GLAM ROCK III: THE NEW YORK DOLLS

Although they wore heavy makeup and platform heels,  The New York Dolls were never glam, unless your idea of glamour takes in drag queens dressed as down-and-out hookers. They are exact contemporaries of Roxy Music and David Bowie, but have more in common with Lou Reed, the Stooges and the Ramones. They were the real thing—lurid, irresponsible, semi-skiilled, on-the-edge—which made for great music but ended badly and early. Too Much, Too Soon was the  titled of their second and last album—as is they needed to announce the fact.

During their brief career they were reviled and ridiculed and were not commercially successful. David Johannsen spitting into the audience and the junked-up Johnny Thunders falling off the stage and shooting up with hauled back up were not staged, as they would be with the Sex Pistols, and not calculated and skilled as they were with Iggy Pop—they were just mistakes. Ironically, Johannsen and Sylvain Sylvain, the two members who caused the friction the split the band up, are the only two surviving members. Jerry Nolan and the talented, charismatic Thunders overdosed in the 1990s. Arthur “Killer” Kane lived in obscurity and penury until the Dolls reunited at the instigation of their most loyal fan, Morrissey, at the 2004 Meltdown festival, only to die of undiagnosed leukemia weeks afterwards. Kane’s life was the subject of the documentary film, New York Doll (2005), directed by Greg Whiteley.

Johannsen (age 64) and Sylvain (age 63) continue to perform as The New York Dolls. They have recently played with Morrissey and Beck and the Lounge On The Farm Festival on July 12, 2008 and the released an album, Cause I Sez So, produced by Todd Rundren on Atco Records in 2009.

GLAM ROCK II: BRIAN ENO

Former London Symphony Orchestra oboeist Andy Mackay joined Bryan Ferry’s band Roxy Music in 1971 and suggested that Ferry recruit his mate, Brian Eno, or simply Eno, as he went by his surname only at the time. The first two Roxy Music albums recorded the ensuing highly productive artistic tug-of-war between Ferry, the self-ironicizing Beatles-influenced pop crooner and Eno, the Velvets-influenced, D.I.Y. electronic pioneer.

In a period of elaborate wardrobe spectacles, Eno sported some of the most outlandish glam gear around, setting him visually apart from the others in the band. This separateness was reinforced by the fact that the live recreation of soundscapes constructed in the studio initially obliged him to perform from a sound tech’s booth in the middle of the audience, rather than on stage.

After recording No Pussyfooting (1972), the first of two, highly-attenuated progessive, experimental collaborations with King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, Eno left Roxy Music in 1973. His first solo album, Here Come the Warm Jets was released in the same year. His wardrobe had become more wearable, but no less glam, with a continental flair. By the time of his masterpiece, Another Green World (1975), the costumery and makeup had been completely retired.

GLAM ROCK I: TODD RUNDGREN

Todd Rundgren’s glitter phase was not about the gender indeterminacy, real or feigned, one came to expect of Glam Rock (Rundgren’s machismo was certified platinum when he won the hand of Bebe Buell, rock music’s Helen of Troy). The hair colors, facial glitter, jewelry and warrior-sprite-prom queen costumes were the trappings of a wizard, a pharaoh and a god, which is what the fans started calling Rundgren, who happily assumed those mantels.

The wizard practiced his craft at a studio Albert Grossman built for Rundgren at his Bearsville Records outpost in Woodstock. As it turns out, Rundren’s elaborate, challenging, meticulously-crafted, occasionally self-indulgent on-stage wardrobe from the period of A Wizard, A True Star through Ra (1973-77), was not just dressing up for fans—it was am emblem of his approach to music making and production, epitomized by the first Utopia albums. This description of the studio is from a 1973 interview with Rundgren:

At the studio, construction on the Utopia Landing Module, a geodesic dome to be covered completely in silver mylar, is underway. All of Jean-Yves’ synthesizers will be contained within the module, as will Jean Yves himself, while Hunt will play atop the dome several feet above the other Utopians, supremely skunkie. Each of the Utopians instruments will plug into the module and headsets will keep them in communication with Jean-Yves. A large art deco Theremin will hang behind the band, which they can play at will by intercepting the space between its two globes. Todd will play a double-neck Flying W lead guitar, with six- and twelve-string necks, while Tony’s guitar is unique in having six-string guitar and four-string bass. The Electronic Music Studio, an English synthesizer manufacturer and designer, has devised a new “sound” for Todd’s guitar, the “Popeye Mutilator”. Like fuzz tone or wah-wah it is completely at its master’s control, one more step toward the guitar’s evolution as the most useful sexual tool since KY jelly.

— from Ron Ross, ”The Inauguration of Todd Rundgren”  Phonograph Record, March 1973.

