- Category : Singer - Popular
- Type : MGP
- Profile : 3/5 - Martyr / Heretic
- Definition : Split - Small (9,16,27,57)
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Service 3
Marc Bolan (born Mark Feld; 30 September 1947 - 16 September 1977), was an English singer, songwriter and guitarist whose hit singles, fashion sensibilities and stage presence with T. Rex in the early 1970s helped cultivate the glam rock era and made him one of the most recognisable stars in British music of the time. His death, two weeks before his 30th birthday, contributed to giving him a cult status which remains to this day.
Early life and career
The son of a Jewish van driver and caretaker, Bolan grew up in post-war Hackney in East London and later lived in Wimbledon, southwest London. He fell in love with the rock and roll of Gene Vincent and Chuck Berry at an early age and became a Mod, hanging around coffee bars such as the 2 I's in Soho. He appeared in an episode of the television show Orlando as a Mod extra.
At the age of nine, Bolan was given his first guitar and began a skiffle band shortly after. At 14, he was expelled from school. At this time in his life he met Martha Rosenbaum at the local youth club. It is believed they had a brief romance and she later was the inspiration for his great success. His rebellious streak came out in the wild hair and the often sexual lyrics of the early 1970s star.
He briefly became a model then, in early 1967, he joined the protopunk band John's Children, which achieved some success as a live band but sold few records. A John's Children single written by Marc Bolan called Desdemona might have had some chart success but was banned by the BBC for its line "lift up your skirt and fly". When the band dissolved, Bolan claimed to have spent time with a wizard in Paris who allegedly gave him secret knowledge and could levitate. The time spent with him was often alluded to but remained "mythical"; in reality the wizard was probably U.S. actor Riggs O'Hara with whom Bolan made a trip to Paris in 1965. His song writing took off and he began writing many of the neo-romantic songs that would appear on his first albums with Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Bolan's stage name possibly originated as a contraction of Bob Dylan's name, from an error on a Decca record label, Mark Bowland, or from James Bolam, the British actor with whom Marc shared a flat in the early 1960s.
Besides Berry, Bolan's influences included Bob Dylan, Cliff Richard and Elvis Presley. Later influences included the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and the Beach Boys.
Having once busked his songs on the streets of London, earning enough money for the fare home, Bolan wasn't exactly unprepared when John's Children collapsed (among other problems, the band were stunned to discover their equipment stolen from a studio, according to a Bolan biographer). Bolan and John's Children drummer Steve Peregrin Took created Tyrannosaurus Rex, a psychedelic-folk rock acoustic duo, playing Bolan's deceptively melodic songs---complete with J.R.R. Tolkien-influenced lyrics---with Took playing assorted hand and kit percussives and occasional bass to Bolan's ringing acoustic guitars and distinctive, quavery voice.
This edition of Tyrannosaurus Rex released three albums and four singles, flirting with the charts, getting as high as number fifteen and getting airplay and support from Radio 1 DJ John Peel. One of the highlights of this era was playing at the first free Hyde Park concert in 1968. Took either quit or was fired from the group after their first American tour over the direction in which Bolan wanted to take the music. A rock and roller at heart, Bolan began bringing amplified guitar lines into the duo's music, buying a vintage Gibson Les Paul guitar (later featured on the cover of the album T. Rex in 1970). After replacing Took with Mickey Finn, he let the electric influences come forward even further on A Beard of Stars, the final album to be credited to Tyrannosaurus Rex. It closed with a song, "Elemental Child", featuring a long electric guitar break influenced by Jimi Hendrix.
Then Bolan---by now married to his girlfriend June Child (a former secretary to the manager of another of his heroes, Syd Barrett)---shortened the group's name to T. Rex and wrote and recorded "Ride a White Swan", dominated by a rolling, handclapping backbeat, Bolan's fuzzy, spiky electric guitar and Finn's almost whimsical hand percussives.
T. Rex and glam rock
Bolan and his producer Tony Visconti sorted out the session for "Ride a White Swan" and the single changed Bolan's career almost overnight. Recorded on 1 July 1970 and released that autumn, making slow progress in the UK Top 40, it finally peaked in early 1971 at No.2. Bolan and Visconti largely (and, in many ways, unwittingly) invented the style that would become glam rock and helped restore a brash and exciting feel, when rock bands had grown increasingly self-important. With his corkscrew hair and boyish good looks, Bolan's emergence heralded the start of a new era of British music which could be appreciated by both serious rock fans and pop-loving kids.
Bolan took to wearing top hats and feather boas on stage as well as putting drops of glitter on each of his cheekbones (stories are conflicting about his inspiration for this---some say it was initially introduced by his PA, the late Chelita Secunda, although Bolan told John Pidgeon in a 1974 interview on Radio 1 that he noticed the glitter on his wife's dressing table prior to a photo session and just casually daubed some on his face there and then). Other performers---and their fans---soon took up variations on the idea.
