Rock of Ages:
Classic NME interviews (Sept 30 1989)
Side note: This appeared in the NME 1989 issue as the title
it was done in their series of "Classic Interviews" It originally appeared in 1974
* thanks once again to Desdemona
MENTAL GURU, IS IT YOU ?
Marc Bolan, who died in a car smash in 1977, was the fairytale who became
a nightmare, the elfin woodland bopper and hippy par excellence who
grew up into a star-spangled glittergod electric warrior. With an ego
By the summer of 1974, T-REX had scored 16 British hits (including half a dozen chart-toppers) and been the driving force behind the public fact of Glam. The two years previous had been one long bout of T-Rexstasy but the cracks were starting to appear. His last LP, 'Zinc Alloy', had flopped and the charts were full of the cheap flash pop which he'd helped spawn but always sought to be disassociated from.
So much so that he'd decided to take himself off for a sabbatical in L.A. Before leaving this country though, he demanded one last audience with then NME editor Nick Logan, one final chance to address a nation of doting fans. It was not to be the most communicative of farewells...
You just know it's Marc Bolan you're talking to when you suddenly
get dumped with a damn fool statement such as, "I like crying-my eyes
look good" and you carry on scrutinising the sound needle on your cassette
with only the barest mental flinch.
You get used to this kind of thing when you're rapping with Mr B, even if a couple of years worth of vinyl has gone through the mill since you last spoke with the elfman of the children's revolution.
"I like crying-my eyes look good." It's a Boley wisecrack y'see, accompanied by what the teeny mags might describe as a mischievous twinkle. But you can't help thinking that's a pretty rum line in humour the boy's got there and is it any wonder his intentions sometimes get misunderstood.
Poor old Marc: the Press gets on my back, my marriage is on the skids, the taxman's on my tail, and why is everybody saying such nasty things about me?
Well, hold on-there's a bit of the truth hanging around in there somewhere, but let's just dangle around a bit first and come to that in the fullness of time.
First off, the offer of this interview came from Marc himself. He wasn't gonna be talking to anyone else on the music press, didn't want to talk to anyone else on NME. Weeeelll....being prone to flattery, feeling that maybe-just maybe-Marc had had one or two less-than-fair deals from this paper, and that he'd arrived in a pretty interesting position since all those interviews we'd done at the time of Tyrannosaurus and early T-Rex, I thought it might make a mildly scintillating piece of field study for your delectation.
But this is proving more difficult than I'd imagined.
We're sitting in Marc's office in Bond Street-he sublets other floors of the building to the Floyd and Who/Stones tour organiser Pete Rudge-and what I'm faced with is a harder, altogether more cagey piece of teen property than I'd remembered from the distant past.
This man is not about to be pinned down, and with his publicist Keith Altham running his cassette recorder in harmony with my own, I sense that....weeeelll...I'm being watched with care at the very least.
So here begins the foxy two-step:
How do you see your current position Marc?
I don't take too much notice, honestly. I'm not that organised
"On that last tour, the kids were younger than they were in the peak of T-Recstasy. That shocked me because I'd been reading all these comics (heavy sarcasm) and I'd begun to believe they'd be older and different and all that. But it was more T-Rexmania than it ever was before. What's happened is that they've got more used to it-screaming at the teenage idols. In fact I was the first one to bring it back, right?
OK Marc, well the last time we met was just prior to the T-Re explosion and you were talking about competition. You surprised me by picking up a copy of 16 magazine and waving a photo of David Cassidy in front of my notebook. You'd obviously got the coming Cassidy scene sussed out better than the music press had at the time, and you were well aware of that area of....
Yes, because I was very much in the ballgame then. What we did over the last year was to creep out gracefully so that one can return, hopefully with the same impact, but with a little more credibility.
Have you gained that credibility?
For me I have. For anyone else I
don't give a shit. I mean, I know what I'm laying down.
"My backstep was always there....that I could say, if it all fell apart, "Well balls, at least I've got the credibility of having done four albums with Tyrannosaurus Rex and people must know I'm a serious musician even though...just like Dylan got caught up in that thing for a long time. I was caught up in something that was not bad and still is not bad. I still enjoy being a teenage idol. Funnily enough, I still am, which is quite amusing y'know.
