Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Holy 80s! The Rise and Fall of Hair Metal

Once upon a time in the 1980s, a bunch of guys from Los Angeles' Sunset Strip put on some spandex, combed up their hair and picked up their guitars. What came of this was known as "glam metal," or the term I prefer,"hair metal," which MTV coined.

It's basically like this: at the dawn of the 1980's, hair metal emerged as cheapened and more commercially accessible brand of glam rock. Unlike the avant-garde rock music from the 1970s, the 80s incarnation relied on a mishmash of pop melodies, shred-heavy guitar solos and hard, spastic drumming.

While screeching vocals were often heard from the balls crazy lead singers, we owe this genre credit for inventing the "power ballad" (and yes, I mean that sarcastically). You know what the
power ballad is about: super cheesy lyrics, heartfelt, passionate singing from the huge-haired singer, and the slow building pace until the MEGA DRAMATIC CRESCENDO WALL OF SOUND that tops it off at the end.

Note: I am sure you can tell that I'm not a fan of this style of music. So I plan on making the best of it by analyzing the trends while making fun of them, which will be enjoyable for all of us.

Hair metal rose to fame in Los Angeles, California-- the land of all the glitters. The Sunset Strip is an epicenter scene-making
and glamour in LA, where many popular boutiques, rock clubs and nightclubs are located.
It was there where bands like Mötley Crüe (above) were drinking,
snorting and boning their way
to rock star status.

As I said earlier, the hair metal look was an evolved form of the glam rock aesthetic, zeroing in on the gaudiness and flamboyancy of acts like New York Dolls and Queen. However, what set them apart was the excessive nature of the decade and therefore nothing was too much: outrageously tight clothes, spandex and acid wash jeans, shrunken leather, animal print, rainbow color palettes and metal-studded everything. Bare chests were a must. Accessories were piled on, like scarves and chains. I can't imagine anything being "too wild" in their dressing rooms. Their costumes were the stuff Halloween dreams are made of. I truly wish I could interview Bret Michaels about the appeal of this fashion (and notice how his former glam looks are currently degrading into something icky).

Besides styling their bodies, hair metal acts took great care in dressing up their heads. In my research, I found no real explanation as to why the hair was so fucking huge. I asked my mom how and why she succumbed to the sky-high hair trends and her only response was "It seeps into society," with a shudder and a frown. I do love her response, though. Huge hair was in vogue for men and women alike. The wearers of metal hair made a bold statement, a statement of confidence, wildness and an aversion to wind, rain, snow, helmets and hats.
I don't know who are pictured on the left, but I think some of them are women. I'm honestly not sure, and I think that's hilarious.

The make up is downright baffling to me. I'm so perplexed! Unlike
Ziggy Stardust, who sculpted his fair face with makeup to create a futuristic, martian image, these "dudes" caked on the foundation, plastered their pouty lips with lipstick and liner and rouged up their cheeks with hot
pink blushes. Their eyes were not only lined but shadowed, usually in purples and blues. They. Looked. Like. Women. (right). And the women? They fucking loved it! These men were the epitome of sexy to many ladies in the 80s. What is sexy about sharing your expensive hairspray with your boyfriend, or envying his long lashes as you watch him whip your tube of Great Lash across his eyes? I really don't know. Thankfully I wasn't around to find out.

A source of their popularity must be traced back to MTV, which my mom reminded me was only created in 1981, right before the hair metal craze hit. MTV is certainly responsible for putting their music videos into heavy rotation, spreading the glittery vibes across the country and poisoning young girls with the songs of bands like Poison. The music videos showcased ultra-extravagant images of hot chicks, booze guzzling and wild partying. Except for the power ballad videos, which showed the guy throwing his bottle of booze because all of his wild partying led his hot chick to leave him, so he's sad and sings a song about it in a dimly lit room.

Note: What is "metal" about these bands? I think of metal and I think Metallica, Black Sabbath, Slayer, those crazies in Scandinavia, even 80s metal contemporaries Guns 'n Roses. But metal is hard, evil, trashing and face-melting. Alas, maybe I am missing the point. The huge hair stands alone.

Thankfully, it's gone now. Kurt Cobain killed it. Not intentionally, but an odd thing happened at the dawn of the 1990s. Something drastically opposite from hair metal came into fame, and the people responded. Hair metal was buried in its own shiny grave.

RIP Hair Metal.

Here's a song of Motley Crue's that I don't hate called Kickstart My Heart

I found this video in my research. I forgot how the US Senate became involved with lyrical obscenity in the 1980s and held trials enforcing censorship. Dee Snider, front man of Twisted Sister, was asked to speak. As someone who doesn't really enjoy the hair metal music, I can totally appreciate their rock and roll spirit and their "fuck you" attitude. I really respect Dee Snider for standing up against censorship.
Finally, here's a video of a British kid giving a tutorial on how to get glam metal hair. Enjoy!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Ziggy Stardust and the Gender Benders

Let me start with some pictures.

