About Amber

Musician (www.varnishcentral.com), writer, scifi girl.

Loving the Alien

Portion of Hubble Extreme Deep Field.  Every spot and smudge in this image is a galaxy.  Credit: NASA, ESAI can’t think of a time when I didn’t know about or believe in aliens. I was raised in a home where everyone read scifi and fantasy, where we listened to David Bowie in his alien persona, where we understood, as Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson will confirm, that this was not the only planet with life on it. That doesn’t mean, aside from a brief stint of buying deeply into conspiracies when I was 13 and had learned—from Ender’s Game and Dune—not to trust authority, that I focused a lot of time or thought on the possibility that aliens were already here and being hidden by the government. Nor does it mean that our household was somehow constantly centred on or discussing The Aliens. It was more just that I never considered it remarkable to believe aliens existed. This always made the universe seem full of possibility.

Gif of David Bowie looking a bit blue in his Loving the Alien videoWhen I was in the dreaded throes of puberty and feeling a bit like an alien myself, I sometimes told myself that maybe I had just been born on the wrong planet. But, even more effective for soothing my sense of discordance with my environment, I also spent as many hours as I could immersed in fiction that was full of aliens and space travel and the like. I was a scifi girl long before anyone might argue that I should call myself a woman instead. So, as we discussed how to pull apart “scifi” and make it into a few themes for Most Worlds, spread it over multiple months, I was entirely on board with Aliens getting a month of their own. Let’s be honest: we could spend the lifetime of this blog on aliens and never run out of subject matter.

Screenshot of the non-humanoid alien character Pilot from the programme FarscapeEven people who don’t really think of themselves as geeks have made up the movie-going and TV-viewing public that keeps scifi films and programmes profitable enough to keep making them. The alien as a character type serves so many purposes. They give us a new enemy or a new saviour, they open up possibilities for plots and solutions beyond the repetitive constraints of this one little planet, they let us explore themes of outsiders or difference in a roundabout way (they’ve stood in as symbols to call out the inhumanity of humans or the illogical nature of our knee-jerk prejudices against those who aren’t like us). For the truly brave writer, they’re a chance to create a character who doesn’t even look like anything we’d consider humanoid or maybe we wouldn’t even initially recognize it as life at all. You can go so many places with a chance like that!

We won’t cover every alien, every franchise/film/programme/book, or even every type of alien or alien-involving situation. We’ve narrowed this month down to the topics that, in our planning week, were currently most interesting to us (and then had to narrow even more given that we each write basically three posts per month). In good news, it means we have no choice but to revisit aliens in the future. So, set aside your xenophobia (but keep your weapon handy, just in case) and come hang out with us and some folks who aren’t from around here.

Screenshot: Little aliens from Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Celluloid Pictures of Living

For the most part, as tends to happen, the so-called end of glam didn’t really mean the end of glam. Whilst it’s not as visible and obvious a genre as it was in its heyday, it has left its glittery fingerprints on the world. As you might guess, we’re not sad about that. However, we’ve got some things we wish had stuck around more visibly or changes we wish glam had more effectively made on this pale blue dot of a planet.

Amber’s Top Five

  • David Bowie (then) and Tilda Swinton (now), with matching adrogynous looksMakeup on males (and not just in the context of goths or performers). Yeah, I might have a thing for that…
  • Fewer societally-imposed hangups about gender (especially about whether something is a boy thing or a girl thing). Like it? Then wear it or do it or be it, societal constructs be damned.
  • Rockstars with alien personae. Maybe, if you could just admit it’s a persona, you could be more fun outside of work. Just, y’know, don’t forget who you really are…
  • The abolishment of “guilty pleasures” in favour of just owning your pleasures, hedonism optional.
  • Fewer people who think that becoming an adult means giving up on the magic and mystery in life. (But, if you’re done with your magic and mystery, I’ll take it. I’ve got a hoard!)

