Dude Looks Like A Lady: Straight Camp and the Homo-social World of Hard Rock.

Jack Burton


Madison Square Garden. 1973. Robert Plant, the 25 year old singer and frontman of Led Zeppelin, undoubtedly the world's biggest rock band, takes to the stage in front of another sell out crowd. He is dressed in his trademark outfit of blue denim jeans and snakeskin boots. His torso is conspicuously left uncovered beneath a blue shirt several sizes too small. His muscular biceps are hugged by its gathered sleeves, presumably worn with the intention of creating a sense of oriental opulence but actually suggesting nothing more exotic than a woman's blouse. As he flicks aside his lustrous mane of blond curls he delivers the opening lines of Black Dog in his trademark high-pitched wail; "Hey, hey, mama. Said the way you move. Gonna make you sweat. Gonna make you groove."

As this short description shows, Plant exhibits the androgynous appeal of the classic rock god in all his glory. That this androgyny came to function as a social marker of absolute masculinity, however, suggests a far more complex interplay of identities within the hard rock genre than the more obviously playful ambiguities explored by gender pioneers like David Bowie or Prince. That Robert Plant continues to be all man, while simultaneously looking and sounding like a woman, suggests that the straight camp of the rock god provides a more complex function than the questioning of gender roles. To discover what this function is, and its central role in the hard rock genre's categorization as a virtual bastion of unreconstructed masculinity, we must begin by sketching a brief history of its musical roots.

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