Sunday, 16 September 2007

The true pop star

The Marc Bolan thing all happened and ended long before I even had an inkling that there was something called pop music. 30 years ago today, 16th September 1977, he died in a car crash. I can't even say that I'm taken with his music: I can't stand the pre-glam twiddlings of Tyrannosaurus Rex and am kind of interested in the hits as an historical reference. But the man himself and his huge influence on pop is fascinating.

Would glam rock and dressing like a Christmas tree have happened without him? Would David Bowie have parodied the whole thing to stunning effect as Ziggy Stardust without him? Would David Essex have made the brilliantly bad Stardust movie without him? And would Siouxsie Sioux have written her new song Into a Swan without him? I think not. At the time he seemed to be a different and brand new take on the pop star. But for most of us, years later, he is the epitome of a pop star, for several reasons:

1) He died young. Marc was only 29 when the Mini being driven by his girlfriend and former backing singer, Gloria Jones (who sang the original Tainted Love) came off the road in Barnes, south London, and hit a tree, now a shrine kept by devoted fans.

2) Like Madonna, Prince (sorry XO) and Kylie he was tiny. At only 5' 2" he was described by pop supremo, (Marc's first Manager and later Wham's Manager) Simon Napier-Bell as "a sort of pixie rock star".

3) His androgyny and sexual ambiguity gave a platform for gayers to become the pop stars of their generation. Boy George and Marc Almond were besotted. At a gig as a teenager, Almond says, "I was in awe, unable to comprehend that he was there in person, in front of me. He looked unhappy and swept past us knocking aside the posters we proffered for signing. [Another pop star moment if ever there was one] His famous corkscrew hair brushed past my face. I didn't care that we had been snubbed. I'd seen him up close and in the flesh".

Boy George's mum recognised Marc Bolan's influence in little George's life. Maybe it was the fact that, aged about nine, he would go to a friend's house for tea dressed in a long camel coat with his mum's 'wedding' hat bedecked with a long chiffon scarf. When she wanted to get him a school coat, a padded green Parka, she pleaded: "But Marc Bolan would wear it". George refused saying "Marc has better taste".

4) He was a drink and drugs monster. Like all good pop stars, the demon drink was a mainstay in Marc's early success. Tales of him consuming entire French vineyards' worth of champagne were mixed with stories of blizzards of coke. But later on, after the birth of his son Rolan, (Rolan Bolan? Zowie Bowie? Poor kids), he gave up alchohol altogether. As a forerunner to today's equivalent of rehab he needed to get back into shape for the rigours of fatherhood and a career comeback. He lost a ton of weight simply by giving up brandy. He said: "If I'd known that I wouldn't have wasted thousands of pounds on health farms".

He was cocksure of himself. Upon first meeting Simon Napier-Bell, he said (and do this in a Star Stories kind of voice): "I'm a singer and I'm going to be the biggest British rock star ever".

6) And finally, he was ruthlessly determined to make it. He would have shagged the devil if need be. Again, Simon Napier-Bell (with whom he actually did do the dirty as a way of getting him to be his manager) recalls after rejections from every record label in London: "Marc was deflated. He went deathly white and said 'OK, what do I have to do? I'll do whatever they want and whatever you tell me'. I was surprised. Where had the uncompromising artist gone? 'I don't want you to blow it with all this art crap. I wanna be a star'. He was tight-lipped and serious and as he said the word 'star' he smashed his fist on the table. Then he ran to the toilet and I heard him vomitting".

No. It's not Robert Smith...

If I had a favourite track, it would have to be Life's a Gas. In the 80s I had a teenage fixation on the sixties/seventies version of Cilla Black. On her TV show she would duet with the pop star of the day; the most incongruous of which had to be Marc Bolan. In hindsight, with his mainstream aspirations, it's actually a perfect pairing and this is the track they performed.

Life's a Gas - T-Rex
(mp3 Download)

Life's a Gas - Marc Bolan & Cilla Black (mp3 Download)


Adem IAR said...

Brilliantly written post, was a bloody good read.

Nice to see Cilla get a mention too.

Phil said...

Cheers Adem! I've been putting a 'Cilla special' together for ages... dunno when I'll publish it tho'. Maybe her 97th birthday! hahahaha

Anonymous said...

WOW what a wonderful summary of the bopping elf ;-) TANX!

I came across your blog whilst nosing around the net about a picture disc LP I just purchased (basically for song an ' all:) )
Life's a Gas is certainly one of my faves of him as well, as are quite a lot of his early tracks when he formed just a duo with Steve Took

Needless to add,that your blog's added to my favourites now:)