Rock and elaborate spectacle
“Editors of Rolling Stone later summarized, ‘Rock ‘n’ roll has always been a frank and sometimes vulgar music, with plenty of things for its critics not to like.’ ” (Fore 1999:96). There is no doubt about it. Rock and elaborate spectacle were meant to be together; Like chocolate and red roses on Valentine’s Day… only more dysfunctional (where the roses are tattoos and the chocolate gets to be licked off someone). From Elvis’ swiveling hips to Jimi Hendrix making love to and then “sacrificing” his guitar (to whatever) by setting it on fire and smashing the hell out of it to KISS and their incredible costumes and make-up to Prince and his ass-cheeks-cut-out pants to etc. All part of the random theatrics enthralled fans expect from the rock show. The more attention you can get, the better your chances of becoming a rock star. Welcome to the world of glam rock.
“We just get out there and rock. If your amp blows or your
guitar packs it in, smash it up and pick up another one. And that’s how it always was with us. We can’t even stop and tune up. Those kids are all wound up. A second or two is too much for them. They’ve gotta have it.”
-AC/DC guitarist Angus Young (Friedlander 1996:232)
The simplest, most recognizable used form of
rock spectacle is, of course, the destruction of thousands of dollars worth of instruments and sound equipment for the pure sake of breaking or blowing “shit up” (although in some instances, as in the case of Jimi Hendrix, it is a sign of respect). No one is really sure who first started this phenomenon (actually no one can agree) but rock fans have seen this act about a million times over, still remaining shocked and amused by the simplicity and perverse beauty of it. In fact, many people believe that you have not truly earned the title “Rock Star” until you have broken some piece of equipment in front of a live audience elevating the act to not only a way to satisfy the spectators’ craving for damage but also to initiate
yourself into a select few. And why not bang the
hell out of a five thousand dollar guitar or nail all the furniture in your hotel room to the ceiling? You can afford it! Furthermore, as a rock star you are expected to be wild and do the things the average fan could only dream of doing.
However, breaking guitars was only the beginning of rock’s more aggressive attempts to shock the audience. While the act is still pretty cool to witness, by the 70’s, rockers were ready to shock the hell out of you instead of just make you jump.
Which leads us into make-up, hair, costume and the adoption of an outer-worldly persona.
“Absent were the flower children and euphoria of psychoactive enlightenment, replaced by personal narratives of heroin addiction, ghetto drug connections, and sexual perversity. These shocking explorations of self-destructive behavior tested society’s cultural sensibilities; they also didn’t have much of an impact on the rock/pop mainstream.” (Friedlander 1996:250)
The first band to come to mind when 70’s rock, make-up, and costumes collaborate are the Knight’s In Satan’s
Service, or more commonly known by their abbreviation:
KISS. KISS, like many glam rockers, performed to huge stadium audiences. They had to be larger than life to get the attention of all the people in the middle and back rows as well as the front. Furthermore, their personas were highly marketable (From t-shirts to comic books to action figures, etc.). Despite their name and appearance though, their songs such as “Rock an’ Roll All Night”, “Detroit Rock City”, “Calling Dr. Love”, were tame compared to the likes of Iggy Pop or David Bowie.
“David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust (1972) carries advice on the back cover: TO BE PLAYED AT MAXIMUM VOLUME.” (Gracyk 1996:100). The epitome of androgyny, Ziggy Stardust was Bowie’s first persona, an intergalactic rock star, with orange hair, make-up, and futuristic costumes, trying to save the world but doomed to fail (Campbell 1999:196). As with all his personas, the music on the album served to complete his mysterious character. Fans could probably guess that Gene, Paul, Ace, Peter, Eric, and Vinnie of KISS did not walk around all day in their outfits but Bowie could play his part so well that it was hard to tell whether or not he was only trying to be
the most outrageous or if he was like that in the real world too.
” ‘As we approach the ‘8o’s, the country is literally laughing, dancing, jogging and dressing up again. We have entered The Glitter Era.’ ”
-John Davidson (Calder 1992:274)
Androgyny became a trend in 70’s rock that held over into 80’s rock. It was the ultimate way to shock your audience and make a statement. In the 70’s there was of course, Bowie, Marc Bolan, Freddy Mercury, and the immensely popular Rocky Horror Picture Show featuring everyone’s favorite transvestite from the planet Transexual in the galaxy of Transylvania, Dr. Frank N. Furter. The 80’s brought in Prince, Boy George, Grace Jones, and sometimes Madonna. All challenging society’s set gender roles. Why androgyny though? Many say that rock music itself, while still predominantly performed by males, is an androgynous form of music because it combines all other forms of music considered “male” or “female”. Others maintain that the trend was in response to the sexual revolution.
Though these rock shockers succeed in getting
the attention they so adamantly strive for, the most
successful rock stars had always been presented as “real people.” The illusion that we could know the real Elvis, McCartney, or even the real Monkees was fostered by such superficial means as fan magazine interviews or facts on
the back of bubble-gum cards, but it was also implicit in Elvis’s insistence on his own style of recording the songs of others, and explicit in those performers who wrote their own songs. (Shumway 1992:131) Still, the diversity and color that glam rockers add to the spectrum is not something to discourage. Many fans strive on the fact that their heroes are super heroes, gods and goddesses with fantastical powers who they can fantasize about being. Who wants to be a “real” person all the time anyway? We get to be that everyday.