Girls, mostly young, went mad. Their eyes glazed in delirium. They danced adulatorily in the aisles. They emitted falsetto shrieks. It was all rather reminiscent of Beatlemania.
– from the Coulsden and Purley Advertiser, Surrey
It was berserk all over England and Europe. Theaters were stampeded, limousines were ripped and rent and stove in, a dozen were lost forever, and one night in Birmingham, twenty girls fought over a glass T. Rex left on stage and a lot of them got cut up grappling over the shards and shatters.
T. Rex had four number ones out of five in England last year, they sold four million odd records, more than the Beatles ever did in a year, more singles than all of the Who and Hendrix put together, more than four percent of the entire British market. Everywhere they went, they tore the place apart.
Marc Bolan’s been bubbling under all along, for more than ten years, ever since he used to help out at his Mum’s fruit stall in the Soho markets on a Saturday and hang out at the 2 I’s Coffee Bar listening to Hank Marvin. In different incarnations, Bolan’s been lurking in London for a long time, and there’s always been something ominous and alluring about him – he had all his moves down, and he had a lot of nerve and cocky talk and puppy flash and he had a lot of secret knowledge too, and, as he says, he finally had to do it, and do it fuckin’ big, because he’d been threatening to for so long some people wouldn’t believe him. He’s doing it now. He’s done it in England and Europe, and he’s about to do it here as sure as tyrannosauruses once roamed the earth and pterodactyls flew overhead and who knows if perhaps they still don’t.
T. Rex is a monster, and Marc, down on his knees in the last ecstatic throes of sheer carnal crotch rock, like a sinister little angel out of the densest and most exotic prison visions of Jean Genet, with glitter round his eyes and stars in his hair and dressed in satin and sequins and girl’s shoes from Anello and Davide’s, Marc is the Queen of the Hop, right in the middle of the Mick Jagger gap.
“T. Rex is a monster. And I’m the whipmaster.”
THE REAL MEANING OF BLUE SUEDE SHOES
It all goes back to Martin Kauffman. Picture, if you’ve seen any Scotland Yard movies, one of those prim, stricken Hackney streets of terrace houses, with little front gardens growing chrysanthemums and African violets and English roses, and little Mark Feld, 11 or 12 years old, sitting on the front steps in his black and white rock and roll shoes, very rare in England, and tight black drainpipes and a shirt.
“. . . a shirt similar to the one that the Everly Brothers had on in all their pictures, and Ricky Nelson. One of those blue striped ones with the collar up, that they still seem to wear. I’m sure if one traced it back those shirts come from one L.A, shop at the time that they all went to. It’s like one would never at the time have thought of Elvis’ gold suit as coming from Nudie’s. You’d never have thought: Where did he get that? He was born in it, right?”
Just sitting there looking his best, and this was Teddy Boy time, 1960, and along comes this very sharp, very immaculate prototype Ted in a sleek grey gabardine drape suit, with a black velvet collar, and winkelpickers, and fabulous sideburns. When you’re 11 and a half, you can’t grow sideburns, so Mark’s sitting there, panting with envy, and then, out of nowhere, along comes Martin Kauffman.
“. . . and he had on ginger Harris-tweed trousers. Very very baggy. And a pair of green handmade shoes with side-buckles, very long points. And a dark green blazer with drop shoulders. One-button cutaway. Very short. All this I checked out later, where all the stuff came from. It was a shirt made by a man called Flash. Harry Flash. And that was dark green, with a very highbacked collar so one’s hair would go over the back. His hair was parted straight down the middle, like Hitler, over both eyes.”
This is where the whole English fashion imperialism started, in depressed London suburbs like Hackney, where a lot of local lads got out of school and got a job and started spending their new six or seven quid a week on clothes. The most outlandish and exaggerated clothes they could dream up, extravagant, defiant costumes and rare and perfect hairjobs. It was very important, it was past vanity, it was more like survival, to be dressed to kill. Especially if you wanted to feature among the faces down at the local amusement arcade; if you wanted to pull a chick. For lads like Martin Kauffman, those ginger tweeds and those handmade shoes from Stan Bartholomew’s in Battersea and that Harry Flash shirt and a wardrobe full of more was all he had and all he was. It meant an awful lot.
