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All That Glitters

It's 1999, after all, and, as Prince said, party time. Cutting- edge clubs are taking a cue from '70s glam rock, giving scenesters a reason to really dress up and celebrate. . .

April 29, 1999|HEIDI SIEGMUND CUDA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Last year was supposed to have been the big comeback year for glam rock--that cross-dressing, boundary-breaking genre of '70s rock 'n' roll identified with such artists as David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Gary Glitter. Marilyn Manson reinvented himself as a postmodern Ziggy Stardust. Mirroring the period's fashions, Scott Weiland donned boas and heavy eyeliner while promoting "12 Bar Blues." And the movie "Velvet Goldmine" starred starry-eyed British actors doing their best interpretations of Bowie, Pop and other famed cats.

What was poised for a big-bam-bang, however, met with a feathery whimper. Possibly turned off by overexposure, folks weren't really buying Manson's "Mechanical Animals" act, and Weiland, fighting a much-publicized heroin addiction, was too messed up to fulfill his glam-edged prophecy. As for "Velvet Goldmine"? Beautiful boys in glittery costumes can't save a bad movie from itself, and "Velvet Goldmine"--an exploration of the hedonistic nature of the glam-rock era--was pretty on the outside, empty on the inside.

Fast-forward to Hollywood 1999, however--the year that ultimate cross-dressing man o' song, Prince, prophesied would be the year to party--and please notice the low spark of high-heeled boys (and girls) standing in line outside such L.A. hot spots as El Rey Theatre, the Tempest, the Garage and Dragonfly--all of which are hopping with colorful glam-rock clubs.

"Last year, all anybody did was talk about it," says club promoter Joseph Brooks. "This year, people were crying out for something different on the scene and we've responded."

In Hollywood's cutting-edge clubs, glam rock has reemerged in a big way. A whole new generation is turning on to the look and sound created by such artists as T. Rex, the New York Dolls and Queen, each of whom made their mark on this short-lived but memorable era in pop music history.

"Kids are responding to glam's freedom of expression," says Pat Briggs, a performer at the core of the scene. "People plan all month what they're going to wear to shows."

Make-Up, a new monthly 18-and-over glam club at El Rey Theatre, is at the head of the class. Created by Briggs, who teamed up with promoters Brooks and Jason Lavitt, Make-Up is the West Coast counterpart to Briggs' club, Squeezebox, which is at the forefront of New York's glam scene. Former Faster Pussycat frontman Taime Downe entered into the ring with the club, Pretty Ugly, a raunchy eye-linered ride into gutter glam, which is packed each Wednesday at Hollywood's Dragonfly.

Apollo Starr weighs in with Shampoo, a twice-monthly glam club at the Garage, and Superstarr, a monthly theme club at the Martini Lounge (April's theme was '70s teen idols, complete with look-alike contest).

He says the Garage's nitty-gritty vibe was perfect for Shampoo. "We call it L.A.'s dirtiest rock 'n' roll club," says Starr, who started his club six months ago. "We play all '70s bands like Cheap Trick, Foreigner, ZZ Top, Boston--all the stuff you love but are afraid to admit--and '80s glam rock like Poison and Faster Pussycat."

Even legendary deejay / promoter Rodney Bingenheimer decided to give it a go, recently developing Flash, a Monday night glitterama held at the Tempest in Hollywood. Bingenheimer, who shares Flash DJ duties with Lavitt, keeps things retro with firsthand knowledge: On David Bowie's recommendation, Bingenheimer opened L.A.'s first glam club--Rodney's English Disco--in the '70s.

Birth of Glam Traced to London

Bingenheimer says glam was born out of an anti-hippie movement in London, when people had tired of dressing down and grown weary of "women with hairy armpits." They wanted to get glammed up like the '50s rock 'n' rollers. They reinvented rock, however, for the more exotic '70s.

Although each club offers a different take on glam, it's Make-Up that really sparkles with fresh energy. In part, that's because it's at El Rey Theatre, which is three or four times larger than the competition--but it also helps that anyone 18 and over is welcome to attend.

"Hello? Last time we checked it's the kids who are putting the effort into going out and dressing up," says Brooks, a veteran of L.A.'s club scene. "We do this for them."

"I've never seen anything like it," says Miguel Ortiz, 19, who made the drive from Riverside to April's club Make-Up. "Everything you could ever imagine shows up here. It's so fun."

Precisely what the creators of Make-Up were aiming for.

The diversity of the Make-Up crowd is conspicuous; its mixture of rockers, gays, artists, suburbanites and celebrities is no small feat. On the dance floor, men sporting enormous blue wigs dance beside go-go dancers in bikinis and body paint. On stage, go-go men in leopard ensembles and cowboy boots get down with folks in jogging shorts and platform shoes. Off to the side of the stage, scenesters might spot actress Rose MacGowan--donning a sequined pink bikini top and leather pants--posing with fans who were smart enough to bring flash cameras.

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