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NPR Great Read of 2016
From the acclaimed author of Rip It Up and Start Again and Retromania--"the foremost popular music critic of this era (Times Literary Supplement)--comes the definitive cultural history of glam and glitter rock, celebrating its outlandish fashion and outrageous stars, including David Bowie and Alice Cooper, and tracking its vibrant legacy in contemporary pop.
Spearheaded by David Bowie, Alice Cooper, T. Rex, and Roxy Music, glam rock reveled in artifice and spectacle. Reacting against the hairy, denim-clad rock bands of the late Sixties, glam was the first true teenage rampage of the new decade. In Shock and Awe, Simon Reynolds takes you on a wild cultural tour through the early Seventies, a period packed with glitzy costumes and alien make-up, thrilling music and larger-than-life personas.
Shock and Awe offers a fresh, in-depth look at the glam and glitter phenomenon, placing it the wider Seventies context of social upheaval and political disillusion. It explores how artists like Lou Reed, New York Dolls, and Queen broke with the hippie generation, celebrating illusion and artifice over truth and authenticity. Probing the genre's major themes--stardom, androgyny, image, decadence, fandom, apocalypse--Reynolds tracks glam's legacy as it unfolded in subsequent decades, from Eighties art-pop icons like Kate Bush through to twenty-first century idols of outrage such as Lady Gaga. Shock and Awe shows how the original glam artists' obsessions with fame, extreme fashion, and theatrical excess continue to reverberate through contemporary pop culture.
Publisher's Weekly Review
Rock historian Reynolds (Rip It Up) explores the genre that first shaped his perceptions of pop: glam rock, or, as it's sometimes known in the U.S., glitter. Reynolds takes a broad view of what glam encompasses, investigating its roots in soul, teeny-bop, and other disparate genres while also charting the careers of icons such as Bowie, T. Rex., and Roxy Music. His investigation, however, is hampered by his apparent hesitance to tackle difficult subjects (such as race) head-on; he veers in for casual mentions of cultural appropriation within glam culture, only to shy away from the intense analysis such a topic deserves. As wide and deep as his net is cast-he touches on Buddhist philosophy and the 1970s gay liberation movement-Reynolds seems at sea when it comes to discussing gender-variant identities, going off on several peculiar tangents. Reynolds is more at home when breaking down the concept of authenticity and defending the "fake" persona as art form, but even that leads to an off-putting set of observations about Dr. Luke's abuse of Kesha-the last in a series of cringeworthy rhetorical snippets that mar an otherwise intriguing text. (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
New York Review of Books Review
"being natural is simply a pose, and the most irritating pose I know," Oscar Wilde wrote in "The Picture of Dorian Gray." That sentiment is part of what makes Wilde, according to the British music critic and historian Simon Reynolds, "the first philosopher of glam, expounding its tenets 80 years in advance." Getting from Wilde to Alice Cooper is the kind of move that makes Reynolds, the author of previous books about rave music, postpunk and pop music's retro fetishes, such a fun tour guide. In "Shock and Awe," he writes that glam rock, with its makeup and props and stunts, sprang up in the early 1970 s against a "drab backdrop of beards and denim" (picture the Allman Brothers leaning against some recently felled logs). Not just a sartorial reaction, though, glam was also "a retreat from the political and collective hopes of the '60s" and an embrace of "individualized escape through stardom." The movement "believed fantasy would set you free, not reality." The fantasy often took precedence over the music. Reynolds quotes the rock writer John Mendelsohn describing the long-forgotten band Shady Lady as "one of those groups that formed out of admiration for each other's wardrobes, completely oblivious to whether any of them could play." David Bowie, the glam-era star who went on to the most varied and acclaimed musical career, said in a 1966 interview that he was mostly interested in music as a vehicle for acting: "I'd like to do character parts. I think it takes a lot to become somebody else." Reynolds admits in the book's introduction that glam is a "fuzzy" category, overlapping with prog rock, hard rock and other subspecies. That fuzziness plays to one of Reynolds's great strengths: his capaciousness as a critic and listener, his ability to write about all of those categories (and more) with authority and genuine interest. But that fuzziness is also inevitably a weakness; the book is littered with insights and treats, but it rarely coalesces in a fully satisfying