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NPR Great Read of 2016
From the acclaimed author of Rip It Up and Start Again and Retromania—“the foremost popular music critic of this era (Times Literary Supplement)—comes the definitive cultural history of glam and glitter rock, celebrating its outlandish fashion and outrageous stars, including David Bowie and Alice Cooper, and tracking its vibrant legacy in contemporary pop.
Spearheaded by David Bowie, Alice Cooper, T. Rex, and Roxy Music, glam rock reveled in artifice and spectacle. Reacting against the hairy, denim-clad rock bands of the late Sixties, glam was the first true teenage rampage of the new decade. In Shock and Awe, Simon Reynolds takes you on a wild cultural tour through the early Seventies, a period packed with glitzy costumes and alien make-up, thrilling music and larger-than-life personas.
Shock and Awe offers a fresh, in-depth look at the glam and glitter phenomenon, placing it the wider Seventies context of social upheaval and political disillusion. It explores how artists like Lou Reed, New York Dolls, and Queen broke with the hippie generation, celebrating illusion and artifice over truth and authenticity. Probing the genre’s major themes—stardom, androgyny, image, decadence, fandom, apocalypse—Reynolds tracks glam’s legacy as it unfolded in subsequent decades, from Eighties art-pop icons like Kate Bush through to twenty-first century idols of outrage such as Lady Gaga. Shock and Awe shows how the original glam artists’ obsessions with fame, extreme fashion, and theatrical excess continue to reverberate through contemporary pop culture.
Rock historian Reynolds (Rip It Up) explores the genre that first shaped his perceptions of pop: glam rock, or, as it's sometimes known in the U.S., glitter. Reynolds takes a broad view of what glam encompasses, investigating its roots in soul, teeny-bop, and other disparate genres while also charting the careers of icons such as Bowie, T. Rex., and Roxy Music. His investigation, however, is hampered by his apparent hesitance to tackle difficult subjects (such as race) head-on; he veers in for casual mentions of cultural appropriation within glam culture, only to shy away from the intense analysis such a topic deserves. As wide and deep as his net is cast he touches on Buddhist philosophy and the 1970s gay liberation movement Reynolds seems at sea when it comes to discussing gender-variant identities, going off on several peculiar tangents. Reynolds is more at home when breaking down the concept of authenticity and defending the "fake" persona as art form, but even that leads to an off-putting set of observations about Dr. Luke's abuse of Kesha the last in a series of cringeworthy rhetorical snippets that mar an otherwise intriguing text.