Mary Gaitskill

For Your Pleasure


Roxy Music, “Ladytron” (1972)

Do you need to read any words about this? Just look. The singer’s face is exquisitely expressive, ridiculously expressive; whatever it expresses, your body knows it immediately. Try to grab that ephemeral “it” with the great pincers of your mind, cut it up to make defining words; it won’t be there any more.

I could talk talk talk myself to death. But I believe I would only waste my breath. On the page those words are nothing. But when he says them, they are a torrent of urgency, a comically defined voice riding a chaos of ephemera rolling in and out, the absurd voice that tries but cannot find a way, in a whirling world of masks and goof-ball fantasia.


Roxy Music, “Re-make/Re-model” (1972)

But sometimes it’s fun to read what people think about it, how they hear it. I used to write for a Zine (an actual pre-internet paper one) called Radio On. It was based on Top 40 lists; everyone who wrote, and they were very diverse, with only one or two critics, would say whatever they wanted about the songs, including random personal associations, what they were doing at work the first time they heard it, a conversation with their friend about it etc. In a way it had nothing to do with the music. But it had everything to do with music as a fluid phenomenon that becomes enmeshed in the DNA of people’s thoughts and feelings, and acts to express them.

In the first paragraph I said “the singer” instead of the singer’s name because Bryan Ferry, an embodiment of glam, and so an embodiment of the trendy, expresses with his face and voice something timeless. I don’t think I can say what it is. It might have something to do with longing and the ideal, and the absurdly shaped, unearthly quality of longing for the ideal. It might be the human way certain myriad effluvia came together in sound, sight and personality to express the experiential quality of a particular time before it passed into something else.

Fifty years from now Roxy Music may sound idiotic to all but the most arcane and culturally specialized ears. But anyone who sees the singer’s face, or the musician’s faces and bodies, will understand what they are saying, because people will still be saying it.

And it is very poignant, sometimes, for people to try to describe what their tiny piece of effluvia was at the moment it was all flying past: That day at work, their conversation with a friend.


Roxy Music, “Out of the Blue” (1974)

Five hundred years from now, Roxy Music might not sound like anything anyone would even call idiotic; it will be too far away to put a word on. The effluvia that helped form it, the thousands of bright tiny pieces that form social life, won’t mean anything anymore. The expression may still be identifiable, but vaguely, like a rubbed-away face on an ancient painting or a bodily gesture recognizable as, say, one of aggression towards or desire for something no longer visible. What was beautiful is now ugly, what seemed profound is trite. Do we know the difference?

Songs pass over our faces like gauze. Talk talk talk. Waste of breath. But sometimes, what pleasure.


Roxy Music, “For Your Pleasure” (2003)

- Mary Gaitskill

  • http://ryeberg.com/author/mike-hoolboom/ Mike Hoolboom

    How very close the camera brings us in these videos, as if it wanted to bore into the face of the singer, and peel away that smooth painted surface, and find the source of all that talk talk talk. Instead it lingers close, so very close, as if we were not at the concert at all, but lying in bed beside him, watching him, year after year, song after song,with something like the same expression on his face. Nothing more than this. And that’s fine too.

  • W. Alice Stevens

    These is a beautiful series of sentences, but I completely disagree:

    The effluvia that helped form it, the thousands of bright tiny pieces that form social life, won’t mean anything anymore. The expression may still be identifiable, but vaguely, like a rubbed-away face on an ancient painting or a bodily gesture recognizable as, say, one of aggression towards or desire for something no longer visible. What was beautiful is now ugly, what seemed profound is trite.

    I understand the poetic feeling that life and the world as we see it now will disappear, “like tears in rain.” I realize you’re speaking to the poignant way popular music can weave bits of our lives into the gauze the songs pull across our face each time we hear them play.

    But I don’t think truly beautiful music becomes ugly over time. I don’t think its impact fades. It may go out of fashion for a while, but fashion has nothing to do with beauty and everything to do with trying to assert power. The guillotine was a popular lady’s brooch in post-revolutionary France.

    The beautiful ( not the ‘beauty’ of fashion and trends) is braided with endurance and survival.

    The cave drawings at Lascaux thrill us. We identify with the happiness or loneliness in a bird’s song, and so did Homer. We’re made of music, the gurgling of blood in veins and arteries, the beat of the heart, the cadence of our cerebrospinal fluid — hitting every interval, rhythm and pitch. The way we cry out when making love. We ARE like birds, and music is part of us.

    I sing to you now, in the music of words. It doesn’t fade.

    • http://ryeberg.com/author/mary-gaitskill/ Mary Gaitskill

      It sounds maybe ridiculous to say, but I’m humbled by your reply I guess because its so passionate. I particularly love what you say about how fashion doesn’t have to do with beauty, but rather with power–I’m not sure it’s entirely true that it has *nothing* do to with beauty, but it is certainly very much about power. That difference as you defined it very much describes the difference between fashion and art, a difference I always find myself stumbling to explain when someone asserts that they are one and the same. I also love what you say about beauty being braided together with endurance and survival.

      However I think you misunderstood my meaning slightly, probably because I wasn’t clear enough. I wasn’t saying fashion=beauty or talking exactly about fashion in the usual sense of the term. I meant the complicated way in which essential qualities find different shapes during different eras of time; its weirder than fashion, and gets expressed very much in popular arts. I was wrong to use the word “ugly” but what I mean is that a mode of expression that makes total sense in one era is just inexplicable in another. I remember as a kid seeing clips of people dancing the Charleston and being just utterly baffled that anyone could find this attractive–but it expressed something essential in its moment, albeit something minor that I could not recognize *in that form*. I agree that the cave drawings and Homer will always speak to people. But as much as I love Roxy Music, I don’t think they are on that sublime level or even close. When I showed the Remake, Remodel video to a young girl I know she said about Andrew McKay “He looks like an insect trying to have sex,” and frankly, I could see what she meant! But he didn’t look that way to me when I was her age.

      Really I just think I wrote too much on this. I wanted to just post the videos but once I started writing, I couldn’t stop. Anyhow, thanks.

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Mary Gaitskill is the author of the novels "Veronica" and "Two Girls, Fat and Thin." She has also written three books of stories, "Bad Behavior," "Because They Wanted To," and "Don't Cry." More Mary Gaitskill here.