Ground Control to Major Tom: the Evolution of Glam

049-iggy-pop-theredlist.jpgGlam rock ignited the proto-punk flame, smoldering until only a crude art form remained: viciously repetitive, blatantly unsophisticated. Glam (glitter) erupted in the United Kingdom in the early seventies, a fusion of the disparate artistry and pyschedelia of the sixties. An ironic fusion, I might add: punk, in all its origins and derivatives, is mutiny against the complacency of the hippy generation. Glitter distinguished itself with futuristic components of both rock and pop; subordinate to an omnipotent guitar presence, a foreshadowing of the impending punk rock movement. Glam was a loaded gun; punk was the person who shot it.

david_bowie_starman_notjustalabel_712814192_0Doused in glitter, glam rockers dressed ostentatiously, albeit shamelessly, in traditionally feminine garments: jumpsuits and platform-soled boots. They intertwined femininity with the masculinity indigenous to rock and roll, culminating in the galactic mullet. Perhaps it rode in on Bowie’s tin can. The fashion amplified the fantasy: tokens from the lyrical sphere of sci-fi. The likes of David Bowie in turn devised eccentric alter egos: Bowie christened himself Ziggy Stardust, and his band the Spiders from Mars. Science fiction based androgyny–entangled in spacey nuances–prevailed.

“For here

Am I sitting in a tin can

Far above the world

Planet Earth is blue

And there’s nothing I can do”

Space Oddity (1969)

lou-reed-with-guitar1Lou Reed, formerly of the Velvet Underground, represented a different, darker façade of glam/punk, offering “an East Coast antidote to the West Coast sunshine of the hippie era.”[1] Reed underscored the pop art rudiments of glitter rock, after distancing himself from the Velvets. In collaboration with David Bowie, he crafted Transformer: a wryly affectionate salute to the cast of characters he had encountered as a regular fixture at the Factory in the late sixties. Reed unveiled an artistic androgyny as a counterpart to that of Bowie, employing his own role in the sexual revolution. He pulled tales of tramps and transvestites from his archives to achieve the shock value synonymous with punk rock.

[1] Jim Macnie, “Lou Reed,” Rolling Stone, accessed February 20, 2015, http://www.rollingstone.com/music/artists/lou-reed/biography

“Holly came from Miami F.L.A.

Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.

Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her legs and then he was a she

She said, hey babe, take a walk on the wild side,

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side”

Walk on the Wild Side (1972)

66ece1f6d60ab42d9d90299a9d3e925e.jpgEarly punk rock commandeered some of glitter’s performance tendencies, as well as its theatricality, but simplified the sound. Deliberate uncaring annihilated effortlessness. The New York Dolls were crusaders of a conglomerate of glam and the newfangled punk rock. They were indisputably glam in “their” (Malcolm McLaren’s) affinity for avant-garde fashion, yet they garnered a punk reputation in their technical deficiencies as musicians, and their identity as, in addition to their gravitation towards, ne’er-do-wells. After all, Dee Dee Ramone did fondly refer to his friendship with Jerry Nolan, drummer for the Dolls, as “a total dope friendship.”

“And you’re a prima ballerina on a spring afternoon

Change on into the wolfman, howlin’ at the moon, hooowww”

Personality Crisis (1973)

enhanced-buzz-29895-1360169585-5Iggy and the Stooges reversed the trajectory of punk rock altogether, moving away from glam and back towards raw rock n’ roll. Sharp edges intended. Lou Reed sang about Candy Darling and Sugar Plum Fairy, as well as other sexual radicals from the Factory; at the Stooges debut performance, front man Iggy Pop caressed himself with peanut butter and raw steaks, before skewering himself with shards of broken glass. The stooges replaced the flecks of glitter with bare torsos and black leather. They reconfigured what existed of the punk rock movement in the early seventies, incinerating excess and leaving only barren riffs and screeching vocals. Iggy’s endearing aggression established unromantic romanticism, punk’s own dog whistle: only the strange and unusual can hear it.

“I’m a street walking cheetah

With a heart full of napalm”

Search and Destroy (1973)

Where are they now? Irrelevant. Punk kicks in the walls imposed by the past and the present, instead forcing its way into the future. The notion of punk nostalgia—and failed attempts to recreate stark rebellion and intentional anti-charisma—is oxymoronic. I will have none of it.

  • “Space Oddity” (David Bowie)
  • “Walk on the Wild Side” (Lou Reed)
  • “Personality Crisis” (New York Dolls)
  • “Search and Destroy” (The Stooges)