40 YEARS AGO TODAY

AN IMPUTATION OF GUILT: THE NIXON PARDON

Upon taking office on 8 August 1974,  President Gerald R. Ford announced that “our long national nightmare is over.” However, he soon discovered that Richard Nixon may have left office, but he didn’t take Watergate with him. With the prospects of the former president on trial in criminal court and further revelations and constitutional crises over the remaining White House tapes, Ford feared his entire presidency would be consumed with, and the nation crippled by, Nixon’s problems. 

Convinced that waiting and half-measures would only prolong the state of national paralysis, Ford decided to act immediately and decisively. On September 8th, 1974, only one month after taking office, he appeared on national television to announce his decision to grant “a full, free and absolute pardon,” to his predecessor, Richard Nixon.

Although a federal grand-jury had voted 19-0 to name Nixon as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the Watergate break-in and cover up, the former president had not been charged, let alone convicted, by any court or jurisdiction. Unable to pardon any specific misdeeds, Ford issued a blanket pardon “for all offenses … Richard Nixon committed, or may have committed,” during the entire time he was in office. The pardon made it impossible for Nixon to be criminally prosecuted not only for Watergate-related crimes, but for any crimes he may have committed while president, including any as of yet undiscovered crimes, regardless of their magnitude. The references to “other crimes” may have alluded to calls made by the New Left to have Nixon tried as a war criminal for his decisions concerning Vietnam and put in trial for his role in domestic incidents, such at the Kent State shootings, demands that had more traction in the wake of Watergate. Ford also noted that the being forced to relinquish the office of the presidency was in itself a form of punishment.

If the public was going to be deprived of the opportunity to see Nixon declared guilty, Ford thought an admission of guilt from his predecessor would make the pardon easier to accept When approached by Ford’s envoys, Nixon initially refused to make any statement concerning Watergate, worrying that it would be used against him in future legal cases. In the end, he provided a strongly-worded statement of contrition that acknowledged no guilt:

That the way I tried to deal with Watergate was the wrong way is a burden I shall bear for every day of the life that is left to me.

In the end Ford had to settle for the words of a 1915 Supreme Court decision concerning the presidential pardoning power, which stated that a pardon “carries an imputation of guilt, acceptance and a confession of it.” He carried a copy of that decision in his wallet until the end of his days to prove to skeptics that he had indeed extracted a confession of guilt from Nixon by virtue of his declaration, and the former president’s acceptance, of the pardon.

Ford was awash in good wishes after taking office. The new president was unpretentious, direct, and warm—the opposite of the dark, brooding, intellectual Nixon. Ford’s approval ratings in August were over 70%. After the pardon, they plunged overnight. The pardon was overwhelmingly decried, the public believing that a deal made between Nixon and Ford prior to Nixon’s resignation. Ford’s longtime aide and press secretary Jerry ter Horst resigned in protest. Calls for Ford’s resignation came soon after. The president was called before the House Judiciary Committee by his old congressional pals to account for his decision, where he was met with hostile questioning. Shortly after the Nixon pardon, Ford introduced a conditional amnesty program for Vietnam War draft dodgers who had fled to countries such as Canada as well as for military deserters. 

In November of 1976, after running a campaign against “the Nixon-Ford administrations,” democratic Governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia defeated Gerald Ford in the presidential election by a narrow margin. Ford’s loss has always been attributed to the Nixon pardon, which 40 years later seems like the right decision to have made at the time.

Former President Gerald R. Ford died at the age of 93 in 2006. 

THE BLAZER YOU CAN LIVE IN: CHEVY BLAZER CHALET

For the 1976 and 1977 model years, Chevrolet and GMC offered conversion camper with a pop-up tent option for their 4-wheel drive vehicles, the Blazer and the Jimmy. The trucks were assembled on the regular line, then sent to Seattle where a van and pickup customization company did the conversion. The campers were given the vaguely-architectural names, Blazer Chalet and Jimmy Casa Grande, which conjured picturesque vacation homes in a distant lands in an effort to convince buyers that the experience of the vehicle was the vacation.* The Hot Wheels paint jobs, cheerful interior color schemes, and loud plaid upholstery, however, were purely American.

Brian Lohnes of Bangstart.com recently shared his thoughts about the extremely rare 1977 Blazer Chalet (only 1,700 units produced) he had just purchased:

Packing a 400ci motor, NP203 full time four wheel drive transfer case, a sweet late 1970s paint job and little to no rust, this baby is dying for a new owner. It probably gets negative gas mileage and is downshifted into first gear by the time you get to a decent grade but not everything is a drag race damnit.

Sure, it must be terrifying to drive in wind and towing anything of substance would result in your imminent and painful death careening off of a mountain pass, even if you were in Nebraska, but whatever. Fortune favors the bold. Let’s get out there and do it Chalet style. 

A cherry condition 1977 Blazer Chalet sells for up to $10,000 today.


(*) I have to say this was true for kids—we were in awe of the campers we rented for annual vacations and didn’t want to get out to go see the boring historical sites.