March 1, 2007

Wham, Bam: Thank-You, Glam

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To tend towards that typical teenage complaint, I can assure you that I was born in the wrong decade: beneath this Johnny Every Student black pea coat there is a glam-rock goddess just waiting to slap on some eyeliner, climb on her desk chair and lip-sync “Jean Genie” into her hairbrush. And every once in a while, when the day’s first cup of Seattle’s Best hits my central nervous system just right, when T. Rex or Brian Eno sneaks onto my iPod shuffle, when Bowie’s voice strains to a painfully high note, I am forced to sate this beast in the public sphere, much to the embarrassment of anyone I happen to be associating with at the time.

For me, this pleasure is clearly a guilty one. Hardcore glam fans are relatively uncommon today, and I’ve found that few are willing to concede to the movement’s sustainability. As it spread from England across the Atlantic to New York, Detroit, and Los Angeles, glam rock became an international source of contention — glitter, fur, tight pants and rumors of a torrid affair between David Bowie and Mick Jagger centered the movement on sexual ambiguity and experimentation, which anyone over thirty heavily disapproved of. Perhaps, having lost that revolutionary shock value accompanying its initial debut into ’70’s pop, fewer are being exposed to glam in the first place; perhaps the lingering pansexual stigma has prevented it from being fully and openly appreciated in contemporary times. Regardless, what remains of its most popular hits has been depreciated to mere novelty, like when you loudly mess up the lyrics to “Changes” during a road trip (it’s “turn and face the strain, ch-ch-changes”), or when T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong” plays over the loudspeakers as you’re standing in line at Collegetown Bagels.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have grown tired of the single-heavy tendencies of modern pop music. I feel as though I hear the same three songs (specifically, “SexyBack,” “Irreplaceable” and “Maneater”) in every bar, house party and club that I’ve visited this past month. However, because most of these encompassing albums are hardly worth a straight listen — barring the messianic “Futuresex/Lovesounds,” of course — I find myself starving for the next collaboration between Justin, Nelly, Beyoncé and Timbaland, the next pop fix that I will inevitably tire of once I’ve heard it so many times that I begin to start seriously relating the lyrics to my personal life. And trust me, I’ve never made a man buy cars or cut cards.

Thus, exhausted and terrified of the consequences of becoming a pop-junkie, I have recently retreated back into the 1970’s for some much-needed relief. As someone who sees dancing as absolutely vital to the college social setting, glam strikes the perfect balance between gritty, experimental rock ’n roll and fast, danceable beats, while still maintaining the coherency of an album. Therefore, while specific tracks can be chosen to populate a dance-party playlist, one can also put on Bowie’s “Hunky Dory” secure in the knowledge that they are guaranteed fifty-seven minutes of meaningful rock bliss.

So how does one begin his journey into the complex world of glam rock? For a quick lesson in the basics, I would suggest renting either Neil Jordan’s Golden Globe-nominated Breakfast on Pluto or Todd Haynes’ 1998 flop Velvet Goldmine, which stars Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Ewan McGregor as bisexual rock stars, Christian Bale as their groupie and Eddie Izzard as their manager. The soundtrack features Brian Eno, Lou Reed, T. Rex and Roxy Music as well as second-rate covers of popular glam artists who didn’t want to attach their names to a really bad film. The boys are pretty and the soundtrack provides a number of valuable stepping stones. Furthermore, as with most of his early movies, Ewan McGregor strips down and waves his penis at a large group of people.

If you want to go straight to the source, there are several paths which you could start on. As a general rule, you should acquire all of the David Bowie you can get your hands on. However, for a folksier, acoustic sound, pick up T. Rex’s Electric Warrior; I can honestly claim that this album changed my life, and the lyrics to its second track, “Cosmic Dancer,” provide the mantra for my obsession with dance music. Roxy Music’s Country Life is a little more eccentric, a little more orchestral, while Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life is raw, uninhibited and sexually explicit. Whichever you choose, I recommend that you shut the door before beginning your journey — and for the love of God, make sure you have a hair brush nearby.