When you grow up in Hackney, all there is is Hackney and the yellow brick road to the West End and back. That’s the world. And all those lads like Martin Kauffman paid 30 bob a week to their Mum for bed and board and sunk the rest into tailored flash because all the way to the West End and back and all those hours at the amusement arcade listening to Oriole records, which was British Motown, and “Save the Last Dance for Me” and “My Baby Left Me” on the jukebox and shooting pinball and dreaming about Chevrolets and Buicks and Palominos, all that counted was your dynamite visual.
“The impact of having just seen what one thought was really a trendy looking Teddy Boy, and then seeing this cat. . . just the image of him!. . . to this day I still can’t trace, and I took a long time, but I can’t trace how he got like that. But I knew something was going on.”
Martin Kauffman was something like a vision for Mark. He followed him for hours. And then he went to work. He talked his poor Mum into buying a suit from Burtons on hire-purchase, which he designed himself, and he got a pair of five pound shoes from Stan Bartholomew’s – black crocodile with a few extra pointy inches and not just two side buckles but four. Within a year, he was the main man down at the amusement arcade. He had it licked. He scraped up the readies Saturdays at the stall in Soho and thieved the rest and at the tender age of twelve and not quite five feet tall he had all those seventeen and eighteen year olds in their first rash of acne breathless with resentful jealousy.
“It was my first conquest. I wanted and I went out and I got it.”
He was good with his nut too. When things get rough and you’re only a little fellow, it’s best not to mix it: your best move is to grab the other fellow by his lapels and simultaneously tug his jaw foreward and butt with your head. It’s called nutting, and it’s quick and brutal – cockney Karate.
Long before Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp sold the world the Who in Union Jack jackets and ruffled shirts and a primal stutter, five years before that, there they all were scattered all over the grimy cheerless London suburbs, all these tough teen fops and noonday undergrounders and dedicated followers of fashion, all trying to outdazzle each other and outcool each other in milk bars and penny arcades, and the papers got onto it and called them, if you remember – Mods.
Town magazine went out to the wilds of Hackney and took a lot of pictures, Little Mark Feld was the standout, the fairest flaming creature of them all. They called him Mark the Mod.
Not long after that, the Felds moved away to Tooting, another ghetto at the end of the tube line the other side of London, and Mark was nobody again. Except he had discovered something – the real meaning of Blue Suede Shoes. One day he caught a bus back to Hackney. It stopped right outside the arcade:
“It was my first encounter with sussing out human nature. I’d been very funky to be around and even though I was still very funky to be around, as a face, you know, I was still the heaviest face – the fact that I’d not been around and other cats could move in brought total resentment at having me back there. None would talk to me. And it made me very sad for about five minutes. But I could dig it. It was like I was too heavy. I was in that magazine and all that stuff had come out and I was supposed to be somewhere else. They didn’t know where. I’d ascended to Olympus. And suddenly I was there. The funkiest thing I could’ve done from a theatrical point of view was split. So I did. It was instant immortality, you see.”
THEY ALL HAD ORANGE FACES
Lonnie Donegan was big then, and back in Hackney as a kid Mark had played a bit of skiffle – tea chest bass and cardboard drums with Helen Shapiro and a bunch of other little Jewish kids singing for coppers on the corner. He’d had a guitar, too, he’d even put in a couple of days trying to learn a few chords, but a string broke so he just painted it and hung it on the wall. He had all the movements down, he’s mastered all the lip action and the dippy hips.
“I could wiggle. I was the best wiggler in the world. But it was a pantomime. One didn’t really learn to play the guitar – you couldn’t go out, could you?”
This was before the Beatles, this was the time of the really gritty great days of the Soho rock scene, and the closest Mark ever got to it was nicking Sun imports from the local electrical appliance store and hanging out at the 2 I’s Coffee Bar.
They made a good film about that scene, called Espresso Bongo, with Laurence Harvey as the ruthless Tin Pan Alley shyster and Cliff Richard as the body. It was a nasty little flick, reeking of corruption and pimpery, but it was posh compared to what really went on at the 2 I’s.
