Shock and Awe


Shock and Awe –
Glam Rock And Its Legacy
By Simon Reynolds
Faber & Faber – £25.00

In his 1969 book Bomb Culture, Jeff Nuttall recalls the mid-sixties moment when art-school attitudes filtered into the beat-group scene: ‘Shoes were painted with Woolworth’s lacquer. Both sexes wore make-up and dyed their hair… ”Kinky” was a word very much in the air. Everywhere there were zippers, leathers, boots, PVC, see-through plastics, male make-up, a thousand overtones of sexual deviation…

SAHB’s combo of musicianship, ‘cartoon violence’ and Harvey’s charisma made the group one of the major concert draws of the British mid-seventies. They stole the show at the Reading Festival in 1974, performing ‘Anthem,’ one of their crowd-pleasing numbers, with a troupe of bagpipers coming on-stage. ‘Framed’ was staged as a crucifixion, Cleminson recalls, with Alex ‘pinned up somehow on a cross we’d dragged on-stage.’ When they played ‘The Faith Healer’ – their greatest, hardest-rocking song – the sun was going down. ‘Alex just stood there, singing, ”Let me put my hands on you,” and you could feel the atmosphere going electric. Just one of the most magic moments I’ve ever experienced in my life.

I’m amazed that a really great book addressing the musical idiom that was Glam and all its tremulous trajectory, hasn’t been written until this one. Unless of course, there is one (or perhaps two) I just don’t know about.

Either way, Shock And Awe – Glam Rock And Its Legacy is a lively, entertaining and altogether fascinating read. It sheds oodles of light on a musical era that was as idiosyncratic as it was influential, and in so doing, sets numerous records straight in one literary swoop of profound, nihilist nostalgia.

Indeed, all the main players – plus a few more besides – are here.

Everyone from David Bowie to Marc Bolan to Mud and Mott and Slade and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, are herein discussed and regally brought to bear amid all the pomp and brazen bravado that they did bequeath. As author Simon Reynolds declares in the book’s Introduction: ”I felt the pull of a time when pop was titanic, idolatrous, unsane, a theatre of inflamed artifice and grandiose gestures. This long-gone, real-gone era seemed the opposite of what pop had become in the post-punk eighties: adult, responsible, caring and socially concerned.”

One absolutely cannot help but agree here.

The idea of Slade’s Noddy Holder discussing the plight of Ethiopia, just wouldn’t, and couldn’t have been taken seriously; whereas Paul Weller aligning himself with the Red Wedge Movement a mere decade later, was not only taken seriously, but in some accounts, wholeheartedly acted upon.

That said, there are numerous sections throughout these twelve chapters, where the writing might well be considered sonorous. Semi-serious even.

In the chapter on Bolan, ‘Boogie Poet,’ Reynolds confronts the whole idea behind Mod when he quotes and writes: ”Mods were effeminate in certain respects – some even wore make-up – without necessarily being in touch with their feminine side or having much time for actual women. Bolan’s ‘The London Boys’ captures the male-dominated vibe of the movement, which was all about boys dressing to impress other boys, not attract girls. Modettes were peripheral figures, never faces. Boy mods ‘simply were not interested… too self-absorbed,’ writes mod scholar Kevin Pearce. Pills played a part, overriding libido (along with other biological needs like food and sleep) in favour of self-admiration and a tribal feeling of collective glory.”

While in chapter four’s ‘Teenage Rampage,’ he not only addresses the comparative validity of the band Slade, but also delves into some of the history of the Black Country: ”In their heyday, though, Slade were taken very seriously. ‘In a few years’ time we may all be saying that Slade are the most important rock group to have emerged since The Beatles,’ wrote their biographer George Tremlett shortly after the release of their film Slade in Flame […]. You can hear the Black Country’s distinctive ‘sing-songy’ accent in the between-song banter of Noddy Holder on Slade’s biggest-selling album, Slade Alive! The stronger retention of Germanic words and unusual expression like ‘Ow bist?’ (How are you? via How be-est you?’) reflect the insularity of the locale, which includes towns like Dudley, Sandwell, Smethwick, Wolverhampton and Bilston, where Don Powell grew up. ‘People always used to say that we came from Birmingham,’ recalls Powell, ‘and we had to explain that although Birmingham is only ten miles away, it might as well be a totally different country.”’

Already the author of seven books (among them Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction To Its Own Past, Rip It Up And Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 and Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music And Dance Culture), Simon Reynolds can stand back and be mighty proud of having written a true gem in Shock And Awe – a book that is essentially, un-put-down-able.

So if you’re looking for that perfect gift for anyone who was around at the time, this is it.

David Marx


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