The Glam Rock Aesthetic

The Mercer Arts Centre was a complex of small theatres that was designed by an air-conditioning mogul whose heart was in theatre. A couple of little productions moved through it and made a bit of buzz in off Broadway circles but nothing major happened and they could not attract enough attention to keep all of the theaters running. So, the management started booking bands into the long, rectangular back room.

This change in image was bound to attract press, Ed McCormack, in Warhol’s Interviews magazine wrote about “This strange new Le Drugstore type nightclub complex…which seems to be trying to touch all bases by presenting several types of attractions simultaneously in different rooms: video-tape shows, a cabaret featuring jazz greats like Charlie Mingus, a discotheque called aptly enough the Oscar Wilde Room.”

The crowd attracted to the Oscar Wilde Room was primarily what some have dubbed “rock’s third generation.” They were the gaudy camp/glam-rock kids there to see bands like the New York Dolls.

The New York Dolls

The Dolls were a group of Brooklyn-born boys who, coming out of the Young Lords, a junior branch of the Brooklyn gang the Phantom Lords, decided to take up guitars rather than guns and form a band. They would rehears in the back room of a bike shop all night until the owner opened up in the morning (he locked them in for the nights so that they couldn’t steal anything).

The Dolls were no art-rock combo; they had far more in common with The Stooges than with their fellow New Yorkers the Velvet Underground. They strove to play good ol’ rock & roll in the midst of the popular progressive rock and folksy sounds on the radio. People were excited by the fact that the Dolls were doing what everyone else was afraid to: they brought back the three-minute song. There were no ten minute drum solos, no twenty minute guitar solos, no songs that could take up an entire album side. The Dolls just rocked as hard and fast as they could.

But at the same time, they tried to shock audiences with their image. They were not trying to dress in drag and “pass” as women but simply to affect a sexually ambiguous appearance. They would stand there in glittery makeup and women’s blouses but also in heavy combat boots. It was not so much about wearing women’s clothes so much as it was about wearing a lot of confusingly contrasting clothes. The band was straight but the majority of their fan base was of course initially gay.

The Dolls proved themselves to be at once both an outlet in music of the glitter-rock attitude that had already taken hold of John Vaccaro’s Playhouse of the Theater of the Ridiculous and evident of the progress the gay liberation movement had made that a group of guys could get up on stage in drag and be appreciated as musicians as well as a spectacle )without being harassed for their particular brand of spectacle.)

I stopped in at the Mercer Arts Centre [sometime in 1972]…It was the weirdest group of people I’d ever seen in my life: 13-to 14-year-old girls in mini-skirts and make-up and plastic clothes and guys that were just so effeminate and prancy. And then some guy I knew walked by with eyeshadow on and that was too much. I split…[The Dolls] were totally outrageous. They were setting the pace. The thing that was funny [was] they said uptown, "Oh, they’re gay. They dress like girls." Well, no girls dressed like that. No girls walk around in cellophane tutus with army boots. They mixed the genders…The Dolls blew up more equipment than anybody because they were just over the top. They did everything to the fullest, to the maximum.

-Bob Gruen

However, they were not the only crossdressers in the scene and others took such costume choices far more seriously than the Dolls did.

LISTEN to The New York Dolls - Trash / (music off).

Wayne/Jayne County

When Wayne County donned a dress and wig and started parading around as Jayne County with her band the Back Street Boys (later the Electric Chairs), his was a deliberate cross-dressing statement. At a young age, he moved to Atlanta from Dallas, Georgia to get away from the dysfunction that resulted from his mother joining an obsessively right wing religious cult. There she became good friends with a group of drag queens and began going clubbing in drag with them, but he was considered strange, even by the other queens, because he was into rock & roll.

We had this party one time, and the drag queens came out and did Supremes songs. I said, "I don’t want to go to one more fucking party where one more fucking queen comes out and does a fucking Supremes imitation, and if they do I’m gonna fucking strangle her!"
Every party you’d go to, some queen would come out and go, "Ooooh, baaaby love, my baaby love…"
So I came out and did Janis Joplin
Eventually I left Atlanta and got a Greyhound bus to New York City.

-Jayne County

Jayne would go to great lengths to shock his/her audience. As if the simple drag act was not enough (and to a great degree because the type of men who dressed in drag were not expected to be so raucous and even violent), he would appear in a silver teased wig and 60s green lame dress with semi-inflated condoms on all tiers all over it and wearing large penis-shaped shoes, complete with testicles at the the back the size of oranges, big blue veins running down the sides and a big red knob at the end of each. She would spit chicken blood. She would smash statues of Jesus while singing her song “Storm the Gates of Heaven” about religion or “Man Enough to be a Woman” all about being a transsexual.” She often ended sets with her most shocking songs such as “Shit!” a song essentially about how everyone has to go to the toilet. She would sing it while goose-stepping around the stage with swastikas in her wig, a swastika armband, and even a Nazi jacket with metal funnels over the breasts. Often she would go so far as to throw hamburgers and fried chicken at her audience during a song like “Shit!”

I’m a whorehouse inspector, dirty needle collector, you can stick it in me.
I’m the queen of the trucks and if you get sucked, and if you wanna fuck you can stick it in me.

-from “Stick it in Me” by Jayne County

She was extreme onstage and off. Some could even argue that her stance as a transsexual may have developed out of a desire to shock, rather than truly from a need she felt inside to become a woman. But whatever the case was, when things got out of hand and the manager would feel the need to question whether things that were happening were really intended as part of the show, whether they were or not, Jayne always had an answer: “Yeah. It’s punk.”

LISTEN to Jayne County - Max's Kansas City / (music off).