Tommy Steele was discovered there, he was the first, and then Cliff Richard and Adam Faith and Billy Fury and you name it, just about every English rock and roll star before the Beatles. Until it was seething, and you couldn’t get in the door at the 2 I’s anymore for all the yodeling Lancashire hopefuls who had two chords down and used to sing outside, hoping to be discovered, hoping to catch the eye of Jack Goode. The same Jack Goode who ended up in L.A. doing Shindig and later did that Pop Goes the Symphony TV special with Leonard Bernstein and Deep Purple, and more recently staged Othello in London with P.J. Proby as Iago, called Rock My Soul. Back then, Jack Goode created rock stars.
He had the seminal English TV show, called Oh Boy, and opening day he needed something special, like an overnight sensation – somebody gave him “Schoolboy Crush,” Cliff Richard’s first record. It was mulch, done by some old EMI pro on Denmark Street like Norrie Paramor whose other act was the Big Ben Banjo Band. But the flip side was “Move It!” – which was inspired, because Cliff had just come down from Butlin’s in Blackpool then and he was good and fierce and loutish, as good as anybody. So Jack Goode chopped off Cliff’s Memphis sideburns and got him a pink jacket and a black shirt and a white tie, coaxed the bully out of him till he was about ready to errupt, and put him on TV on a hunch. It was all over. One show and he was an idol. Jack Goode, cool as a cobra, did it again later with Adam Faith.
All this fast action coming out of a brash little coffee bar in Soho, Hank Marvin playing “There Goes My Baby,” the first indigenous convulsions of English rock and roll, and Mark the Mod was there, dressed to kill, taking it all in, getting his education, learning fast, getting wise young. Finding out that he was right all along – what the pop life was all about was image; pop stars are creatures of the imagination.
They filmed Oh Boy in Hackney, and he was there too, every Saturday morning at 8 to watch them go in and out, all the fabled greasers, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Conway Twitty, all in that panstick makeup they used to use then, all with bright orange faces.
You never forget images like that. Today, sitting sipping Dom Perignon and painting his toenails while his singles do forty or fifty thousand a day on his own label in England, the T. Rex Wax Company, and Warner Brothers coming across with more than a million for T. Rex in America – Bolan’s still waiting for somebody to put an orange face on him.
THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE
This is the secret: “A successful hit rock and roll record is a spell.”
When he starts talking about spells and magic and raising the Egyptian gods from their timeless vaults and invoking our elementary planetary heritage, Bolan’s not just swimming about in a lot of low camp acid flashes and King’s Road occult. He’s talking about deep forbidden lore. He spent two of his teenage years living with a black magician in Paris and he keeps pretty quiet about what went on except that there were a lot of books to read, a lot of spells to learn, a lot of mysterious comings and goings in the dead of night that provoke sinister imaginings of Crowley and H.P. Lovecraft – mad Fausts like Charles Dexter Ward bawling terrifying invocations at the sky and raising the goblins. Bolan’s not fooling around here. He’s all primed to vanish into the higher beatitudes one day – there’ve been times he’s nearly gone already.
“I wrote out a rite calling on Pan to change me into a satyr. Literally, with hairy legs and hooves and horns. But I realized I couldn’t do it. What’s going to happen? I’m not going to be able to walk onto an Arcadian hillside and go up to my cave and just hang out. I wouldn’t be able to go out of the house for a start. If I did I’d probably get locked up and put in a hospital somewhere and dissected. Or put in a zoo. If Barnum were around he’d put me in a freak show. I’m sure there were satyrs, in the last hundred years, that were in Barnum’s freak shows . . . The rite would’ve worked. I do know how to do it.”
Canute wasn’t a fool. He wasn’t sitting down there on the beach at Hastings waving his orb and scepter and commanding the sea to stop for nothing. He just didn’t have his spells down, that’s all. But he knew it could be done, Moses did it, didn’t he, and what about Solomon? A very evil fellow, says Marc. There are ways, there are words, there are spells and rites and masses to conjure up or call down elemental forces and beings and even gods. In 1933, in Cambridge, a party of unready occult pranksters hit upon the right spell and called up the god Thoth, an Egyptian god of terror and bloodshed. He appeared, and they panicked. Luckily Thoth wasn’t bothered. “What do you want?” was all he said. And then the disappeared into the ages, Marc says, with a smile. That’s one way to contact the otherworld, by specific magical formulae. The other is to simply be one of . . . the chosen people.
