Glam-Rock Gets End-Of-The-Millennium Make-Over

New LPs by Marilyn Manson and Hole point to a resurgence of the '70s pop style.

Bowie gave it life. Spacehog embraced it. And Marilyn Manson resurrected it.

With recently released glam-infused albums from both shock-rocker Manson and Courtney Love's post-grunge group, Hole, and the eagerly anticipated period film "Velvet Goldmine" due in November, glam-rock -- the hypersexualized pop-rock style popularized by such early '70s artists as David Bowie and T. Rex -- is getting an end-of-the-millennium make-over.

"I think it [the resurgence of the genre] is so sexy," said Hole bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur. "I'm so happy to see male artists with more sensuality and sexuality."

If you talk to a few of glam's most vocal '90s proponents, they'll tell you the glittery, hedonistic, ever-so-androgynous style never went out of fashion in the first place. It just went back underground.

"I don't think it's ever really gone away," said Tony Visconti, producer of some of the landmark glam-rock albums of the '70s. He helped pioneer the genre nearly 30 years ago with his work on such albums as T. Rex's 1971 classic Electric Warrior, featuring "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" (RealAudio excerpt of live version), as well as David Bowie albums such as 1970's The Man Who Sold the World.

Visconti suggested that the glam-rock innovators have inspired various contemporary singers. "I think Manson sees the benefits of flamboyance," Visconti said, "because that has always sold. Glam is as much a fashion statement as a musical style."

The producer also pointed out his belief that everyone from '50s rock-pioneer Little Richard ("the first glam artist, with his purple suit and eye makeup") to the castrati male opera singers of the previous century -- young vocalists who had their testicles removed to prevent their voices from changing -- have traded on glam's sexually charged and genre-bending imagery and style. "I think Manson's new single ['The Dope Show'] has T. Rex written all over it," Visconti said.

Similarly, the title track (RealAudio excerpt) from post-grunge pop artists Hole's first album in four years, Celebrity Skin, is rife with the dirty, over-sexed sound of the '70s. Powered by guitarist Eric Erlandson's over-the-top riffs, the glossy-sounding song, written quickly by Love, Erlandson and Smashing Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan, captures the shimmering allure of Los Angeles.

"It's that obnoxious, seducing-you-in-glamorously song, then it unravels into another place of depth," Auf Der Maur said.

Hole also have adopted a glitzy new look to replace their grimy grunge togs -- especially Love, who has undergone a transformation from ragged rock-queen in torn baby-doll dresses to haute couture pinup.

"I absolutely love guys like [Marc Bolan]," Auf Der Maur said. "I love that sexy music, but it's more of a lifestyle and fashion. That whole '70s time in music, I would lean more towards looser, dirty rock like Zeppelin and Thin Lizzy, compared to now, those were super glamorous guys. I like that more natural merge of a persona not being a mask, especially our band, we're amplifiying our own personalitiies, whereas Manson is doing more of a Ziggy Stardust thing. I'd love to be able to escape into a comic book once in a while like he does."

The mainstream resurgence of glam -- evident not only in music, but in such returning fashion trends as body-glitter adornment, pastel-colored eye-makeup and chunky, mega-heeled platform shoes -- will get another boost with the November release of "Velvet Goldmine." It's a cinematic roman a clef about the sex- and drug-crazed '70s glam-rock scene.

The film stars "Trainspotting" lead Ewan McGregor as the Iggy Pop-like American rocker "Curt Wild" and Jonathan Rhys Meyers ("The Governess") as "Brian Slade," a character based on Brian Ferry -- the leader of the influential British art-rock band Roxy Music. It also features Toni Colette ("Muriel's Wedding") as Slade's wife.

"Velvet Goldmine" was executive-produced by R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe and written and directed by indie auteur Todd Haynes ("Safe"). The music by one of the movie's fictitious "bands," the Wylde Ratttz, was performed by former fIREHOSE leader Mike Watt, Mudhoney singer Mark Arm, producer/guitarist Don Fleming and Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore and drummer Steve Shelley.

"The movie's about how Bowie got his whole glam trip from coming to America and seeing [Iggy and] the Stooges and Lou Reed," Watt said earlier this year after recording tracks for the film's CD.

