Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, and David Bowie are irresistible figures of fascination, who, today, are often mentioned in the same breath because their careers and the music they created are inexorably linked with the golden age of glam. But before meeting each other in the early ‘70s, these three were not necessarily the men you would expect to lead a glittery revolution, let alone become to become big stars doing so. Lou Reed was simply a songwriter—admittedly, one who had experienced a cult celebrity standing—struggling to find his way without the Velvet Underground. Iggy Pop was ever the wild child, naturally, but he hadn’t yet figured out how to channel that energy into constructive, rather than destructive, pursuits. And David Bowie, in his as-yet-unsuccessful bids for fame, had already made as many musical and stylistic shifts as he would later make costume changes.
But when they met, something changed. It seems, somehow, that each was a catalyst the others needed to accelerate their rise to stardom. So surmises Dave Thompson in Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell: The Dangerous Glitter of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed. Using his collected interviews with friends, associates, and hangers-on, as well as with his subjects, Thompson (Never Fade Away: The Kurt Cobain Story, Hallo Spaceboy: The Rebirth of David Bowie, Wall of Pain: The Life of Phil Spector) constructs a story that follows Reed, Pop, and Bowie from their humble musical beginnings in the ‘60s, past their failures, false starts, and fringe status, up to their transformation into the holy trinity of what was to become glam rock.
At times, one gets the sense, especially in the first half of the book, that Thompson would have liked to have called it The Dangerous Glitter of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed, according to Nico, as she seems to have been his primary source. This is all well and good, because she was one of the most important, if not always most influential, people to have known all three artists at crucial points in their careers, but sometimes Thompson’s narrative strays too far from relating Nico’s reflections on them, and starts to be solely about her. It’s riveting—and I cannot wait to see what happens when he dedicates a whole book to her, in this period, specifically—but it occasionally gets irritating when Thompson wanders off on a heavily accented, beautifully enunciated tangent and the reader must wait three pages to pick up the original threads of the tale.
This doesn’t only occur with Nico. Though she is an understandably central figure, a host of characters—mostly Factory folk and MainMan employees—also weigh in on various points with somewhat distracting results. Much of the time, however, Thompson is able to weave these seemingly random anecdotes into a sensible story; at least events tend to tie in to each other by the end of chapters. It’s just that, again, with all of the intermittently inserted asides and oddly placed back-stories on minor players it is sometimes difficult to recall where he was headed by the time he gets back to Bowie, Pop, or Reed.
But when Thompson does get back to them, Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell does an amazing job of detailing how this musical ménage a trois interacted with each other and combined to change the cultural landscape. Many people know that Bowie produced Transformer, putting his glittery, British fingerprints all over Reed’s New York stories, giving him his first worldwide hit record. Most people are aware that Bowie also had his hands in Iggy and the Stooges’ Raw Power, and no matter what your opinions of his version of the mix, it’s that album that provided a prototype for punk rock. It’s obvious that Reed and Pop influenced Bowie musically and personally during this period and, of course, everyone can see the effect they had visually, especially in the evolution of Ziggy Stardust (though they aren’t the only ones to contribute to that character). What’s not always been obvious is the way in which these relationships were reciprocal. However unbalanced they may have seemed from time to time (Bowie, for instance, is often accused of stealing his ideas, his songs, even his mannerisms from the other two), these artists’ interactions were definitely mutual exchanges.
Clearly, they were also mutually beneficial, otherwise there would be no glam rock, no punk, no experimental avant-rock, and Reed, Pop, and Bowie might have faded into obscurity. Though it’s impossible to say exactly what it was about their collision that caused all three to go supernova in the ‘70s, the insights into the symbiotic nature of their careers and lives that Thompson presents are what make Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell: The Dangerous Glitter of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed absolutely fascinating.