This appeared in Sight and Sound in September 1998: a coverstory, with the coverline “Wham Bam Thank You Glam’, and a nice closeup of Jonathan Rhys Meyers w.blue hair plus the S&S logo (usually yellow) in LOVELY PINK!!! As usual I am enforcing Droit de Blog Prima Donna to reinsert bits snipped from the original (which was already printed, the designer told me, in the smallest pointsize he had ever agreed to, to get it all in). The following issue a complaint letter ran, with the following first sentence: “I have on occasion found S&S’s contributors to tend towards wilful obfuscation in their remarks, the prose so ‘packed’ with concepts and jargon that one gets a pain in the head deciphering it.” So
mission accomplished! you have been warned...
HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU KID
I’ll use you, and I’ll confuse you, then I’ll lose you – still you won’t suspect me
—Roxy Music, ‘Ladytron’
The Ziggy I knew played guitar, too – though in public just the once, his stagefright inducing shakes so violent he had to stop after just a few bars. Sweet-natured and shy, from an outwardly untroubled suburban family, he’d arrived at an expensive West Midlands public school – and speedily been nicknamed for the popstar he worshipped. There he lost all faith in the respectable career his parents had envisioned, and paid for. Dresscodes ruled out any malarkey with carrot hair or lightning-strike make-up, but he did paint a vast mural of Aladdin Sane on school property. Plus skipped lessons, feuded with teachers, slipped from A to E stream, failed exams and dropped out. Years later, I ran into him in an East London street: I expected, I guess, to hear tales of a life in art and music. Turns out he’d spent 20 years as casual labour on building sites.
A life poisoned by the Glam Virus? Or had his adoration somehow twisted, to free this particular superfan from the chains of bourgeois duty and from bohemian conformity?
On 3 July 1973, at the Hammersmith Odeon, just such a twist had occurred, for many. As climax to a year of touring based round an LP whose subject and final song explicitly presaged such an end – a ‘Rock’n’Roll Suicide’ – the killing off of Ziggy Stardust was nevertheless an act of singular creative savagery within pop, the shock of it sending fans spinning off in desolate betrayal, blocked yearning and barely controlled revenge-dreams, as Fred and Judy Vermorel’s oral history Starlust: the Secret Fantasies of Fans testifies. As eloquent (though perhaps as truths more poetic than historical) are the tales the Vermorels quote of a sucking-and-wanking audience protest riot at this same show: “A lot of fluid was flying about,” says Julie (25 in 1984, when these witness statements were gathered): “… [It] was rumoured that maybe this was the last time Bowie would perform… so everyone just took their clothes off. And wanking was nothing… I suddenly realised that all the things I’d been doing [when alone] were perfectly OK. Because here were people doing it with each other and sharing it. How wonderful, you know. And I thought I’d never seen so many cocks in my life.”
If we can sparkle he may land tonight… Rightly, Todd Haynes makes this self-assassination the central mystery in Velvet Goldmine, his deliriously Queer reading of the Glam Rock years, and the rise and fall of a composite Glam figure drawing on Bowie as much as anyone. For of all that star’s chameleon tics – from peculiar to selfish to stupid – none was ever quite so agonisingly mind-expanding in its public effect as the on-stage murder of Ziggy.
“A gentleman with a voice like a cut-throat razor urging people to join his fun.”
—Review of Noddy Holder and Slade, Bradford Telegraph, 1971
Haynes includes in a scene, early on, in which the gathered crowd proclaiming its sexuality to the news cameras clearly includes many who weren’t then and never will be homosexual. And we can argue, if we like, that Glam was never that gay, despite every chic hint and evasion (Bowie’s “Hi, I’m bi!” in the Melody Maker) between its birth – the “man’s dress” Bowie wears on the swiftly banned cover of The Man Who Sold the World in 1971, out of such forebears as the Velvet Underground, Alice Cooper, ‘Lola’ and T. Rex – and its ridiculous demise some time in 1975, when ex-Face ultralad Rod Stewart, hypnotised by the shimmer of his own silk scarves, opted for transatlantic jetset roots treachery.
