Issue #286 / May 2024

They say never meet your heroes. I met you in a café when I was travelling in London in the early nineties, and you were pretty terrifying but unexpectedly kind to me – and funny. Have you ever met a hero who exceeded your expectations?

REGINA, ROME, ITALY

Dear Regina,

I have been fortunate to meet many of my heroes, and rarely have they disappointed me – Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, Johnny Cash and George Clinton immediately come to mind. But there is one particular encounter that impacted me enormously, and I often recall it when I feel discouraged and disinclined to work. I wrote about it in my book, The Sick Bag Song, so I apologise if you have heard this story before.

In the summer of 2000, Bryan Ferrys wife, Lucy, invited Susie and me to spend the weekend at their country house in West Sussex. Susie and Lucy were old friends, but I was reluctant to go because I didnt want to impose upon Bryan, who Id never met and who was very much one of my heroes. However, Lucy assured Susie that Bryan would be away that weekend, so I agreed to tag along. I was surprised Susie wanted to go because she was massively pregnant with the twins at the time and barely able to walk – ‘an elephant of woe, she called herself, as she heaved herself out of the car onto the Ferrys driveway.

Lucy gave us a tour of the house and the grounds. We saw the magnificent walled garden and walked through the apple orchard. We sat by a brook and met Lucys grand Irish mare with her new foal. We ate dinner under a rose arbour and watched rabbits hopping across the lawn. That night, Susie and I lay on our backs in a bed upstairs and listened to the swallows building their nests in the eves, and though we didnt speak of it at the time, we both felt a kind of subterranean sadness to the place.

The next day we had a late breakfast and Susie and Lucy began reminiscing. I excused myself and wandered around the grounds, eventually coming upon a high hedge that surrounded a swimming pool. I lay down on a lounger next to the pool and took out my pen and notebook to write, but it was hot, and I soon fell asleep.

After a while, I awoke to find Bryan Ferry standing in the swimming pool in his bathing trunks. He was white and beautiful and very still. He turned to me and said, I havent written a song in three years.’ ‘Why?I said, Whats wrong? He made a vague circling gesture with his hand taking in both of us, the swimming pool, the high hedge, the manor house, the apple orchard, the walled garden, the mare and foal, the swallows in the eves, our beautiful arboured wives, and the pure, blue sky itself and said, There is nothing to write about.’ Then he pushed off into the water.

This is a much-treasured memory, full of sorrowing privilege, and I have tried to keep it as it was and not give it too much anecdotal polish. Im not sure what happened after that, except that on the way home, Susie told me she had once been on a long country drive with Lucy and Bryan, and although Bryan said nothing, he whistled beautifully for the entire journey.

Bryan Ferry has the most unique and unearthly voice in rock nroll. He has written some of our greatest songs, often deeply haunted things with the most astonishing and audacious lyrics. He was, and remains, a giant in my mind – a hero.

That brief encounter at the pool shocked and saddened me, though. The memory will remain with me forever, living beyond all expectations, if just for the melancholy, poetic drama of it all. But it is more than a mere story. This incident instructed me on the fragile and capricious nature of the creative spirit and reminded me of the necessity of constant daily work. I think of it when I struggle with my own vacillating creativity. Because deep in my heart, I know there is always something to write about, but there is also always nothing – and terrifyingly little air between.

Love, Nick

 

Ask a Question