Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ziggy Stardust and The Kids are Alright

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Bowie, Bolan, Brian Ferry and the whole Glam Revolution of the early 1970s lately. This moment is often heralded as the first stiletto-heal to drop in the coming post gender era. Bowie via his alter ego of Ziggy Stardust is often seen as giving a voice to a generation of swish boys and butch girls who would grow up to abandon the centuries old nonsense of gender. Although I agree that the glam guys were the first kind of mass-market version of a post identity culture that would change the world in the coming decades, I also feel that this was not the only game that they changed. Since the first British Invasion of the early 60s British Popular Music had been primarily about location. The Beatles music was rooted in their hometown of Liverpool. The whole Mersey Beat Sound of the first wave of British RockNRoll was rooted in a mixing of American Roots music and a certain working class English ethos and sound. The second wave of British bands would wave a sort of Nationalist flag for all of England. Mick and Keith wrapped themselves in the Union Jack and their music was rooted in their very Englishness. No band did this more effectively than The Who, a band that even took the colours of Britannia as the palette for their logo. British Music of the post war era was about where you were from and about how music was a path to where you were going. It dealt with the class struggles and desires of upward mobility that had defined British Youth culture for generations. The early bands masked their working class accents in a sort of mimicry of the vocal styles of Black American bluesman. By the time you get to records like The Who’s My Generation you have Roger Daltrey mining the working class vernacular and colloquial expressions of his generation not just in interviews but in the very lyrics and style of singing on the records themselves. Where is an artist like David Bowie or Marc Bolan to go from there? Bowie wasn’t even working class for starters. This is where the story of the second revolution in British Pop Music begins; Bowie and the boys made music that would forgo the class politics that had defined pop music and in doing so would open up a whole new world of musical and narrative possibilities within the framework of RockNRoll. Glam wasn’t about Liverpool or London, it wasn’t about Britannia or the artist’s working class world. Hell, it wasn’t even about this world at all. With Glam, Bowie and all the other boys shot the narrative straight into outerspace. From this moment on anything was game. Not only weren’t artists limited by gender they didn’t even have to be of this world. This shedding of the skin allowed music to become about anything the artist could imagine. In doing so it abandoned the need for authenticity that had plagued music for so long. Artists no longer felt the need to prove that they were still neighborhood boys with all the working class bullshit that accompanied that. Music was no longer about the world around you but also about the world inside you. If you wanted to be an androgynous alien with a snow-white tan glam said you could. Glam laid the groundwork for music that explored the internal world where anything was possible and in doing so escaped Hegel’s dialectic of working class guilt butting up against aspirations of upward mobility. Glam freed artists to write about their dreams no matter how strange those dreams might be and thus spawned not just the Eurythmics but also bands as diverse as Fugazi and The Flaming Lips. Bands that would grow up in a contemporary world that would not limit them to creating art that addressed their external reality but also their inner conflicts and demons as well as their inner space alien. Glam changed the lives of people who never even think to put on a T Rex record and for that it deserves more credit than it will ever receive.


  1. Marc Bolan started Glam Rock,why do you people air brush him out off History,his music is still fresh and tere are thousands of Fans world wide who still worship him. Give credit were it is due for a change.

  2. Where and how did I air brush Marc Bolan out. I agree that Bolan created Glam but I'm writing for an audience that is broader than music snobs like myself and as a result cite Bowie who although not the creator of Glam was nonetheless the most successful (read as famous) figure to come out of the scene.