Performing Glam Rock: Gender and Theatricality in Popular Music
Book: Performing Glam Rock: Gender and Theatricality in Popular Music
Written by: Philip Auslander
Published by: University of Michigan, 2006
Philip Auslander’s book, ‘Performing Glam Rock: Gender and Theatricality in Popular Music’ explores glam rock in America, reclaiming and redefining it as an artistic and social phenomenon while celebrating the showmanship of 1950s rock and roll. The book is a study of what glam rockers do “as performers” and how these performances generate meanings for their audiences (p.2). According to the author, ‘‘Glam rock generally is not counted as a signiﬁcant phenomenon in histories of rock authored by American scholars. The conventional narrative is that rock lost its footing in the 1970s .. . and rediscovered its original energy and impetus only with the advent of punk’’ (p.46).
Chapter 1, ‘Glamticipations’ traces glam’s roots to the emergence of American groups such as Alan Cooper in the 1960s, and the 1950s retro group Sha Na Na that turned John Lennon’s badge of authenticity—1950s rock-and-roll—into a celebration of artifice. Chapter 2, ‘Glamography’ discusses the development of glam rock as a genre and glam masculinity in both the United Kingdom, where it was a dominant rock style for several years and the United States, where it took root only as a coterie phenomenon. In chapter 3 and 4, Auslander delves into the two most prominent glam rockers – T-Rex frontmen Marc Bolan and David Bowie. As contemporaries, these artists embodied a significant shift in cultural dynamics, moving from a focus on counter-cultural authenticity to embracing queer performativity. Auslander astutely labels Bolan’s unique vocal style as the “queer rock voice,” which effortlessly encompassed a fluid and diverse range of implied gender and sexuality. Auslander’s final case study considers lone female glam rocker Suzi Quatro, further exploring the theme of gender, focusing on Quatro in psychedelic rock. According to the author,
“By refusing to suppress her “tomboy instincts” Quatro created something new: a dynamic, masculine female rocker who was not fully understandable in terms of conventional femininity or as “one of the boys” (p.212).”