Tuesday, August 12, 2008

transformers, one





Velvet Underground and Loaded. I’m not old enough to have been there at the inception of Glam in the early 70s, but it must’ve been a heady experience for kids when they first came across androgynous men performing testosterone drenched rock. Glam was a twisted bit of business, appropriate to the confused, transitional era in which it emerged. Its brilliance lay in the way its sexual ambiguity - the make up, the clothing, the fey theatrics - served to reinforce the utter masculinity of the whole enterprise. Slade, Alice Cooper, The New York Dolls, Sweet…they all seem so, well, ballsy when their crunchy riffs come blasting out the speakers. But then you watch their performances on shows like The Old Grey Whistle Test and Midnight Special, and the bands appear to be comprised of ugly girls and cross dressing trannies. Still, there’s never any question that but you’re watching men play their phallic Les Pauls through powerful Marshall stacks…


Glam has roots in some of the fruitier elements of 60s psychedelia. But whereas mid-late 60s dandyism tended to accentuate a kind of prim and elegant foppery, the androgyny of Glam in the early-mid 70s turned into something more raw, more openly sexual, more decadent, and more confrontational. Compare the look, sound and vibe of, say, early Move or SF Sorrow-era Pretty Things with the first few Roxy Music albums or Bowie during the Ziggy and Alladin Sane period. The change reflected the quest for more sensational degrees of spectacle after the collapse of the 60s and the allure of amorality as a response to the drift into uncertainty.



Notwithstanding the allusion in "Sweet Jane" to 'Jack in his corset and Jane in her vest', it might be a bit of a stretch to categorize The Velvet Underground as Glam. But because Glam artists like Bowie, New York Dolls and Iggy Pop assimilated VU’s mondo bizarro skepticism towards the 60s, I tend to think of VU as a precursor to Glam. In turn, Bowie and Mick Ronson were hugely instrumental in launching the Glam years of Lou Reed’s career.

Velvet Underground and Loaded are actually quite a bit less avant garde the previous VU albums (The Velvet Underground and Nico and White Light/White Heat), but with songs like "Jesus", "I'm Set Free", "Rock and Roll" and "Oh! Sweet Nuthin'", both records sound like epilogues, as if they're trying to lay the aspirations of the 60s generation finally to rest. ...The songs on Velvet Underground are especially atuned to the Great Collapse and the cynical thinking prevailing in its aftermath. 'There are problems in these times,' Lou Reed sings in "Beginning to see the Light", 'but none of them are mine'. He strikes a similar tone with the line, 'I'm set free to find a new illusion.' There's no hiding the palpable emotion in Lou's voice when he sings these lines, yet they seem to be such flippant and dismissive statements. The interpretive possibilities are vast, but the sentiment undoubtedly signals the movement into 'the beginning of a new age', one in which everything becomes artifice (or 'illusion') and notions of authenticity, truth and progress dissolve into thin air. Welcome to the age of Glam...




Next time I'll be sinking in the quicksand of my thought...

4 comments:

Molly Stevens said...

I think I kind've look like the guy in the off-shoulder pink tee in the top picture. What do you think?

Max Stevens said...

I was just thinking the same thing. 'David Johansen looks exactly like my sister...'

dan w said...

Molly rocks.

You've got me completely locked into your musical arc, Max. I spent last week with VUs 1969 and Ziggy Stardust, and this morning in the car with Los Angeles. Next up: 4th of July, even, if I can find it. Pretty soon, it's gonna be Queens of the Stone Age and a move out West...

Max Stevens said...

Dig it! You can shack up with anne and the kids in my guest room...