All the Young Dudes: Why Glam Rock Matters, by Mark Dery -- Boing Boing's first ebook!

“All the Young Dudes,” glam rock’s rallying cry, turned 40 last year. David Bowie wrote it, but Mott the Hoople owned it: their version was, and will ever remain, glam’s anthem, a hymn of exuberant disenchantment that also happens to be one of rock’s all-time irresistible sing-alongs.

Bowie, glam, and “All the Young Dudes” are inseparable in the public mind, summoning memories of a subculture dismissed as apolitical escapism, a glitter bomb of fashion and attitude that briefly relieved the malaise of the '70s.

Now, cultural critic Mark Dery gives the movement its due in an 8,000-word exploration of glam as rebellion through style, published as a Kindle e-book (and Boing Boing's first published e-book): All the Young Dudes: Why Glam Matters. As polymorphously perverse as the subculture it explores, “All the Young Dudes: Why Glam Matters” is equal parts fan letter, visual-culture criticism, queer theory, and true confession.

In bravura style, Dery teases out lines of connection between glam, the socioeconomic backdrop of the '70s, Oscar Wilde as a late-Victorian Ziggy Stardust, the etymology and queer subtext of the slang term “dude,” the associative links between the '20s-style cover of the Mott album on which “Dudes” appeared and the coded homoeroticism of the '20s magazine illustrator J.C. Leyendecker (considered in the context of the 1970s fad for all things 1920s), and Dery’s own memories of growing up glam in '70s San Diego, where coming out as a Bowie fan -- even for straight kids -- was an invitation to bullying.

Glam emboldened kids in America and England to dream of a world beyond suburbia’s oppressive notions of normalcy, Dery argues, a world conjured up in pop songs full of Wildean irony and Aestheticism and jaw-dropping fashion statements to match. More important, glam drew inspiration from feminism and gay liberation to articulate a radical critique of mainstream manhood---a pomosexual vision of masculinity whose promise remains only partly fulfilled, even now.

Buy All the Young Dudes: Why Glam Rock Matters, by Mark Dery

All the Young Dudes

(Excerpt: 730 words)

Reviewing Mott the Hoople’s All the Young Dudes for The San Diego Door, 15-year-old Cameron Crowe had no doubt that the title track, written by Bowie, was “a very English, very metal, very risqué ode to homosexual rape. ‘I’ve been wanting to do this for years,’ admits the aggressor...”[i] (Perhaps Crowe’s bizarre reading of the song was the result of a mondegreen---a misheard lyric. For the line “gonna race some cat to bed,” some listeners heard the homophone “gonna rape some cat to death.”)

And what, exactly, was a young dude? In the ‘70s Southern California of my adolescence, “dude” was the universal form of address among teenaged males. A verbal virus spread by the surfer scene, “dude” was a jocular hi-sign, the verbal fist bump of male bonding. Variously inflected, it could also be a remonstration (dude!), a quizzical exclamation (dude?!), or a backslap of bong-loaded bonhomie (duuuuude, underscored with a Cheshire-cat grin). With the right verbal spin, the term could even signify Jeff Spicoli’s idea of satori, a kind of Tao of Whoahhh---the existential weightlessness common to surfers, stoners, and slackers, a state of mind incarnated by Jeff Bridges as The Dude in The Big Lebowski. But whatever else it was, “dude” was an expression of Dude-ism---straight guy-ness, distilled down to its bro-mantic, brewski-chugging, perpetually adolescent essence.
It’s doubtful Bowie spoke fluent Dude, in 1972. More likely, he reached for the word because of its historical associations with dandies and other Dedicated Followers of Fashion---the sort of “handsome young man, curled, well-dressed, pomaded, painted and powdered” (Edmond de Goncourt, on one of Proust’s friends) whose flamboyance or excessive fastidiousness in dress struck a note of unmanly vanity, even effeminacy.[ii]

As early as 1897, the New English Dictionary (as the O.E.D. was then known) defined “dude” as “a factitious slang term which came into vogue in New York about the beginning of 1883, in connection with the ‘aesthetic’ craze of the day”---“aesthetic” in the sense of the Aesthetic movement whose public face, Oscar Wilde, was a Late-Victorian Ziggy.[iii] Wilde’s 1882 lecture tour of the States was a triumph of branding and P.R.: audiences delighted in his epigrammatic bon mots and the papers had a field day with the foppish prince of the “ass-thetes,” mocking his shoulder-length pre-Raphaelite hair, velvet knee breeches, and silk stockings in cartoons that forged an associative link between Aestheticism and the effeminate affectations of dandyism.

