As a young teenager, David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars was one of the first LPs I can remember buying; I was probably 15 or so. I also remember having to race across the room to turn the volume down for the “Wham bam thank you ma’am” line in "Suffragette City," lest my mom come in and smash the record. But that record led to me Iggy (not a huge glam artist, in my opinion), Mott The Hoople, the New York Dolls and many other “glam” bands. It’s safe to say that, like many, glam had a profound effect on my musical youth.
Reynolds casts a net more wide than deep, but Shock and Awe charts a chronological trip through the history of glam, and does an excellent job of inter-connecting the artists, records and scenes, in both the UK and U.S. He lays down much of the literature, film, poetry and art cultures that influenced and establish glam as a retort to the “self-important” music that rock became in the late 60s and, especially, the early 70s. It’s fair to say it was the English bands whom had a deeper art influence, rather than the trash and vaudeville approach of The Dolls, or Alice Cooper and KISS, who embraced cartoons and horror movies as inspiration. Alice singularly brought (shock) theatre into rock and roll.
If Marc Bolan is the sound of glam atoms splitting, David Bowie is the big bang that followed. His influence on music style, fashion and culture, caused vibrations far and wide, and are still being felt today. Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Mott the Hoople and Roxy Music all owe a huge debt to Bowie. The final chapter, “Aftershocks,” extends the creative arc of glam rock forward and examines the careers of Marilyn Manson, Hedwig the Angry Inch Lady Gaga, Daft Punk and the rise of what Reynolds calls “digi-glam.” That these are delivered in bite-sized pieces makes it a fun way to end the book….which, of course, comes full-circle with the release of Bowie’s Blackstar and his shocking death shortly thereafter. Glam, it seems, always comes back to Bowie.
Shock and Awe is not for the timid, clocking in at 650+ pages, but it is certainly definitive, well-researched, and well constructed. I could quibble with Reynold’s (a Brit) inclusion of some very minor English glam bands —who many Americans likely have never heard of (I hadn’t) — in the interest of a more easily digestible book, but Reynolds has served up an encyclopedia of information that fans of the genre will almost certainly devour.
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