Sunday, April 13, 2008

Everyday is Like Sunday, Except for Blue Monday and Ruby Tuesday, and...Well, Friday I'm in Love: Weekly Mix #12

I would have loved to be around for glam rock in the early '70's, especially at the height of Ziggy Stardust and T-Rextasy. It was such a colourful, purely fun time in music history. Rock music was tarted up and made no effort at authenticity, which was a dying concept in music anyway. Glam merely acknowledged that popular music was an act and could be freer as a result of wearing a mask. As with any music movement, it was short-lived and invited a backlash, but it was truly glorious while it lasted.

It's usually agreed that the transformation of Marc Bolan's band Tyrannosaurus Rex into T. Rex was the beginning of glam. Bolan left his psychedelic folk days and bongo player Steve Peregrine Took behind and started wearing glitter on his face on television. Thus, glam rock was born. David Bowie, who had been finding moderate success with his first few albums and who had also come from a folk background, watched and learned, and subsequently created the alien messiah, Ziggy Stardust, launching himself into the stratosphere. Once the art school band Roxy Music entered the fray, glam officially became a critical point in music history. While there wasn't necessarily a definite common sound between all these glam artists, there was a common aesthetic of outrageous fashion often extending to gender-bending androgyny. In many ways, especially in the more commercial bandwagon jumpers like Slade and Sweet, glam took the classic rock 'n roll of the 1950's and updated it with a shiny, glittery new look, while still remaining very masculine beneath the glamour. Of course artists like David Bowie and Roxy Music had a much larger impact on music innovation and continue to influence, and in many ways, they are the ones that legitimize the glam rock era. Roxy Music managed to incorporate the oboe into popular music, no small feat. Even T.Rex, who may not have been quite as innovative musically, created hugely memorable tunes, which continue to influence others - I think songs like Children of the Revolution, 20th Century Boy, and The Slider are brilliant. And T.Rex continues to be a popular choice for many film soundtracks.

Notably, Suzi Quatro was the only female artist to be included in the glam scene, showing how glam was still unfortunately very much a male-dominated scene; however, Quatro did get to bend gender back the opposite direction and provided her own androgynous look and style, often looking like Mick Ronson. My personal favourites are David Bowie, T.Rex, and Roxy Music (before the departure of Brian Eno), but I also love those who straddled garage, punk and glam simultaneously, including Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and New York Dolls. And while many seem to consider Jobriath to be a poor man's David Bowie, I appreciate his songs and his image, and in a brave move, rather than just flirting with homosexuality, he blatantly declared it. He continues to garner respect from artists ranging from Morrissey to Siouxsie to Gary Numan, and T.Rex's song Cosmic Dancer is supposedly a tribute to Jobriath. In the early '90's, Morrissey even wanted Jobriath to open for him on tour, unfortunately not realizing that Jobriath died in 1983.

While primarily a British phenomenon, glam rock did spread to the US in various ways, including Sparks, Suzi Quatro, Jobriath, and both Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, who were greatly influenced and produced by David Bowie. Glam eventually gave birth to many other movements, including the New Romantics, goth, glam hair-metal, and despite its seeming reaction against artificiality, punk (many of the kids who got into punk bands were glitter kids only a few years earlier). Any band who pushes gender boundaries and glams up their image, any band that is proudly preening and flaunting their own artificiality owes their existence to glam. The influence of glam can be traced through a variety of interesting places. For example, Johnny Marr admitted that The Smiths' Panic owes a debt to T.Rex's Metal Guru, possibly leading to Smiths fanatics Oasis stealing Bang a Gong wholesale for Cigarettes and Alcohol. Who knows, that's just my theory.

If you want to read more about glam rock, I recommend Performing Glam Rock: Gender and Theatricality in Popular Music by Philip Auslander, an accessible academic text that uses performance theory to dissect T.Rex, David Bowie, Roxy Music, Wizzard and Suzi Quatro. If you want to watch some fantastic glam rock, watch Born to Boogie (the Ringo Starr film about T.Rex), Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture, or the Todd Haynes' film Velvet Goldmine (one of my all-time favourite movies), which artfully blends the myths of Marc Bolan, David Bowie, Roxy Music, and Jobriath into one character played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers. I've included all the classic glam artists in this mix (David Bowie, T.Rex, Roxy Music) in addition to the ones who were the less acclaimed but still very much a part of the movement (Slade, Sweet, Cockney Rebel) and the American offshoots of glam (New York Dolls, Sparks, Alice Cooper). Of course I also included the Bowie-penned glam anthem All the Young Dudes. To round it all off, I added a couple of tracks from the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack, including a Shudder to Think original tune called Hot One and a cover of Roxy Music's ode to Humphrey Bogart, 2HB, by the fictional band in the movie, The Venus in Furs, which consists of Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Bernard Butler, and Andy Mackay. Both bands replace some of Jonathan Rhys Meyers' vocals, which were featured in the film, for the soundtrack. I'm going to call this mix Glitter Lives. Who needs TV when you've got T.Rex?