Simon Reynolds - Shock & Awe: Glam Rock & Its Legacy book review

Finally, maligned or sniggered-at glam rock has its consummate academic work

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Glam rock is usually held as the fleeting trend which excited British teenagers before punk changed everything, with T.Rex, Slade and The Sweet affectionately regarded as relics of a time when men dressed as Christmas trees.

Although just a kid when he saw Marc Bolan on Top Of The Pops, in Shock & Awe author Simon Reynolds has turned his forensic-like gaze on the deep significance of the glam phenomena and its many tributaries, starting with Bolan’s transition to pop idol, Bowie’s feet-finding 60s and Alice Cooper bringing shock theatre to the charts.

While it’s understandably impossible to convey the actual shock, awe and liberating fun of glam as it happened, Reynolds digs deep to trace its ethos, pioneers and repercussions, providing eloquent accounts of the usual suspects, cultural climates and lesser-known curios such as Jobriath.

Along with Eric Emerson being overlooked as New York’s first glam-rocker, only the Mott The Hoople section slightly misfires; they were the first band with platform boots and glam-presaging flash, while Bowie’s coked-up All The Young Dudes ramblings in Rolling Stone should never be taken seriously.

But Reynolds is pretty much spot-on everywhere else, also examining glam’s effect beyond the 70s to Lady GaGa, with Bowie the recurring hero, until his recent death provides a heart-breaking climax.