Lawrence Welk, in introducing a song once, noted the sweeping cultural changes of the 1960′s. He very briefly noted it, in fact, by simply remarking on “…all th’ new clooothes…”
Just like that: you may sweep away the civil rights movement, forget the protests against the Vietnam War, ignore the emergence of identity politics, shrug at the manifold politically motivated murders and all this enormously important shit by briefly awakening from your slumber and noting that everybody seemed to go get a whole buncha weird lookin’ clothes in the last ten years…
This being Larry, of course the hip, up-to-date number this all reminded him of was “Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” from 1964′s Hello Dolly! which so gloriously misses the point.
But what if that is all that really changed? Sometimes I wonder. There were some political breakthroughs, but they were slow to trickle down to the populace at large. What yer average ‘Murkan seems to have come away with was that It’s Okay To Smoke Pot now, and It’s Okay To Wear Weird Clothes.
Well? You ever look at pictures of your grandparents from the early ’70′s? Gramma and Grampa look like Merry Pranksters: he’s got these giant lapels with huge white stitching on his mint-green sports jacket he’s wearing with checked pants, and she’s wearing a fucking go-go dress with some sort of op-art madness all over it. They look like they’re jacked to the tits on something, but no: they’re on their way to a meeting of the Rotary Club.
By the time the ’70′s got going in earnest, it had long ceased to be about conciousness expansion and much more about getting fucked up. Also, it was less about personal expression in your appearance so much as it was…Opposite Day, or something. By now, the biggest, most homophobic football mutant in all of Indiana looked like somebody’s mom. It was the way boys dressed now, no matter how the Lawrence Welk generation may snicker. And it was all Rock n’ Roll’s fault.
Case in point: Aerosmith‘s first album. These too are just a bunch of guys from the midwest who want nothing more to guzzle cheap domestic brew and score some nookie. Their higher aspirations -such as they are- include “sleepin’ late n’ smokin’ tea,” as they observe in the song ‘Mama Kin.’
But look at what they’re wearing. Starting from left, Joey Kramer is rocking a flowery number that wouldn’t look all that strange on a mariachi musician, but seems odd among your rockers and rollers. Joe Perry has given himself a little mini-bleach job, the results of which look like he’s got one of those feathers attached to a roach clip things in his hair. He sorta looks pissed off…in a mommish sort of way.
Tom Hamilton (center) looks like lots of rock stars have always looked, at least once we got done with ducktails. But Steven Tyler is wearing a brocade jacket. And like I noted, Brad Whitford looks like a nervous teenage girl.
Their next album has more or less the same picture, except Steven seems to be wearing a leotard and it’s in black n’ white, leading me to assume for years that it was the same album with a different cover.
Across the pond, Thin Lizzy was beginning their career. Hard dudes from the streets -can you imagine how rough it would probably be to be an actual black Irishman?- they nonetheless have to conform of the fashions of their time.
They are standing in a bombed-out shell of a house because unlike the rest of you singing your little songs about oppression and how you’re a street fighting man, there was actually a civil war going on around them as they tried to love everyone and be groovy. It would be a very large political statement indeed for a man to wear a blouse.
In fact, Scott Gorham (far right) is wearing just that. It’s flowery, and it’s nearly open to his navel. His long, luxuriantly combed tresses and his cheeky, aggressive stance are augmented by the amount of face make up somebody has decided to put all over him.
It’s no wonder somebody decided to release this as an alternate cover. Like I said, it’s not like things changed much at street level as regards gender politics. American males were bands like this one’s biggest audience, and it’s one of the great mysteries of the Seventies that a bunch of dudes as scared of lookin’ like sissies as my older brother’s generation was were also the ones who got us all liking Queen and Elton John.
We had gone from doing transgressive things with our fashion choices to just plain old being strange-looking as a new sort of normal. I can’t say I’m for or against it; it’s just how it was. How even hillbilly-chic movies (which was also a thing) featured a soundtrack that inevitably sounded like Dan Fogelberg as recorded through a cardboard box, doin’ a Mountain Dew commercial. How all the ladies had decided that a denim cowboy shirt open to the navel with no bra was the way to spend the decade. We had all become freaks.
So here’s Bob. Kinda tough; the quintessential Rust Belt searcher. He has big dreams, like to get out, but by day he still works in a steel mill and is generally a badass. He remembers how it used to be, back in Detroit, Motor City.
That leather jacket is saying a lot. He may have feathered hair, but he’s kind of an urban cowboy -even though that whole thing hadn’t happened yet- a wanderer of the post-apocalyptic plains of ’70′s Malaise Economy. This is what Stagflation’s Road Warriors look like, listening to England Dan and John Ford Coley in brown shag-carpeted basemented clubs, bitterly complaining about those cheap Jap cars.
But look what they’re wearing on the back cover. As a guy who spent a fair amount of the ’90′s wearin’ dresses, I gotta say it: my god, sir. We’ve gone beyond blouses at this point to satin, pastel-colored pantsuits.
I get where the blouses came from: peasant wear, trying to look Exotic, or at least Foreign. We’ll say not-American. So that morphed into the man-blouse, but how the hell do you get to the man-pantsuit and the man-sarong? And tying the damn thing in a knot over your navel? What, are you Sandy fucking Duncan? Where is this leading?
It was leading to Styx, that’s where. This here is the sleeve to the single, “Babe” (#1, 1979). You see that we’re no longer talking about Boys With Long Hair, but Boys With Pretty Girl Hair. That shit (on Tommy Shaw and James Young, that is) is beyond feathered, even, but full on standing-in-front-of-a-mirror-with-a-curling-iron shit.
They’re not gay, though. Certainly not. Definitely not Glam, either. Because that shit’s weeeird. This is just how yer average dude in Middle America looked for his senior photo in high school on the cusp of the Eighties. Tommy Shaw in particular sports some fantastic gabardine slacks in a number of pics from this time period.
We had come all the way around, and in some ways you can already see the tide starting to roll back. Dennis DeYoung in the photo above is certainly trending a lot more toward what any decent Young Republican was about to look like in a few years: puffy fucking hair and and embarrassing moustache. Probably drove a T-top. But it’s okay, everything’s going to get much better.
Soon, all this freedom will seem oddly oppressive. What you’ll really want to do is challenge this orthodoxy by cutting your hair nice and short, maybe use some damn product in it; it wouldn’t kill ya’, you know. And perhaps if your clothes were less like your sister’s and a bit more like a costume out of a shitty space epic movie. You might could even dye your hair another color, but only a streak or something. Wouldn’t wanna look like a fag, dude.