Cat’s Top Five

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  • Thought put into elaborate presentation of music.  I’m all for a stripped down studio session–some of the best musical experiences come from that–but there’s something to be said for bands that put forethought into how people will view/interact with the music.  As an experience, not just entertainment.  And yes, I know that dumb ol’ Kanye West is trying to bring the artistic vision back into the music, but his just drag on and on and ooonnn.  We covered that in our intro.  But other than that, in general, bring on the sets, the costumes the pathos!  I want production!
  • The glam rock attitude.  You know, that attitude that says “I am what I am, and you can shove it.”  The attitude that is so similar to punk, but with added layers of magic and art, and somehow an even deeper level of not giving a fig what other people think.  Punk is in your face.  Glam is outside the sphere, so far away from caring about your face that the faceness doesn’t even register.
  • Danceable songs.  A show without dancing–or music you can dance to–is barely a show at all.
  • The mythologies.  This is along the same lines as alien persona, but wider.  An act, album, or tour that surrounds around an elaborate history created for the music and the person.  It adds an art to the experience that makes it even more immersive for the giddy fans.
  • The acceptance of magic within reality.  Amber said it best, but keeping not just a sense of wonder but the practice of wonder, the active implementation of magic, is something we could use more of today.

Sweet, Merciful Moderation

You may recall from last week that our first cupcake outing was…somewhat daunting. So you can imagine our relief when our trip to Trophy Cupcakes involved only one cupcake of the month. Of course, given the paranoia induced by our previous Really Smart Outing, we bought a lovely and light lemon cupcake to share afterwards. Just in case our tastebuds needed rescue.

Dark Chocolate Raspberry

Trophy Cupcake: Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cupcake

Available daily through February

Valrhona Chocolate • Raspberry Buttercream Filling • Belgian Chocolate Ganache

Our Valrhona Cupcake is filled with Raspberry Buttercream then dipped in bittersweet Belgian chocolate ganache and topped with a pretty red heart. Nothing says “I Love You” like Dark Belgian Chocolate and Raspberries!

Amber: What I’m about to say is meant in the best possible way. Understand that Trophy Cupcakes is, to my mouth, as good a cupcake as Cupcake Royale, but they’re different. They’re smaller and denser, which is sometimes exactly what I want. Their frosting tends to be a lighter texture (not applicable to ganache, like we got this month). But they have the same high quality of ingredients and tendency towards excellent taste that Cupcake Royale has. Keep that in mind for the next sentence. This cupcake tastes like an expensive and high quality version of a Hostess cupcake, but the cream filling is raspberry flavoured. Which means that I ate with eager and childish delight. The only thing I’d change is that I’d want more cream filling. I always want more cream filling. (See picture proof that my desire for more cream filling might not be reasonable.) This straightforward beauty has made my mouth fall in love with cupcakes again, something I was worried about after the assault by cupcake earlier this month.Creamy cupcake inside

Cat: I was incredibly skittish going into this cupcake experience.  The last taste day had left my mouth wounded, broken, unable to look chocolate in the eye. Seeing that this cupcake had a dark ganache and a fruit filling (a.k.a. the bane of any dessert), I thought “not my bag.”

I thought wrong.

Yes, the ganache was dark, but it was thin and perfectly complemented by the raspberry cream filling.  That filling.  That’s the way to put fruit flavor in a dessert.  A way that’s light, whipped, and creamy.  Not gelatinous goop, but airy creaminess that makes your tongue float.  This was the cupcake that made everything else OK.  It healed my wounds.  I want to eat sheets of the ganache and bathe in the filling.  Thanks for the new fantasy, cupcake.

Oh, the Cake-manity!

One of the things we like best about this world is its food. I mean, we like other things, but we knew immediately that we were going to need to make our “goal” to try the monthly cupcake flavours at two local shops that are sort of The Big Deal in cupcakes part of what we talked about in this blog. We don’t want to come off as completely hating this world. So, every month, we’re going to have (at the very least) posts for the monthly cupcake flavours at Cupcake Royale and Trophy Cupcakes.

