This post arose from a chance conjunction. First of all, a couple of days ago, I bought the tremendously enjoyable NME Originals Glam special, which reproduces all the major articles on T-rex, Bowie, Roxy, Rod, Elton etc etc from the NME and MM in the early 1970s. Then, yesterday, somewhere in the interstices of Mark S's epic on noise, I stumbled upon this:
“Glam took vampire hunger as its counter-ideal to [Woodstock’s] affirmative Aquarian love-in, and reflected the Undead’s reproduction strategy — a recruitment drive thick with mutual hostility, manipulative envy, sentimental denial and endless role reversals — straight back into the fan-star relationship it was so pitilessly modelling.”
Glam as vampirism?
My saying last week that Ferry was the seventies icon was of course wrong - or rather wishful thinking. (But you knew that). The definitive 70s icon was Bowie, naturally. I've never warmed to Bowie, which is the same as saying: Bowie never really chilled me, got under my skin, possessed me... I like all Bowie's seventies records but only Low's Hockneyesque swimming pools, Solaris highways and subterranean grottoes really gets to me.
Two things are clear from reading the articles collected in NME Originals:
1. We've all got Bowie memory implants. Our version of the late 60s, the account punk gives of its precursors - the Stooges, the VU - is the past that Bowie assembled for us.
2. As Simon maintained a while back, punk was part of the glam continuum; the 'break' betwen glam and punk looks chimerical.
In many ways, and leaving aside his fashion statements and his gender ambivalence (both much more radical, much more important, than most of his music), Bowie functioned - sonically - as a force of reterritorializion. Before I get leapt on, this wasn't to do with his popularizing of the avant garde . On the contrary. It was to do with his fixating upon the most deterrorialized, most intense elements, and ushering them back into the fold of r and r and melody. Compare his pedestrian and, for me, surprisingly plodding productions of Reed and Iggy with the fissile, molten rock Cale wrought for the Stooges, or the glacial volk he created for Nico. But those very moments of incorporation couldn't help but inspire a movement in the opposite direction : listeners sent off on voyages of discovery, flights from the self, invention of artificial identities...
So how about moving the key dates forward and backward a little? Let's shift the start date back from 76's fundamentalist r and r cul-de-sac to the existentialist concept space oddysey rock of 71's The Man Who Sold the World. (There's a case for saying that seventies Bowie just flipped from one Kubrick to another: from 2001 to A Clockwork Orange.) And then forward - to 1980 - to something like Ultravox's 'Mr X' - which gets garbled/ translated/ pirated into Cybotron's 'Alleys of your Mind', and thereby joins another continuum.
As for when/ where the glam continuum dies? How about Tony Scott's The Hunger (1983)?
Scott doesn't make many films but his next feature would be --- as you all know --- 1986's Top Gun. If you want a thumbnail summary of the differences between the 'two eighties', the hyper-intense machinoid glam eighties that was, really, no more than the end of the seventies, and the shoulder-padded PoMo eighties, you need do no more than reflect on the contrast between those two emblematic films (funny how/ when the two utterly incommensurate ends of the decade get treated as continuous - cf VH-1's 'We Love the Eighties' this week). (And if you want another symbol of the PoMo Eighties, there's of course the horrendous Absolute Beginners, a film so nightmarishly bad it has Bowie reduced to hawking himself as a precursor of soulcialism, for fuxake!)
(btw Tony's decline was faster than his brother, Ridley's, but Ridley's was ultimately just as calamitous. Ridley hasn't made even a memorable film since Thelma and Louise which couldn't be considered anything close to great.)
But The Hunger was luxuriant art cinema posing as mainstream entertainment; and it's art was viciously Baconoiod. There probably hasn't been a better vampire movie. (Certainly not since: Copolla's Dracula embarrassingly failed to capture the musky aristo decadence of which The Hunger so effortlessly reeked - I mean Deneuve, Sarrandon and Bowie versus Keanu and two of the biggest hams ever, Gary Oldman and Anthony bloody Hopkins - and as for Jordan's pantomimic Interview with the Vampire, all I'll say is: Pete Postethwaite's French accent.)
The Hunger was - yes - a glam valediction.
It's said that, in Bowie's two best onscreen 'performances' - in The Man Who Fell to Earth and The Hunger ( and let's not sneer, so what if he can't act?) - he does nothing but plays himself. (But what was Bowie's 'self' then?) In fact, these perfomances were all about the Glam Look: first the Alien, then the Vampire. Bowie's great art, after all, lay in embodying worlds; that's different from raiding the dressing up box for new ways of tarting up the same underlying subject (a la Madonna) There was a terrifying soullessness about Bowie, appropriately...
The man who - contra Dorian Gray (which The Hunger updates), contra the received vampire mythos - far from having no reflection, (un)lives only in looking glasses, photographs...
In our understanding of it, the vampire is, in the end, a nineteenth century figure. It was one of Marx's favourite metaphors for Kapital/ists. But the vampire was also a profoundly Nietzschean figure: the aristocratic ubermensch (Bowies homo superior) drawing strength from the inferiors it honours by feeding upon.
(Hold on for Carmodism):
The Hunger , then, came out in the year in which Mrs Thatcher won her second term, consolidating the final phase of the long-drawn out British bourgeois revolution and preparing the way for the final, fatal routing of both the industrial proletariat and the diseased remnants of the aristocracy. It marked the end of both the (aristocratic) art film and the (proletarian) pulp genre flick. (Deneuve's involvement is a kind of return, too, since she starred in Polanski's masterpiece of 60s Brit-Art Psych-Horror, Repulsion.)
Finally, I must share with you some gems from the NME special:
Bowie, 14 August, 1971: 'I mean, I've reached the age of 24. How can anyone be a serious pop artist at 24?'
Melody Maker, 22 January, 1971, a live T-Rex review on the same page as an ad for Clockwork Orange
Elton, 11 March, 1972, 'I hate showbiz.'
Ferry, 1 July 1972, 'Someone like Picasso develops a style and flogs it to death. Marcel Duchamp was a kind of will o' the wisp of art, lending his hand to all kinds of activity - which one would wish to emulate. Warhol's idea is to make art with as little effort as possible - he's an ideas man, really. And if you have faith in an idea, it is easy to make it happen.'
Nick Kent on the uncommunicative, unsmiling (plus ca change) Lou Reed, 14 October, 1972, 'He resembles a model of himself.'
Charles Shaar Murray on 'For Your Pleasure', 24 March, 1973, it 'ends with some amazing Eno-ing, and the tailwind of asteroids buffeting your ears.'
CSM on Ferry, 10 November 1973, 'Sounding more like a Pakistani Lou Reed than ever...'Posted by mark at July 29, 2004 08:24 PM | TrackBack