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The Rise and Fall of the Boogie Poet: A Marc Bolan Retrospective

Recommended Tracks: 20th Century Boy (Tanx), Metal Guru (The Slider), Children Of The Revolution (single), Get It On (Electric Warrior), Hot Love (Electric Warrior), Telegram Sam (The Slider).

On the 15th of January, 2020, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced its inductees. Among some bizarre choices (rapper the Notorious B.I.G and pop singer Whitney Houston were honoured posthumously) and some insulting snubs (rock icons Motorhead and heavy-metal super-group Judas Priest) was the induction of T.Rex. Perhaps an unfamiliar reader may find themselves scratching their heads in confusion at the sudden appearance of a dinosaur's name in this article, but fear not, this is no sudden tangent into a crash-course on palaeontology. Formed in 1970, T.Rex was a glam-rock band that changed the face of rock and roll and, by extension, pop music, forever. With six percent of British domestic record sales belonging to the band by 1971, a feverish outbreak of hysteria that swept the nation's teenagers (did someone say Bolanmania?) and the creation of a sub-genre that would make its indelible mark in the music industry, it’s quite a surprise T.Rex weren't awarded their induction earlier.

And at the forefront of this, sadly killed in 1977 after a car crash at the shockingly young age of 29, was the pixie prince of glam rock, the glitter-cheeked, corkscrew haired rogue that sashayed into the forefront of British rock trailing feather boas and sequins, the hooded eyed boogie poet, the electric warrior.

His name was Marc Bolan.

Born in 1947 as Mark Feld, son of an Ashkenazi Jewish father and English mother, the boy who was soon to become Bolan (the 'k' from his first name was changed to a 'c' on the grounds that it sounded more French, Bolan being completely enamoured with the country's romantic culture) was as paradoxical in youth as he was in adult life. Expelled from school, he was quick to become a mod, even dubbing himself 'King Mod' in an example of the bombastic confidence and ego that would come to define his entire life. Flitting around the ever-growing counterculture of British youth at the time, Bolan was quick to become enraptured by artists of the likes of Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, Eddie Cochran and (of course) Elvis Presley. Heavily influenced by Regency-era-dandy Beau Brumell, obsessed with self-expression through clothing and determined to weave an intricate and outrageous web of mystery around his image and background, Bolan delved deeper into perfecting his ultimate creation: like the product of a sorcerous ritual, Mark Feld cast his most powerful spell, transmogrifying himself into Marc Bolan, exotic, quavering voice, airy sighs that sounded more French than English, and androgynous fashion that wouldn't look out of place in a Lewis Carol novel. In much the same way as Bob Dylan cemented his own legend of the traveling folk-singer, Bolan, a crackling, bedazzled daydreamer who adored epic poems and sagas of the Romantics and of fantastical creatures began his own utterly Bolanesque rise to fame. This was in no small part, due to a combination of the youth's seemingly endless stores of charisma, an innate ability to captivate and draw attention and his fae-like good looks. His long-time collaborator and producer Tony Visconti (who also worked with David Bowie) was quoted as saying:

“What I saw in Marc Bolan had nothing to do with strings, or very high standards of artistry, what I saw in him was raw talent. I saw genius. I saw a potential rock star in Marc- right from the minute, the hour I met him.”

After a series of questionably successful endeavours in songwriting, including the forming of psychedelic folk ballad duo Tyrannosaurus Rex with Steve Peregrin Took (who took his surname from one of the hobbits of Tolkien's The Lord of The Rings) and producing folk albums with exhaustively long titles such as (no joke) ‘My People Were Fair And Had Sky In Their Hair....But Now They're Content To Wear Stars on Their Brows,’ Bolan ditched Steve, replaced him with Micky Finn, picked up an electric guitar, and released his first true, great single under the eye of Visconti: ‘Ride A White Swan’, an insanely catchy ballad-like hit that combines a rollicking hand-clap back-beat with Bolan's delightfully nonsensical yet distinct lyrics, it peaked at number two in the Top 40 in 1971.

Later, Bolan would adorn his cheekbones with drops of glitter, spawning a movement that rocked the music world off its feet. Without Bolan, there would have been no Ziggy Stardust, no Slade, no Sweet, Roxy Music, Mott the Hoople or Alice Cooper. Abandoning the unquestionably masculine image of the buff, bare-chested rock “bad boy” Bolan instead embraced the frivolous excess of his new found success and alter-ego, paving the way for the gradual yet definite wearing down of gender roles and constraints in the entertainment industry, as he writhed and twisted on stage, his cheeks glimmering like gemstones, decked in elaborate, expensive silk and satin outfits, Oscar Wilde with a guitar. Whilst the rock-world scrambled to make another ‘Sgt Pepper’s’, Bolan took a step back and took his music back to the classic roots of the 50's, and with the aid of his band and Visconti's stellar production spawned a range of hit-singles, bedecked with string accents, slick, cocky horns and guitar licks, bass lines thrumming and thumping to the beat of a dance, adorned by Bolan's often bizarre, definitely outlandish lyrics that often sounded more like incantations that song writing (“you've got the teeth of the hydra upon you”) and other times were a cheeky wrist-flick to his detractors (“I drive a Rolls-Royce, 'cause its good for my voice”).

In the hands of anyone else they would have been schmaltzy, puerile, vapid tunes. Yet propelled by Bolan's ironclad confidence, his impenetrable image, almost-whispered vocals, the diminutive singer (5ft 5) was a larger than life superstar the likes the world hadn't seen since the Beatles (the name 'Trexstasy' was coined to describe the mania that gripped Britain) whose seemingly indomitable will, swagger and ego could not be conquered: for many years before his death Bolan yanked top spots in the charts from the likes of his long-time friend and rival David Bowie and even Elton John. However, as bright as Bolan's star burned, it would be quick to fade. Greeted by younger audiences who no longer remembered his heyday, wrested from his top spot by the Starman himself, floundering for new ideas (despite releasing the fantastic single, ‘20th Century Boy’) and failing to crack the US market, any chance of a comeback was taken from Bolan after his car, driven by his partner Gloria Jones crashed into a tree and killed him instantly.

43 years later, and Marc Bolan is now officially a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A vivid, often frustrating, overpowering personality, pioneer of a movement of musical self-expression and a reinvention of rock and roll that affects pop to this day. Influence to a hundred bands, from the Smiths, to Def Leppard, U2 and Joy Division, the Boogie Poet may have left this world early, but his legacy is not going anywhere anytime soon. And Bolan, who today would be 72, has earned a long overdue recognition of his craft.

Pablo L, Year 13

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