By some great twist of fate, our very first month is a month where Cupcake Royale has five special cupcakes and another special individual-sized cake. Those of you who hate Valentine’s Day must at least acknowledge that, given it has caused this excess of cupcakes and the Deathcake Royale, the day is not entirely without merits. Because they make quality cupcakes and because we are ridiculous, we made the stellar and mature decision to try all five special flavours and the Deathcake in one sitting. Okay, maybe the most mature decision in this outing was to share cupcakes instead of eating five whole cupcakes, and a Deathcake, each. (Hurrah for the lady behind the counter for labelling things well for us! And for suggesting we also get some water…Not pictured.)

All our cupcakes and the Deathcake on our tableAre you ready for this? We thought we were….Here’s what we ate, in the order in which we ate…

(We’ll start each of the bits below with the picture and description of the cupcake from the Cupcake Royale site. And then we’ll tell you what we thought based on notes we wrote in the moment. No credit for the professional pictures goes to us. Definitely not.)

Caramelized White Chocolate

Caramelized White Chocolate cupcake. Picture by Cupcake Royale.Available Jan 29th – Feb 28th.

“We’ve done it, we’ve caramelized white chocolate and, man, is it GOOD! Vanilla cake filled with a salted caramel sauce + whipped cream cheese frosting + caramelized Vahlrona white chocolate crumbles.”

Amber: Light, not too cloying or sweet. Both the caramel and the white chocolate flavours are subtle and the caramel filling is perfectly soft. The frosting is so light and airy, in spite of being creamy. This might be what clouds in Heaven taste like…

Cat: This had me from the beginning. Say caramel, and I’m there. Add salt to that descriptor? Why isn’t this already in my mouth. But it’s the top that makes this cake. Lightest. Frosting. Ever. The cake itself is solid, your basic delicious morsel, but it’s the whipped frosting and gentle softball-stage caramel in the middle that makes this an amazing cupcake.

Malted Milk Chocolate

Malted Milk Chocolate cupcake. Picture by Cupcake Royale.Available Jan 29th – Feb 28th.

“Vanilla cupcake with chunks of milk chocolate topped with Theo malted milk chocolate buttercream + housemade malted meringue.”

Amber: As with any Cupcake Royale cupcake, the texture is moist and awesome. And this is a tasty cupcake, but the only malt appears to be in the frosting. And I would probably like this more if I had extra frosting.

Cat: Nothing gave this away as malt before I tried it. There was no smell, no obvious crumbs or chunks in the cake, and that was the first warning sign. All the malt flavor was manifest in the crumbled malt bits on top and some slight flavor gently folded into the frosting. The rest of the flavor was from the milk chocolate chunks. Good quality chocolate, but I expect to drown in the taste of Whoppers when I eat something malted, not to be grasping for flavor.

 

Chocolate Dipped Strawberry

Chocolate Dipped Strawberry cupcake. Picture by Cupcake Royale.Available Jan 29th – Feb 28th.

“We’ve combined two of our favorite desserts to create the Chocolate Dipped Strawberry Cupcake.  Chocolate cake filled with fresh local strawberry compote and topped with Woodblock Chocolate buttercream”

Amber: With these five flavours, I know they’re going for something fancy for Valentine’s Day. And this one is definitely that. For some reason, I didn’t enjoy that sense of fanciness here. I liked their strawberry filling, but didn’t feel there was enough strawberry taste to the whole cupcake. It was good but not one I’m probably buying again.

Cat: Ugh. Now this is a mouth sensation I cannot abide. Jam in cake is an abomination to my palate. It’s all goop, slimy texture combined with whipped buttercream. The strawberry flavor is strong–I would say too strong. It’s the kind of sticky sweetness that permeates the Valentine’s holiday. It’s the saccharine cake equivalent of an insipid box of chocolates with grocery store roses. It fits the festive bill, but feels uninspired. It’s the first cupcake I don’t…no, I can’t…finish.

Smoked Chocolate

Smoked Chocolate cupcake. Picture by Cupcake Royale.Available Jan 29 – Feb 28th.