Certainly of the frontline Glam icons, only Lou Reed, Bowie and then-wife Angie even so much as flirted with same-sex activity – and somehow they all seem very ungay again these days. Bryan Ferry never aspired to anything but straight gigolo charm; the New York Dolls could design and machine-sew their own Shangri-Las drag, but off-stage went with girls or junk (or both); and surely the only whip-thin pop boy more successful at serial het bedding than Iggy Pop can have been Brian Eno. This spangly fag stuff, the in-thing for a season, was risky and charming, but it was all a pose, wasn’t it? A hype, a stunt? Which leaves the full-on sexual romance between Velvet Goldmine’s ‘Bowie’ and ‘Iggy’ characters a brazen appropriation, more poetic truth than historical . Doesn’t it?
It depends. It depends what you mean by poetic, and by historical.
Recorded in late 1971, during the Hunky Dory sessions, the song ‘Velvet Goldmine’ was thought by Bowie himself “too provocative” for release. Sneaked out in 1975 without his permission by the record company, on a B-side , it contains such lines as “I had to ravish your capsule, suck you dry/Feel the teeth in your bone, heal ya head with my own” and “You’re my taste, my trip, I’ll be your master zip” and “Let my sea wash your face, I’m falling, I can’t stand/Oooh! Put your mink on”, with a chorus that ends, “Velvet Goldmine, naked on your chain/I’ll be your king volcano right for you again and again…”
As come-on codes go, this is not hard to crack, in 1998. But it’s only placed upfront very obliquely – for whatever reasons, the soundtrack makes no use, diegetic or background, of any Bowie songs – and charmingly cheeky though this little-known song is, it doesn’t actually present any evidence not already out in the world. The opening song to The Man Who Sold the World, ‘The Width of a Circle’ – the storyteller achieves gnostic enlightenment when raped by a satanic leatherman (“his tongue swollen with devil’s love”) – makes Bowie’s 1972 hit ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’ seem very poignantly vanilla. And if ‘Lady Stardust’ directed decorous yearning towards an inspirational rival, Marc Bolan (“I smiled sadly for a love I could not obey”), the follow-up single to ‘Dancing’, ‘The Jean Genie’, was a fascinated grinding lust-song to another, Iggy Pop (“lives on his back”), punningly recast as Jean Genet: “loves chimneystacks”, the chorus continues, a subliminal flash of the most unnerving scene in Genet’s Funeral Rites, the rooftop sex between a Nazi soldier and a young French collaborator.
Ok, that last is a bit of a stretch – but it’s out of not-dissimilar cut-ups and fleeting clues that Velvet Goldmine re-conjures a Glam of swooning surface and sudden darkness. The true-life 70s characteristics or stage business, the songs, styles, looks and sounds of Bowie, Iggy, Reed, the Dolls, Ferry and Roxy Music, Marc Bolan and T. Rex, are given knowing and artful redistribution among Haynes’s characters Curt Wild, Brian Slade and the shadowy but outrageous Jack Fairy, variously fronting such fictional bands as the Venus in Furs and Flaming Creatures. So Reed’s electric shock therapy as a teenager is grafted onto Iggy’s trailerpark upbringing. Brian Slade’s soon-to-be-snuffed persona Maxwell Demon is named for a pre-Roxy project of Eno (whose solo music dominates the soundtrack). Resplendent in furs-and-feathers, on a Bolanoid TV set, the Ziggied-up Slade sings a Cockney Rebel number à la Mott the Hoople. And so on: PopCult details large and small, well-known and absurdly obscure, patch together into a whole that outs Glam as an ancestor of Queer exactly because it was never straightforwardly gay – or indeed straightforwardly anything.
