16 March 2009

A wizard, a true star

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Marc Bolan, born Mark Feld in 1947, was for a time in the 1970s one of the major figures in the British pop scene.  His group T.Rex began as a whimsical hippie troupe, issuing an LP in 1968 with the famously long-winded title My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair... But Now They're Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows.  But as the rock scene grew louder T.Rex became cheerleaders for glam rock, with corkscrew-haired Bolan cast as the glitter pop king and style-setter while Slade brought a rougher, knockabout laddish sensibility to the table and David Bowie cornered the market on wildly inventive androgynous art rock. 

From Ride A White Swan in October 1970 to The Groover in June 1973 T.Rex dominated the British singles charts, with ten top five releases in a row, including four chart toppers: Hot Love, Get It On, Telegram Sam and Metal Guru (my favourite).  After that heyday Bolan’s popularity subsided and his music became somewhat formulaic, never regaining his early 70s peak. 

On 16 September 1977, the day that Maria Callas died, Bolan was being driven home by his girlfriend Gloria Jones (who in 1964 recorded Tainted Love, the song later covered with considerable success by Soft Cell).  At a notorious accident black spot on Queens Ride in Barnes, southwest London, the car left the road and crashed into a sycamore tree, killing Bolan instantly and seriously injuring Jones.  Bolan died just short of his 30th birthday.

I paid a visit to the site this weekend.  In later years the tree has become a shrine for Bolan fans, and two small monuments have been erected at the site.  Queens Ride is a narrow, dangerous piece of road and you can see how easy it would have been for a momentary driving error to turn into a catastrophe. 

Here he is in happier days, performing a typical Bolan number: the deliriously catchy and utterly meaningless Jeepster from the Electric Warrior album, captured live in the 1972 Ringo Starr-directed concert film Born To Boogie.

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