Waits for me
Like a mongrel waits
Downwind on a tight rope leash
Is a fragile acrobat
Sometimes I’m a Novocaine shot
Sometimes I’m an automat
Is often solo
Sometimes it short circuits then
Sometimes it’s a golden glow
Is invested in
Skyscraper shadows on a car crash overpass
Is savage, tender
It wears no future faces
Owns just random gender
Has a wanting wardrobe
I still explore
Of all the bodies I knew and those I want to know
Is a spark of electro flesh
Leased from the tick of time
And geared for synchromesh
Is an image lost in faded films
A neon outline
On a high-rise overspill
Lyrics © John Foxx.
Thoughts on the text © Martin Smith and translated from birdsong.
Link to the post by all means, but please don’t reproduce the content without permission.
Dylan famously wrote songs without an obvious chorus, and it is one of the characteristics of two of John Foxx favourite Beatles songs. Both Tomorrow Never Knows (Revolver, 1966) and A Day In The Life (Sgt Pepper, 1967) have no typical verse chorus bridge structure either. Both pieces are among the most experimental of the Beatles work (featuring complex tape loops, found sounds, backwards orchestra, simultaneous chords on multiple pianos etc), using studio techniques as an integral part of the composition – and oth also happen to close the respective albums on which they feature.
My Sex is by no means as complex as either piece, more in Dylan’s style than Lennon’s perhaps, but it does represent Ultravox at their most daring in 1977 – closing their debut album with a ballad that has no chorus, a title that implies a song about sex, and music composed in the studio using samples and effects lead by assistant-producer and experimental sound-engineer Brian Eno. The gritty treatment of the haunting keyboards and voice gives the track an apocalyptic, yet romantic air – evocative of the Ballardian cityscapes that later come to more prominence in John Foxx solo work. He has repeatedly held up My Sex as an early example of where he wanted the band to go – far beyond the rock/noise blast of the punkier pieces, but not without similar themes of isolation, despair and longing. Perhaps more than any other track so far, it also captures the sense of being a soundtrack piece for a short, poetic film narrative.
Imagine the words above and half-human half-robot vocals playing against the backdrop of Antonioni’s 1964 award-winning film The Red Desert, for example, a thought-provoking commentary on the spiritual desolation of the technological age. Antonioni describes a bleak industrial landscape interspersed with power plants and deserted cottages, factories and electrical towers, among which his disaffected herione (the beautiful Monica Vitti) vaguely wanders, almost but never quite connecting with her lover Corrado, played by Richard Harris. Above this landscape, Foxx suspends a tightrope (powerline) of fear and quasi-romantic dislocation, his sexuality the ‘fragile acrobat’ negotiating its way between the physical obstacles presented by skyscrapers, pylons and that ‘car crash’ overpass…
Antonioni described the narrative of his film as “the split between morality and science” which he considers “is also the split between man and woman. Between snowy Mount Etna and the concrete wall on the housing estate.” In Foxxian terms, read the schizophrenic influences of the blue hills and sunsets of the Forest of Bowland over one shoulder, and the post-war factory towns and smoking chimneys of Bolton-Wigan-Chorley on the other. In typical fashion, Foxx juxtaposes romantic imagery with that of technology and alienation. He is in a state of highly charged readiness for synchromesh – a mechanised transmission system – geared to encounter another in a similar state and make a change. Crucially, that other being is not present, unfound and he is left in a perpetual state of flux and desperate longing.
My sex is a lonely hunter
My sex is a hungry ghost
My Sex epitomises everything that has gone before
My Sex brings it all together
My Sex is a beautiful, haunting, and complex meditation on the spiritual cost of modernity.