Simon Reynolds – Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and Its Legacy, from the Seventies to the Twenty-First Century (Dey St.)
When I picked up my first issues of the British weekly music magazine Melody Maker back in the early 1970s, the glam rock movement was in full swing. It seemed like every issue had a cover photo, feature story or interview relating to somebody involved with glam. There was Marc Bolan (T. Rex), David Bowie, The Sweet and many others catching the attention of the press and ears of the music fans.
On this side of the pond, there seemed to be substantially less interest in what was known as “glitter” over here. However, in the Windsor/Detroit area, I did manage to hear quite a bit of music from the likes of Bolan, Bowie and eventually Roxy Music, Sparks etc…
Approaching 700 pages in length, Simon Reynolds’ book attempts to relate the context of the early group of artists who were at the forefront of glam and also to continue the story beyond its seemingly finite existence.
He begins in the logical place with Marc Bolan and fleshes out his early career and the lead-up to his place as a leader of the pack. The same holds true of Bowie’s story in the next chapter.
As one would expect, an analysis of the social aspects of this fad/trend are examined in depth. That includes a deep look into facets of androgyny and dandyism and their context in society over the years. These often stretch back to references from the 19th century and its attitude towards social issues. While initially interesting, these details often get caught up in a feedback loop of cleverness which can get exhausting.
The story continues in the US with the introduction of Alice Cooper to the mix. His contribution included his outrageous stage act which incorporated such aspects as a guillotine and electric chair. His work was more towards the shock rock than glam rock aspect of music.
Meanwhile, the UK added more stars to their glam roster with the entry of such artists as Slade, The Sweet and Gary Glitter. Joining them was an American in the form of ex-Detroit native Suzi Quatro. While these artists did have some following in on this side of the Atlantic, it still remained quite small. The Sweet failed to make any inroads up until the time of their hits Ballroom Blitz and Fox on the Run. Even the Detroit radio stations seemed to show little interest in the fact that Suzi Quatro was becoming a big star in England. Most people would have likely not heard her name until she started making appearances on the popular TV show Happy Days.
Eventually, the trio of David Bowie, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop started to make some waves. Along with them came Mott the Hoople. At this point in time, Bowie was attempting to get some exposure for these other artists on the back of his own fame as a producer (Reed, The Stooges) or songwriter (All the Young Dudes).
Roxy Music seemed to appear out of nowhere with a strange vision of the past mixed with scenes from the future. Their sound was like no other at the time and it caught people’s ears with it’s skewed mash-up of styles that by all reason should not have gelled. But, strangely, it did.
At this point, Reynolds changes his focus to the US. While the story of the New York Dolls seems to fit in fine, his attempt to also include the work of Wayne (later Jayne) County just seems to derail the proceedings. To this reader, it just seemed very out of place.
As glam started on its inevitable down-slide, there were still some interesting acts joining the scene. Cockney Rebel, Sparks, Queen and even Be-Bop Deluxe got their fingers in the glam pie.
For my money, this would have been a logical point at which the story (and book) should end. However, Reynolds decided to explore the world of post-glam without really calling it that.
He continues to explore the work of Bowie right up to the (literal) end as well as including artists such as Heavy Metal Kids, The Tubes, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band and Ultravox. While stories on these people do have their own interest, it seems like the subject for another book.
The final chapter of the book is Aftershocks which focuses on “Glam Echoes.” This section carries on right up to the death of David Bowie in January 2016. It encompasses everybody from PiL to Prince to Grace Jones to The Smiths to Kate Bush to Lady Gaga. Unfortunately, it just feels like adding some extra padding to the story and once again feels like it belongs in another book.
Overall, I did enjoy the content of the book which actually dealt with glam rock. It was well researched and presented. However, I did feel that the diversions from the main theme did the topic a disservice. This is a book that wants to be two books combined into one. If it had been two separate books, I likely would have had enough interest to purchase the second one as a stand-alone volume. But, in the context of a single volume, it did make for a bit of a schizophrenic reading experience.