“I believe that if you are one of the chosen people – and there are many – there are certain people that are very funky people. And if you are one of the chosen people, those creatures will come to you because they dig you.” In other words, cultivate your hallucinations and cellular promptings, and you can just sit and meditate and zero in on the spirit, just like Marc’s doing right now, sitting by the slow Pacific surf at Malibu in the noonday Christmas sun, calling on old Thoth – his arms reaching out and his eyes jammed shut and his body starting to quiver and now these harsh adenoidal murmurings and bloody screams – he stopped just in time. It was hard to tell if the distinct shiver I felt was a gust from the tombs or just the full force of Bolan’s madness.
“I want to walk upon the galaxies. I want to hold the oceans in my hand. Many people say, yes, very poetic – a magician means he wants to hold the oceans in his hand. End of story.”
Bolan saw the light at an early age, he was all, caught up in myths and legends and Ray Bradbury and Robert Graves and archaic cosmologies and symbolic universes since about the same time he got his first pair of black and white rock and roll shoes. All the time he was strutting his costume around Soho and carrying Eddie Cochran’s guitar, he was worshipping Pan at home. So far gone into a middle earth of his own imagining that his landscape altered and his whole life became and continues to be a fairy tale haunted by unseen spirits and giant beasts and queer Venusian apparitions like Chuck Berry. (Who looks a good bit like a hairy old black Pan himself if you think about it, as though there’s a bit of animal husbandry in his past, the commingling perhaps of a horny goat and a Cadillac.) Bolan’s first idol, before Elvis, before Audie Murphy, was somebody called Mighty Joe Young, who was the first King Kong.
“I was always under the impression, from Mighty Joe Young, and Flash Gordon and the White Gorilla, that there were really gorillas as big as the ceiling. They were always fuckin’ enormous, man. And as big as Guy is, in the zoo in England, and he’s enormous, the biggest gorilla in captivity, he looks so small compared to those gorillas of one’s childhood.”
Like Mighty Joe, like Pan, like all the rockers with orange faces, Bolan is a creation of his own imagination. He took a long look at what God gave him, tried it out in Hackney, and the rest he made up. As if by magic. And when you pass the point, and you one day must, where the imagination transcends reality until there’s no telling any more where whole families step right out of the television set and sit down on your rug and the smell of mouthwash fills the room and you no longer fear you’re losing your grip because you realize you’ve already lost it and you’re not sure if you’re damned or saved but it could easily be that you could hit a lost chord and raise the dead, or at least get a number one record – then that’s madness.
“I now am my own fantasy. If I wasn’t mad, I’d be fine. But I have a great madness inside me. I think we all do. And mine’s very eccentric. It’s a powerful madness, a magic madness. I’m my own main man. Which can be terrifying. Because I’ve yet to meet a person – and I meet a lot of main men – but in the end I have to make them up. If my God came into the room, I’d be awed obviously, but I don’t think I’d be humble. I might cry, but I known he’d dig me like mad.”
It’s that kind of madness that kept him going down in deepest Tooting, living on five bob a day his Mum gave him, putting in two weeks now and then washing dishes in a Wimpy bar. Until his Mum and Dad started to ask when he was going to get off the pot and start the big ball rolling, so he went out and made a thousand quid in two weeks modeling clothes – he was the John Temple Boy – and gave them the lot. As if by magic. Just so they’d know he could do it if he wanted to. Then he sat back down and didn’t do anything for two years.
A HORROR STORY
Out at Malibu full of whisky, he read a story he’d just written. He writes a lot of stories, they pick up where the songs leave off, and this one was about some sorcerer calling up spirits out in the primeval marshes; he’s interrupted by a colleague, and it turns out neither of them know what they’re doing except that they can feel a draft, something’s happening, and sure enough out of the eternal mire emerges a creature beyond all description and all it says is: AWOPBOPALUBOPALUBOPAWOPBAM BOOM.
HARD KARMA ON THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD
The hangup, in those days, when British pop was still in the hands of all the old Denmark Street lowlifes – like Dick who got famous for turning down the Beatles –who all still thought pop was just a matter of getting hold of a few more Mary Wildes and getting hold of a song by Ian Samwell or somebody and promoting the whole thing like a wrestling match in Kentish Town.
“. . . the hangup was the record contract. How do you get recorded? This contract that came out of the top pocket with RECORD CONTRACT stamped in gold at the top and nothing else but millions of words which you had to get your Mum to sign.”
