There Is No Escape!

Count Chocula cereal box This month, we’ve covered films, TV, and books. But we also really love other things, like music, food, and games. And vampires have touched everything they could in our cultures. They’re not just limited to the fancies of goth kids or horror lovers. They even end up as breakfast cereals for innocent little human children to stuff in their faces whilst puppets teach them to count.

Sesame Street's The CountAs previously mentioned, I had a recurring dream about vampires when I was 3 years old. Not a nightmare, but a dream that I enjoyed. And I don’t know why it mattered to tiny me, but it did. Whilst my peers all through childhood feared vampires, I was intrigued and attracted. I ate that stuff up. Films, books, games, TV programmes, toys, breakfast cereal. And, of course, music.

But before we get to the music, we really do need to touch on gaming. Because I was raised on tabletop role playing games. Yes, like Dungeons and Dragons. And, though we haven’t yet talked about it, games of various sorts are one kind of escapism I enjoy, one way I like to find new worlds to be in. So you can imagine my joy when White Wolf came out with rules for a game that would let me play a vampire. Though I spent time revelling in the goth scene, I never felt right being one of the kids who pretended, in that context, to be a vampire. Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition Storyteller's Screen (an assortment of vampires look out menacingly)But in the context of gaming…Yeah! I was going to play vampires! Assorted vampires so that I could try different powers and flaws. And when they put out rules so that I could LARP (that’s live action role playing…like improv acting without an audience), I did that too. No shame.

Vampires are everywhere. Even, some evenings, in the park near your home, the meeting room at your place of employ, the red brick square in front of your university library. And, yes, definitely in your music. Not just your goth music, either.

Feel free to start the playlist of assorted, mostly-not-goth songs about vampires that I’ve created and embedded below. But do read the little more I’ve written, okay?

Animated gif of the sax player from Lost BoysThinking about vampires in music, my brain pulled out two categories that seemed relevant. Both are reflected in the varied but not comprehensive playlist that you’ve got playing now. One category is, obviously, songs about vampires. But vampires have also brought us great music via soundtracks. I’m definitely not claiming that all vampire film soundtracks are good, but some of my favourite films also produced great soundtracks (even if not every track is a winner or not every image of them is truly cool…I’m looking at you, Lost Boys sax guy). I’ve tossed a track each from a handful of them onto the playlist, which isn’t nearly enough. Please hunt down at least the following films’ soundtracks:

  • Lost Boys
  • Only Lovers Left Alive
  • The Hunger
  • Wir sind die Nacht

(Whilst, as noted earlier this month, we didn’t love Coppola’s Dracula, I included the Annie Lennox song from its soundtrack in the playlist. Best thing to come out of that film for me. Only good thing about trying to force it into that love story plot…)

Here’s your playlist. Thanks for taking this little tour this month through one of my favourite things!

Bloodlust (Most Worlds April 2015 Mix) from amberrockstar on 8tracks Radio.

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.

A Life Lived in Fear is a Life Half Lived

Glam music is not my forte. I admire it, what I’ve listened to I love, and I am a stalwart acolyte at the sacred shrine of Bowie, but beyond that I am an amateur learning about this shining world (hence the fact I’d never seen Velvet Goldmine until this month). So I might not be able to curate the glam experience as skillfully as Amber did earlier this week. But I can offer my newbie experience, and part of that has been observing the ways glam sinks into the outside world, how everything has a little sparkle.

Netflix recently announced a new original series for next year, The Get Down, a thirteen-episode musical drama helmed by none other than Baz Luhrmann. Is there a director more glam than Luhrmann? He’s a filmmaker known for his lack of subtlety, not in an aggravatingly-explosive Michael Bay way, but in an explosion of lush visuals and stagecraft as extravagant as any of Ziegfeld’s Follies. Luhrmann productions are bound to have a completely batty first twenty minutes (usually with a whirling, trippy party scene), some exquisite romantic drama, and a sincerity of motive that makes his movies simple, beautiful, and some of the most glamorous productions in the scene. Although his recent directorial outing in The Great Gatsby fits in with the greatest of glam, nothing shows the traits better than his first three movies, collectively grouped as the “Red Curtain” Trilogy.

