The Ziggy Zeitgeist

GLAMOROUS WORK: Ian Chapman as Dr Glam.
GLAMOROUS WORK: Ian Chapman as Dr Glam.

Ian Chapman exults in the laminated integrity of the 1970s.

The call it the decade taste forgot. The dummies. Was there ever a decade so vividly and voraciously tasty?

"We had oodles of taste," writes Ian Chapman in his retrospective of the 1970s New Zealand Glory Days: From Gumboots to Platforms.

Ian Chapman and his Mk 1 Ford Escort.
Ian Chapman and his Mk 1 Ford Escort.

"We wanted to taste anything and everything, and all at once if possible."

If things didn't go together naturally then the '70s had an emphatic solution. Orchestrate a blind date and put them together anyway.

"Brown vinyl lounge suite? I'd like you to meet bright orange carpet. Oh,you look so good together!"

Okay, yes, Chapman an academic at Otago University and a musician who performs under the persona Dr Glam agrees that sensory overload did become an issue, if only on a too-much-of-a-good-thing basis.

For his part, he has evidently had trouble moving on from what he describes as a decade that was a cabaret of influences.

"And just like a cabaret, the audience could boo, cheer or laugh in disbelief. Except, of course, we weren't in the audience we were part of the cast. And we were having fun."

IN the 1960s, when protest and body odour were in the wind, clothes and music were held to be an honest reflection of the inner-person.

Much good resulted, but there were at least two problems. One was that the blanket spurning of The Establishment could never sustain itself for long. Disorganisation carries with it, by its very nature, its own seed of destruction.

And something important was missing. The '60s ethos didn't allow for the concept of personal reinvention. So a rising generation emerged ready to kick against not only their parents' sensibilities, but also those of their elder siblings and that under-performing Age of Aquarius of theirs.

Suddenly, artifice was everywhere. Not such a bad thing, Chapman suggests.

Look at David Bowie. A failed rock star when he adopted the persona of Ziggy Stardust, but through that pretence became a bona fide star. Because, by golly, it turns out you could become what you pretend to be.

And why not?

"When you construct something like that, some sort of alter-ego, it's still drawn from within, from some aspect of your own persona.

"I pretend therefore I am," says Chapman, who is now an executant lecturer in contemporary music at Otago University.

His is far from the only voice in his book. Among the Southland contributors, we have Chris Knox buying Abba albums, if only to keep the flatmates from putting on Yes or Steely Dan. We have a young Hilary Muir in Layard St, Invercargill, mooning over her surely upcoming romance with Donny Osmond, and dividing up his brothers with her friend Bridget. (Nobody wanted Jay).

And we have Southlander Wade Paterson, just home from secondary school in Dunedin, stepping off the Gore Railway station wearing turquoise flares, an orange grandpa shirt, short denim jacket, fringed-leather wristband, velvet choker and purple shoes, to meet his Dad.

"He made me walk 20 yards behind him up the street in case someone saw him with a 'hippy'."

Alistair Riddel, Sharon O'Neill, Marilyn Waring, Dylan Horrocks, Tui Flower, the Wizard, Rosemary McLeod, John Minto and of course Dougal Stevenson provide their perspectives too.

Chapman says his book is the story of anyone who drove a Mk 1 Ford Escort in four-inch platform soles while sucking on a Moggy Man lemonade iceblock and getting hit in the head by your own fuzzy dice as you took corners too fast.

Or if you left your pre-pubescent, undeveloped manhood dangling on the T-shift of a Raleigh Chopper when you hit the curb at pace while posing too hard in front of Sharon and Donna from around the corner.

Or tripped over your own flares while dancing to David Bowie, Suzie Quatro or Gary Glitter.

So, Mr Chapman, did you spot Quatro on Australian Idol last week?

Not yet, he says, speaking from his Dunedin home, though someone's recorded it for him. Last he heard, though, she was still pounding out the excitement like a good'un.

And if the face atop the leather jumpsuit, and the form within it, had reached undeniable middle-age so what?

People can't fight the aging process, Chapman says, though their clothing can attain a hell of an afterlife.

Unlike all those natural hippy fibres, "our exquisite battle-dresses would never break down and return to the earth. Far too many chemicals for that".

The moths of the world went hungry in the '70s, but polyester looked fantastic, Chapman contends.

"It would pout, stamp its foot and put its hand on its hip rather than suffer the ignominy of wrinkling. It was also totally colour-fast and almost indestructible, unless perhaps you were unlucky enough to stand too close to a heat source and went up like a roman candle."

Even food was fabulously processed. Chesdale cheese triangles had the texture of plastic.

Chapman isn't blind to the frustrations of the era. He sympathises, he really does, with those underlings who sought to proclaim his willingness to Stick It To The Man by showing up to work in a luminous four-inch-wide tie.

Only to find what? The Man was wearing one too. And, perhaps, a purple polyester suite.

In contrast to the dull lack of adventure in men's fashion nowadays, back then high-end fashion wasn't all that much more adventurous than the offerings at the local menswear shop.

It was an age of artificiality. Formica, aakronite, crimplene, bri-nylon, aluminium, laminex, duragrain, duramat, vinyl, gibraltar board, terylene, fibrolite, polyester. Showy substitutes so much more advanced than the real thing like wool or timber or marble.

Chapman admits that some of the colours "surely came straight from Beelzebub's fiery bottom via the troubled minds of scientists and chemists".

These were men (mainly) whose collective time had come.

"Men who lacked even the chill-out skills required to be a hippy in the 1960s and who had instead found solace in books, Bunsen burners and amateur chemistry sets."

Design failures are recorded, dutifully. Soap on a rope was always better as an idea than a product. It didn't matter whether the brand was English Leather, Brut, Old Spice or Tabac Original, the same problem emerged.

A new cake of gleaming perfect soap on a rope was guaranteed to transform itself into two pathetic dried, cracked and misshapen pieces on the floor of your shower, within days of being unwrapped, leaving the forlorn rope dangling uselessly from above.

If 1970s television taught us anything beyond the unassailable truth that The Wacky Races was the skyscraperly epitome of the animator's art, it was that Americans were the cleanest, shiniest people in the world and had lives, families and pets as perfect as their teeth.

Brits, however, lived in run-down tenements, scoffing `addock and chips and mushy peas, and `opin some plod wouldn't come an' feel their collars.

Though Chapman's book is infused with personal memories it is also intended as a cultural coming-of-age story as New Zealand's traditional allegiances to England weakened, the mood of protest and liberation matured, sexual liberation, nuclear weaponry, power, race relations and biculturalism arose, and a sense that we had our own voice and views, and that these did not always harmonise with those of our traditional allies.

But nowhere, nowhere at all, is it heavy going. It's a book of brightly coloured memories about a decade lived loud.

Glory Days: From Gumboots to Platforms, by Ian Chapman (aka Dr Glam), published by HarperCollins, RRP: $39.99, is on sale from October 1.wIan Chapman and his alter-ego Dr Glam, are headed for Invercargill and Stewart Island on October 15 and 16, under the auspices of the New Zealand Book Month.wOn Thursday, October 15 he will be at SIT Centrestage at midday to perform, read from, talk about Glory Days and answer questions.

That evening he will be at the Southland Musicians' Club, doors opening 7.30pm, starting 8pm. Both events are free and open to the public.

» On Friday, October 16 he will give an 11am performance at the Stewart Island Community Centre. The book will be on sale and 20 per cent of the proceeds will go to the Stewart Island Library.

Dr Glam released his first CD and DVD, the glam-jazz influenced Glitterspreader last year and is currently recording a sparkle-heavy glam-goth album.

The Southland Times