“I drive a Rolls-Royce/because it’s good for my voice”
—T Rex, ‘Children of the Revolution’
In 1972, in Rock File, a short-lived 70s journal of the sociology of pop culture, Grimsby-born Pete Fowler wrote ‘Skins Rule’, a study of Marc Bolan’s sales-figures which evolves into an assault on the shortfall between rock’s rhetoric of classlessness and its social reality, from the arty bourgeoisification exemplified by Sergeant Pepper to the vapidly limited teenybopper appeal of Bolan’s “Hot Goblinism” (as Fowler rather brilliantly dubs it). Meanwhile, youth’s largest gang lurks on the outside, glaring and sneering in: “The bovver boys look like becoming the first major subcultural group not to produce any major rock stars!” And the portentous close: “The survival of rock has depended on its position as the core of male teen culture. But the bovver boys have rejected rock’s traditional status which explains the lack of vitality in British rock in the early 70s.”
But the Bolan audience did include “bovver boys”: what’s more – as recalled in John Lydon’s Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, by friends he then hung with – it included that subcultural group’s first “major rock star”, Lydon himself. And as Rambo, one of these friends, also notes: “I used to like David Bowie, but you used to always wonder what your other mates thought of him. He was queer, but he was accepted among the football teams. They were all thugs, but they had Ziggy Stardust haircuts.” (Even the easy-option lad look, the Rod Stewart ’do, had a foppish tone to it.) But longtime Lydon conspirator John Gray makes even more important links: at various times before punk broke, this street-gang of friends “were big T Rex and Gary Glitter fans”, dyed their hair Crazy-Color purple and green, flirted with the skinhead look, became reggae obsessives, taught in local play centres – and passed (however briefly) through art school.
Since the war, the British art school, though subject to the vocational demands of industry and the weight of art-as-tradition, had been structured to offer a playpen zone for self-expression, innovation, modernity: and here gathered the imaginative and the alienated; anyone gifted, from any background, that ordinary 3Rs education had betrayed or suffocated. In this atmosphere of sharp aesthetic contradiction and relative class freedom, in this temporary vessel for those unable, or unwilling, to yet define themselves via readymades, a chaos of aspirations was nurtured, as were successive generations of UK rock musicians.
And here, in particular, grew Glam. With Bryan Ferry a pupil of Richard Hamilton and former Warhol-assistant Mark Lancaster (not to mention the conceptual and process art Brian Eno absorbed at Ipswich from Roy Acott), Roxy Music were a direct realisation of Pop Art theory. Genre conventions were thrown into hazard; packaging technique was ruthlessly foregrounded: a weary model, cheesecake-as-piranha, bares her teeth on the first three Roxy Music covers. Mass-consumer techniques are revisited here neither as irony nor pastiche, but as a half-mournful loveletter to the heaven that consumer culture promises, and the doubled hunger that follows its non-delivery (“every idol a bring-down/it brings you down”). And mocking all that denim-scruff countercultural cliché felt itself to stand for, these three covers also boast a sublimely insolent inclusion among the sleeve-credits: the formula varies, but “Roxy Hair by Smile” is the gist.
In fact not all Glam’s mainmen had been to art school. Bolan (as Marc Feld) and Bowie (as David Jones) had been Faces in the dancing the mid-60s Mod crowd, fashion-leaders in a subculture from the suburban/urban crossover which valued discernment and self-expression off-stage far more than it kowtowed to idols on-stage. Mods had formed groups (Bolan’s John’s Children, Bowie’s The Manish Boys) as an expression of avid, avant-garde, radical consumerism (Pop Art praxis): because they knew as Mods they were ‘better’ than the groups who had formed to pander to them. Mod, as an ideology of audience self-love above all, rendered the membrane between onstage and off permeable: Glam, Bowie’s version especially, explicitly explored this movement. No less than four of Ziggy Stardust’s eleven songs have the word ‘star’ in their title: yet the lyrical POV shifts constantly, from watcher to watched, from audience to performer and back.
