There’s been many twitter discussions about the young singer Billie Ellish and how much marketing of her being an independent soundcloud artist was due to the push of music streaming services. Thanks to Simon Reynold’s history of glam rock, Shock and Awe, I have learned that the arguments about art being creator driven or management inspired has always been prevalent . The book is full of stories about figures trying to make an impression in a music scene all about imagery. The most effective musicians such as Roxy Music and David Bowie, took influence from pop art and theater while also employing publicists from advertising companies. The variety of influences resulted in a nice balance of pop and abstract music. Other artists, such as The Sweet and Mott the Hoople were mainly management driven which ended with breakups over line up changes and changing trends, respectively.
Though I always appreciate the social context that Reynolds always brings to his books such as his history of post punk, Rip it Up and Start Again, I feel this book is a little bit cynical in presentation. Among all the talk about glam’s relationship with imagery and fame, Reynolds can’t resist a sarcastic aside about Lou Reed’s love life or offering his candid dismissive review of the New York Dolls’ debut. Perhaps it’s my millennial sensitivity, but the critical view feels a bit cold here compared to the straightforward narratives of his previous books exploring music genres. I wish he spoke to a few veteran fans of the bands to understand what glam rock meant to people on a personal level in addition to exploring its cultural context.
With that said, I appreciate Shock and Awe for providing a comprehensive history of the glam rock genre that shows how many diverse acts claimed the label and how it has influenced pop music up to today. It may also lead you to explore other books and artists that inspired people like David Bowie or Lou Reed. I would recommend giving it a read to see if it sparks any conversations