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Review: Shock and Awe by Simon Reynolds October 2, 2016

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Music.
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cover98087-mediumThis is the quick Netgalley take. It’ll be expanded before too long, but, essentially, you need to buy this.

From David Bowie to Lady Gaga, from the Rocky Horror Picture Show to Janelle Monae, there’s a hell of a lot covered here. Glam or glitter rock wasn’t just a short-lived style of rock and roll. As Simon Reynolds demonstrates in Shock and Awe, glam changed how a lot of people think about popular music, and its influence never disappeared from music.

Makeup and over the top costumes. Music that borrows from the 1950s and other eras. Genderbeding. Performance over worthiness and authenticity. As Reynolds points out, with its artificiality and its habit of absorbing disparate elements to make something new, glam was music as postmodernism before people actually started talking about postmodernism. It was also entertaining.

Shock and awe is entertaining as a book, too. Reynolds is knowledgeable about music and culture, but his focus is the music and the musicians. Unlike other serious books on pop culture, this one is not overloaded with cultural theory. He’s not using glam to make points about something else, or to show his knowledge of cultural theorists, he’s writing about glam because he wants to write about glam. He quotes Baudelaire, not Baudrillard, because the former’s poetry of decadence is an obvious influence to discuss.

Reynolds brings in everyone you’d expect, Bowie, Bolan, Roxy Music, Gary Glitter, the Sweet, and expands his definition to bring in musicians I wouldn’t have expected to find in this book, but whose inclusion makes perfect sense in context — Kate Bush, for example. The bulk of the book covers the 1970s, but there’s a follow-up section — almost long enough to be its own book — racing through the decades since, covering glam eruptions in forms as diverse as LA hair metal and Lady Gaga.

Anyone who loves any of this music will learn from this book. In this Internet age where everyone has access to decades of music without all the cultural baggage that comes with it, younger music fans especially can learn a lot of context for so much of what’s happening in popular music.  Recommended without reservation.

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