“Our chocolate cupcake is piled with smoky chocolate buttercream that is smoked in Seattle by Young & Young Smoke Co.…”

Amber: I’m immediately intrigued. Cat told me to smell it before she cut it, and I can definitely smell the smoked flavour! (Break in writing to actually eat.) I have no idea whether or not I like this. My mouth and nose are now flooded with something that makes me think of piles of sauce-slathered meats. It’s so outside my taste experiences that I just…don’t know. (Plus, I’ve already eaten 1.5 cupcakes, so my body is probably in overload.) Maybe a babycake eaten on its own would work? I’m just…unsure…Everything is smoke.

I think I don’t like my cupcakes rich. I think I want even my chocolate cupcakes to be light and fun. I madly love chocolate, but I think my palate, when it comes to cupcakes, is not grown up enough to appreciate deep and/or dark chocolates. This excursion is starting to look like a dubious choice…

Cat: Wow. Is that eau de hickory chip in the frosting? Eating this cupcake is like eating ham-cured chocolate. The cupcake works on the weirdness factor for a while–capitalizing on the novelty of things like bacon maple bars, but fancy-pants-ifying the entire process–but it gets too cloying as I eat more. All I taste is smoke. All I smell is smoke. All I am is smoke.

Black Bottom

Black Bottom cupcake. Picture by Cupcake Royale.Available Jan 29th – Feb 28th.

“When cheesecake batter meets chocolate cake! Chocolate cake filled with cheesecake batter + Venezuelan Chocolate buttercream + marbled chocolate curls.”

Amber: I have no palate left. It has been destroyed by the last two cupcakes. And possibly by the incredibly questionable decision to eat 2.5 cupcakes on a mostly-empty stomach, early on a Monday morning. Yes, my tongue tells me this is a chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting…my tongue also tells me it likes this filling, but can’t for the life of me figure out what it’s supposed to be. (Cat looks it up. Cheesecake? Really? At this point, my tongue and I have no choice but to trust the internet.) So, I like it best of the three fully chocolate cupcakes I’ve just eaten, especially the filling, but I still think the tendency of fancy cupcake shops to lean rich in their chocolates is going to trip me up every time.

Cat: So it’s cheesecake batter. Huh. The combined flavors taste like a high-end chocolate box, all semi-sweet and rich tasting. I think it’s what death tastes like. Every possible flavor on the chocolate spectrum rolled into one. I’m chocolate exhausted. What is the meaning of life? What is the meaning of this taste experiment? How many cake fragments can I leave in the box? I give up. One more bite of cake today will be my death.

Deathcake Royale

Deathcake. Picture by Cupcake Royale.Available Jan 29th – Feb 15th.

“Deathcake is back in it’s original form! We layered espresso chocolate decadence, salted milk chocolate ganache and chocolate cake together…”

Amber: Cat was right to save hers for later. I powered through, because my stubborn determination and the sugar high completely overwhelmed my common sense. One bite though. Just one bite. I wasn’t sure if I was having a hard time swallowing due to laughter (thanks for not snapping a photo, Cat) or my body protesting more sweetness. Moist. Rich. Death. I am pretty sure, if soil were edible, this is what the earth I’m buried in will taste like. I mean that in the best possible way.

Cat: It took 24 hours before I could bring myself to tackle the Deathcake. It might have been a little too soon. I could only take three bites, put it away, wait an hour, take three more, and so on. The slow and steady sugar overdose instead of the massive munching the day before. But on to the Deathcake itself. Yes, it’s rich, but not too bad. I don’t dig the middle espresso layer, personal preference, but the rest? Oh, the rest.  The ganache is swimming through a chocolate ocean. The cake is every bit as moist and flavorful as any cake should be. Unlike the black bottom, where the chocolates battle, these work together for decadent delight. Slow, measured, take-your-time delight.

HereThe mess after we'd eaten what we could of the cupcakes is the resulting carnage…We raced out, so high on sugar and in need of salt licks, that we probably looked like unattended toddlers on Halloween. Eeeeeeee! Overall, we agreed the Caramelized White Chocolate was the best, though we admit that, if we were true scientists, we’d go back to see how much they benefited from being first eaten (though we did try to go from lightest to darkest on the theory that would be best for our palates and fairest for the cupcakes). Fortunately, we are just mature enough to know better than to do this again. Y’know, until there’s another month with five flavours….

