Introduction

Nick DeAngelis recently wrote a paper about Mott as part of his college coursework, and has now kindly submitted it for publication. He tells me "It's basically about Mott's place in the glam rock movement and youth culture and recieved an 'A' in my Communications 322 course - Media Criticism."

I have presented it "as is", with no editorial meddling my me, other than slight formatting changes.

The paper

The Oracles of Glam Rock - Ian Hunter and Mott the Hoople

In the early 1970s, many youths were lured away from mainstream pop/rock acts such as Three Dog Night, America, and Blood, Sweat and Tears by the emerging style of glam rock. Glam (or glitter) rock was conceived by a number of male artists who posed in androgynous forms with a flamboyant version of powerful rock music. A wave of British artists such as T. Rex, Elton John, and especially David Bowie opened up questions of sexual identity to youth culture on a more intense level than ever before.

Glam rock and its proponents implied that youth could experiment with lifestyles without conviction or consequences. While artists such as David Bowie were open about their bisexuality, the image produced was more a media-hyped style than a youth/sex, gay rights revolution. That's not to say that gay/bisexuality people didn't "come out of the closet" because of Bowie and the genre, but it did little to inform young people about the issues and problems concerning this lifestyle. Young boys dressed in Ziggy Stardust's gender-bending space-alien drag like David Bowie just as young girls would carry around pictures of Davis Cassidy.

Further reinforcing the idea that glam rock's anti-establishment style was generally more attractive to youth than any message of sexual identity was the success of many vocally heterosexual artists. Alice Cooper, and later Twisted Sister, used makeup and female attire as part of their stage shows yet were popular with straight males because they were still perceived as masculine. Others still tried to justify glam rock's subcultural role by promoting the idea that the genre was dissolving the star/fan division. Many glam stars, however, merely became teen idols which young people could imitate, not associate with.

Out of the glam artists of the time, only Mott the Hoople succeeded in providing young male fans with both strikingly engrossing entertainment and concerned social guidance. Strangely enough, neither the band, its message, nor many of their fans were gay/bisexual, contrary to the genre's formation. However, the band and especially its frontman Ian Hunter, created a bond with their straight male fans while providing a trained eye into day-to-day youth life that gay glam rarely accomplished. Mott the Hoople had an influence and direction in the shaping of a young male subculture that no other glam rock group of the period could claim.

Ian Hunter and Mott the Hoople, while widely considered as glam rock artists, had a style which revealed distinct differences which eventually distanced them from David Bowie's camp. In their incorporation of "glitter" garb, Mott had a toned down androgyny and looked more like many hard rock bands of the time such as Led Zeppelin. Also, Hunter's combination of introspective, Dylan-ish lyrics and heavy, metallic Rolling Stones swagger was unlike any other glam rock artist of that period. For the purposes of differentiation, I refer to Mott's style as "Back Alley Glam Rock." It provided a somewhat showy image used for entertainment with a wide social knowledge formed by personal experience and local influence.

Mott the Hoople's version of All the Young Dudes, written by David Bowie, became the recognized anthem of glam rock. The song spoke to Bowie followers, but demonstrated everything he could not achieve with his style. It acted as both a liberational and image-producing device for Bowie-ites and a call for brotherhood among Mott's young, disillusioned male rockers. It was Ian Hunter's persona which generated true emotion and a relation to real life that David Bowie's over-glamourized Ziggy character often wasted.

Subsequent projects by Mott worked to build upon the relationship between the band and its followers. The "dudes" were a group of young males who were intelligent, concerned, aspiring and inspired, but having difficulty finding their way in an ever subordinating society. Ian Hunter's creation of a referent between his personal life and youth subculture allowed Mott's version of glam rock to speak to these fans on deeper level than just image alone. He downplayed his role as a rock star and put his fans on the same level as himself by presenting a common ground. Being a struggling youth at one time, even on the verge of breaking-up the band at one point, Hunter understood the fatalism many of these kids had and lent a hand. Many songs, such as Ballad of Mott and Hymn for the Dudes, spoke of the need for perseverance when all seems dark. Hunter also promoted the respect and influence of one's past on both a personal and musical level, as well as the guidance and support a women can provide. In The Golden Age of Rock and Roll he praises early rock and its positive effect on his youth, while Saturday Gigs bids a fond remembrance of Mott's humble beginnings and how they formed the vision of what they had become.

On stage, Mott the Hoople was able to fulfill glam rock's boast of closing the star/fan gap. They invited fans on-stage during their performances, once provoking a riot at London's Albert Hall which resulted in a ban on rock shows at that venue. The band steadfastly believed that a guitar could speak to youth in a way that nothing else could. It lifted young men out of the drudgery of everyday life into a world in which they could act on impulse and emotion (or dare I say, heart). Each show was as important to Mott and the "dudes" as Woodstock was to the flower-power generation.

After Mott the Hoople's breakup in 1975, Ian Hunter continued to lead the back-alley glam movement his former band created. With a series of solo albums into the early 1980s, Hunter remained the wise big brother of the "dudes." He continued to offer first-hand commentary on everything from love to the perils of drug addiction. As both an entertainer and a role model, he understood the value of youth frolic and, at the same time, expressed genuine concern for their hidden frustrations. Mott the Hoople and Ian Hunter "raised" a group of young men who could better identify and work to rectify their problems with the help of each other, and both acknowledge and respect the various social forces which shaped them. Without being preachy, Ian Hunter (through the genre of glam rock) produced his message in a logical context, giving the "dudes" something to believe in and live by.

Bibliography

  • Cagle, Van M. Reconstructing Pop/Subculture: Art, Rock, and Andy Warhol. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1995.
  • Frith, Simon. Sound Effects. New York: Pantheon Books, 1991.
    Mott the Hoople. The Ballad of Mott: A Retrospective. Columbia/Legacy, C2K 46973, 1991.

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Copyright © 1997 Adrian Perkins; Paper © 1997 Nick DeAngelis