Glam rock changed history not just by way of music charts; it altered the way the world looked at wardrobe, gender, and sexuality, hence becoming a wildly important point of visibility for queerness. It was a shocking step up from floaty hippie dippies, though the flower children of Donovan’s day followed suit with shiny platforms and fuzzy blazers into the new club culture of T. Rex and Roxy Music. The center of the glam universe was (and will forever be) David Bowie, icon and visionary (though us 80s babies’ first intro to Bowie may be as the Goblin King, not the King of Glam). Bowie wore the androgynous aesthetic of that heyday quite well, and his wide notoriety helped “gender-bending” become pop culture supreme. “Not sure if you’re a boy or a girl,” spangled in glitter and bright-dyed mullets, proto-punk space cases brooded and banged beyond the confines of the 1960s psychedelic drugs and hetero “free love.”
I was more into “Krautrock” (German art-rock meshed with synths, the forefathers of electronica and techno), but the sensationalism and marketing of British glam undoubtedly produced a wider worldwide impact. Bowie was not just a songwriter; he was a cultural curator, and during his decadence in Berlin with (rumored lover) Iggy Pop, Bowie, and producers Brian Eno and Tony Visconti would spend time recording the Berlin Trilogy, the forebear of New Wave as a genre. Bowie loved to reinvent himself musically, thematically, aesthetically, philosophically, egomaniacally. Isn’t this the modus operandi for the modern day pop star? Did New Wave not thrive on androgynous futuristic personas? Both are shining examples of how the original glam-era Bowie influenced the world with his fantastical storytelling and many alter egos.
Bowie (openly and loudly bisexual) acquired a guild of great love affairs, amongst them Susan Sarandon (co-star in the lesbian-vampire drama The Hunger), transwoman Romy Haag, high priestess of soul Nina Simone, Mick Jagger; the list goes on. Bowie also had a reputation of cruel departures, and was an intense subject of speculation in the fictional Velvet Goldmine, produced by Michael Stipe and directed by Todd Haynes. Two characters were based on Bowie’s main babes during the glam era: Angie Bowie, wife/stylist/socialite/mother on one arm and BFF Iggy Pop, Detroit rock street-walking cheetah, on the other. Both American, these two main characters were mysteriously left behind in the film as the Bowie prototype also left the entire decade of glam behind him, arising as a cold, cocaine-addled fame monster. My father used to take my brother and I to the same park Angie Bowie frequented (who lived in Atlanta after her divorce from Bowie) and it’s said in Please Kill Me, an “oral history of punk,” that Iggy Pop also lived in Atlanta briefly, in an attempt to get clean. Both were possibly recovering from the wildest days of their lives at the same time here, broken hearted, thwarted by Bowie.
Often obsessed with retaking tracks in the studio for days, esoterically immersed in paranoid delusions about being the target of a murder, the way he stepped into character as the alien in Man Who Fell To Earth was uncanny, almost creepy. . . Bowie was the ultimate rock star with the ego and voracious appetite to accompany it. Bowie aimed to be the master of his own universe, to tie his very essence to a larger vision, connected to magick and cosmos and chaos, until the Starman left all his goodbyes in his recent record, Blackstar, released on his birthday, January 8, two days before he passed away from cancer at the age of 69, survived by his wife Iman (an icon herself).
For many years Lola Bundy and I used to refer to certain flamboyant straight boys who wished they were gay as “Bowiesexuals.” And while we are not ones to judge who is who in the zoo (and what the zoo animals like to do), Bowiesexual was definitely a fun joke of ours that reflected the pop star’s power over not just pop culture but identity. As a gateway drug, a wardrobe liberator, Bowie has in the long run convinced many boys to make out with other boys; maybe some of them found a genuine experience out of it. I am not a huge Bowie fan, admittedly (I like him better as an actor than a musician). I own no Bowie records, though I hoard Brian Eno and Bryan Ferry projects alike, and celebrate the Runaways, Sparks, New York Dolls, and other glam-related acts. T. Rex was my masturbation music at seventeen. Still, there is no getting around the kind of sexual awakening I had in regards to my short-lived glam juvenilia. Though androgynous, glam always reflected something more of the femme. It lived off romance and adventure, fur coats and candy lipgloss, poetry and parties. For heralding an era of hedonistic and unashamed gender-fuckery, props to David Bowie for the fierce looks and the queer visibility. Ashes to ashes, funk to funky.
GLAM BAM THANK YOU MAAM MIX
Sunni Johnson, arts editor at WUSSY Mag, is an Atlanta musician and zinester.