David Bowie (real name Jones) went on to be a world famous superstar of glam rock—but Marc Bolan (of the band T. Rex), who was killed at 29 in a driving accident, his wife at the wheel (her name was Jones) originated the genre.
What was the genre glam rock? It was basically blues rock with more feminine flamboyance, camp, and glitter, a natural outcome of “hippie music,” a natural extension of something a little looser on top of a pronounced beat.
The evolution of all music follows this path—expanding rhythmic, harmonic, vocal, melodic, intangible and lyrical interest; there is nothing particularly outrageous or rebellious here, as we look back on it.
Let the psychologists and the sociologist wax on the gender and moral questions, but the theatricality of glam rock was simply jumping on what was already done in the psychedelic mid-60s, which also was just adding, in minor ways, to rather simple ‘rock and roll’ templates.
Theatricality is how all music evolves—towards it, or away from it.
Crescendo is a key element in music—another word for climax—and music which is sexy in an unapologetic manner, such as glam rock often is, when it’s not coarse or disgusting or boring, is naturally very appealing. Those chased away by the amoral elements may miss out on some truly good music.
Space Oddity is a great song—Bowie’s masterpiece, with the famous “Can you hear me, Major Tom” (around this time the Who would release “Tommy Can You Hear Me?) continues what the Rolling Stones did in the studio with “Two Thousand Light Years From Home,” the mellotron, an electronic keyboard instrument first built in 1963, allowing bands to sound like Richard Wagner.
The combination of transcendent strings with rock beats was a godsend for popular music. Space Oddity is not sexy, per se, but makes great use of a rocket launching into space, with the same melancholy mood inspired by the Stones “Two Thousand Light Years From Home,” and, in addition, we get the fortuitous blending of the song’s theme of technological alienation with the electronic instrumentation of the song itself.
Cosmic Dancer by T. Rex also blends rock instrumentation, melancholy, and a lush and swelling string sound.
The strummed guitar, the jolting percussion, the unsentimental banging, when combined with sustained, sentimental strings can be a real delight.
The Marc Bolan lyric is strange, but perfect, “I was dancing since I was eight. Is it wrong to dance so late?” It’s fanciful, making no sense, really—and yet evokes a self-conscious feeling of indefinite delight.
The Bowie lyric refers to the heroic, lost astronaut at the heart of his wonderful, tragic song: “Take your protein pills and put your helmet on.”
Does it matter who wins this—how can we choose?
We have a soft spot for Marc Bolan, who died tragically at 29.
Cosmic Dancer advances.