Today, May 22, with glam rock, we continue our “Why is it called …” If you remember well, it was already the turn of why it is called rock and roll, why is it called heavy metal or of the last one because it is called Punk. In this article we tell you about the origins, the history and, as we often like to do, some curiosities related to glam rock. And we do it today because this day coincides with the release of the most representative film of the movement, Velvet Goldmine, set at the dawn of glam.
How was glam rock born?
Glam rock, otherwise known as glitter rock (and we already understand a lot here), was born in the early 70s, mainly in the United Kingdom, as a break but also a recovery from the hippie movement, in a new fusion that, in some way, led to to punk. A new generation of artists and audiences, too young to feel connected to Woodstock and the sixties.
As David Bowie put it: “The idea was to take the recent past and restructure it so that we feel in control of it. I found the right key in things like A clockwork Orange: that was our world, not that other hippie crap. It made sense to me. The idea of taking a present situation and dressing it in a way that suits a future prediction: the uniform for a non-existent army (…) “.
The name “glam” or “glitter” derives from the typical clothing used by its performers. We are talking about elegant dresses, sparkling rompers and capes, feathers and sequins, bright and eye-catching colors.
Let’s not forget heavy make-up, a distinctive feature taken up by many artists still today. Glam absorbed many elements in its style, from sci-fi futurism to rock’n’roll revival, from cabaret to bubblegum music.
Marc Bolan and T-Rex
Many, but not all, critics agree in attributing the birth of the glam movement to Marc Bolan, leader of the T-Rex. Bolan was in fact the first to show himself in public with feathers and sequins, in elegant and gaudy clothes, to play songs that (apparently) dealt with superficial topics. Here was already a preview of punk.
Mark was 13 when he first saw a mod and would devote his energies to becoming the coolest mod in the East End. And as a good Brit, he woke up the dandy in him, modeling the best-dressed dandy all time: Beau Brummell.
“Brummell felt elegance as a woman or an artist feel, a genius who informed of his style and his manner a society that was superior to him by birth. He created his own legend and imposed it on the world” (quot. Maria Franzero).
And Mark was determined to do the same. While in his senior year of middle school, he realized that he was not cut out for a normal job, but destined for bigger things. “Be strong and stick to your beliefs. You can’t assume there’s a lot of time to do what you like.” – Marc Bolan
However, Andy Scott, guitarist of Sweet, another glam group, says that the movement was born from a single person, among other things, our acquaintance , Elvis Presley. How to blame him?
Later, influenced by his great friend Marc Bolan, in the early seventies even David Bowie, already an original performer, decided to cover himself with sequins and invent a glam alter ego: Ziggy Stardust.
The evolution of glam rock
Glam rock remains primarily a musical movement. The electric guitar remained in the foreground, only the melodies had become rather simplified, even if traditional rock and roll was drawn heavily. it is true, everything was done to give space to the look, but not only.
There was also room for an ambiguous sensuality, often feminine, a truly innovative thing if we think about 50 years ago!
The American New York Dolls countered the British ambiguity. Always glam, but with a raw sound that anticipated the characteristics of punk.
After the decline of glam rock, which arrived around the second half of the seventies and the explosion of the aforementioned punk, the so-called pop metal / hair metal of the eighties, also known by many as glam metal, gave back popularity to the glam movement. .
The latter genre, characterized by more pop melodies, was brought to success above all by bands such as Def Leppard, Motley Crue and Poison, and was the master of the MTV era, being a very “visual” style. This trend too slowly faded away until the explosion of grunge in the late eighties and early nineties.
Who are the exponents glam rock?
Of the first British glam rock wave, in addition to the aforementioned “precursors” T. Rex, artists such as Gary Glitter, Sweet, Slade but also Mott the Hoople should be remembered. Gary Glitter has been struck off virtually all artist lists as, in the late 1990s, he was convicted of possessing child pornography (in Britain) and committing lewd acts with minors (in Cambodia). Such convictions ended his career and turned Glitter into a character unmentionable by other artists.