The glam era also saw the rise of Bolan's friend David Bowie, whom Bolan had got to know in the underground days (Bolan had played guitar on a few early Bowie recordings) and later bands like Slade and The Sweet. Before long, even Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart and Grand Funk Railroad dabbed on a little glitter.
Bolan followed "Ride a White Swan" and T. Rex by expanding the group to a quartet with bassist Steve Currie and drummer Bill Legend, and cutting a five-minute single, "Hot Love", with a rollicking rhythm, string accents and an extended singalong chorus inspired somewhat by the Beatles's "Hey Jude". It was No.1 for six weeks and was quickly followed by "Get It On", a grittier, more adult tune that spent four weeks in the top spot. The song was renamed "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" when released in the United States, to avoid confusion with another song of the same name by the American band Chase. The song reached No.10 in the States, the only such American hit T. Rex would enjoy.
In November 1971, the band's record label, Fly, released the Electric Warrior track "Jeepster" without Bolan's permission. Outraged, Bolan took advantage of the timely lapsing of his Fly Records contact and left to EMI, who gave him his own record label, the T. Rex Wax Co. Its bag and label featured an iconic head-and-shoulders image of Marc. Despite Bolan's lack of endorsement, "Jeepster" still peaked at No.2.
In 1972, Bolan achieved two more British No.1s with "Telegram Sam" and "Metal Guru"---the latter of which stopped Elton John getting to the top with "Rocket Man"---and two more No.2s in "Children Of The Revolution" and "Solid Gold Easy Action". The total of four No.2 singles particularly galled his fans as three were held off the top spot by 'novelty' singles recorded by Clive Dunn, Benny Hill and little Jimmy Osmond. In the same year he appeared in Ringo Starr's film Born to Boogie, a documentary showing the height of T. Rextasy during a concert at Wembley Empire Pool on 18 March 1972. Mixed in were surreal scenes shot at John Lennon's mansion in Ascot and a super-session with T. Rex joined by Ringo Starr on second drum kit and Elton John on piano. At this time T. Rex record sales accounted for about 6% of total British domestic record sales. The band was reportedly selling 100,000 records a day; however, no T. Rex single ever became a million-seller in the UK, despite many gold discs and an average of four weeks at the top per No.1 hit. (Documentation of actual sales has been lost.)
By 1973, his star gradually began to wane, even though he achieved a Number 3 hit with arguably his most famous tune to the next generation, "20th Century Boy". "The Groover" followed it to No.4, to become arguably Bolan's last hit of significance.
Eventually, the vintage T. Rex line-up disintegrated. Legend left in 1973 and Finn in 1975 and Bolan's marriage came to an end. He began an affair with backing singer Gloria Jones and disappeared for much of the next three years, continuing to release singles and albums less popular to the masses. However, he managed to score one more UK Top 20 hit per year until 1977. Around this time, Bolan's health began to fail seriously as he put on weight and became addicted to cocaine.
Gloria Jones gave birth to Bolan's son in September 1975, whom they named Rolan Bolan (although his birth certificate lists him as 'Rolan Seymour Feld'; compare David Bowie's son Zowie Bowie). That same year, Bolan returned to the UK from tax exile in the U.S. and to the public eye with a low-key summer tour. Bolan made regular appearances on the LWT pop show Supersonic, directed by his old friend Mike Mansfield and released a succession of singles, but he never regained the success of his glory days of the early 1970s. The last remaining member of Bolan's halcyon era T. Rex, Currie, left the group in 1976.
In 1977, Granada Television commissioned Bolan to front a six-part series called Marc, where he introduced new and established bands and performed his own songs. Around this time Bolan lost weight, appearing nearly as trim as he had during T. Rex's earlier heyday. The show was broadcast during the post-school half-hour on ITV earmarked for children and teenagers; it was a big success. The last episode featured a unique Bolan duet with David Bowie.
Bolan got a new band together and set out on a fresh UK tour, taking along punk band The Damned as support to entice a young audience who did not remember his heyday.
Bolan died on September 16, 1977, two weeks before his 30th birthday. He was a passenger in a purple Mini driven by Gloria as they headed home from Mortons drinking club and restaurant in Berkley Square. The speeding car struck a tree after spinning out of control near Gypsy Lane on Queens Ride, Barnes, southwest London. Bolan's home, which was less than a mile away, was immediately looted.
At Bolan's funeral, attended by the likes of Bowie and Rod Stewart, a swan-shaped floral tribute was displayed outside the service in recognition of his breakthrough hit single. His ashes lie at Golders Green Crematorium.
Bolan never drove a car or learned to drive, as he feared he would die driving like James Dean. Despite this, cars or automotive components are at least mentioned in, if not the subject of, many of his songs. He also owned a number of vehicles, including a famed white Rolls Royce.
Some devotees view the sycamore tree that the car crashed into as a shrine to his memory. The site now forms the Bolan's Rock Shrine memorial. A bronze bust of Marc Bolan at the site commemorated the 25th anniversary of his death in 2002. The bust was unveiled by his son Rolan and the event was attended by fans, friends and colleagues, including Mickey Finn.