UPDATE: It was 5.25 days before Amber was able to eat anything sweet. (She actually salted her whole-grain cereal the morning after this excursion and got slightly ill when she accidentally ingested a little jam 3 days after the cupcakes.) NEVER AGAIN.

The Prettiest Stars

Have we managed to pique your interest about glam? Want a good jumping off place for exploring it and seeing if you want to add it to your own list of likes? Here we present lists of our favourite things in glam.

Amber: Choosing favourites in any situation is something I dread (even more than I dread keeping my word count low). Especially in this context, where you’re surely going to pull out your expectations or judgements about how I ought to go for obscure things. But I put blood, sweat, and glitter into this, and I stand by my list…for at least the next week.

  • Brett Smiley on the cover of his biography, named The Prettiest Star (also the title of a David Bowie song)Favourite glam album: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
  • Favourite original glam artist: David Bowie
  • Favourite modern glam/glam-influenced artist: Placebo
  • Favourite glam film: Velvet Goldmine (and the soundtrack is a nice place to get exposure to some non-Ziggy music)
  • Favourite glam video: Evening in Space by Daphne Guinness
  • Favourite glam aesthetic: Glitter, of course!
  • Favourite glam theme: Aliens (and alienation)
  • Favourite thing I discovered whilst writing for this month: Brett Smiley
  • Favourite thing about doing glam now (aka why I’m okay I missed the 70s): The internet. Seriously. With it, I can find inspiration, tools, and tutorials for realising the look I want; more music to inspire me; and friends all over who love me as I am.
  • Favourite life changer: Glam showed me that I was freer than society wanted me to think in terms of defining and discovering my authentic self. (I could write a whole essay on that alone.)

Cat: Again, I am the outsider coming on in this scene (which might make me more glam than anyone? Or not…), so my list of favorites is very much influenced by the main players, plus those things that come across as uniquely glam.  Some of them are the early tastemakers, some are just my own likes manipulated to fit the formula, and some are things only I might see as glam, but which I just can’t shake.

  • Favorite glam artist: David Bowie, that gorgeous ethereal man.
  • Favorite poet referenced by glam: Lord Byron
  • Favorite glam performance aspect: Giant sets!  Production!  Stagecraft!
  • Favorite glam movie: Well, Strictly Ballroom totally counts, right?
  • Favorite glam album: The New York Dolls. Has all the roughness I love, plus it might be the only glam album other than Ziggy I’ve listened to regularly.
  • Favorite remnants of the glam movement: The fluctuations between feminine and masculine aesthetics.  I guess you could call it gender fluidity?  But more with regards to fashions.  The garish clothes, men’s painted nails, a respect for an entire spectrum.
  • Favorite glam trope: Dance! Moving to music.
  • Favorite glam discovery this month: Ewan McGregor’s performance in Velvet Goldmine.
  • Most appealing aspect of glam: Overt, unapologetic self-acceptance.
  • Favorite glam reincarnation: The Darkness, a rocking band that had the spark of fun needed in music.

Hooked to the Silver Screen

The visual aspect of things is an important part of glam. So, obviously, we needed to parade some videos in front of you. For those of you who’ve only experienced glam music in the context of Velvet Goldmine, a little extra commentary might be useful.

Trevor Bolder and David BowieGlam has some range and some fuzzy edges. Like many musical genres, especially in decades past, the press likes to look for trends among new bands that don’t easily fit existing niches and lump them together with a new genre title. Which is why you’ll see/hear bands that sound like very macho rock or whose members look like macho guys in the clothes that they or their advisors wisely saw might help (hey, loads of people do it; that doesn’t mean their music isn’t good). And, right next to that (maybe in the same band), you’ll hear music with a little more strings or piano or whose members are pretty and seem to comfortably and naturally wear makeup and androgynous/dramatic clothing.