way. We sometimes lose sight of glam as home base, and Reynolds stretches to make a few pieces of his genealogy fit. But if you're going to have a baggy book, you want it to be written by Reynolds, a tireless researcher with an eye for entertaining diversions and a penchant for alluding to everything from the "anti-theatrical prejudice" dating back to Plato to the glam implications in a short story by perhaps the least glam human ever to live, Willa Cather. Reynolds also leaves readers (this one, anyway) enthusiastically jotting a list as they go: of songs to listen to, books to read, YouTube clips to hunt down. How could one resist a trip to YouTube after reading this about the leader of the Crazy World of Arthur Brown? "Wearing vaguely satanic-looking robes and a helmet that spouted flames, Brown sometimes made his entrance onstage from a mobile crane." (Alas, I've yet to find a clip with the crane. Spouting flames, yes.) The description of Brown's act is one of many moments in "Shock and Awe" that seem lifted straight from the screenplay of "This Is Spinal Tap." The apotheosis of the book's resemblance to that mockumentary features an American group called the Tubes. Reynolds writes that Bill Spooner, a guitarist for the band, once recounted the way it would perform one song in "laboriously constructed dinosaur costumes," with " 'horrible masks' " that featured " 'bulbous growths coming up the side of our faces.' " During one such performance in San Francisco, everyone in the crowd left the room, save for one girl. "It turned out the only reason she'd stayed," Spooner said, "was that she was in a wheelchair and no one had come to get her." Less absurd was the occasional authoritarian flavor of glam rock's aesthetics. Given that the genre attracted many "delusional narcissists who created a bubble of unreality around themselves," i t's not surprising that the line between sendup and self-importance could be thin. Roxy Music's Bryan Ferry wore jackboots during a 1974 tour, "with a hint of a Hitler parting in the hair," marching around near a giant gold eagle onstage. The leader of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band also could be seen in jackboots, along with Hitler-like hair and mustache. "I might have been a bloody good Hitler," Bowie was quoted by Rolling Stone in 1976, "an excellent dictator." Bowie and his reliably unreliable transformations serve as the book's one through-line, the one anchor to check Reynolds's (and glam's) magpie tendencies. Shuffling through T. Rex, Mott the Hoople, the Stooges, Gary Glitter, Queen and dozens of others, we always return to Bowie's arc. The book closes with several pages about his death last January at 69. Before ending with Bowie, Reynolds goes full A.D.H.D. and spends about 75 pages in a section called "Aftershocks" quickly moving among brief encyclopedia-like entries on developments in the glam ecosystem up to the current day. Siouxsie and the Banshees are "glam to the core." Def Leppard is "filed under pop metal," but "really glam." Marilyn Manson gets compared favorably (I guess) to Alice Cooper ("He's a non-singer who's not much of a looker either"). We get fleeting glances of Grace Jones, Kate Bush, Adam Ant, Lady Gaga. It's a catalog that makes it fair to wonder what in the world of popular music isn't, somewhere in its essence, glam. For the four years that Reynolds identifies as glam's peak, there was a renewed focus on issues of performance, gender fluidity and irony that is still found in countless nooks of pop culture. The genre's provocateurs won. Or as the glam-influenced Morrissey once sang: "Keats and Yeats are on your side / While Wilde is on mine." ? JOHN WILLIAMS is a senior staff editor at The Times.
Library Journal Review
Rather than from outer space, glam rock emerged out of the ashes of the 1960s rock underground. Lost in that scene, performers Marc Bolan and David Bowie each broke away from their 1960s obsessions for authenticity and reinvented themselves as stars. This shift from socially conscious troubadours to self-obsessed artists in makeup and glitter recalled the rock and roll showmanship of the 1950s while having a lasting legacy of its own. Music critic Reynolds (Retromania) examines the genre through the trajectory of its major players: Bowie and Bolan as well as Alice Cooper, Roxy Music, Suzi Quatro, and more. The author deftly examines the musical, social, and sexual underpinnings of glam rock, but the work is most insightful when dissecting glam's greatest contribution to rock music: the larger-than-life image of the rock star. VERDICT Reynolds's erudite yet readable approach will be of interest to glam fans as well readers of popular music histories. Expect interest in Bowie to be high after his death earlier this year.-Amanda Westfall, Emmet O'Neal P.L., Mountain Brook, AL © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.