Marc Bolan: "I'm Writing As If I'm Not Going To Be Around Much Longer"

Keith Altham, NME,

JUST WHEN IT seemed that all the excitement, glamour and sparkle were going out of rock along with the anger, vulgarity and vitality which grew out of the back-street bands in the days of gold, along comes the Faces, Slade, Cooper, Bowie and Bolan.

For some strange reason it seems Bolan has come off worse at the hands of the critics than his contemporaries and one of the reasons, which he is aware of himself, was his rapid transformation from "the underground" Elfin Prince with Took and albums like Unicorn to the over-ground cosmic rocker of T.Rex and 'Get It On' with Micky Finn.

"It was the transformation from what people thought was 'the Little Elfin Prince and the Summer Toadstool' to a heavy electric rock star in just over a year that freaked everyone out," says Bolan.

"It seemed I was the most unlikely person to become that sort of performer to everyone else but me."

One of the memories that sticks in my mind of early Marc Feld is of a precocious young man who patronised the pubs and hangouts which the musical press frequented, and thrust records like 'The Wizard' at us with the blithe propaganda that one day he would be "very big like Presley" but he knew none of us would believe him.

That was six years ago.

It was an outrageous thing for a young man with no success to recommend him, but it was said not so much with arrogance as a confident belief in his own fate.

Today it doesn't seem so silly.

"I've always believed in myself and in my eventual success as an artist," says Bolan today. "I knew that if I ever really broke through, it would be as an extrovert performer because it was what I always wanted to do but I did not expect things to get this big although, on the other hand, I think it will now be a whole lot bigger once my film Born to Boogie comes out.

"We've shown it to a few people in the States and they were absolutely stunned – they've never seen a film like it or reactions to a concert like it since the Beatles.

"There's a very surrealistic aspect to the film in which Ringo is depicted as a Doormouse and I'm the Mad Hatter and we have this amazing scene where I'm reciting Byron type poetry in a bright red Cadillac – all very camp – and we end up singing 'Tutti Frutti'.

"It's very difficult for me to give you a literal description. You'll just have to see it to believe it."

POSSIBLY DUE to the fact that I got my grounding in a musical era which spawned John Lennon and Paul McCartney prattling happily about "Please, Please Me – oh yeah" and 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand', while other future contenders for the heavy-weight titles were instructing people to "Gerroffmycloud", it has always been difficult for me to take my music over seriously.

I prefer just to have fun and enjoy it. Nik Cohn, who wrote the best rock book I've come across, A Wop BobaLooBobALopBamBoom would know what I mean and so, I think, does Bolan.

"I'm unreal – I always have been. I perpetuate that image myself because there is no one behind me to do it for me. Now I feel like I am writing out of a sense of desperation, as though I have the feeling I'm not going to be around much longer.

"It's not something like a nervous breakdown. I feel like I've gone beyond the point of a nervous breakdown several times in the last few months. What happens is that you end up functioning quite normally.

"Those last four concerts we did in England, I only did them to see if I could still play.

"I'm arranging things and organising things and suddenly I realise I haven't seen the guys in the band for two months and so I have to get up and prove myself.

"My writing is like a reflection of whatever I'm feeling at that time. Sometimes I get up in the middle of the night and cut my fingers to bits practising and writing.

"I wrote a line the other night which ran 'A stud is a lamb with the thoughts of a tiger – he leaps like a cat 'cos he knows how to ride her' and it seems worth the effort."

BOLAN IS A mirror-man. He knows he reflects something that is going on now and tomorrow it may be someone else's reflection he is looking at.

He couches a lot of his lyrics in science fantasy because they are one way to relate fact in fictional terms without anyone nailing your skin to the wall. Try Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert or Michael Moorcock for reference at your nearest bookstall.

The electric imp is both a fact, fantasy and a nightmare of Marc's own making which has made him public property.

"I'm still in the position that when I actually walk outside the door as an animated human being, my fans are stunned and faint or collapse or freak because I'm not real for them.

"I've tried going out for a walk with hair stuffed under a trilby hat and a raincoat and it lasts about five minutes before someone recognises me.

"It's not going to go on for ever because I won't let it – any more than Ringo lets it. He can walk down the street now and he gets noticed but there are no frantic scenes like in the old Beatles days because he's a grown man."

What pop music did in the good old bad gold days was to capture moods and reflect the feelings of it's generation in a simple banal phrase but, to me, they were more honest and more typical of their time – Freddy Cannon, U.S. Bonds, Jimmy Jones, Fury, Wilde and Faith who are now musical cameos of their time.

All good honest fiction before pop grew a mind and produced a musical conscience and some genuinely creative and constructive musicians. But the rest became an inert, sophisticated and insufferably smug collection of pretentious poets and musical psycophants.

Meanwhile the Bolans boogie on, and for those that like to dig a little deeper the things he had to say cross-legged on the floor with Took when once his children were fair and wore stars in their hair are still there slid between the lines – "sneakies" as Marc prefers to refer to them.

"I don't feel like a sausage machine even though I've heard people say things like 'Here comes another number from the Marc Bolan hit factory'. I don't believe it because I know I'm in a constant state of change and I write from my state of mind at the time.

"I don't believe there is a formula. I go by a feeling inside me when I play certain chords, and because of the media of three minute radio you are committed to condensing that energy into a compact form. And that produces a framework in which I sometimes write, but then singles are only a small part of my work.

"Now I want to expand the concept of the band. I'm very satisfied with the people I have but I'd like to add another guitarist because I've always grooved on that very early Yardbirds sounds and maybe I'll bring in a mellotron or an organ organ. Seeing the Stones makes you want to thicken and add sounds."

It seems that in today's musical climate you are supposed to either love or hate Bolan which I find particularly confusing because I just like him and his music, but perhaps that is where the truth of the matter is – as usual between two extremes.

Some find it difficult to see the good in the writer for the glitter in his eyes, which is a pity because I'm convinced that behind the theatrics, which are all right to groove on anyway, there is an ingenious singer-songwriter.

© Keith Altham, 1972

Copyright 2008 The Till Dawn Organization. All Rights Reserved.