Actually the skinhead movement, ska-loving, moonstomping, had evolved out of Mod also, that wing of the collective of narcissistic individualists who rejected flowerchild utopianism and countercultural experiment. But though to certain wised-up realists – such as Fowler – this reactive and minatory sub-crowd, this narcississism of the collective, functioned as a marker of changeless proletarian authenticity, others chafed against such arid self-imposed rigidity, such cowardice of self-definition (besides, it increasingly moulded itself on the edicts of Richard Allen’s phenomenally successful pulp novels, 1971’s Skinhead and Suedehead, 1972’s Skinheads Girls, and so on). As Lydon puts it in Rotten: “I regard myself as working class, but I know damn well working class doesn’t regard me that way,” and later, “Why are the working class so angry, lazy and scared of education? Why are they so scared of learning and stepping outside their clearly defined class barriers?”
By 1973, Allen was writing Teeny Bopper Idol and Glam; by 1977, Punk. He loathed their promiscuous category-instability: though the loving detail of his paki or queer-bashing was nothing if not sexual – far more so than the actual sex – Allen’s skinhead heroes waged eternal war on these new fashionwaves. For Glam drew its force from (and gathered its ephemeral multitudes through) all its jumpcut frenzy of parallel ambiguities: as trendy, slender androgyny declined to bother to sort male from female, its songs, sleeves and posters, posing insouciantly as art, cut adult science fiction into heretical sociology, intimations of pornography into vaudeville, just-pubescent pin-up action into barely occluded violence. The unspoken Sumptuary Laws of Brit dress and thought and mutual interpenetration were suspended, as were class difference and stereotypes of provenance. The Spiders were from Hull not Mars; an alien from suburban Bromley got to fellate Northern space-punk Mick Ronson’s guitar every night. Drummer Paul Thompson arrived at early Roxy Music gigs from the building site, still with his gumboots on. Out on Glam’s bubblegum wing, Glitter, half-despised but hugely popular, The Sweet and Slade (once a Wolverhampton skinhead band) combined fag-drag look with consistently brutal lyrical content. Somewhere in between, West Midlands Bowie-protégés Mott the Hoople made themselves into perceptive prole historians of counterculture myth and Saturday-night brawling. For most of 1974, though unsettled by their growing gay following in America, they featured a magnificently un-elfin misfit guitarist named Ariel Bender, rotund in eyeshadow and hair highlights, whose stage style their mainly male UK audience also seemed to adore, and whose loss they never really recovered from.
In love with themselves as losers, they x-rayed the failures of success, from Elvis and the Orioles to Mott the Hoople. On the reverse sleeve of Mott they quote D. H. Lawrence’s ‘A Sane Revolution’: “If you make a revolution, make it for fun/…/Don’t do it for the working classes/Do it so that we can all of us be little aristocracys on our own/and kick our heels like jolly escaped asses…” Ziggy Stardust explicitly argues that such failures spring from the excessive desires and demands of the audience that made the star: “when the kids had killed the man I had to break up the band…”
But the most jarring take on category-blur was one which echoed Allen, by embracing the cross-border desire he pushed away so violently: Glam cast the coldest possible look at the nature of the fantasy relationship between performer and fan, the secret subject of every hit pop love song ever.
“I wish I hadn’t wanted then/what I want now twice as much”
—Mott the Hoople, ‘Ballad of Mott’
In Velvet Goldmine, Arthur Stuart is a journalist (and former Maxwell Demon fan) who ten years after the on-stage assassination is assigned the task of finding out what happened and why, and where Brian Slade might be today. He begins his search by interviewing Cecil, the young Slade’s first manager, who discovered him – and was ruthlessly dropped, for reasons at once aesthetic and careerist, when Slade moved into his Demon phase; then Slade’s wife Mandy, who gives him the inside dope on Slade’s obsession, artistic and sexual, with rival performer star Curt Wild, an entirely different kind of performer. To understand what motivated Slade, and to uncover who he became, Stuart must track down Wild – but this is far less easy.
Despite many differences (stylistically it owes more to Ken Russell), Goldmine tells the same tale as Nic Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth – especially as regards easily overlooked secondary characters. A bizarrely gorgeous outsider embarks on a project meaningful only to himself: it fails, but not before complex transformation is unthinkingly but successfully wrought on the lives of not-quite-innocent, not-quite-sexy bystanders.
