Marc Bolan, whose real name is Mark Feld, was a British singer, guitarist, lyricist and composer, known for being the leader of the T. Rex group.
In the early 1970s he was one of the leading exponents of glam rock, such as David Bowie and Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music. As we usually do, we will tell you his story, on the occasion of the anniversary of his death, which took place on September 16, 1977 in London.
From Mark Feld to Mark Bolan
The son of a truck driver and a fruit seller, Bolan was born on 30 September 1947 and grew up in postwar England in Hackney, east London, and then in Wimbledon. He becomes enthusiastic about Gene Vincent and Chuck Berry’s rock and roll at an early age.
At the age of nine, Bolan received his first guitar and soon joined a skiffle band. In full adolescence, he left school “by mutual agreement” with the direction of the same, to enter briefly in a modeling agency. There he becomes a “John Temple Boy”, a model that appears in men’s clothing catalogs.
At age 17, he tries to start a career in music, with Bob Dylan among his influences. Wearing a denim cap and playing an acoustic guitar, he tried his luck by founding the group John’s Children with percussionist Steve Peregrin Took: their repertoire was then rhythm ‘n’ blues. The Desdemona song becomes a minor hit.
The birth of T. Rex
In 1968 Bolan forms the acoustic duo Tyrannosaurus Rex, always accompanied in tabla da Steve Peregrin Took: his poetic texts evoke the writings of Tolkien and Lewis Carroll. The single Deborah gets some success. In 1969 they released their best album Unicorn, but tensions quickly appeared within the duo.
Bolan then separates from his partner Took for political differences: the latter is replaced by Mickey Finn. In 1970 Bolan changed the formula of his group. Renamed T. Rex, the group becomes more “electric” with the help of Finn. Bassist Steve Currie and drummer Bill Legend then come to join them but the photos always show a duo.
T. Rex then had phenomenal success in Britain, comparable to Beatlemania, and called T. Rextasy. In 1971, the hits Hot Love, Get It On and the Electric Warrior album made Bolan a star. Thanks to his androgynous look and his colorful clothes, he has become one of the pioneers of glam rock.
A little curiosity: Marc Bolan was the first owner of the Gibson Les Paul Special later bought by Bob Marley in London, and became Marley’s main guitar.
The death of Marc Bolan
On September 16, 1977, returning from a tour with the punk group The Damned, Bolan dies in a car accident in London. He was a passenger in the car driven by Gloria Jones, his companion. He had had a son with her, Rolan. Gloria Jones was famous for being the performer of the song Tainted Love composed by Ed Cobb (the title will be successfully revived by Soft Cell in the early 80s).
That fateful evening Gloria Jones lost control of her mini 1275 GT and the car hit a tree hard. The singer died instantly while Gloria got away with a broken arm and a broken jaw.
During his life, Marc Bolan had never wanted to learn to drive, fearing premature death himself. Despite this fear, cars or automotive components are often mentioned in his lyrics, sometimes even the subject of many of his songs. The crash site has since become a pilgrimage site for Bolan fans, as reported by the British media. Since 1999, the place has been supported by a charity called TAG, which means “T. Rex action group”.
At Bolan’s funeral, singers David Bowie and Rod Stewart come to pay their last respects. The funeral service is held at the Golders Green synagogue (reflecting the Jewish heritage of his father – Bolan himself had claimed to be Jewish despite his mother being a Christian), his ashes were later deposited in the Golders Green crematorium.
Ironically, in the media, his disappearance is eclipsed by that of Elvis Presley happened a month earlier
“I’m not the type who ends up overdosing … I don’t have any excruciating pain inside me like like many other pop stars do; no desire for self-destruction.” – Marc Bolan
What does Marc Bolan leave us?
If, since his death, Bolan has been praised by a multitude of artists including Morrissey, Bono of U2 or Siouxsie, it has not always been the same throughout his life. Acclaimed by some critics, Bolan was also for some time little regarded by the music press.
However, his very active fan club made it possible to straighten this image so much that he was definitively consecrated as one of the most original “glam” rockers of the 70’s British scene. With his trembling voice and his simple and efficient way of playing the guitar, Bolan has created a “Space Boogie” style imbued with a very original poetry.
Marc Bolan will remain one of the inventors of glam rock, just like another androgynous artist of the time, David Bowie, author of the album Ziggy Stardust. Bowie’s title Lady Stardust is also an allusion to Marc Bolan. The glam rock genre will then be emulated with other bands such as Slade and Sweet.
“I have never had any competition, apart from Marc Bolan … I worked like crazy to overtake him” – David Bowie
Furthermore, Bolan is now a guitar hero recognized by his peers: composer Johnny Marr of The Smiths group cited him among his 10 favorite guitarists.
His songs have been revisited by several musicians. Children of the Revolution was played by Pete Doherty on Live 8 and also by Bono who sang it with Gavin Friday for the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. In the late 1990s, the band Placebo recorded a cover of 20th Century Boy for the soundtrack of the film Velvet Goldmine.
Bolan also inspired crooner singer Marc Almond who paid tribute to him at a concert in London in 2007.
Tina Turner & Ike’s famous Nutbush City Limits guitar riff is also said to be by Marc Bolan.