Marc Bolan

From Academic Kids

Marc Feld (September 30, 1947September 16, 1977), better known as Marc Bolan, was a singer and songwriter for the band Tyrannosaurus Rex and later T. Rex, from 1967 until his death in a car crash in 1977. He is credited by many as having invented glam rock.

The son of a Jewish tailor, Bolan grew up in post-war Hackney in the east end of London and later in Wimbledon, south London. He fell in love with the rock and roll of Gene Vincent and Chuck Berry at an early age and became a Mod, hanging around coffee bars in Soho and featured in an early 1960s BBC documentary about Mods.

He briefly became a model, then in 1965 he joined the tough flower children band John's Children, achieving some success as a live band but selling few records. When the band dissolved, Bolan claimed to have spent time with a wizard who gave him secret knowledge in the south of France. His songwriting took off, and he began writing many of the neo-romantic songs that would appear on his first albums with Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Bolan used to busk his songs on the streets of London, earning enough money for the fare home. Eventually, he formed Tyrannosaurus Rex with percussionist Steve Peregrin Took and released three albums and four singles. Although commercial acclaim eluded them, the duo's early work received airplay and support from Radio 1 DJ John Peel.

Musical and ethical differences led to Bolan sacking Took before their first US tour. Took, however, was contractually obliged to go through with the tour. Bolan replaced him with bongos player Mickey Finn, releasing one album and later shortening the band's name to T. Rex and replacing his acoustic guitar for an electric model in the process. Bolan married girlfriend June Child (former secretary to the manager of one of Bolan's idols, Syd Barrett) and was writing songs at home, hoping to find that first hit.

This he did when, in 1970, he played for his wife a simple high-pitched four-verse tune called "Ride A White Swan." He then immediately rang producer Tony Visconti to sort out a studio session. The single was recorded and released, making slow progress in the UK Top 40 and finally peaking in early 1971 at Number 2. Bolan became a new star.

With his corkscrew hair, boyish good looks, and cheekbones daubed with glitter, Bolan's emergence heralded the start of the glam-rock era of British music, which also saw the rise of Bolan's longtime friend David Bowie as well as the bands Slade and the Sweet.

Bolan's next single was a five-minute song called "Hot Love," complete with singalong chorus. It was Number 1 for six weeks and was quickly followed by "Get It On," a grittier, more adult tune that spent four weeks in the top spot. The song was renamed "Bang A Gong" when released in the US to avoid confusion with another song called "Get It On" by the group Chase.

By now, T. Rex had bassist Steve Currie and drummer Bill Legend completing the band. Bolan left his deal with Fly records to join EMI. Fly released album track "Jeepster" as a riposte to Bolan's quitting, and it peaked at Number 2.

In 1972, Bolan achieved two more Number 1s ("Telegram Sam" and "Metal Guru") and two more Number 2s. The total of four Number 2 singles particularly galled his fans as three were held off the top spot by 'novelty' singles recorded by Clive Dunn, Benny Hill, and little Jimmy Osmond.

By 1973, his star gradually began to wane, even though he achieved a Number 3 hit with arguably his most famous tune to the next generation, "20th Century Boy."

The band disintegrated, and Bolan's marriage ended. He began a romance with singer Gloria Jones and disappeared for much of the next three years, continuing to release underwhelming singles and albums. However, he managed to score one more UK Top 20 hit per year until 1977.

Gloria gave birth to a baby boy in 1975, whom they called Rolan Bolan (although his birth certificate lists him as 'Rolan Feld'). Bolan then re-appeared in the public eye with a TV show called Marc, where he introduced new and established bands as well as performed his own songs. This was broadcast during the post-school hour on ITV earmarked for children and teenagers, becoming a big success. The last episode featured Bolan's duetting with David Bowie.

Bolan got a new band together and set out on a comeback tour, taking along punk band the Damned as support, cleverly guaranteeing that a young audience who did not remember his heyday would come to the gigs.

Bolan died on September 16th 1977, two weeks before his 30th birthday. He was a passenger in a Mini driven by Gloria as they headed home from a restaurant. The car collided with a tree after spinning out of control in Barnes, London. For some of his fans the tree now acts as a shrine to his memory and receives frequent visits from fans to this day. It is cared for on a charity basis by T A G (T. Rex Action Group). A bronze bust of Marc Bolan at the site commemmorates the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death in 2002. The bust was unveiled by his son Rolan Bolan, and the event was attended by fans, friends, and colleagues, including Mickey Finn.

At Bolan's funeral, his coffin was covered in a swan-shaped floral tribute in recognition of his breakthrough hit single.

Of Bolan's bandmates, original Tyrannosaurus Rex partner Steve Peregrin Took choked to death on a cocktail cherry in 1980, and bassist Currie was killed in a car crash in Portugal a year later. Finn, the man most associated with Bolan's success, died of natural causes in 2003. Legend remains the only living T. Rex member.

Bolan's wife June died of a heart attack while on holiday in Turkey in 1995.

"20th Century Boy" introduced a new generation of devotees to Bolan's work in 1991 when it was featured on a jeans TV commercial and was re-released, reaching the UK Top 20. Bolan is still cited by many guitar-centric bands as a huge influence. However, he always maintained he was a poet who put lyrics to music. The tunes were never as important as the words.

"Bolan used to hang around in our office and sit on the floor, strumming his guitar, flirting with our secretary, June, who, of course, he later married. He was a great Syd fan. I was quite fond of him. He was a big pain in the arse, of course, very full of himself. I always liked that thing where he called himself the Bolan child, this magical, mythical name. It was really from his doorbell in Ladbroke Grove. It had his name, and our secretarys surname, Child, so it read Bolan Child and fans used to think, wow, he is the Bolan Child!"
David Gilmour

See also

sv:Marc Bolan


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