Thus for example Farnsworth the accountant in Earth – small, balding, myopic, homely, quietly gay – who more or less runs Thomas Newton’s vast leisure-technology corporation maps onto Cecil in Goldmine. Tracked down by Stuart, Cecil is now wheelchairbound, ill and alone. The scene of his dismissal is the most dislikable in the film, Slade’s basilisk gaze especially, all emotional connection withheld, smile or scowl. Yet Cecil shrugs off the hurt he’s surely entitled to: instead, he’s bitterly, cuttingly, ruefully admiring. Slade was “like nothing I’d ever seen before – like nothing he appeared.” Just as the high-art motif in Roeg’s film is Brueghel’s Landscape With the Fall of Icarus, the shattering disaster that goes unnoticed by the ordinary passerby, Farnsworth and Cecil, who both flew too close to their respective sun, find their humanity in knowing why – they chose to – and accepting this.
The word ‘glamour’, which reaches deep back into the English language’s own understanding of its magical self, derives from the same late Latin root as both ‘grammar’ and ‘grimoire’: from ‘gramarye’, meaning that exact use of words which casts spells. A ‘glamour’ is an enchantment, a thrown veil of witchy allure, in which the victim always has profound complicity; so perfect a deployment of the victim’s own language (and rules of language) as to ensnare them in their own inner need. To counter the spell fully, the roots and rules of this need must also be known.
As anyone knows who’s ever been edged from a charmed circle – for being not young enough, or thin enough, or queer or prole or cool enough – it’s the aftermath nag of those of your values which made the circle seem so charming to you, that you have to make your peace with, to survive. Your real friends can teach you to see the faults of the lover who’s just dumped you, but when an in-crowd cast you out, it’s your ideal of friendship that’s been turned against you. The treacherous complexities of such self-reappraisal are often enough to turn radicals into reactionaries.
In Genet’s Funeral Rites, murderous betrayal is presented as the centre of revolutionary Queer desire: if homosexual ecstasy is to take irrevocably equal place as a mode of human desire, society must be transfigured, and every existing law of human relationality repealed. Despite all its hard-won legislative freedoms, the current ‘Pride Community’, though a descendent of Glam as much as of Stonewall, remains a slave to the swooning surface of its own comformism, as leatherman marches hand-in-hand with skinhead dyke in suffocating worship of youth, prettiness and cliché-bound iconic camp. As such, it could hardly resemble less the pitiless vision of Genet, the “least ‘gay-affirmative’ gay writer I know” (as Queer critic-provocateur Leo Bersani admiringly writes in Homos). For affirmation demands intolerance, and communities need exiles to cohere, exiles who will always embody certain of the betrayed ideals of their community’s original reason to be, exiles who continue to accept the demonisation and the darkness their colleagues now timidly evade.
Mod was an ideology of community based round individuated self-love; punk exchanged this for self-hate, uglification, even mutilation, its mode of display a won’t-get-fooled-again body-armour of refusal to trust in any salvation offered by others, communally or star-guided. Glam – by unravelling the very lures it luxuriated in, by foregrounding the grammar of the machinery of bewitchment – held momentarily the unstable balance point between these extremes. Bowie’s swagger – his manifest awareness of the perfect pan-sexual beauty of his own body and face – was always combined with a strange hesitancy: a speaking voice irritatingly placeless and mobile, on-stage movements all nervous doubt and absence of confidence in himself as a star. As Angus MacKinnon wrote in NME in 1980, just before the singer’s plunge into two decades of graceless bombast: “Unsuspectingly, I’m sure, Bowie positively leaks loneliness; it wraps itself around him like a clammy shroud.”
Less than five years after Bowie shucked his Ziggy-skin, in the early hours of 15 January 1978, John Lydon loses the plot, and slips out of character mid-song. He sits front-stage at the San Francisco Winter Gardens, face-to-face with his own self-loathing. “Have you ever had the feeling,” he croaks, to no one and everyone, “that you’ve been cheated?” Rejecting possession, he will never perform as Johnny Rotten again.
“I guess everybody wanted to suck Iggy’s cock. It was just so THERE, you know?”