Revealingly, the American Century Dictionary, published in 1889, kicked the blame for dude-ism back across the pond, tracing the word’s origins to London, “where it first became known in general colloquial and newspaper use at the time of the so-called ‘esthetic’ movement in dress and manners, in 1882-83.”[iv] Like the O.E.D., the Century Dictionary despaired of unearthing the word’s origins, dismissing as apocryphal the notion that it arose from “duds (formerly sometimes spelled dudes), clothes, in the sense of ‘fine clothes.’” But it was unequivocal on the word’s association with “a fop or exquisite, characterized by excessive refinement of dress, speech, manners, and gait, and a serious mien...”

Seth Lerer argues compellingly, in Inventing English: The Portable History of the Language, that there’s a cultural logic to the Century’s etymological payback:

The dude is some undefinable other. The lexicographer, whether British or American, refuses to claim ownership or origin. [...] In these entries, both the Century and the N.E.D. offer social criticism through philology. Their extended definitions center on the theater of dudedom: the logic of costume and affectation.[v]

Undefinable others of bent gender and blurred sexuality, the Wilde boys of 1883 were the original dudes, precursors of the dissolute, pill-popping mods in Bowie’s 1966 song “The London Boys” (“A London boy, oh a London boy/ Your flashy clothes are your pride and joy”), the glitter kids in “All the Young Dudes, “ and maybe the “handsome young men” on the cover of the Mott album, smartly turned out in their upscale tailoring.

[i] Cameron Crowe, “Mott the Hoople---All the Young Dudes,” The San Diego Door, November 4, 1972-November 18, 1972, archived on Crowe’s personal website, The Uncool,

[ii] Quoted in Edmund White, Marcel Proust (New York: Penguin, 1999), p. 45.

[iii] Seth Lerer, Inventing English: The Portable History of the Language (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007)), p. 215.

[iv] Lerer, Inventing English: The Portable History of the Language, p. 216.

[v] Lerer, Inventing English, p. 217.


      1.  This looks amazing, but will there be a non-Kindle edition available at some point?

          1. We could make it available as paper booklet, but it would be cost-prohibitive.

          2. sadly i realize that people these days would rather have digital files than paper (and so easily forget that Amazon has deleted said files from people’s machines) and that costs for a low-run print make it improbable.

            howzabout a printable pdf in booklet format? I know Cory manages to lose multiple long-reach staplers a year but mine is hankerin’ for another reason to exist. :-)

            and if you think of me a Luddite, i’ll probably borrow my 67 year-old mother’s kindle just so i can read it.

        1.  Glam was a many-splintered thing. We can’t be purists when it comes to the polymorphous perversity, and promiscuous aesthetics, of pop-music subcultures, I think. Roxy certainly had its glam *moments*: Ferry in his jaw-droppingly over-the-top quiff, Eno in screaming drag (or something damn close to it). Early on, Queen crossed glam with Zeppelinesque metal, the Victorian fascination with fairyland, Bloomsbury dandyism, and Freddie’s Lisztian excesses at the piano. Was Steve Harley glam? Sparks? Again, these are Deep Questions, all. Of course, the music-geek/cultcrit hairsplitting is half the fun!

    1. Reading the article I was thinking maybe it is an American thing to select “All the Young Dudes ” as the epitome of Glam, when, as a Brit, I’d go for “Do you wanna be in my gang”. It is blokey, boisterous, and, these days, an embarrassment. That pretty much covers Glam… oh, and addictive and fun too… 

      1.  Fascinating point. But I’d apply the lowbrow/middlebrow/highbrow taxonomy to glam, as to so many other aspects of pop culture. Slade, Sweet, Gary Glitter: lowbrow. Suzi Quatro: Low middlebrow. Marc Bolan/T. Rex, Roy Wood’s Wizzard, Mott, New York Dolls. High middlebrow/highbrow: Bowie, Queen, Roxy (but only in those instances were the songs in question are, arguably, glam, given the stylistic experimentation for which all three are noted). If you get around to reading “All the Young Dudes,” you’ll be intrigued to note, I think, that I spend some time distinguishing UK glam from glam in the USA.

        1. But what does the low/middle/highbrow distinction tell us apart from ‘not all glam bands were the same’?

          I feel that there was a difference between ‘idealistic’ and ‘opportunistic’ glam bands- the ‘opportunistic’ ones merely using the glam idiom because it was in fashion at the time, the ‘idealistic’ ones being more committed to what they thought glam should represent.

