By Stephen Jaccuzzo
Bang a gong! T. Rex are going into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. T. Rex was not around long. Marc Bolan was killed in a car crash in 1977, just two weeks shy of his 30th birthday. He wrote nearly all his songs in a three-year streak. His music still stands the test of time. T. Rex still matters today. The ruled the U.K. charts in the early Seventies, led by Bolan’s sexy vocals and shameless egomania. Bolan was glitter rock’s prettiest boy, an androgynous prince. He strummed his Les Paul living out his dreams . He made two perfect albums, 1971’s Electric Warrior and 1972’s The Slider.
Even though T. Rex were sometimes called bubblegum pop, they’ve always cast a spell over the music worlds.
Part of the Bolan mystique: He had more vanity per square inch than any rock star ever. He openly admitted that fact in several interviews.
Bolan released his debut single, “The Wizard,” in 1965, He talked the talk. He was happy to tell the London papers what a burden it was being a god. “Personally, the prospect of being immortal doesn’t excite me, but the prospect of being a materialistic idol for four years does appeal,” he told the Evening Standard’s Maureen Cleave. “I want to savor life. I want to have gray hair like Cary Grant.” He’d just turned 18.
Bolan formed the hippie-folkie duo Tyrannosaurus Rex, warbling Tolkien-inspired tales with acoustic guitar and Steve Took on bongos. Their 1968 debut: My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair … But Now They’re Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows. The U.K. press dubbed him “the Bopping Elf.” Mickey Finn replaced Took for the superb A Beard of Stars. But the turning point came in 1970 when Bolan went electric for the smash “Ride a White Swan,” plugging in his Les Paul to celebrate wizards, druids, and black cats. Producer Visconti cranked up the reverb and added strings. Bolan followed with a string of hits — “Hot Love,” “Solid Gold Easy Action,” “Children of the Revolution,” “Bang a Gong (Get It On),” “20th Century Boy.”
Visconti and Bolan made an unbeatable artist/producer combo, especially since Visconti was also producing classics for Bowie — it fired up Bolan’s competitive edge. He never missed a chance to bitch out his glam nemesis. “I don’t consider David to be even remotely near big enough to give me any competition,” Bolan told Cameron Crowe for Creem in 1973. “He just doesn’t have that sort of quality. I do. I always have. Rod Stewart has it in his own mad way. Elton John has it. Mick Jagger has it. Michael Jackson has it. David Bowie doesn’t, I’m sorry to say.”
Electric Warrior is rightly T. Rex’s most famous album: It has the space buzz of “Planet Queen,” the vampire sex of “Jeepster,” the Kubrick doo-wop of “Monolith,” where Bolan fuses 2001 with “Duke of Earl.” The Slider came a year later, with the very underrated “Mystic Lady,” an ahead-of-its-time ballad for sisters of the moon, and “Baby Boomerang,” one of the first classics written about Patti Smith. (Bolan’s ability to crank out songs about women without the slightest trace of misogyny or machismo — well, let’s just say it sets him apart from a lot of other Seventies rockers.)
Bolan never seemed the least bit surprised by his phenomenal U.K. popularity. “There are magic mists within certain chords,” he explained. “You play a C major chord and I hear 25 melodies and symphonies up here. I’ve just got to pull one out. There’s no strain, it just gushes out.” He preened in Born to Boogie, a rock doc directed by Ringo Starr, and published his poetry book Warlock of Love.
Sadly, when it ended, it ended fast. In the final year of his life, he was getting it together, raising his son Rolan Bolan with his American girlfriend, Sixties R&B singer Gloria Jones. He hosted a British kiddie TV show, Marc, and for the final episode, had a touching reconciliation with Bowie whom he had a falling out with. They jammed for a minute until Bolan tumbled off the stage.
Just a couple of weeks later, Bolan was killed in a car wreck. Bowie, Visconti, and Rod Stewart attended his funeral. “I’m terribly broken by it,” Bowie said. “The only tribute I can give Marc is that he was the greatest little giant in the world.” But as far as Bolan’s fans are concerned, he just danced himself into the tomb. And all these years later, that’s why the spirit of T. Rex lives on, from the ballrooms of Mars to the Hall of Fame.