"But I suddenly thought, at that time, that if I had gone on continuously there was a possibility of ending up like 'whatever happened to Gene Pitney' y'know, or Roy Orbison. Suddenly they stopped."
You drew a parallel with Bob Dylan, as you've done on previous occasions. He was getting it in the neck from all quarters at one time but he came through to restore his credibility. Is that how you see it for yourself?
Well, I didn't break my neck. I
didn't have that kind of excuse; that gave him an out.
Without a shadow of a doubt I still have a public; fortunately it's exceedingly large. But it's having a public that matters to you-being wanted as an artist. It always fluctuates. I mean, (George Harrison's) 'Bangladesh' didn't do that well; first couple of McCartney albums didn't do too well. My least biggest single was a Number Ten. As long as it keeps on like that for the next ten years I don't give a shit.
Yet you're at the most fickle end of the rock scale.
"Well, I wouldn't consider selling 37 million records over four years fickle.If I wasn't selling them any more I might agree. The point it-every two or three years, every year-and-a-half - to go out and make a classic one (single), which is what makes you different from muzak. Don't you think I could go out and do 'Puppy Love' and be Number One for five years?"
I did at that time. It went from
'Wow it's great that Marc's made it' to 'Teenybopper trash'. Totally
nothing to do with the music.
He breaks off to recall a letter published in one of the music papers at the time of the
"first really big tour", just after 'Hot Love'.
The tour was a sensation but on
the second day I saw that paper and I really wanted to put a coat over
my head and just run away, because it hurt me. Y'know someone writes
in really slagging it off and yet you can't get into the station for
millions of kids. I was that gullible, but it only happens once like
But that's what I was into at the time and you think 'Wow, I don't have to take this. I don't have to go to school, I can just jump over the wall and run away. I really was gonna split y'know, run off, literally from the station, just disappear.
Then I thought of all the kids who are digging it, and here's this one guy who's written a letter in, right, and you take it straight to heart.
OK, but let me take you back again. Now you indicated last time we met that the respect of other musicians was important to you, that at some time in the future you'd want that respect. Now it seems to me you haven't achieved that.
I don't even want it
No...umm...that was two-and-a-half years ago. I think it's a defence; I didn't even mean it then. Everyone I know respects me as a man...friends...which is all I can ask from anyone."
I don't know
I'm a cocky little bastard-probably a lot of it's to do with that-in their eyes. I don't think I am at all. I think I'm straightforward and reasonably honest."
I can't agree with you because I don't see it that way. If doesn't mean to say that you're not right. But I can't imagine anything I do having much to do with anyone else, it's none of their business. Gimme an instance when I've incited anyone?"
I've thought it myself, "What what hell is he up to?
They might be right; there are people who say the earth is flat. I mean...umm...I won't disagree with any of it. I live my life according to how I live it. I can't change how I live my life. God touched me and touched my Karma and allowed me to get my freedom in the way I wanted as a human being...
I don't have any idea what my
intentions were. I'm not that materialistic. I don't analyse anything
What would you do if the audience suddenly ceased to exist?
At this moment I would buy a villa in Spain. I'd spend three or four months learning to ride very well. I'd make a film immediately....
I wouldn't talk if I wasn't serious...
But it's unlikely that it would suddenly go, just like that.
It's been known. In my case I would say it's highly unlikely but it has been known
Yes, I'd have no choice
It might be a musical decline which I can rectify in five minutes. When I run into serious trouble I'll sit down and knock you out five hits-well easy, no problem
So there you have it. We continue talking loosely, stuffing our faces
with hamburgers fetched in from up the street, and when Marc says he
has to go to look at a house he's thinking of buying I'm sitting
there wondering whether I should make a second attempt to penetrate the armadillo shell
or throw in the towel and acknowledge the No Entry signs.
*Well, here we are, some five/six weeks later, being greeted at the
Marc's flat in St.John's Wood by a well-structured black lady singer name of
Gloria Jones and I guess you all by now will have sussed that we're going in for
a second crack.
Pretty soon there's some white wine a-flowing freely, some music on the
juke-box, and Marc's stretching himself out on a settee talking 'bout being up
all night in the studio but looking altogether less uptight about this whole
interviewing malarkey than he was when last we met.
