David Bowie and the rise of glam rock – archive, 1972 | david bowie


Britain’s first purpose-built rock arena open in Manchester today. It cost £250,000 to build, can be converted from a concert hall for £3,000 to a nightclub for £1,500, has five bars and a restaurant and will be called the Hard Rock.

But the normal brouhaha for the opening of such a place has been completely overwhelmed by the sudden wave of notoriety that has enveloped the singer who will be headlining the first night. David Bowie is not just a singer. He is a trained mime artist, songwriter, one of the most gifted musical producers to ever mix a tape and is perhaps the central figure in the new glamour-based musical style known as glam. rock. It involves sparkly sequined costumes, spiky hair, and high-heeled boots; a stage presentation that ranges from the hypnotic swinging of a 6ft chrome microphone stand by Rod Stewart, to the destruction of baby dolls by Alice Cooper onstage at the rock ballet event Mancunians will see tonight.

Three sold-out concerts at the Rainbow in August stunned and captivated a crowd who had gone to listen to music and were presented with a mime troupe, light show, film backdrop and scaffolding stage at which Bowie moved through in a sequined astronaut costume and later in a red tee that buttoned discreetly at the crotch. You could see that although he had the lean, hairless chest of the modern superstar, he sported the broad, muscular legs of a professional dancer.

All this took place in an aura of camp; wings of sparkling eye makeup, lipstick and sullen stares, the butch stares at the audience whose own parade was a spectacle in itself. A self-proclaimed bisexual, Bowie has become the showbiz standard-bearer for the gay and drag scene in London, and they came, a parade of queens to celebrate the crown prince of glam rock. But Bowie’s audience is larger than that, so much larger than him, and the glam rock movement has become a sociological phenomenon of major significance to those who still use the blatant phrase, “the youth movement.”

In 1969 and the early 1970s, the youth and musical cultures in Britain were dominated by a middle-class style focused on students, peace and revolution for which Woodstock was the psychic Camelot. And then came the skinheads, a true proletarian manifestation that brought real violence, not the vicarious heroisms of the Vietcong, to youth culture. The British youth movement entered a kind of catatonic trance at this point – a parallel trance in America after the savagery of the Altamont concert of December 1969, and the realization and fear of domestic death in the Kent State in May 1970.

The music market has split into several different styles, representing the breakup of the youth coalition. Some, driven by the apocalyptic implications of the eco-boom, dropped out in the country and listened to country rock. Initiated by Dylan with the Nashville Skyline, the country life, work boots and overalls and primitive dirt of the dropout scene were reflected in the success of bands like The Band and quiet singers like James Taylor. In Britain, skinheads and young blacks pushed their own reggae sound and intellectuals stuck with their cerebral, electronic moon-rock that had promised to become the norm since Sergeant Pepper and Pink Floyd’s first hit. , Arnold Layne.

The Sweet in the BBC studio box, London, 1973. Photography: Jorgen Angel/Redferns

But glam rock merges these disparate bands, Jagger, evil superstar, had always pointed in that direction. But others have followed the path – and perhaps back – to glamour, showbiz. Elvis himself appeared this year in Las Vegas, white jumpsuits or skin-tight black leather, courting the microphone and dropping to his knees, reminiscent of tearful crooner Johnny Ray. Rod Stewart, bovver-boy hair and high heels, the new Flash Harry who used a stage to strut his stuff, has gone big in Britain. Entertainment was back, after years of synthesized studio performance prevailing, live, visible gigs, small business where you could see the artist, became the arena of rock.

And suddenly, the 45 rpm singles market revived. All the pundits had said that couldn’t happen, that with wealth and stereos, long albums and cassettes would completely overrun record stores. But the bovver-boys knew it was different. And teenyboppers too. The rock intellectuals with their headphones and their £2 albums had exercised unwarranted control for too long. Singles, style and superstars returned. Marc Bolan emerged from the underground with his small but grateful market to have his face screen-printed on pillowcases as teenyboppers’ hearts fluttered. Yes, crush. Even the word had been revived. Romance magazine True Confessions and True Romance has gone camp. The intellectuals give up and join the party of the 1950s, the glamor of the stars. The Hard Rock Cafe, decorated like a 1950s drugstore, was the hip place to go and Last Picture Show was the movie to see.

And now, to put it all together, the 1950s nostalgia and superstar image, came the cheap exotic sensations of David Bowie. He knows them all, all sectors of culture. He was a mod in the early 1960s, flashing around South London as Marc Bolan, all new clothes and dancing alone. You had to be cool back then. Then came his time in mime, he met intellectuals, listened to the songs of Jacques Brel.

But now he’s found the message that goes with the media he’s starting to dominate. Technology, astronauts, stars and an exotic apocalyptic culture. “Five years is all we have,” he sings on his album, which juggles for the top spot with fellow glam rock artists Rod Stewart, Alice Cooper and Roxy Music. The album is called The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the spiders from Mars and it adds lines from Brel, Judy Garland. He plays a 12-string acoustic guitar for a fatter sound and tells us that there’s a “Starman waiting in the sky”, while recalling the realities of Earth. “Tony went to fight in Belfast, Rudi stayed home to starve.”

And after Manchester, and after churning out more records for a former underground band called Mott the Hoople, whose latest single written by Bowie and produced by Bowie zoomed up the charts, he’s going to try his 1950s style and technology of camp on the Americans. “I’m not just a rock ‘n’ roll star all my life,” he says. “I moved on, big massive plans for the future.” The confidence of the superstar, but like Ziggy Stardust, he sings of doubts as much as of pride: “It was the nazz with the ass of God, he went too far but damn it, he could play the guitar.”

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