Thursday, March 29, 2018

glam versus glum

Two parts of a single 1974 documentary (made by TV for schools) called All That Glitters

the first half very glittery (The Sweet at the height of the success)

the second half very drab (prog Renia in the doldrums of struggle to make it)

and aptly enough the first bit is full-colour, the second is black-and-white

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Rockit Men

In the Aftershocks section of S+A, I have a little snippet on Def Leppard, focused on their Sweet fandom and aspirations to Wainman / Chinnichap-style overproduction / hysteria. With particular emphasis on "Pour Some Sugar on Me" - the third and by far the best single off Hysteria.

But I wish I had seen this video for this other single off Hysteria (the SEVENTH single would you believe!!). Because it is one long testament to the band's glamfandom and would have been perfect to mention in this little section on D.Leppard.

Indeed some of the images that crop up in the "Rocket" video -  UK music paper front covers and photo spreads and so forth - actually look like things I used or considered using as illustrations for S+A.

Beyond the overblown artifice and concocted excess of their sound - those shrill breath-blasts of  oddly centreless vocals, the puff-pastry layering of guitar overdubs  - another glammy thing about Leppard is a self-reflexive aspect. Not so much songs about being a rock star (although I daresay there's some, I haven't investigated that thoroughly to be honest). But more like a rocking-for-the-sake of rocking element.  (Admittedly that's quite a metal thing too).

By the next album Adrenalize, this thing of announcing their intention to rock the listener, of declaring that they're in the business of rocking - it was starting to feel a little threadbare.

You sense that The Darkness, and Andrew W.K., are not that far off.

Much later on - 2006 -  Def Leppard  explicitly return to the glam era with this really rather decent cover of Essex's "Rock On" (again, rock-about-rock).

Oh, well I never noticed that this was off an album - Yeah! - of cover tributes to favorite Leppard songs that with a few exceptions are all from the early Seventies - and that include such glam classics as  "20th Century Boy", "Hell Raiser",  "Street Life", "Drive-In Saturday", and "The Golden Age of Rock 'n' Roll", as well as the stompy proto-glitter John Kongos hit "He's Gonna Step on You Again."

Yeah!'s CD booklet has photos of Leppard each in a pose that recreates an iconic cover image from the glam-aligned early 70s: Rick Savage is Freddie Mercury from the album Queen II,
Vivian Campbell does Bolan off of T. Rex's Electric Warrior, Joe Elliott pretends to be Bowie from the back cover of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Rick Allen does Lou Reed off of Transformer, and Phil Collen poses ghastly a la Iggy on the front of Raw Power.

They also did one with the whole band imitating a Roxy inner gatefold

Oh, looky here - a recent thing in Rolling Stone where Joe Elliott talks about his favorite glam artists

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Magic Unrealism, or, The President of Ambrosia

The core of positive thinking - which is also the core of glam - is the power of Desire to override the Reality Principle.

The power of wish-speech (childish, magical, narcissistic) to reject reality as a facts-ist regime.

Hence, Billy Liar's opening line: "Lying in bed, I abandoned the facts again and was back in Ambrosia"

Hence, Trump's gainsaying of any element, however small, of consensus reality that is a blow to his own grandiose self-image. 

"Trump plainly views the act of lying, or making things up, or contradicting himself with relentless abandon, as an assertion of power — that is, the power to render reality irrelevant, the power to roll right over constraints normally imposed by expectations of consistency or fealty to basic norms of reasoned, factual inquiry.

As Jacob T. Levy has written, these “demonstrations of power undermine the existence of shared belief in truth and facts.” The whole point of them is to assert the power to say what the truth is, or what the truth should be, even when — or especially when — easily verifiable facts dictate the contrary. The brazenness of Trump’s lying is not a mere byproduct of his desire to mislead. It is absolutely central to the whole project of declaring the power to say what reality is.

Trump’s boast about making stuff up in his meeting with Trudeau comes close to an open admission of this. He lied, or made stuff up, because he could, yes, but also because what one wants to be true actually can be made true."