One of the struggles with the initial idea of making a playlist of glam videos is that, in the early 70s, making music videos wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now. And much of the available live footage is, at best, 70s TV quality and not lit to the standards of the modern viewer. As Mick “Woody” Woodmansey, drummer for David Bowie’s band the Spiders from Mars, explains:

Bowie opened the …Spiders to culture, even the ballet. “But to watch the lights, not the performance,” explained Woody. “In those days rock lighting was red and green. He’d say: ‘Watch how they use the lighting at the ballet to create atmosphere on stage.’ People in pop didn’t do that then.” (From The Guardian’s How the Spiders from Hull changed rock music forever.)

Glam had a massive impact, in large and in subtle ways, on all the rock that came after it. The theatricality (not just standing around looking pretty), the costuming, the interesting lights, even (and this is true) male bandmates being able to put an arm around each other whilst playing can thank glam. So even the modern bands you’ll find here have range. Most of them play with androgyny or gender roles. And one of them, the last, is as glam as anything you’ve seen or heard.

At the end of this post is the YouTube playlist I created. I considered saying a little about each, because the world of music on stage and in video is so very different now, but the video and music should speak for themselves this time. I don’t even necessarily love every video here, but I feel like you need to see the evolution. I’ve got them here in chronological order (or as near as I can sort it out). Don’t forget that you can click for the list at the top of the video screen and skip around if something isn’t connecting with you. Enjoy! And be sure to share your own glam video love in the comments.

Ecstasy’s the Birthright of Our Gang

Velvet Goldmine French movie posterLet me start off by saying that this post (and Cat’s post, coming Thursday) are going to be about Velvet Goldmine, one of my favourite films. I cannot guarantee they will be spoiler-free, which seems reasonable given the film came out in 1998 and it’s on Netflix. Additionally, you ought to know that my focus is going to be my own experience of and connection to the film. There have been plenty of analyses written; I seem to trip over a new one every once in a while still. If you want a good place to hunker down and read a lot, the general consensus is that Varda the Message is the place to go. Expectations set? Allons-y!

Now, in spite of what I said in the previous post, I suspect that the real reason we’re starting this blog with a glam month is that, as we walked to the EMP/SFM for our planning meeting for the blog, Cat and I talked about this film. She’d just seen it for the first time, and it had spoken to her. (Also, the shooting of Brian Slade happened on 5 February, so there’s another February reason for glam.)

Film still: Brian Slade in his concert regaliaMy own first viewing was pretty much as good as I could have asked for. An older friend (I say “older” not to point out that she was born before me but that I’ve generally seen her as wiser and more experienced)…An older friend who’d seen it previously knew enough about me to be sure I’d love it, so she invited me to come see it when a little independent cinema near us screened it. Middle of the day on a weekday, I walked out of the sunshine into the quiet and nearly-empty dark of the cinema. I watched it splashed across a big screen, overcome, no distractions, before emerging into the harsh glare of sunlight that scattered on the glitter I was wearing. Some films are best viewed on a large screen, with a booming sound system. This beautiful and musically-great film was one of those.

Film still beside the real life event (guitar fellatio)Undoubtedly, my friend knew I’d love this film because she saw the glam in me, she suspected the soundtrack would synch well with my other tastes of which she knew, and she knew I had a rather massive interest in David Bowie. To be clear, and you know this if you’ve read anything about the film, Bowie declined involvement in the film because it was unabashedly meant to kind of be about him and he didn’t like what he felt it would say about him. He’s never been shy about confirming the he didn’t care for the film. But those of us who’ve read about Bowie’s history can see where they blatantly ripped off and hyperbolised his life. No, this isn’t reality, but it’s very much like when they say a film or a programme is based on real events; we all know (I hope we all know) that there may be no more than a few little grains of truth. Fortunately, this isn’t based on my life story, so I’m free to enjoy it and simply smile or laugh at every one of the Bowie-inspired bits. (Bowie’s not the only person you’ll recognise in there, but you’ve watched it and already know. They aren’t even attempting subtlety. Ditching subtlety is generally the right call in glam.)

