"Glam Rock 101"
Get it on, bang a gong, get it on!
by Michael Endelman
They called it "glam," shrinking "glamorous" into a curt, single-syllable
catchphrase. Ironically, there was nothing small or diminished about
glam rock. It was a scene obsessed with more: flashier, gaudier, and grander.
Kick-started by frizzy-haired Marc Bolan (singer/leader of T. Rex) in 1971,
glam quickly became a musical, social, and, most of all, fashion sensation in
the U.K., as girls and boys threw off their hippy threads for platform
boots, brazen makeup, garish costumes, and lots of glitter. Thanks to a British
predilection toward cross-dressing (which we suspect would mainly be
Benny Hill's fault), willful androgyny is one of glam's most lasting rock &
roll traditions, as Bolan's eyeliner and David Bowie's pansexual costumes led
to everything from the Kabuki-tinged Kiss to Poison's hilariously fey
obsession with all things L'Oreal. It wasn't all lipstick and Final Net, though;
there was great music, too. Bowie brought lovingly pretentious theatrical
concepts (see below: Ziggy Stardust), Roxy Music noodled and brooded with both
substance and panache (you try it!), Mott the Hoople made pub rock
with virtuosic flash, and Lou Reed turned his Manhattan gutter tales into
stage-ready musical vignettes. Applying fake eyelashes, affecting a detached
upper-crust accent, and squeezing into a sequined halter top might enhance
your appreciation of glam rock -- but, if you're eager to dive in, it's not
100 percent necessary. All you need is a will to bang a gong and let
Entertainment Weekly's ultimate guide lead you down this sparkly road.
6 GLAM ALBUMS YOU MUST OWN
1. David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars
Bowie's masterpiece is the premier glam document; pretentious, theatrical,
fairly absurd, and, most importantly, stocked with shimmering anthems from
start to finish. CHOICE CUTS: "Ziggy Stardust," "Suffragette City," "Moonage
2. T. Rex, Electric Warrior - 1971
With his sexy, breathy peaans to cosmic dancers and planet queens, T. Rex's
wiggy leader, Marc Bolan, was the fairy king of British glitter boogie. CHOICE
CUTS: "Bang a Gong (Get It On)," "Jeepster"
3. Mott the Hoople, Mott - 1973
Even without their coalling card, the Bowie-penned "All the Young Dudes," Mott
is Mott's true triumph: Mick Ralphs provides flash-guitar licks, Ian Hunter
narrates in his working-class rasp. CHOICE CUTS: "All the Way From Memphis,"
4. Lou Reed, Transformer - 1972
Coated in producer Bowie's space dust (yes, his delicate hands are *everywhere*
in the glam world), Reed's second solo album detailed a Warholian cast of
street kids and drag queens. CHOICE CUTS: "Walk on the Wild Side," "Vicious,"
"Satellite of Love"
5. Roxy Music, Roxy Music - 1972
Precariously balanced between Bryan Ferry's experimental synth noodling, Roxy
Music's debut turns tales of doomed romantics into wide-screen epics. CHOICE
CUTS: "Virginia Plain," "2 H.B."
6. New York Dolls, New York Dolls - 1973
As important to punk as they were to glam, this Gotham quintet pioneered the
confrontational mishmash of gutter sleaze, gender-bending, and bare-knuckle,
stripped-down rock & roll that's been aped by countless more successful bands
since. Bowie (who else?) called them the "Stones in lamé." CHOICE CUTS:
"Personality Crisis," "Jet Boy," "Trash"
Q & A WITH MICK ROCK
The aptly named Mick Rock was the go-to photographer of the glam scene,
creating a visual record of the era's icons -- from David Bowie provocatively
chewing on Mick Ronson's guitar strings to a slinky Iggy Pop on the cover of
Raw Power to the Frankensteinian shot of Lou Reed on Transformer. The newly
reissued photo book Glam!: An Eyewitness Account (originally published
as Blood and Glitter in 2001) documents all the major players and brings the
makeup-caked men, women, and not-quite-sure-what-they-are into focus. Here,
Rock reminisces about those debaucherous years.
E.W.: In the intro to Glam!, you write: "First you seduce the retina, then
you subvert the other senses. The first rule of glam." What does that mean?
Mick Rock: That was how David Bowie operated in the early days: get people's
attention by the way you looked. Once they were intrigued with that, then
they'd start listening to the music. To some degree, that was always true in
rock & roll -- look at Elvis Presley. With glam it was very self-conscious to
tart yourself up, attract attention, and then deliver the goods.
E.W.: Was it really as hedonistic and wild as your photos make it seem?
M.R.: Oh, yes, people got away with all kinds of stuff, though the press didn't
really pry into it too much.
E.W.: What did they get away with?
M.R.: I'm gonna leave that to you, darling! [Laughs]
M.R.: You know, partner swapping, the multisexual thing, the kinky stuff
started to come out. It was a great time to be young and out of order. It was
absolutely self-indulgent, but it was very creative.
E.W.: You also write in the intro that you acquired a taste for makeup -- why
did you try it out?
M.R.: I liked the way it looked... and the girls found me more attractive. Glam
was not just a gay thing, it was absolutely equally a heterosexual scene. And
if you wanted to get near all the hip girls, you needed to be tarted up a bit.
GLAM CHEAT SHEET
Five sets of glam facts that will bedazzle even your most die-hard glam-fan
1. Marc Bolan's T. Rex was a Big Ben-size phenomenon in England, landing 11
successive top 10 hits between 1970 and 1974. In the U.S., they scored only one:
"Bang a Gong (Get It On)," which reached No. 10 in 1972.
2. Before making it big as a singer, David Bowie studied the oft-mocked art of
mime. In 1968, he actually founded his own musical mime troupe, called Feathers.
3. The back of Lou Reed's Transformer album shows a man with a giant bulge in
his pants -- it's a strategically placed banana!
4. Mott the Hoople took their name from a madcap 1966 comic novel by Willard
5. In Martin Scorsese's 1974 classic Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore,
troubled son Tommy catches heat twice for blasting the stereo too loud -- one
time it's Mott the Hoople, the other T. Rex.
- Entertainment Weekly, 2/24/06.
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