Bolan, back from Paris and starting to learn a few more chords, finally met somebody who knew somebody at Decca and he ended up in a studio in Soho at nine in the morning with half an hour to cut his first record. It was a dark and lispy little outing called “The Wizard.” Shortly afterwards he showed up on Ready Steady Go dressed in witches’ black and singing like Dylan’s little sister and looking like. . . yes, a half-starved Arcadian satyr. It was all a bit precious, like cut-rate magic, and the record didn’t happen, but I still remember seeing the show, a lot of people do. Bolan didn’t have his spells down quite, but he looked the part.
“That was the beginning of me as I am now. I was still Mark Feld then, it was Decca who called me Marc Bolan. So I was in the middle. All I knew was I could write songs, but I’d never performed before – I had no idea. I just assumed it’d all fall into place. It didn’t, but I got a lot of press.”
This was late ’65, and by then he’d got Dylan sussed. He played Highway 61 Revisited twenty times through, and he was sitting down writing Desolation High Street and Fulham Road Revisited and for a while he couldn’t stop. It was easy.
“Dylan, at that point, while he was very beautiful and incredibly important, most of those songs were just great name-drops. That’s no downer, because at the time it was dynamite, but it was still name-drops. I could write you Tarantula in five minutes. . . “
For two years, while he and Cat Stevens both were trying to escape from Decca, Bolan went to work. He realized that what was missing was he couldn’t really sing and he couldn’t really play and there comes a time when somebody’s going to call your bluff on your image – for all his unearthly flash and street sense, a rock and roll star has got to rock and roll. He played and he wrote and he hung out and a lot of the stuff he wrote then came out later in a book called Warlock of Love. Which is a lot like Tarantula in that it’s mostly a lot of inferno buckshot from a fevered brain boiling over, and Bolan can’t read it himself anymore. But since T. Rex made it last year, the book suddenly sold more than 20,000 copies, which is about 20,000 more than poetry ever sells in England anymore.
In 1967 the Who started having hits and that made Track a new threat label. And Lambert and Stamp, who ran it, were nothing if not empire-thinkers so they went looking for more hits while the big buzz was building and the dawning of a new age was just around the corner and all of London was up to the gills in acid and Monterey mystique and flying saucers flew over Hyde Park. People look back on those days now and shake their heads and look at photos of themselves with flowers in their hair and beads and bells around their necks and now and then a torn Pink Floyd poster will recall it all as the flower power days.
The group Track cooked up was called John’s Children, and Marc was the one in the middle in the picture on the wall at Granny Takes A Trip, with his hair in luxuriant tangles and a suspicion of a smirk, naked up to just above the family luck in oceans of daisies.
“Track wanted a new Pete Townshend, and I could fit the bill. I looked all right. But I backed off.”
They had one hit, one of Marc’s songs called “Desdemona” that got played all the time in the clubs, and then John’s Children came unstuck fast.
JUNE COULD HEAR IT BREATHING . . .
1967 was a hard and bitter winter, and one night Marc was lying in bed with June, his wife and planet queen, looking at a picture of a tyrannosaurus rex on the wall and it. . . began. . . to. . . move. . .
“I was afraid. I knew I was afraid. I knew I was doing it. I knew my imagination had brought it to life. I also knew afterwards that had I not stopped looking at it, it would’ve destroyed me. The tyrannosaurus would’ve eaten me and there would’ve been blood on the bed. Since then I’ve been so strong I believe that nothing could hurt me.”
June swears she heard it breathing.
* * *
Tyrannosaurus Rex was Marc and a spectral figure called Steve Peregrine Took who played congas and bongos and joined Marc on the interminable acoustic chants and liturgies they used to do. They used to play in Hyde Park, in the underground, in the streets, and although it wasn’t loud music, it was maddeningly insistent and now and then, when a few words came through the sinus and the sibilance, they were startling. Marc did most of the singing – a kind of soft but sinister androgynous vibrato – and he wrote all the songs.