28v837nTheatricality

Glam rock is heavily associated with elaborate theatricality—intricate, often sparkling costumes; impeccably planned choreography; exaggerated motions and expressions; and sets so towering and shiny that they would be at home in any futuristic space setting (or in the mind of a drugged-out fantasy author). These are all Luhrmann’s trademarks! What other director would insert a delicious drag performance right in the middle of Shakespeare? Or base a love song around a smoky, glittering dance sequence among a mini-scape of Paris? Even Strictly Ballroom, the most restrained of the trilogy (leave it to Luhrmann to make ballroom dancing positively mundane compared to one of Shakespeare’s worst plays), has elaborate dance scenes and a staged flashback that’s near pantomime. Naturally.

romeojuliet1

He can’t escape delicious theatre imagery, showing a respect and fascination with the evoking theater visuals that would be absurd if it weren’t so perfect. The scene that really kickstarts the romance in Strictly Ballroom happens on a stage, the two characters dancing a romantically-charged rumba against a red curtain backdrop. Romeo is introduced smoking in the Sycamore Grove, a free-standing proscenium on the beach, a scene that makes the literature lover in me tingle with the layers of meaning—and, of course, that adds a dash of the theatrical to even the most serious proceedings. And Moulin Rouge is an actual theatre. It’s everything in the beating pulse of that musical. If a winking self-awareness of the theatricality of real life isn’t glam, what is?

Music

This is the point where I have to think that Luhrmann knows what he is doing. It’s hard to have glam without the music. It’s the pulsing heart of the movement, the rhythm underscoring everything. All the emotional beats in the trilogy—not just in Moulin Rouge, whose musical genre demands that payoff, but in every single film—are told with strongly accompanying soundtrack. Strictly Ballroom isn’t complete without the sultry Doris Day vocals slinking around romantic scenes, and even less so without the montage set to Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” something that feels quintessentially exuberant. Romeo + Juliet has one of the greatest soundtracks of all time (ALL TIME!). It didn’t just recruit Radiohead for two songs (maybe not glam, but so freaking cool and worth mentioning), but also had the aforementioned dance number to drive the music home. But it was Moulin Rouge that hit it out of the park, opening and closing with none other than the Duke himself, David Bowie covering “Nature Boy.”

Androgyny

The blurring, or eradication, of masculine and feminine is a trademark of glam, a parcel of total embracing of what you love, regardless of gender norms. Luhrmann definitely sprinkles that into his films. There is nothing leaner and more lovely than a ballroom dancer, and don’t discount the head-on recognition of the male dancers being comfortable with makeup and glitter. We could discuss the beautiful, spritely, pubescent body of a still baby-faced Audrey_30Leo DiCaprio as proof of androgyny, but why would we do that when there’s a Mercutio in the scene? Harold Perrineau wears heels and a silver mini with more confidence than most of the world’s population, and is still the ultimate badass and best part of the movie. With Moulin Rouge, David Wenham deserves a special shout out for his all-too-brief portrayal of Audrey, artist and ultimate purveyor of bohemian ideals.

The Real Self

1223116612491_fAll of this—the theatrics, the singing, the identity—serves expression of the ideal self. To quote Moulin Rouge, it’s all about “Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Love.” Glam is kicking against the pricks, both literal and metaphorical. It’s why “glam rock” is so hard to pin down and encompasses everything from punk to baroque-inspired ballads. The musical style isn’t important. The quest is. The quest to be the most real self. Yes, expressed through masks and costumes and makeup, but expressed. Put out there, regardless of acceptance or societal expectations. Glam is a struggle to be heard and to embrace truth, to have the freedom to be whoever and whatever.

This is the central struggle in Luhrmann’s trilogy. Scott Hastings just wants to dance his own steps, and Fran just wants to dance. Romeo and Juliet want to defy their stars, to cast off the shackles of their names and families and decades of war, to love whom they wish. And in Moulin Rouge? Satine wants to be a real actress, because that represents freedom, but she also wants the freedom to love. Christian knows that he has an artistic voice, but needs to discover it, needs to find his truth. Together, they learn who they really are and what they really want. They are all stories of seeking for honesty in expression. A fight against oppressive reality, a yearning for something real. That’s the story of glam, and if it can be told with dance and poetry and song, all the better.

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.

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.