These pretty faces belong to David Bowie, in his character known as Ziggy Stardust.

The things I could write about David Bowie, even confined to the topic of rock and roll fashion, could probably sink a ship. He is a majestic and brilliant star in rock music and popular culture. He is one of my all time favorite artists.

That being said, I am here to write about this Ziggy Stardust character, a conceptual creation borne from Bowie's thoughts and ambitions. He first appeared in 1972 with the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Here we met Ziggy, an alien in human form from outer space, who was sent to Earth to attain rock and roll glory and teach humans about love and hope before the approaching apocalypse. Mr. Stardust is promiscuous, wild and full of drugs -- which lead to his tragic demise.

Bowie, who had attained modest success with his (fucking great) single "Space Oddity" in 1969, took an opportunity to musically and physically reinvent himself at the dawn of the 1970s.

Bowie made Ziggy into a splashy, colorful and oddly feminine character. His hair was a fiery red mullet, his face was made angular with extravagant neon makeup, his clothes bizarre and skin tight.

This trend in rock music became popular as "glam rock," a campy and flamboyant sense of humor never before seen in rock and roll. Some say that these glitter kids were distinguishing against the earthy hippy movement that had come to an end with the 1960s.

In the UK and America, Bowie, along with musical acts like Queen, New York Dolls (below), Gary Glitter, T. Rex and visual artist Andy Warhol became provocateurs of the ultra sexed and delightfully scandalous scene. Androgyny became vogue -- Ziggy was a sex symbol to all, Warhol's muse Edie Sedgwick boyish styling was devilish and captivating.

Bending gender was offensive and obscene to much of the general public, so naturally playing up the taboo sexuality was
part of the fun for the artists. Bowie infamously told
British media is 1972 that was was bisexual, which resulted in an uproar for the straight-laced masses. (Bowie admitted, perhaps 20 years later, that he was a
closet heterosexual and was more caught up in the fascination of bisexuality at the time.)
Ziggy Stardust and his male contemporaries reveled in transgender fashions: glitter, sequins, platform boots and feminine attire that often left little to the imagination (see left). Live performances were animated, hard-rocking, danceable and often times quite vulgar.

Ziggy and the gender benders also drew upon science fiction, futuristic, space age themes in their style of dress as well as in their musical material. In Bowie's case, his character literally fell to earth from outer space and often referenced his alien status in songs like "Starman" and "Moonage Daydream," to name a few.

Today, glam rock fashion still shines on. While the look isn't as in vogue as it once was, there is still a place for silver pants, platforms and bright orange eyeshadow. On the streets of big cities or the basement parties of small towns, girls and boys and aliens are still toying with the androgyny and fabulousness Ziggy and others made so scandalously chic back in the '70s.
Current scenesters embracing the glam rock look are many electro pop musicians and most famously, pop puff du jour Lady Gaga(right). While she is in no way a rock and roller, the Lady seems to channel Ziggy's other-worldly fashion sense with the same fearlessness.
Notable glam rockers keeping the spirit alive are Juliette Lewis and the band The Darkness, once thought to be revivers of glam rock in the 2000s with their 2003 album Permission to Land and their huge hit single I Believe in a Thing Called Love. The instantly classic music video hits upon almost every benchmark in the glam rock Bible, if there ever was such a thing.

The music of Bowie's Ziggy Stardust era is fantastic and memorable, but my dear readers, trust me -- Bowie is nothing if not a chameleon and a genius. Listen to as much of his diverse music as you can. He's a magical talent.

I'll leave you with two videos. The first is my favorite Bowie song from his Ziggy Stardust days, maybe even one of my most favorite songs in general: Rock 'n Roll Suicide, with a video of clips of Mr. Stardust at his best.

The second is a newsreel I found online chronicling the Ziggy madness in England in 1973. The sound quality is poor, but it's a fantastic glimpse at what this massive glam fashion phenomena was really like.

p.s. I'd most definitely be one of those screaming, crying girls if I had been there.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Magical Mystical White (and red and black) Stripes

I begin to write this post in a state halfway between ass-whooping excitement and cowardly doubt. I cannot adequately put into words the power the Detroit band The White Stripes has over me.

ently (in the past year) succumbed to The White Stripes. Their reputation of greatness preceded them, but I never delved into their discography out of fear of obsession. Thankfully, I bucked that fear and I am now a slave to the Stripes awesomeness.