"Billy Liar - the boy whose imagination is larger than his life"

PR is a form of propaganda  - the StarSelf-as-miniState broadcasting how it would like to be seen by the general public

(cf Trump pretending to be his own publicist, variously known as John Miller and John Barron - later the name of his son, intriguingly - procreation as narcissistic duplication, plus he'd already reused Donald for his first-born

(oh yes he's the Great Pretender.... a pretense of Greatness)

The glam parallel supreme (although there are many - Alice "I love to tell lies" Cooper, Bowie) is Marc Bolan.

From an early draft of S+A:

"Right from the start of his career... Bolan told tall tales, offering journalists grossly inflated accounts of real events and circumstances, while promising that would never be delivered and that in most cases never got beyond being an idle fantasy:   TV cartoon series based around him and scripted by him, screenplays for “three European pictures... including one for Fellini”, several science fiction novels on the verge of UK publication. He boasted of having painted “enough for an exhibition” and having “five books finished which I`ve been sitting on for a long time”. Even on the downward slope of his career, he unfurled fantastical plans for a “new audio-visual art form”.

"Music journalists ate it up because it was good copy.  PR man Keith Altham compared him to Walter Mitty: “he knew that people always wanted something larger-than-life, so he always exaggerated. And sometimes he actually began to believe that himself”. Billy Liar is another parallel. The opening line of Keith Waterhouse’s novel is “Lying in bed, I abandoned the facts again and was back in Ambrosia”—the latter being Billy Fisher’s fantasy-land, where he rules as a benign dictator/generalissimo.  For Bolan as for Fisher, reality was a facts-ist regime from which he was determined to secede.  Both came from  humble, hard-graft backgrounds (lorry driver father, market stall-holder mum, in Bolan’s Case) amid prosaic, color-depleted surroundings (the East End of London, rather than the imaginary industrial-mercantile Northern town of Stradhoughton in Billy Liar).  Both escaped through make-believe and making things up."

Positive thinking is a form of self-hypnotism, the beaming into the unconscious of "mental photographs", power-poses, heroic self-images, self-actualisation maxims, affirmations etc - a form of internally introjected propaganda. 

In The Power of Positive Thinking Norman Vincent Peale (Trump's pastor as a young man) advises: "Formulate and stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding. Hold this picture tenaciously. Never permit it to fade. Your mind will seek to develop the picture ... Do not build up obstacles in your imagination."

Poz-thinking infected forms of religion (e.g. Joel Osteen's prosperity gospel) (although positive thinking is itself a religion, a perversion of Protestantism) explicitly encourage believers to avoid contact with viewpoints that contradict one's wishful thinking. Osteen sermonises about how one's seed-of-greatness will not flourish in a soil of negativity - it is imperative to surround yourself with positive people (i.e. people who will not discourage you with their more reality-based judgements and lowered expectations, fatalists of every stripe). Similar to the techniques of Scientology, where the organisation encourages / forces the convert to abandon friends and family members who are not down with the positivity program and to instead spend one's entire social life within the belief-reinforcing enclosure  of the community of believers.

Another way of doing this is to constantly reshuffle your cabinet to get rid of realists, people who give any credence to the expertise of the reality-based community. 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Ninotchka + glam / anti-glam, or, Luxury Communism goes to Hollywood

Scene: a shared and spartan apartment in Moscow circa 1939. Ninotchka, a diplomatic envoy recently returned from Paris, is catching up with her flatmate Anna, a musician who plays in a symphony orchestra. 

ANNA (brandishing a chic silk undergarment Ninotchka brought back from Paris): When I passed through the laundry yard today I saw all the women huddled around this, so I brought it up here. Things like this create a bad feeling - first, they didn't know whose it was, and then they saw the Paris label, and did it start a commotion! Some said it's what we all ought to wear and others said it's like hanging foreign ideas on our clothes line, it undermines our whole cause.


ANNA: You know how it is today - all you have to do is wear a pair of silk stockings and they suspect you of counter-revolution.