Film Still: Brian Molko of Placebo singingFor me, another great musical connection—aside from all the actual music—was that Placebo were in the film. Yes, there are plenty of actors that also made it appealing, but Placebo were and are, as noted in my last post, part of the recent glam scene (at least in my mind). Placebo and Bowie are 2/3 of my musical Trinity, so that was a lovely and appropriate little treat in the film for me. Given I’d hung a picture of Placebo’s lead singer on my wall, one torn from a magazine that came out during the Velvet Goldmine era, before I’d seen Velvet Goldmine, this might have been one more clue to my friend that I needed to see this film. Yes, needed.

Film Still: Dreamy couple, Brian Slade and Curt WildBecause this film, for me, was a loving music video made in tribute to the dream of glam, whilst acknowledging the reality of it. It showed the ideal, the fantasy we were reaching for…It showed the ways most of us fell short even at our best. I know I’m supposed to suggest some little-known album, but I’m not that guy. Instead, I’m the one who says that this is a good place to start if you think you’d like to get a feel for glam. You probably don’t even need to research the film, to learn all about which lines are actually Oscar Wilde quotes or the person on whom a particular character is based, in order to get the feel. (And then you can do research and check out our handful of entries this month on the blog if this cinematic love song speaks to you.)

Film Still: Brian Slade in his last song of the film, Tumbling DownFor me, the effect was like finding a letter written by a past self, full of hopes and plans and good intentions, calling me back to the things I’d set aside that had made my life richer. It said, “Here’s where you landed instead. Is that okay with you? You can probably make changes, reclaim your trajectory…if you want.” And, oh my stars, I wanted. As a self-examining type, I welcomed the chance to take stock of my past and my present, of what things my past had been influencing all my life—much of which I’d ceased to notice—and what things it needed to influence again. Did I want to grow up to be Tommy Stone or, with cautions from the film about how to cock it all up, become the best of the dream Brian Slade was pretending to pursue? And, when I went online to see who else was talking about this, I found I wasn’t the only one. I might be solo by nature and an inordinately big fan of myself, but I can’t deny that sometimes it’s easier to hold onto my true self when I’ve got friends who also appreciate the brilliance of my true self .

Film Still: Arthur Stuart and Curt Wild, the real dream couple of the film“We set out to change the world and ended up just changing ourselves.” I’ve been re-watching (again) as I write this post, and this line towards the very end has always just felt bleak. But tonight, I hear it as more of a challenge. Yes, of course, I want to change myself. But not the way they did in the film. I want to use it as a cautionary tale, not just a reminder of the dream. I want to change to be my best self and always feel unashamed of and glorious about that. And I also want to change the world, even if, like the characters, my personal changes fail to spread to the world at large. I want to make sure my words and music and very presence bring love and light, colour and hope (even if I favour a mostly-black wardrobe) into the grey and fractured world we humans have built. If I change only myself for the better or my light touches only a small corner, it’s still better than not changing, or trying to change, at all.

Even if you don’t enjoy glam music or aesthetics, even if you are appalled by the sexuality and excess that can be part of glam and certainly this film, you can still take up that challenge. When did you stop believing in something more than this grey world? When did you give up on joyful things and why? Because if we change ourselves, each of us individually, in bright ways, we can change the world.

Wham Bam Thank You Glam!

I suspect letting our first month be Glam Month (or, as I call it, month) was Cat’s way of making sure to suck me in early. Of course, that means I’m writing this introduction to the month’s topic without any precedents of length to follow, which could get dangerous. So I’m going to try to stick to “why glam?” in order to ward off excessive wordiness on my part. After all, if you want to know what glam is or what music is considered glam or any other Facts, you clearly have internet access and can hunt that down.