—Terry Ork, quoted in Please Kill Me
“It has always seemed to me,” wrote Christopher Isherwood in the early 40s, hitting on the perfect metaphor for eternal Queer subculture at its most radical, “that these is in fact only one Turkish Bath – an enormous subterranean world, a delicious purgatory, a naked democracy in which the only class distinctions are anatomical. And that this underworld merely has a number of different entrances and vestibules in all the cities of the earth. You could enter it in Sydney and emerge from it to find yourself in Jermyn Street.”
Most post-war representations of this “delicious purgatory” were moralistic at best. Isherwood’s own Farewell to Berlin, becoming 1972’s Cabaret, let Liza Minnelli be cute and camply harmless – but it also put the blame for Hitler on three-in-a-bed sex. Luchino Visconti (no relation to T Rex record producer Tony Visconti) declined to bother to sort homosexuality from Nazism in The Damned (1969): in Death in Venice (1970), this closeted self-hatred became self-pity, honeyed in sluggish, shallow grandeur. Only Ken Russell and Fellini had any fun with decay, the first periodically exploding into garish, lipsmacking, hypocritical disgust, the second the bumpkin ringmaster of the best cake-and-eat-it bashes since DeMille: roll up, roll up, come gaze at all that’s rotten and deplorable!
Admirably non-judgmental by comparison – though as Pop Art it was also voyeuristic, not to say vampiric - Warhol’s static camera-eye had documented, from Blow Job (1964) to Blue Movie aka **** (1969), a manufactured demi-monde of ‘superstars’ (this word his coinage). And, inspired by the orgiastic undergrounder nihilism of Anger, Balch and Burroughs, Donald Cammell’s and Nic Roeg’s Performance (1968, released 1970) had engineered an encounter between etiolated Chelsea-set rock dandyism and East End thug-life rather less schematic than Fowler’s, and rather more alert to pop’s revolutionary possibilities than all of 60s European art-house cinema except perhaps Pasolini.
At a polar opposite, with its multi-racial skinnydipping and deftly edited verité, Woodstock: Three Days of Peace, Love and Music (1970) had made anonymous Warholian superstars of its gigantic festival crowds. With these seas of bare bodies somewhere in its perverse subconscious, Glam proposed to subterraneans everywhere not a secret descent into Isherwood’s vast bath-house under the world, but rather that transgressive desire clamber proudly upwards, Mod-fashion, mounting the stage, claiming the limelight, plugging in and performing.
But this would be no back-to-nature idyll, for the decadence Glam was so eagerly to lick up and spray out had another source: the vampire movies of Hammer with Christopher Lee, of Jean Rollins, of Mario Bava with Barbara Steele (at artschool wth Cammell and briefly a Fellini starlet, as was the Velvet Underground’s Nico). Trashier, truer, more complex than their European cousins-in-morbidity, these movies heaved with class-and-sex anxiety: predatory aristocrats simultaneously leeched the vitality of the lower orders and enticed their prettiest children out of stolid yeoman repression into perilous, classless, SM-tinged, carnal freedom.
Glam took vampire hunger as its counter-ideal to the affirmative Aquarian Love-In, reflected the Undead’s reproduction strategy – a recruitment drive thick with mutual hostility, manipulative envy, sentimental denial and endless role reversals – straight back at the fan-star relationship it was so pitilessly modelling. This is partly why it spoke so strongly to the awkward, the lonely, the self-hating, the meek – and why the vast bring-down its idols inevitably tumbled towards unleashed the CounterGlam wave of punk, an even briefer, more unstable moment. For in its fall, the decadence of a decadence, Glam forced its fans to rescript their yen to make it with their personal jones, or to replicate their designated leper messiah. Now they to seek fulfilment in the better richness of their own imaginations. Arthur Stuart escapes the provincial northern wasteland; becomes a journalist overseas. Rambo the football hooligan today designs jewellery in Finsbury Park. For while you can’t just shuck skins and be anything you want, you can at least avoid being what it seemed you were meant to be.