NINOTCHKA: Thank you, Anna - I'll dry it up here when I wash it next. I should hate to see our country endangered by my underwear.


[Anna asks Ninotchka if she brought anything else  back from Paris and she explains that she left everything else she bought behind because she had to return to Moscow in a hurry; she just happened to be wearing the camisole when she left for the airport. She mentions that among all the garments  left behind, her favorite was a hat.]

NINOTCHKA: It was very silly. I would be ashamed to wear it here.

ANNA: As beautiful as that!


[Ninotchka mentions that she also bought an evening gown, which causes Anna to marvel at the extravagance of wearing different clothes for different times of day]

ANNA: You are exaggerating!

NINOTCHKA: No, it's true - that's how they live in the other world. Here we dress to cover up our bodies - to keep warm.

ANNA: And there?

NINOTCHKA: Sometimes they're not completely covered - but they don't freeze. 

[Anna strokes the exquisitely soft material the undergarment is made of, marveling that such luxuriant fabric is used for a piece of clothing that isn't even visible to other people's eyes. She asks Ninotchka if she can borrow if for her upcoming honeymoon, and Ninotchka says she can have it for keeps. An overjoyed and grateful Anna hurries off to work clutching her cello.  Ninotchka, finding herself alone, turns on the radio for solace, looking for music. But every Soviet station is broadcasting state propaganda - facts and figures about the economy, productivity soaring, etc]

NINOTCHKA (plaintively): No music!

Hollywood designers make Communist uniforms look chic!

digi-glam and tyranny 4 u

"'Everything here is fake. That’s what you have to realize,” [said my Paramount Studios tour guide]. She did not mean “fake” in any negative sense. In the 20th century, such fake material was confined to the entertainment industry, which in that earlier age of technology was clearly separate from the news industry. Now the scope of what constitutes fake is vaster. And I do not mean President Trump’s false claims of “fake news,” which is merely news he doesn’t like or agree with. I mean the world of digital and video technology that has allowed the Hollywood mind-set of manipulating reality to distort how we think about the great issues of the day.

"Objective, professional journalism — which seeks balance among respectable points of view — flourished, we should remind ourselves, within the context of the print-and-typewriter age: a more benign technology much less given to forgery and alteration compared with that of our current era. The digital-video age may have begun in the latter part of the 20th century, but we saw its dramatic effect on politics during the 2016 election. It is common for there to be a lag time between technological innovation and political-military effect. Recall that although the Second Industrial Revolution began in the mid-19th century, we did not really see its effect on war until 1914.

"It is impossible to imagine Trump and his repeated big lies that go viral except in the digital-video age. It is impossible to imagine our present political polarization except in the age of the Internet, which drives people to sites of extreme views that validate their preexisting prejudices. And, in the spirit of Hollywood, it is impossible to imagine the degree and intensity of emotional and sensory manipulation, false rumors, exaggerations and character assassination that decay our public dialogue except in this new and terrifying age of technology which has only just begun.

"Digital-video technology, precisely because it is given to manipulation, is inherently controlling. Think of how the great film directors of the 20th century were able to take over your mind for a few hours: a new experience for audiences that previous generations had never known. Theater may be as old as the ancient Greeks, but the technology of film lent a new and powerful force to the theatrical experience. Moreover, it was contained within a limited time period, and afterward you came back to the real world....

"In the 21st century, dictators may have the capability to be the equivalent of film directors, and the show never stops. Indeed, Joseph Goebbels would undoubtedly thrive in today’s world. As for warfare itself, it will be increasingly about dividing and demoralizing enemy populations through disinformation campaigns whose techniques are still in their infancy....

"We will fight best by thinking tragically to avoid tragedy. This means learning to think like the tyrants who feed and prosper on misinformation so we can keep several steps ahead of them.... Constructive pessimism is called for. The innocent days when illusions were the province of movie stage sets are way behind us."

from "Everything here is fake" by Robert D. Kaplan Washington Post, March 2 2018


  ... or at least, if not endorsing / encouraging, then at least accepting the existence and inevitability of theatricality as a social mech...