          I guess this is true of a lot of movements that reach the mainstream, though.

  1. Sounds fascinating. I love Glam rock. Oh, wait a minute, “Not available in your country.” *sigh*

    1. What country do you live in Vickie? I clicked yes to every country Amazon serves, or at least I thought I did!

  2. In the ’70s, Bowie pushed the theatrics of music. Liking him was liking edgy rock, a badge of distinction. Sucks that the author had a different suburban experience. As far as style, great that Glam’s androgynous fashion helped embolden gay kids, though it was quickly picked up by the hair bands of the ’80s, who flipped it to suit their own personal preferences. 

  3. It appears that the author has essentially novelised Velvet Goldmine.

    Not that it’s a bad thing.

      1. you had that shirt.  naturally.  figures.

        and yeah, pretty sure it’s her, see above for another pic.

        1. “you had that shirt.  naturally.  figures.” Why do you sound so world-wearily dejected over the utterly obvious, Noah Django?

  4. I will read your book, Mark, but would like to comment here and now that Ziggy Stardust was absolutely my own liberation as a hetero male teen in 1972. I was so floored by the whole experience that I had to accept other ways of being sexual too. I don’t think I was aware at all before that. 

    Another use of dude is in “dude ranch” which implies roll playing and dressing up. 

    1. There was a similar explosion of possibilities in the 1980’s when electro-pop opened the doors to all kinds of life style options. Pop music is great!

  5. Yes, David Bowie (a huge Mott The Hoople fan) very generously wrote, gifted and produced an all-time rock classic for a band that was all but over.

    Mott The Hoople, however, OWNS the definitive version of this song. The iconic (yes, I’ll say it!) guitar intro was devised by Mick Ralphs and the hilarious rap during the song’s outro is all Ian Hunter’s doing. Those contributions, plus the outright musical muscle of the band, Mick Ronson’s unsung musical arranging ability AND the snide irony of the GREAT Ian Hunter’s voice helped to lift an already brilliant tune into the stratosphere of Rock immortality.

    But, yeah, nothing would’ve happened at all without The Great One. I will always feel a huge debt of gratitude towards David Bowie for plucking my all-time favourite band off the ash heap of rock and roll obscurity.

    1. Thanks, Greg. No need to buy a Kindle, unless you *want* to; just download the free Kindle app (Kindle for PC or Kindle for Mac) from Amazon, drop your .99 to download my longform essay, and you’re rolling. (Sorry for the Pepsodent-smiling sales pitch, but that’s what us hacks are reduced to, in the age of social-media gladhanding and Brand Me.)

      1. Will do, Mark.

        I do agree with Luddite, Aram John, though as far as having a real book in my grubby little hands (cheap saddle-stich and everything!)  It’d be great to have your treatise next to Ian Hunter’s  Diary of a Rock’n’Roll Star and Campbell Devine’s Mott the Hoople/Ian Hunter biography.

        I know, I’m a dinosaur with one foot in the tar pit.

  6. I’ve loved everything I’ve ever read by Mark Dery, and this subject is right up my alley. However, I too am Luddite-ish when it comes to reading books. Please let me know when a paper version is available – even with staples – and I’ll fork out some dinars. 

    Someone needs to come along and top Dick Hebdige’s _Subculture: The Meaning of Style_, and the smart money is on Dery here. 

    The hair metal bands did some appropriation, yes, but the significance of non-faux androgyny in suburban Unistat in the early 1970s ought not be sneezed at.

    1. Couldn’t agree more, Aram Jahn, and thanks for the kind words. Actually, I cite Hebdige in my essay; he’s thoughtful on the subject of glam, though his perspective is that of a British Marxist, which is useful regarding the economic subtext of glam’s escapist visions of luxury, elegance, and a world where aesthetics trump all else (“she keeps Moet et Chandon/ in a pretty cabinet/ let them eat cake she said/ just like Marie Antoinette”) but not so much when it comes to questions of gender and sexuality, which he’s largely silent on. And how can you be silent on gender and sexuality when you’re talking about glam?

      As for your unabashed Luddism, why not do as I’ve advised Greg Osborne, above—download the free Amazon app (Kindle for PC or Mac) and read it on your desktop or laptop or iPad, if you’re averse to e-readers? I honestly don’t know if the download will allow you to print it out, but it just might.

      If *that* doesn’t work for you, hell, PayPal .99 to Mark Frauenfelder and I’ll *personally* e-mail you a Word doc of the thing. Hath a writer any greater love for his readers? (That’s John 3:1, if you have your bible open as I preach…)

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