And besides, beneath the make-up, there was vulnerability, too. Self-confessed vampirism is far from triumphalist: Bowie’s envy of Bolan and even Mott the Hoople made him all the more popular among the uncool, the unconfident, the outcast. Glam’s dialectic of democracy and decadence – where the socially excluded seize the stage, to create a new-order despotism not of blood, but of talent and looks and self-validated discernment, an élite of looks and grasp, of art-promise and hedonistic possibility – is thus the truth-nugget in Velvet Goldmine’s central love story, in which Brian Slade’s vampiric desire and art-envy for Curt Wild is very obviously requited. The hole in Bowie’s relentless plastic soul, argues Haynes, was always Iggy-shaped: this frozen suburban Brit-fraud had his eyes snatched from his own mirror by animal grace, by this untrammelled US trailer-trash id. Super-Ego enslaved by Ig: a hugely likable idea. In place of some de Sadean social order, where pretty peasants of every gender are preyed on by power, hail the naked democracy, where (as SM theorists always insist), the bottom is the real top. Idiot love will spark the fusion – and my idols will be like my dreams tonight.
SIDEBAR: THESES ON THE PHILOSOPHY OF GLAM HISTORY
Nostalgia is no inoculation against time’s passing – at best it compensates for awareness of it. If a subculture is worrying about the history of its own evolution, its moment is over. Glam’s lasted barely 15 months. In June 1972, Bowie’s ‘Starman’, the lead single from Ziggy Stardust, combined with a notorious Top of the Pops appearance and NME front cover both with the singer draped round Mick Ronson, to hip UK youth to blusher for boys and androgynous male-on-male physical affection – Roxy Music’s first LP, Roxy Music, was to follow within weeks. By September 1973, in the wake of their second (For Your Pleasure, April 1973), the record sleeve that gave Ziggy his stripe (Aladdin Sane, May 1973) and Lou Reed’s only ever chart hit (‘Walk on the Wild Side’, also May), Bryan Ferry’s heretical solo reading of Dylan’s ‘A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall’ (plus Eno’s ouster from Roxy Music that summer) had signalled just such a closure. Roots anxiety was then endemic to rock – can blue men sing the whites? – but the autumn of 1973 saw Glam, so very history-conscious, staking a most perverse claim on its founding past(s). Bowie sang an LP of 12 covers of mod anthems, Pin-ups, as if he loathed them, while Ferry’s solo release “These Foolish Things” (note quote marks) contained 13 chart classics from rock and non-rock genres so varied that the very notion of roots dissolved. Our ancestors are everyone you ever heard of anywhere, it seemed to say – allowing Bowie and Roxy Music to glide wherever else they chose.
Still, Glam did have ‘real’ precursors, too. In the Velvet Underground, so studiedly unflamboyant from 1965, Reed had long played games with manipulative pre-Stonewall ambivalence. Alice Cooper’s eyelinered shock-vaudeville had been launched in 1968 from Frank Zappa’s LA-based freak circus. Post-Stonewall streetpunks the New York Dolls formed in 1970 to prowl those skewlit alleyways of rock’n’roll where Little Richard, the Stones and the 60s girl groups couldn’t be told apart. And Marc Bolan’s Tyrannosaurus Rex, dippy utopian folkies, went electric in 1971 with ‘Get It On’, swapping free-festival credibility for teenybop chart power.
Boasting such un-arty chart stalwarts as Elton John, The Sweet, Slade, Wizzard, Queen and Mud, Glitter Rock was exactly co-eval with Glam (Gary Glitter’s first single ‘Rock & Roll (Parts 1 & 2)’ had charted in June 1972), but long outlasted even neo-Glam wannabes Cockney Rebel and Sparks, who both briefly flourished 1974-5. However, by then, Glitter had ineluctably devolved into an instant rolling nostalgia of itself, chummier than it was transgressive.
Roxy Music would flicker in and out of transmission until the mid-80s. Bowie trundles on, a prisoner of his best eight years. And Iggy Pop? 31 years after the Stooges began, he abides undimmed, outside time and all style.