Sunday Essay: When Glam Became Glum ...

Grunge has been interred by an end-of-the-millennium glam revival, but with a dark twist.

We've gone from "I think I'm dumb" (Nirvana) to "when I wake up in my makeup" (Hole).

We've traveled from "I'm the man in the box/ Shove my nose in sh--" (Alice in Chains) to "We're all stars now, in the dope show" (Marilyn Manson).

We've journeyed from sludge to stilettos, flannel to false eyelashes, and the grimy beast called grunge finally has been interred forever by this decade's equivalent of new wave, the glam-rock revival.

Or maybe we should call it "glum," since the end-of-the-millennium version of glam has a decidedly fatalistic, menacing feel to it. Exhibit A: the dark, twisted imagery of shock-rocker-turned-glammer Marilyn Manson and the gloomy-yet-glossy scare-tactics of such up-and-coming industrial/glam bands as Psychotica, Orgy and Plexi.

Just as the vapid mid-'70s disco-movement gave way to the abusive, cathartic punk-rock of 1976 and beyond, which, in turn, gave way to the hedonistic flash of new-wave bands such as Duran Duran and Culture Club, the morose navel-gazing of grunge has made way for the devil-may-or-may-not-care glum movement of the late '90s.

"Listen -- cock-rock goes in and out of fashion. That's why this is happening," offered Pat Briggs, leader of Psychotica and founder of New York's 4-and-a-half-year-old weekly glam-party Squeezebox. Briggs said he watched, first-hand, as the early '90s resurgence of "cock-rock" -- meaning "grunge" -- bands playing heavy, oppressive rock forced the glam kids underground, where they ducked for cover and waited for the dark clouds to pass.

When they re-emerged, many, including Briggs, were drawing from a much larger pool of influences than the holy glam trilogy of David Bowie, Bryan Ferry (Roxy Music) and Marc Bolan (T. Rex). Sucking up the past 20 years of cultural detritus, the new glum-kids know that platforms and glitter are not nearly enough. Mixed in the batter -- MTV quick-cut style -- are chunks of the pounding industrial music of the '80s, the nihilism of '70s punk and the conspicuous consumption (of drugs and sex) that accompanies the high times of an economic upturn.

One of the bands Briggs claimed was signed out of Squeezebox was the British expatriate group Spacehog. They had a U.S. radio-hit with their debut single, the Bowiesque "In the Meantime."

"In true pop tradition, we were just trying to react to what came before us," Spacehog drummer Jonny Cragg said. That included bringing a levity to their music that the lads in Spacehog felt was missing from the music of bands such as Nirvana and Soundgarden.

The glum upswing can be felt everywhere, from "Celebrity Skin" (RealAudio excerpt) -- the title track from post-grunge rockers Hole's new album -- to the upcoming glam-era movie, "Velvet Goldmine," to the fashions being sold at Chicago's teen-hipster one-stop The Alley, where 12-year-old girls can now replace their torn fishnets with spangly platforms and shiny, silver tops. None of which even begins to explain the resurgence of '70s glam-metal gods Kiss, whose reunited career has taken off in ways no one could have possibly predicted.

You can almost imagine Kiss guitarist Paul Stanley pouting out a warning to "save that flannel for your pajamas or a dust rag, baby."

Flush economic times seems to scream for this kind of reckless hedonism. A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle served notice that the increased use of Protease inhibitors and so-called HIV drug "cocktails" have convinced many young club-kids, sexually active teens and twentysomethings (both gay and straight) that the AIDS crisis is over.

Sexual promiscuity and sexy clothes are back, heralded by the ubiquitous baby T-shirt, which has taken its rightful place alongside the XL concert-tee of yore as a rock costume of choice.

"Perhaps it's the closing of the millennium," Cragg pondered, wondering if the zeroing out of ones and nines was the most suitable time to reflect on the last 40 years of pop culture and find a way to assimilate all of our favorite things into a messy, apocalyptic stew.

"Looking backward to look forward," as Cragg put it.