Why glam?album cover cropped with a black bar for anonymity

Because it spoke to tiny me. Due to the great luck of having a dad who loves rock music and not being the oldest kid in my family, I was raised on things other people’s parents considered noise. My family was pretty eclectic in their musical tastes, but the first thing I remember being struck by as a child was a glam album (and, yes, we’ll cover that later in the month). The first mental images that wee Amber had of what she wanted to grow up to be were all very “glam rockstar on stage” ones. And I’m sure my parents were thrilled with the glitter I trailed behind me any time I had a chance to touch the stuff. (Excess glitter from art projects was shaken off into my hair, naturally.)

Why glam?

shot of alan cummings in cabaret, naturallyBecause it was behind every bit of adolescent me. I’d grown up with this love of glam, even if I didn’t always know to call it that. As a teenager, that left me with no doubt that I ought to run to the theatre for a warm bosom to hide in (where I learned the thrill of applause, of creating costumes and makeup, of lighting done well).

As a teenager struggling with gender/sexism issues, even if I didn’t know to call it that at the time, the androgyny of glam felt right. It also meant that I was not using makeup in the fashion my parents expected when they bought it for me. And that makeup and the acting and costuming and uninhibited ardour for music and looking to the stars (there’s no denying the glam/scifi connection) bolstered me up enough to survive those years of literal and dangerous self-loathing. In a world that seemed ugly, I found that my dusting of glitter helped. That owning my atypical traits allowed me to make peace with (and eventually learn to love) them more effectively than trying to deny them ever had. Plus, as an adolescent, the strength and joy in sexuality, along with the whimsy of it and the cleverness of the subtler innuendos, finally made sense to me.

Why glam?

a super-glam era placeboBecause it kept me strongly myself once I left adolescence behind. As others gave in to pressures to, in every way “grow up” once they reached legal ages or particular adult achievements, I rarely saw that as a solution. I hesitate to condemn others’ paths, but I can see how wrong they would have been for me (yes, I made legitimate efforts a few times, and all ended in misery). I was just fine clinging to fairy stories and passionate love for aliens as I paid my bills. Glam, fortunately, didn’t fully disappear in the mid-70s. What seems to me a resurgence in the mid-90s meant it still felt relevant. Things like the film Velvet Goldmine (which I’ll write a post on next) or the band Placebo (who, to these eyes and ears, seem impacted by glam even if not obvious twins of the original bands who birthed and wallowed in the early years of glam) were new touchstones. Reminders that I wasn’t the only one who still felt that path. More to go to, along with all that came before, when I wanted to feel most in touch with myself, to be reminded of what has always spoken most strongly to me. And following the new touchstones led me to communities where I made some incredible, like-minded friends who make my life more beautiful.

Why glam?

Because lessons I learned watching and listening to glam bands inform me as I make and perform my own music. I don’t ape them, but I do owe them some thanks. (Small paragraph, but a massively important part of my life.)

Why glam?

a shot from the video with eyes blacked out for anonymityBecause a music video last year (and, yes, we’ll get to that this month as well) stopped me short. In a moment of self-analysis, of asking myself what felt most truly me and what I might have accidentally let recent events push me away from, I first saw this video. So, so glam. Dripping and oozing with so much of what spoke to me. And, pushing through my jealousy that someone else had gone there and I had not (yet…someday, I will…), I realised some of what had been set aside. I’m not claiming I’m 100% glam; I’m too multi-faceted and eclectic and in favour of not confining myself to labels to even consider that. But many of my most joyful and vibrant bits tie to my glam facets. And my understanding of my gender, of my attractions, of the social norms I’m turned off by certainly tie back to a three-year-old toddler in a flat on the other side of the ocean, wide-eyed, innocent, and dreaming of leaving a glitter trail to the stars.

Yes, glam leaves behind a little innocence, but the parts of me that dream deepest and that are most in touch with my unsullied and childlike self are rooted in that shimmering and magical place.

If you’re hunting down a general education on glam, I’d suggest you find (if possible; it’s not currently available on the official site), the two-part BBC Radio 6 Glory of Glam series. I’ve also just today received a parcel containing the Glam! The Performance of Style companion book (oh, how I wish I’d seen the exhibit…), and it looks promising.