Among the other artists contributing to the soundtrack are singer Thom Yorke and guitarist Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead, former London Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, Roxy Music sax player Andy Mackay and former Grant Lee Buffalo bassist Paul Kimble. Spacehog guitarist Antony Langdon has a small part in the film as well.

Among the first musicians to bring a glam sensibility to the '90s rock scene, England's Spacehog display their penchant for glam in their Bowiesque 1995 hit "In the Meantime."

"In the true pop tradition, we were just trying to react to what came before us," Spacehog drummer Jonny Cragg said of the group's melodramatic sound. "Before that, there was grunge and Nirvana, which none of us were turned on by and [singer] Royston [Langdon] has this operatic voice and affectation, which set the ball rolling."

"Spacehog are doing their own sex-god glamness thing and I think it's great," Auf Der Maur said. "I'm into more men getting into their feminine side, I'm all for it."

Cragg said he believed that the resurgence of glam just before the millennium could be a confluence of the '80s and early '90s upheaval in sexual politics and economics.

"Part of the theme of ['Velvet Goldmine'] is that there are these guys who were pansexual, anything-goes types, who were trying to get laid, famous and accepted," Cragg said. "It's a timeless thread in culture, but people have gotten decadent again and gotten blasé about AIDS and other things that scared them in the '80s, which is dangerous."

Having seen, firsthand, that the rock 'n' roll world has again reverted to a more drug-influenced and sexually promiscuous mode, Cragg feels that much of it has to do with the more sober leanings of the previous decade.

Ample evidence of this return to '70s sensibilities can be found on Manson's new album, Mechanical Animals, which is awash in drug references (i.e. the strident song "I Don't Like the Drugs (But The Drugs Like Me)" [RealAudio excerpt]) and musical homages to Bowie on songs such as the futuristic "Great Big White World" and "I Want To Disappear." Manson, who has consistently used taboo sexual and religious imagery in his highly controversial music and presentation, embodies some significant aspects of glam.

"Marilyn Manson is a smart sort of kid," offered Peter Murphy, lead singer of the dark "spiritual rock/goth" band Bauhaus. "He's plenty obsessed with imagery, so it would only make sense that he would start wearing pretty makeup rather than ugly makeup."

The glam fascination with outer-space themes is present throughout Mechanical Animals' lyrics and the images of former-goth Manson (born Brian Warner) in metallic suits, Ziggy Stardust-like red hair and glittery platform shoes. Manson even renames himself "Omega" and his band the "Mechanical Animals," seemingly in honor of Bowie's glam masterpiece/character study The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972).

"Everybody talked in those days about getting a dirty sound," Visconti said of the '70s glam era, "a very sleazy, sexual feel."

This all lends credence to Visconti's argument that glam is as much a fashion as it is a sound. During its '70s heyday, everyone from the gender-bending, punk-leaning New York Dolls, some of whom dressed in drag and wore makeup, to the decidedly unglam blues-pop rockers the Rolling Stones -- who sported an androgynous lipstick-and-rouge look on such albums as 1971's Sticky Fingers -- have dabbled in the style.

The movement had another resurgence in the mid- to late '80s, with a raft of big-hair metal bands, such as Twisted Sister and Poison, who mixed lipstick and leather during a brief phase.

Following the death of that glam-metal movement, a number of old-school proponents went back underground. Many of them gathered at the 4-year-old New York glam club Squeezebox, according to one of the weekly Friday night party's co-founders, Psychotica singer Pat Briggs.

"I attribute a lot of the resurgence to my club," said Briggs, whose own band freely mixes glam, goth and industrial music. "By accident, we melded a lot of elements that were key in glam the first time -- music and art and, believe it or not, drag queens and rock musicians."

Briggs agreed with Visconti that glam never really disappeared in places such as New York. Briggs said that he felt, however, that the new glam sound hasn't really developed its own feeling yet.

Rather, he asserted that too many of the bands rely on old touchstones such as late singer/guitarist Marc Bolan of T. Rex.

"There are a lot of new hybrid bands that are incorporating goth with glam, which is exciting," said Briggs, 34. "Glam is just about f---ing with sexuality, jumping across those lines and pissing people off."