Today is the birthday of the late Marc Bolan (Mark Feld, 1947-1977), the Father of Glam, and thus also partially the little rivulets that spring from this Edenic source (minor trends such as punk, metal, and even certain aspects of disco).
To create T.Rex’s highly unique sound, Bolan borrowed from his own 50s guitar influences (I hear a lot of Carl Perkins and Chuck Berry in there), played with a relentless, insistent, sugar-cereal fueled energy, then distorted in a manner much similar to what John Lennon was doing with the Plastic Ono Band at the same time. Backing him could be such interesting elements as Melotron, full string sections, saxes and Conga drums. Above this, he was a psychedelic poet of sorts (at least he fancied himself one. His stage name “Bolan” was said to be a contraction of “Bob Dylan”, whom he also adored.) And then there was the visual style, the glitter, feather boas and top hats. Bolan influenced everyone from several ex-Beatles (he even collaborated on a movie and a record with Ringo), the Stones, Elton John, David Bowie, Kiss, the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, and rock musicals of the era like The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Phantom of the Paradise. Then there is that lithe, sylph-like presence, that silvery smooth double-tracked voice (reminds me a little of Donovan or Arlo Guthrie) and the post-electrocution hairdo.
His day in the sun was short, after a few years of struggle in the late 60s, he blazed across the sky like a comet in the early 70s. He had many hits in the UK, although his only bona fide hit song in the US was the #1 “Bang a Gong (Get it On)”, which…if you’re only going to have one hit song that would be the one to have. But several of his albums did well, and several other of his songs have crept into wider public consciousness by other means (e.g., “Children of the Revolution” is currently being used in a tv commercial). At any rate, my T. Rex song of the past year or so has been this one…it won’t leave my head. I love this clip from German tv. Bolan’s girlish histrionics can be a little embarrassing in their earnestness at times (given the lyrics he’s singing), but check it out — I’ll be damned if the germ of Frank N. Furter isn’t in performances like this:
To find out more about show business past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc