Glitter Faggots from Space (or Why I Wrote Young Americans)
“Who was the original Bond?” my son Dylan asked me Saturday driving home from our weekly date.
“Sean Connery.” I was confident I had this one.
“Wrong, Dad. Pierce Brosnan.” I started to argue, but realized he was correct. Dylan was using original to mean best, truest. The best Bond is who played him when you became old enough to discover cool. Cool is personal and generational. Same is true for music.
In the mid 1970s I discovered musical cool, Glitter Rock (or Glam – the predominant label outside of a few of us NorCal kids.) The four years between the ages of 13 to 17 were wild flashing stoned drunk dancing fucking fighting four-wheel-drifting in a Bonneville heartbreaking transforming years. We, to paraphrase Bowie, balled and played and moved like tigers on Vaseline. A magical time of sexual exploration and fluid gender boundaries. Punk’s anger was tame compared to Glitter’s mantra of we fuck anyone. It never occurred to me that Freddie Mercury was gay, because it didn’t matter. We experimented with everything—drugs, sure, but also 8mm filmmaking, storytelling, writing, theater, music. We were young, hung and way too bright for our own good. These were the beguiling years before AIDs, heroin overdoses and that killer of so many of our best minds: household bills and the jobs we took to knock them out.
I was asked why I wrote a heist novel set in the seventies. To trace the genesis of Young Americans, I found the reasons were part a psychological and part a personal history. The psychology is simple—the three Moses McGuire crime novels dealt with sex for sale and how we treat young women in the modern world. The more I read and researched, the more interviews of sex workers I did, the darker the books got. One More Body took me to the conclusion that the only solution was to start gunning down johns. The writing became broodier, angrier, bloodier; I needed to put a barrel in my mouth or lighten the fuck up. I was recovering with my wife, my brother and my sister-in-law on Martha’s Vineyard when I scribbled two words: disco heist. The idea made me laugh.
The personal history is more complex. The title comes from a Bowie song. Bowie is my cool. My love of the shapeshifting rockstar started, like many bad habits, with older siblings. I was 12 when I made the trek from NorCal to LA to visit my older sister. The entire ceiling of her living room was carpeted with tiny pink plastic babies. Hung from fishing line, the cherubs rippled in the breeze. She and her boyfriend had finches uncaged and flying free. They played music loud and ate what they wanted for dinner. If this was what emancipation looked like, sign me up. She sent me home with big dreams and a sweet time bomb in the form of Bowie’s Hunky Dory, a gateway LP into Glitter Rock.
My brother is 18 months older, and back then I idolized him. Transferring from a hippy elementary school to a ghetto high school was terrifying. To survive I tried to mimic my brother’s cool. Skintight Sticky Finger jeans, commando. Marilyn Monroe silkscreened tee shirt, a size too small. Long scarf, bright and flowing. Shag haircut. Sunglasses, worn day and night. The funk style of East Palo Alto added its flavor—platforms, a pimp fedora and a Super Fly leather blazer. We listened to Parliament and Bootsy. Me and Mrs. Jones rode with a diamond in the back and the sunroof top.
We also listened to The Stones, The Who, The Kinks, B.B. King—all great stuff, but not mind-blowing. Then I was rutting around in the bins in a used record store and I discovered Aladdin Sane. When Bowie sang, Suck baby suck, give me your head before you start professing that you’re knocking me dead, my horny virginal brain exploded. Young people believe they invented sex, or at least perfected it. Glitter Rock confirmed that idea for me.
I was listening to Aladdin Sane the first time my path crossed with Tad Williams. He came over with my little sister and some other friends. In my memory he was wearing a top hat with bug antennae sprouting from the sides. He was smart and freakin’ cool, in way that might not get me shot. (Something that couldn’t be said about my then high school running mates.) Had I known that meeting was the beginning of a lifetime friendship, I would have taken a snapshot, or made a commemorative tea cozy.
Transferring from Ravenswood High School to the suburban Pally, life got a hell of a lot less dangerous. I was either getting stoned in the parking lot or doing Lou Reed impersonations in theater class the next time I saw Tad. He was the singer in a theatrical brain-fucked epic rock band—IDIOT, as in, “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” From Macbeth. “Glitter Faggots from Space” was one of their songs: We aren’t English, but we almost are. I once saw Marc Bolan’s car. Our lyrics are dirty. We’re under thirty. Everyone here is a potential star! Tad had a way with words even then. Idiot took on the apocalypse and bowling with equal levels of sincerity and irony. Tad, Andy, Rick, Tom and Paul or Pat (rotating drummers) could have been huge in London, Berlin or Prague. Palo Alto was a harder sell.
Me, I was born to be a rock star. Sure, I had a total lack of rhythm and I’m tone deaf, but except for those minor points I was perfect—tall, skinny, pale and full of swagger. I hung with Idiot, went to gigs, spoke with an English accent, drank rum and Coke, made out with fans—it was grand.
OK, that explains the Glitter Rock part of Young Americans. What about the Disco, right? At that same time I fell for an older woman. (I was a sophomore, she was a senior.) Cross Marilyn Monroe with Betty Boop, you get Bernadette Peters… or my high school paramour. She taught me to make sloe gin fizzes, dress like a rock star by shoplifting high-end clothes, and how to get into The City, San Fransisco’s biggest gay disco. We danced our asses off, high on amyl, ludes, rum and lust.
By the time I was sixteen, my brother was running a teen disco in Palo Alto called My-O-My, on Homer and High. I alternated between bouncer and DJ. All our friends either worked or partied with us at the club. We spun James Brown, Ohio Players and Wild Cherry. On the dance floor they did the Hustle and Body Heat. After hours we did Bacardi and Coke. We danced and fucked and laughed to Bowie and Iggy and The Tubes and Sparks and Mott the Hoople and Mick Ronson until the sky grew pale and we crept into bed.
That covers Glitter Rock and Disco. As for the crime part, my memoir was nominated for and Anthony Award in the true crime category. ‘Nuff said.
I think the last word should be given to a teenage Tad…
“Move over Bowie, sit down KISS, we got a chance now we can’t miss. Wearing our leathers, fur and feathers, Hollywood’ll tell you glitter is bliss.”