Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and Its Legacy, From the Seventies to the Twenty-First Century
By Simon Reynolds
Dey St. Books, 704 pp., $18.99
Ah, Glam Rock. That elegantly wasted, decadently fashionable, gender-bending, sleazily poppish and colorful, eye-popping genre awash in glitter, spectacle and teenage hormones.
While not as big or successful a musical movement on these shores as it was in Europe during its 1971-75 heyday, it’s still been underrepresented in terms of music-history books save for assorted memoirs and general-history narratives by English music journos Barney Hoskyns and Dave Thompson.
Simon Reynolds's insanely detailed and comprehensive look at the genre’s performers and music remedies that. His hefty tome is cut into thematic chapters. Covering glam’s biggest names (T. Rex, Alice Cooper, New York Dolls, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop); the British faves (Slade, Sweet, Roxy Music, Mott the Hoople, Roxy Music); and even lesser-known lights (Wizzard, Jobriath, Gary Glitter, Cockney Rebels), there is no diamond or sapphire stone left unturned here.
Overseeing the whole thing, with his story weaving through the entire narrative, is David Bowie, glam rock’s god. It’s his career and various stylistic (in dress and music) transformations that form the book’s very backbone.
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John Lennon only famously sang “Gimme Some Truth.” Reynolds offers this about the appeal and impact of glam rock: “Glam’s soul-cry was ‘Gimme some untruth’ – it believed fantasy would set you free, not reality. Shunning the natural, organic and wholesome in favor of the unnatural, plastic and artificial, glam essentially rehearsed the sensibility of what we would later know as postmodernism.”
Since Glam was about image as much as it was music (Marc Bolan of T. Rex once said that “95 percent of my success is the way I look”), Reynolds goes on about the visual impact of glam: glitter, eye makeup, sequins and colorful clothes (tight…always tight...ball-poppingly tight). There’s also a reverse sense of androgyny; the more musicians dressed and/or acted like girls, the more girls wanted them.
And while some bands embraced glam for its strictly flavor-of-the-era commercial success, others saw it as a lifestyle revolt. A music that recruited an army of thousands of real-life teenage “Rebel Rebels” bringing the song to the flesh. For one member of the briefly glam Mott the Hoople, though, he couldn’t wait for the “fag rock craze” to end.
Reynolds closes the book with his take on glam’s impact and legacy over the past 40 years, noting that acts like Adam and the Ants, Twisted Sister, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Marilyn Manson and even Prince, Lady Gaga and Kanye West show some signs of glam’s influence. All in all, Shock and Awe might be a little too much of a read. But then again, wasn’t glam-rock all about over-the-top excess, dahling?