It didn’t take too long before John Peel – who had appeared on the BBC a year before as if by magic and had hung on through the winter playing fashionable FM – he fell heavily for the sound and started spinning their first record and Tyrannosaurus Rex started picking up a following. Out of the disappointed loveweary lysergic wreckage of the London underground. Bolan and Took came in with their low-key high-fantasy Arcadian science fiction. And all those acid-eaters who’d gone soft and glassy and apostolic and Atlantean and sat home most nights reading a lot of Tolkien and Michael Morecombe and other, more esoteric, more taboo books and cabbala they crept out and followed Tyrannosaurus Rex around the small clubs and cellars and bought the albums and pored over the poetry inside. Which was Bolan poetica: buckshot antique imagery, galactic landscapes, subterranean labyrinths, ancient hillsides, lost continents – an other world teeming with nymphs and satyrs and satanic majesties and weird elphin gothic. It was bizarre and sometimes witty, and because of Bolan’s genius for persona, when he sang Lithon the black/ The rider of stars/Tyrannosaurus Rex/Eater of cars, the following understood and the following grew.
The Bopping Elf, they called him, and there were all those enigmatic waterbaby tableaux of Bolan and Took, a perfect pair: Took, hot-eyed and gaunt with silky flowing locks, and Bolan, cold-eyed and aloof, like a curly-headed little harlot. But they were misleading. You could have been forgiven for thinking that Bolan was a fey and dreamy little fairy, which he certainly was not.
“Let me explain something. An elphin creature to me, and according to all the reading I’ve done and the people I’ve met and all the things I know to be true, was a spiritual creature seven foot tall who had transcended the body, but had remained on earth. He was a different makeup. We’re all from different planets, right, perhaps he was a Venusian or something, whatever, from a faroff galaxy. Elphin creatures are not two-inch fey creatures; they’re very powerful scientific sorcerers. They’re not around much anymore because they can’t survive in this atmosphere. Who can survive in this atmosphere? Only beasts. Which is what we are. So to me. Tyrannosaurus Rex was never a lame camp faggy sort of number, it was a very powerful prehistoric force.”
They maintained through 1969, they even came to America and did a pretty sloppy tour but by then Bolan and Took weren’t speaking. The act was coming apart and the music – which was pretty breakable to begin with and needed a keen hypnotic snych for the rhythms to start to nag and the spell to take – the music suffered along with it.
Bolan was getting restless in small reverent rooms. Nothing was happening fast enough or big enough. He’d never been a folk singer – all his pastorals were in his imagination. He was a slum kid, hatched in a jukebox, and here he was playing in all these underground clubs with all these magic casualties and well-meaning deadbeats fussing over him just because it was an acoustic act. The following, variously crippled, came to Tyrannosaurus Rex for holy healing. Now and then somebody moved, on a hot night somebody got a sweat going, but mostly Bolan was received with an ardent and adoring hush. Things got vague.
“It would’ve been a mystery to me if we’d happened. And it’s a mystery to me why we didn’t.”
Late in 1969 Steve Took left. And Bolan changed gears.
INTO THE MICK JAGGER GAP, OR ROLL OVER, CHUCK BERRY
There was a band, not even a band at all, just a random phantom kerass of Kings Road walkons and painters and cartoonists called Hapsash and the Colored Coat. They only ever played one gig, some shambles in Holland somewhere, but they did manage to all show up at a studio somewhere one night and bang cans and stomp on the floor and play a few guitars and now and then they all got the beat but mostly it was just an inspired and brilliant omelette and an altogether amazing record that is probably the one single riotous synthesis of the whole London 1967 scene. It makes the Bonzo Dogs seem like a class act, like Sam the Sham.
One of that ragged company was Mickey Finn, another gaunt and spectral figure, who’d painted Granny Takes a Trip and was one of the originals. Bolan and he met over a bowl of brown rice one day and Tyrannosaurus Rex got going again. Only this time Bolan junked his winged chariots and celestial starships and switched to motorbikes and got down to the real business of hardcore full-speed carrying on.
He picked up Steve Currie to play bass and Bill Legend to play solid drums behind the Finn’s percussion, and a few months later “Ride a White Swan” went to number one.
There was a brief indignant backlash from the following, but what did they think was coming off, they must’ve thought Bolan had dropped out of the sky with an acoustic six-string in his hands and the universe reclining in his hair. When all the time what he was and is is a thoroughbred London rock and roller, a sophisticated creature of every pop scene that ever so briefly captured the vanities of the Sixties. He’d been there and back by the time he was seventeen, and he’d been the intimate of sorcerers and monsters. For those few who still feel betrayed by Bolan’s shifting persona and miss the poetica, he’s saving all the intricate stuff for his stories – and just in case anybody’s worried he’s lost his elphin touch: “I could lay images on ’em that would give ’em nightmares.”
