Sunday, 8 November 2015
REFLECTIONS ON A GENIUS LOST AND STILL LOVED
I don't recall the first time I ever saw the love of my life Marc Bolan, probably much later on Top of the Pops, but I do remember when I first heard his music. I was about nine or 10 years old and listening to Radio Luxenbourg on my transistor radio in bed under the blankets, so my mum didn't know I was still awake on a school night, when the strange and mystical sound of Ride a White Swan rose above the crackling sound of a station that Government tried to block by jamming and interfering with the signal at a time broadcasting was strictly controlled.
I wasn't the only one to be hooked after the first few notes. Millions of children and teenagers around the same age as me knew they were listening to something new, radical, and unlike anything we had heard before. This was music for our generation. My mum was into Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, my dad liked a bit of Beniamino Gigli and my older sisters were still following Elvis Presley and the Beatles even though Elvis was past his best and the Beatles were at the end of their career as a group and about to split up and go their separate ways. T.Rex and Marc Bolan were all about rock, free spirits, electric guitars, glitter, shine and poetic lyrics about wizards, elves, magic and the iconic beauty of Marc Bolan and his unique voice with a cockney twang that was music in itself.
We didn't own a record player when Ride a White Swan hit the charts but mum bought me and my sister a second hand High Fidelty record player to share and gave us some money to buy something we could play on it. The first record I bought was T.Rex's Get It On and with what I had left after spending 50p on it, I went into a second hand shop and bought a 1960s copy of the Tremeloes Greatest Hits and my sister bought the sound track to West Side Story which I had to endure before she had to endure Get it On over and over again. I'm surprised I didn't wear it out.
The Teenybopper phenomenon was born with the Beatles but became a fully fledged and intensive devotion with determination to grab a piece of this beautiful pop idol and his band T.Rex. Fans camped outside his home, followed him everywhere, and stole things if the opportunity arose as they did when T.Rex came to my home town. This wasn't because they were looking to make a few quid from selling on something of value because Marc had owned it, but rather because they wanted to be close to him and in the absence of being able to walk by his side hand in hand, they treasured any scrap of something they could say he had touched.
I eventually got to see my idol in the flesh when the new four piece band, formerly known as Tyrannosaurus Rex when it was an ethereal acoustic and bongo drums hippy duo, when they played at Lincoln's ABC cinema, 45 years ago tomorrow November 9th, 1971. My birthday was at the end of November so this was my birthday present and to date it remains the best I ever had although the satin jacket and Oxford bag trousers I got the year after were a close second.
I wore my older sister's smock top that night with jeans, I think, and we all sat timidly in rows as if sitting watching a film. I couldn't stay seated for long once the music began and got up and just started dancing on the spot. No one else did but Marc noticed me up there jigging about and stopped playing for a moment to say to the crowd :"C'mon be like that chick there and get up and dance." and the place exploded, others joined in, got to their feet and the place came alive. That was bound to be my overiding memory of the event but the other thing I remember is that the band played Jeepster, Marc said for the first time ever, before it was released as their next single.
It was years later when I worked at my local paper that I found the old report of the gig. I've still got it somewhere and read what I didn't know at the time which was that the group's car had been broken into by fans who stole things out of it. It was not me. I wasn't there. By then I guess we were on the bus home. I wonder if whoever stole stuff from the car still has it. Marc always seemed to take these things in his stride and once said in a TV interview that he didn't mind all these children hanging around but his neighbours often complained which caused him a bit of trouble.
As the 70s went on, I never fell out of love with Bolan and often bought T.Rex singles out of loyalty even when I was growing away from the sound as my musical passion moved towards Northern Soul, Tamla Motown and Phillidelphia.
I suppose most people know where they were when Bolan was tragically killed in a car accident driven by Northern Soul icon Gloria Jones I was in the kitchen at home when I lived in North Wales when it came on the TV news and someone shouted at me to come in watch it. It wasn't long after Elvis had died. Marc was just 29 years old. His home was raided by fans and many items were stolen. Like in Lincoln, I wonder if that stuff still exists, who has got it and whether or not they would ever return it to his son who, it appears, has little left of his father except for a few trinkets.
Bolan's music and style has immortalised him and left a legacy of greatness which inspired pop icons like David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Roxy Music. He also influenced a whole new generation of future musicians from punk, new wave, New Romantics, and Rock and he still has his army of fans and now belongs to them. Many Facebook pages are devoted to him and many fans uploads his music to YouTube for new generations to enjoy. But the saddest thing is that he never lived when he still had so much more to give to the world of art, music, literature and film. He was in all things a creative genius which is why I was taken aback with surprise when I recently mentioned him to my students and found that they didn't have a clue who he was.
It's a shame that his son Rolan hasn't made more of an impact in the mainstream. With music like this, he should have done and probably would have done had his father lived.
More than ever Marc now belongs to his fans who have created a shrine to their hero at the spot in Barnes, London, where the car driven by Gloria crashed into a tree. I must visit one day just to say thanks for my childhood memories and the music that will be with me all of my life.