Kate Bush. Prince. Madonna. Morrissey. Britney Spears. Lady Gaga. Adam Lambert. Beyoncé. They all, in varying degrees, owe their fame, success and fashion sensibility to glam rock.
Defined by a combination of camp, excess, satire and irony, glam, or glitter rock was just as revolutionary as punk or hip-hop. If that made you raise your eyebrows, here are three reasons why: 1) glam rock, especially in the 70s, had a theatrical and bombastic quality that merged avant garde art and mainstream pop; 2) it pushed the theatricality of music forward, hinging on each artist’s ability to shock and mesmerize audiences through outrageous costumes, makeup and stage props; and 3) it challenged perceptions about sexuality and gender roles.
Nearly 50 years since the emergence of glam rock ambassadors like David Bowie and T.Rex’s Marc Bolan comes Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and Its Legacy, From the Seventies to the 21st Century, perhaps the definitive book on the genre written by veteran music critic Simon Reynolds (Rip It Up and Start Again, Retromania). At nearly 700 pages (I still haven’t finished the book, but as a fan of glitter rock, I’m mesmerized), Reynolds touches on all the major players and moments of the glam rock era in historical, cultural and social context.
In addition to Bowie and Bolan, he discusses and analyzes the contributions of pioneers Alice Cooper, the New York Dolls, Queen, Roxy Music and Iggy Pop; he even acknowledges minor but significant acts like Jobriath, Wizzard, Cockney Rebel, Silverhead, and the Tubes.
Clearly Bowie’s awe-inspiring influence, especially in his legendary Ziggy Stardust phase, looms throughout this book (his mention in Shock and Awe‘s index takes up over two pages alone) and his death earlier this year makes the book even more fitting and poignant to read. Reynolds’ detailed and meticulously-researched opus will certainly rekindle an appreciation of the genre, and foster an admiration for the innovative and daring artists behind it. It may even start a new obsession–or inspire a Halloween costume or two.
Simon Reynolds will be making appearances in the New York City area to promote Shock and Awe, published by Dey Street Books: Thursday, Oct. 13 at Powerhouse Arena, 28 Adams St., Brooklyn, 7 pm; Friday, Oct. 14 at Rough Trade NYC, 64 N. 9th St., Brooklyn, 7pm; Saturday, Oct. 15 at WORD, 126 Franklin St., Brooklyn, 3pm; and Monday, Oct. 17 at Fordham University, 155 W. 60th St., Manhattan, 4:30 pm.