhere at all
And you know it's true
If not for you

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's Bryan Ferry from his new CD "Dylanesque."

I want to close with another song from "Dylanesque," and I thought we'd close
with one of the really famous ones, "Positively 4th Street." When Dylan sang
this, when he first recorded it, it seemed to be a song, you know, a kind of
angry song about all the hypocritical people out there and all the
hypocritical friends. Not so much anger when you sing it.

Mr. FERRY: No, I see it as a kind of a more of a song of lost love, really,
and I think it's nice to bring something new to a song, a different kind of
sense to it. And that's the way I read it.

GROSS: Thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. FERRY: Oh, thank you very much, and cheers. Bye.

GROSS: Bryan Ferry's new album of Dylan covers is called "Dylanesque."

(Soundbite of "Positively 4th Street")

Mr. FERRY: (Singing) You got a lotta nerve
To say you aren't my friend
When I was down
You just stood there grinning

(End of soundbite)

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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