The songs got simpler and dirtier and Bolan found his touch for primal rock and roll riffs and started putting his hardon into it and then “Hot Love” went to number one. And T. Rex got better and better, and Bolan let go altogether and it all got very earthbound and abdominal until “Get It On (Bang A Gong)” which is rape-rock at its best and close to the best of Chuck Berry. It was number one for months.
They know the signs, and both Lennon and McCartney and especially Ringo have all said lately that T. Rex has the power. They recognize the frenzy – all that jailbait jumping and creaming and swooning in the balcony as Bolan struts and swaggers and writhes and pants and gulps and just generally wrenches it out in a spray of shredded sequins – there hasn’t been anything like the T. Rex ecstasy since the great days of the Beatles Themselves.
“Lennon, McCartney, Jagger, all the dudes’ll give me five minutes, man. They know where I’m at. I’m different. Like them. I’ve always known I was different, right from the moment I was born.”
Stardom, and he knows it, can get you giddy, but Bolan’s got it sussed. He’s got an old Rolls and clothes to dress the Folies Bergere and all that, and he and June and Tony Secunda and I spent a suitable Olympian afternoon last fall in New York dropping handfulls of dollar bills off the seventh floor terrace of the City Squire into the passing torment below – playing miracles – and you can imagine the movies that ensued. He is, as he says, his own fantasy. But it’s all science fiction, after all.
“The more I seem to learn, the more knowledge I’ve gained, the less interested I become in myself, the more pitiful I find myself. But then in my moments of arrogance, the more incredible I think I am. The important thing now is to get people I respect and people who respect me and people who’ve never heard of me who might respect me and I in turn might respect them, to get them to hear it. That’s all I want to do. It’s my duty to get it to them. I don’t known if Ray Bradbury has heard of me, or Bob Dylan, but I’m sure he’d dig what I’m doing if he heard it. So it’s my duty to get it to him. Just as it is my duty to get it to Irving Schwartz. I’m here, man. I might as well let someone know. If they want to listen.”
But then there are the dark nights of the soul when he fights off going to sleep because he knows if he closes his eyes and drifts off, he’ll die. June, who looks like Anne Boleyn, has to keep prodding him.
“Am I destroying myself with drugs and whisky and bad thoughts and the rock and roll industry just by participating in it? Or am I growing into an artist of unbelievable stature? Or am I just a teenybop hero for this year, or am I am going to be President of America in five years time? All of these things are feasible. Which one do I choose? It depends what mood I’m in when I pick up the phone.”
Bolan exists in a state of continual metamorphosis. He doesn’t just change his mind, he changes his entire personality as easily as passing through a mirror. And he promises to change his very human form. The magician he lived with in Paris, he says, may not have been a man after all, he may have been a reptile. In his imagination, where he is at home, there are no solid bodies, no gender, no sex. So that when he bops into the Speakeasy late one night in his satin pants and Mr. Freedom spangled quilt jacket and little girl’s one-button shoes, in full makeup, and some shrunken British beauty comes up and calls him a fag – Marc just winks and asks her if she’s got any little brothers at home.
Meanwhile, “Get It On (Bang A Gong)” just went Top 20 in Cashbox and this PR man’s talking on the telephone and watching June and Secunda throwing his Warner Brothers money off the roof outside, and Bolan’s talking about his poetry, about how the secret of his songs is that they simultaneously comprehend the infinite beauty of the galaxies and the earthly wonder of a ’56 Chevrolet, and the PR man blanches under his tan and switches the phone from ear to ear as another batch of buck flutters away, and Bolan’s saying he considers his poetry to be the equal of any he’s ever read, up there with Byron and Shelley and Blake and everybody, and the PR man is starting to tell whoever’s on the phone about all this money getting tossed off the roof by these nice maniacs, and Bolan looks at him and says:
“. . . it would be very natural if the telephone were to suddenly bite Russ’s hand; if the mouthpiece actually ate his hand, bit it off and ate it. I’ve seen that. And to get that into the Top 40, especially to number one, is very important to me. To make people aware that it’s not all it seems, make them aware of their inheritance. This amazing planet. The magic. . . “