No. I don't want to talk about
that, because there isn't one really-it's
just a change
change the subject. What about the last album, just released last time
we met, and now just on its way out of the charts after a short
appearance-having hardly set the sales lists on fire.
Well, it's sold 75,000 already,
so I mean...saleswise I'm very pleased with
it. I don't go on charts. Compared with some records in the charts...
Now at this point I don't think anybody would've minded if Bolan had
the mike and confided: "Yeah, I guess it flopped a bit but..."
But what? Well, that old line about not going on charts is not gonna get wound
round me for one, and if Marc really believes all that "relative success" stuff
then he's falling for Trap One of the Rock Star Ivory Tower Malaise.
Then we get into this awfully tortuous bit of dialogue over the fortunes of
T-Rex in the States where I'm genuinely trying to offer solid reasons why bands
like the Rex and Roxy and Slade find it more difficult to make a go of it in
America, and Marc keeps stopping me in my tracks with comments like: "Well, I
haven't put any product out for a year" and "All I can say is, 'Get it On' sold
Hang on a minute Marc, I'm not trying to crucify you. What I'm trying to put
forward is a more than acceptable bit of reasoning for the glitzier English
bands finding it more difficult to cut it in boogie-land, and all you're doing
is skootling around on the defensive-it just ain't necessary.
I'm really not that calculating.
I'm just a little kid. I mean, gimme a
break. What you're asking me is market research
But Marc, no-one ever needs to use market research. If I was to say to you that,
from my experience, there is a substantial audience for T-Rex but that it stops
dead at a certain point-and beyond that the anti-reactions are equally
Can't you apply that to every artist
There are a few where the divisions are so extreme.
I always felt with The Stones that
it was like that; with The Beatles it was
amount of respect. With T-Rex the division between those who like and
those who don't like seems exceptionally acute.
I'm not sure I agree, actually
But if I said that in my experience this was so, would you argue with it?
No, no, no, no, no. Many times I'll
read, y'know 'Typical Bolan crap
lyrics-meaningless'. To me that guy is just an egg, man. If he can't see the
emotion I put into it and the feeling, then it ain't written for him. As far as
I'm concerned he's insensitive. As far as he's concerned I'm writing a load of
crap. Why do they write in, the anti-letters?
Usually in answer to a T-Rex fan.
I always felt it was the nasties first, the nice ones afterwards
Is it? I never read letters'
pages. I'm sure you write them all anyway. No
alright, you couldn't make them up-it would be impossible. Errh...I dig'em. I've
always wanted to write back, because they get on such weird trips
I suppose I nark people for some reason. Like Jagger always worked at
narking the older people. I don't work at narking anybody. I nark'em anyway.
Like it's very hard to be asked questions like why people think you're a
cocky little nark. It's more important to me that people think I'm a groove. I
mean, I know what's bad in me; I know my shortcomings and my good points. I
mean, I can't say why Hitler killed all those millions of people-and he had a
dog didn't he, he was very nice to it-but I mean, I tend to be...used to
be...far too open and honest with the press. And everyone thought I was putting
them on. I tend to be much harder to talk to, and even the way you are
approaching talking to me is much harder than we used to do. Purely because
So you've come to terms with not...
With being evasive
Yeah, only because people never
believed me. Whatever anyone says, you can
be made to sound a real creep. If it's put in the right way you don't mind if
you come out a creep, as long as the personality comes through.
With rock'n'roll papers, I've always found that when you start getting
serious and talking very serious it always sounds rubbish-sounds as if you've
suddenly gone all 'Power to the People
Everything. I think the country's
screwed up. There's a lot of things I'm
into...movies I want to see...there's so much going down...I really like that
Ann Peebles record. There are lots of things I'm disappointed in, lots of things
I like. I'm very pleased with the TEAC I've got. You write that down-it's just a
few words y'know, means nothing.
I'm pretty concerned with what's happening to this country at the moment.
It's worrying the shit out of me 'cos I really care about it. Written down,
that's gonna look really stupid. But I mean, that's much more important than
going to a rock show. There's a whole world out there.