“I was moved by your scream dream, celluloid pictures of living” sings Bryan Ferry in the opening lines of 2HB, from Roxy Music’s 1972 debut album, Roxy Music. The screen dream that Ferry is reminiscing about is Casablanca (1942) and the song is a tribute to both that film and in particular, its star, Humphrey Bogart, with 2HB being an acronym for “To Humphrey Bogart”. It is also interesting to note that 2HB is a grade of pencil. Ferry studied fine art at University of Newcastle on Tyne, later becoming a pottery teacher at Holland Park School in London. During this period, he began his quest for pop stardom, first of all forming the band Banshees, followed by The Gas Board and finally, Roxy Music.
2HB is Ferry’s tender tribute to his hero, including such lines as “Your death could not kill our love for you”. Ferry paints pictures of scenes from Casablanca with cinematic scope, with lines such as “Take two people, romantic, Smoky nightclub situation, Your cigarette traces a ladder”, placing the listener in Rick’s Cafe Americain back in 1941. The chorus, featuring the famous line from the film, “Here’s looking at you, kid” and later lines “Ideal love flies away now” and “You gave her away to the hero” beautifully capture the scene in which Rick forces Ilsa to board the plane to Lisbon with her husband, Lazlo, telling her that she would regret it if she stayed.
Ferry’s love for Bogart also extended to his wardrobe at the time, wearing similar outfits to the one that Bogart wore in Casablanca in live shows during the early 70s. Also see the outfit that Ferry wears on his second solo album, Another Time, Another Place (1974) to see Ferry’s homage to Bogart’s style and then look at the line “White jacket, mmm, black tie wings too” in 2HB. Ferry always looked like a 1940’s film star and crooned like the very best of the crooners of the era; you can very much imagine him as the suave debonair gentleman sitting in Rick’s Cafe Americain, romancing with his cigarette tracing a ladder as Sam plays the piano.
The music of 2HB is also indebted to Casablanca, with Andy Mackay’s saxophone solo being based on the melody of As Time Goes By, the song featured prominently in the film.
With the song’s lyrical content describing scenes from the movie and its music alluding the movie’s score, 2HB is possibly the greatest retelling of a movie in song form and Ferry’s wonderful tribute to his celluloid hero. So important was the influence of Bogart on Ferry that he later resurrected 2HB on the B-side of his first solo single, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (1973) and on his solo album Let’s Stick Together in 1976.