For those of you who don't know about the White Stripes, I'll try to make this brief: This garage rock duo (Jack and Meg White) came onto the major music scene in 1999 and have left critics and fans dazzled by their punk/blues/county/classic rock sound and minimalistic DIY sensibility. Front man Jack is hailed as a savior of the soul of rock music and is somewhat of a guitar icon for my generation. And that's just the beginning. Needless to say, things would suck without this band.

They are perhaps MORE recognizable by their appearance than the music they play. I bet even my mom would be able to pick them out of a crowd. Since their major label debut, Jack and Meg's minimalism seemed to apply to their fashion sense as well, as they only wear clothes in black, white or red colors. I might be wrong, but I don't think I've even seen a video or photo of these two, as the Stripes, in any other colors.

Minimalism, to me, is an artistic limit set upon a creator (whether it be design, music, film, or whateve
r) that in turn sparks creativity. Do not doubt that the Stripes three-color fancy is a coincidence. The Dutch artistic movement known as "De Stijl" (1917-1931) expresses a Utopian harmony that draws upon abstract reductions of form and color, usually primary colors. The White Stripes pay literal homage to this movement with their second studio album, 2000's De Stijl.

Throughout their six album discography, the White Stripes have played within their boundaries of sound and style. After the initial garage rock phase, tones of blues and country began to emerge more prominently on their tracks and on their bodies. Their album covers alone show their immensely dramatic style, like 2003's Elephant (on the left). Here they have adopted the cowboy Western look of the 1960s and 70s.

2005's Get Behind Me Satan (below) departs into another direction entirely. Musically, we hear Latin piano,kettle drums, lots of acoustic guitar, soulful ly
rics and singing from Jack and some straight up bluegrass country. Jack and Meg began to dress in a way that incorporated notes of Southern Gothic, Victorian and Latin styles.

The Stripes came back to the rodeo on the cover of 2007's Icky Thump. They are seen in beade
d and bedazzled matching suits that conjure classic country costume and late Elvis.
The Latin style also reemerges here, which I discoverd when I picked up the EP Conquista. The CD features two versions of their single "Conquest" from Icky Thump: one in which Jack sings the song in Spanish, and the other a mariachi interpretation.

Phew. I am exhausted. And yet I've just barely scratched the surface of the Stripes creativity and purpose in the art world. They are true innovators of sound and style, of art and fashion, of expression and of blistering rock and roll attitude. If I haven't convinced you yet, take a peek at their most famous and critically acclaimed music video, 2001's "Fell in Love With a Girl" from their album White Blood Cells. After that, watch the rest of their videos. Then go out to the record store and buy their albums. It will please the rock gods.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Geek Chic and Rock and Roll

In America, there exists a trend known as "geek chic" -- a popular term
in our culture
 which I will describe as kind of poindexter with swagger.

When applied to rock and roll music, Buddy Holly emerges as an icon in the genre. Holly is remembered for two things: first as a pioneer of rock and roll music, and second as the perpetrator for his often-copied geeky signature style.

Holly earned his fame in the mid 1950s, only a few years out of high school when he hit the big time with singles like "That'll Be the Day" and "Peggy Sue." His musical style was original and discernible with his hiccup-y crooning and complex harmonies with his band The Crickets. Instrumentally, his band was one of the very first acts to write, produce and perform their own music and lyrics with the two guitar, bass and drums template. This set up became the defining characteristic of all rock and roll music.

His tragic and untimely death propelled Holly into another realm of fame. He was 22 years old when his plane went down, the da

Despite his rock and roller status, Holly's style of dress reflected the wholesome attitude of the 1950s in America. He usually performed in collared sweaters, sophisticated suits with skinny ties and great big smile on his face.

Perhaps his non-confrontational looks helped his success?

And then there are those glasses. The horn-rimmed styles of eyewear were exceedingly popular from the 1910s to around the 1960s in the United States. The look of these glasses is synonymous with geek culture and therefore, geek chic. 

American youths have repeatedly embraced and rejected the geek look. Nerdy fashion showed up in some indie rock circuits as an ironi
c and creative style of dress, including but not limited to: suspenders, bermuda shorts, high-waisted skirts, frilly blouses, saddle shoes, sweater vests, calculator watches, bow ties, and as always, the horn-rimmed glasses.
 The birth of "emo" music accommodated legions of cardigan-wearing lover boys and girls. Today, geek chic has taken on a life of i
ts own -- it's a style aesthetic so prominent that fashionistas of all kinds cannot resist it.

So even though the geek chic bandwagon is full of followers, 
let's not forget that rock music has given some true geeks a platform to sing their hearts out and embrace their lonely souls. Whether their look is in vogue or not, rock music will always show their nerds some love. And no one personifies geek chic more than this century's Buddy Holly and the Crickets: Rivers Cuomo and his awesomely geeky band Weezer.