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Glam it up

Todd Haynes' current film about the Seventies glam era, Velvet Goldmine is also garnering plenty of attention. Loosely based on the rise of Ziggy Stardust and the demise of Iggy Pop, it celebrates the cut-loose sexuality and flashy flamboyance of the era. Aside from exposing Trainspotting's Ewan MacGregor as one of the decade's steamiest men (hubba, hubba!), the soundtrack is already receiving more accolades than the film itself. It includes some original hits by Lou Reed and Roxy Music, and a cover of T-Rex's "20th Century Boy" by the up-and-coming British band Placebo.

"We always thought of ourselves as more glamorous than glam," says Placebo bassist Stefan Olsdal, whose London-based band recently released their richly dramatic, self-titled debut. "Rock & roll should be tarted up. When you go see a rock show, you wanna be taken over visually as well as emotionally."

High fashion is, as usual, taking its cues from the rock world. You'll find velvet hip huggers and fuzzy, fur-lapeled coats at Gucci, and glam-inspired trimmings (sequins, etc.) on the newest Donatella Versace designs. Even the acclaimed off-Broadway musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, about a cross-dressing singer who never quite made it to stardom, is propelled by a plethora of shimmering, melodramatic pop numbers (lyrical sample: "How does a girly boy from East Berlin become an internationally ignored song stylist?") The album for the musical comes out in January on Atlantic.

Basically, glam is slowly bubbling up from under the drab and dull surface of late Nineties pop. "There's just been nothing in rock & roll that's hot lately," says Mick Rock, a photographer who documented the original glam era, shooting album covers like Lou Reed's Transformer and Bowie's Space Oddity. "Up until recently, Mick Jagger was still considered the sexiest man in rock. If that's all there is, that's a sad state of affairs indeed."

But that's changing. Boy bands that were once too introverted and depressed to get it up are now wearing sparkly nail polish and singing of that long-lost desire called lust. It's not the same brand of carnality found in Eighties rock (girls on Lamborghini hoods, etc.) That misogyny has been passed onto rap for now. It's instead the equal opportunity sex of early girl-boys like Bowie and Lou Reed. We're in the midst of one of the only times in post-Little Richard rock that gender is non-consequential when it comes to sex, and role playing is up for grabs. Marilyn Manson's androgynous album covers (prosthetic, nipple-free breasts and all) and films like Velvet Goldmine lift the suffocating barriers of machismo and braggadocio, rendering sex fabulous, sometimes sleazy and freewheeling.

"I do see some similarities to Seventies glam," says Rock, who has been enjoying the newfound interest in glam in the form of higher demand for his photos by book publishers, magazines and even movie studios doing research. "Though it was fresh and new in the Seventies, there is a search for that sexiness, that excitement, that freedom happening now."

The need for rock stars is also a big factor in reviving the plush, velvety feel of glam. Just as the street-look of guys in baggy jeans, who were just "making music for themselves, man," was the reaction to bloated, big-hair metal, Placebo's campy, androgynous singer Brian Molko is the reaction towards too many normal guys on MTV. The pendulum is swinging back to larger-than-life figures, ones to put the star quality back into rock & roll. "We're not hiding behind the guise of misery or irony," says Olsdal. "Rock & roll is not there just to feel miserable about things. It needs to be big, larger than life, other-worldly."