Alongside the more ‘pop’ and simpler vein of glam rock, there was one more avant-garde and prog. The progenitors were David Bowie and Bryan Ferry’s Roxy Music, but we could also mention Freddie Mercury’s Queen first style, together with Elton John and Rod Stewart.
As for the aforementioned American glam rock, in addition to the New York Dolls, we cannot forget also artists belonging to other subgenres closer to shock rock such as Alice Cooper and Kiss, in addition to The Stooges.
And how can we forget the 2000s, which drew on glam looks and sounds with both hands, thanks to the successes of the Ark, the first Darkness and artists like the Scissor Sisters and Lady Gaga, closer to pop and dance music.
Do we want to leave out Italy and Renato Zero? Renato boasted a look similar to that of Marc Bolan and in the same period. Not surprisingly, according to some, he was even the inventor of glam rock. Interesting theory!
As we said, the film Velvet Goldmine, directed by Todd Haynes, sums up well today’s themes.
The action is set in Britain, in the early 1970s. The main character, Brian Slade, is a pop star largely inspired by David Bowie and Ziggy Stardust, and to a lesser extent to Marc Bolan. Curt Wild’s character is inspired by Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. Title of the film is obviously taken from a song by Bowie.
The film is also full of references to Oscar Wilde‘s lifestyle, given the presence of numerous quotes from his works.
The film traces the journey of a glam-rock star, played by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, and the musical as well as sexual revolution that he wanted to trigger in the universe of the 70s.
Ten years after Brian Slade’s disappearance following a bombing, a former fan of the singer (Christian Bale) is tasked with uncovering what’s left of him. His investigation is the pretext for many flashbacks, populated by real or fictional characters (Brian Molko, Bryan Ferry, Curt Wild).
The narrative structure of the film is modeled on Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, as the journalist Stuart tries to solve a mystery about Slade, traveling to interview Slade’s lovers and colleagues.
Of the same film David Bowie will reveal in his autobiography: “He was a handsome boy (ref. The protagonist) and so I thought: Wow, thank you! – Obviously they didn’t show the teeth I had in my mouth at the time”. “The fact is that in the film, glam is told by Americans. And glam was not an American phenomenon. Glam could only be born in Great Britain. There was one point to grasp, and that is that suddenly people who they were bricklayers by profession and started wearing make-up. It was a lot of fun. “
Since glam rock brings music and looks together, let’s not forget these two aspects of the film.
The soundtrack includes songs from the past and present glam rock genre. British musicians who played under the name The Venus in Furs were Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead, Clune of David Gray Band, Bernard Butler of Suede and Andy Mackay of Roxy Music. The American musicians who played Curt Wild’s Wylde Ratttz on the score are Ron Asheton of the Stooges, Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth, Mike Watt of the Minutemen, Don Fleming of Gumball and Mark Arm of Mudhoney.
The soundtrack features songs written for the film by Pulp, Shudder to Think and Grant Lee Buffalo. Placebo’s Brian Molko covers T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy”.
Fun fact: all three members of Placebo also appeared in the film, with Brian Molko and Steve Hewitt playing members of Flaming Creatures (Malcolm and Billy respectively) and Stefan Olsdal playing Polly Small’s bassist. Another Flaming Creatures member, Pearl, was played by Xavior (Paul Wilkinson), former lead singer of the group Romo DexDexTer and later keyboardist of Placebo and Rachel Stamp.
Also included in the soundtrack are songs by Lou Reed, Brian Eno, T. Rex and Steve Harley from the period. The album is complemented by a piece from Carter Burwell’s soundtrack.
Costumes and conclusions
As for the costumes, made by Sandy Powell, these earned the costume designer a nomination for the 1999 Academy Awards. In addition, on May 22, which is why we mention it today, the film was presented in competition at the 51st Cannes Film Festival, where it received the award for artistic contribution.
I would say that we have said everything about the glam world and its best cinematic representation. Now sorry, it’s time to fix my makeup and put on my sequined cape, I really have to go! After all, it seems that John Lennon said to David Bowie: “Glam rock is nothing but goddamn lipstick rock’n roll!”.