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Saucy words and a lot of ooooeee…
Marc Bolan on the wind of change, Bowie, Slade and Michael Jackson
By James Johnson
It was a pretty normal day at the London offices of T. Rex Wax Co.
The ever-present gaggle of teenies hung around outside, jumping slightly in excitement when anybody however unglamourous appeared from behind the impassive black door, while upstairs the phone rang with eager female voices asking the whereabouts of Marc and being told “We don`t know. This is a solicitor`s office.”
In the back room, chairman, general manager and chief shareholder of the operation, Marc Bolan Esq. was talking brightly and with quick-witted assurance about current developments.
Despite reports to the contrary, says he, overseas expansion is going well – especially in the States – while on the home front new product is about to be released.
One thing he`s been avoiding lately are press interviews and, dropping a nugget of ice into his glass of white wine, he explains that he`s sick of answering for things he doesn`t give a damn about anyway.
“Most of what I say is supposed to be taken humourously,” he continues, “because it`s not worth saying anything seriously anymore.”
What`s happened is that Bolan has tired of some of his more flippant comments being taken out of context and allegedly used against him.
In fact, he now seems almost too sensitive to criticism, and there`s a strange contradiction. He says he knows that whatever`s said can`t hurt him, because people keep on buying the records. Yet at times he seems almost desperate to defend himself.
I mention the band`s last tour of the States and the somewhat unflattering reports of their progress, and it brings forth a speedy response.
“I just appear to be a very open scapegoat for everybody and my only answer to those people is that they should look in the America trade press and see where we stand in the charts. And they should know that the truth is we didn`t play third on the bill to half-empty houses.
“Really I`ve no time anymore for people`s opinions when they`re totally untrue and misguided. If you want to know, we`re asking a lot of money to go back and we`re going to get it.”
So how did he personally feel about the tour? “Phenominal…I loved it. At the start we were playing alright but by the end we could have blown anybody offstage and we did, in fact, in `Frisco when we played with a couple of very big bands.
“It took four years to get to the position we`re in now here – and it`s taken less time there. The thing is, we`re not a singles band in the States. `Get It On` did a million but the others haven`t meant anything.
“It`s only through lack of airplay though, like we had in the beginning over here. I`m still convinced things like `Magical Moon` and `Rumbling Spires` would have been hits if they`d been played.
“But in the States we`re an album band and it`s not the same audience. The reason why people were knocking us was because there weren`t twelve-year-old chicks screaming, but that just shows the people who are against so-called teeny-bop music are really knicker wetters themselves.”
It was, according to Bolan, quite an adventurous tour, not least because they used Aretha Franklin`s backing singers on most of the gigs.
“I like to work with people,” he remarked. “I`ll use anyone if they`re good. On the `Born To Boogie` film, Ringo and Elton John play and it still sounds like T. Rex. I just move back and let Reg play the solo.
“I like playing back a bit. I`m not an egomaniac. I love to do my bit but I love to play with good people too. I`d like sometimes not to play on a number- just to sing. I`d really dig that, with chicks and stuff.
“In fact I want to find another guitar player who can also play sax and keyboards, so I can get into more solos.
“It`s likely we`ll do some concerts round Christmas and I`ll certainly use chick singers, probably also a couple of drummers and a piano player too if I can find the right people.”
All this is part of a wind of change blowing through T. Rex; a change that`ll be particularly evident on the band`s next album, recorded in Paris on their return from the States.
“We`ve gone through a radical change,” thought Bolan. “The album is totally a heavy rock album. I used a lot of black chicks on it, also Lesley Duncan. I feature a pianist very, very heavily and I play slide guitar on every track.
“It`s a gospel album in fact. Like, the title track is seven minutes long. There`s a lot of ooooooeeeee on it.”
What prompted all this?
“The States always does that to me and I spent time with Leon Russell, people like that, but it`s been coming for a long time. It`s just a natural thing. I`m into soul music actually but any change is just what I believe in at the time.
“I don`t believe in working out a plan saying next year we`re going to bring in flower power and next week Marc Bolan`s going to get his hair cut and every kid in the country is going to do the same. If that happens – fine – but I don`t believe in working on it.
“I don`t believe in taking fifteen full-page ads in music papers to let everybody know my name. If people come to see you for six months, they`ll know it anyway.
“You can hype it all up and ram it down people`s throats but all the experts seem pretty dumb anyway. Like, I know every rock and roll record ever made. Last night I read all the music papers in three minutes and knew everything in them. Theres`s nothing much to pore over is there?”
Back to the album: “I`m using a lot of brass and in fact a couple of saxes doing solos. I don`t know how radically different it`ll seem to other people, but I think it`s different.
“Like, I think you`ll have to agree that `Children Of The Revolution` was a change from `Metal Guru` or `Jeepster`. It was five times slower and had three string quartets on it for a start. It`s a bold album actually. Some of the lyrics are a bit saucy.”
More so than before?
“Yeah, I think it`ll upset a few mothers but then mothers are made to be upset.”
Is he still finding it easy to write lyrics? As easy, he answers, as some of his more basic bodily functions.
Yes, but lyrics people can identify with?
“Yeah, you look around and there`s a million things to write about. I`m trying to find things not to write about. I write like a maniac.”
But some of the lyrics on, say, “The Slider” seem a little obscure.
“Well, you tell me what`s obscure and I`ll tell you what it means.
“Like, somebody said to me the other day, `Marc, everything you write doesn`t mean a thing`. So I told him that for him it obviously doesn`t. I don`t mean it as a downer but that just shows where his head`s at. It just shows he doesn`t know what`s going on in mine.
“I`ve never written a line that doesn`t mean something. Like in `Baby Boomerang`, if you don`t know of Max`s Kansas City then that doesn`t mean anything. But where do you draw the line? Like, Dali isn`t going to sit there and say, `Hey man do they know what a soft clock is? Maybe I ought to paint an ordinary alarm clock.`
“But I must admit at times I`ve considered that nobody knows what I`m talking about…”
Perhaps it doesn`t matter?
“I don`t think it does. Who cares as long as it gets you off?
“The thing is, when I first started I borrowed from literary sources but now I can`t find many. Before, I was always in bookshops and now I`ve got rooms full of books I`ve never read.
What about the new line in teenage idols? Cassidy, the Osmonds, Bowie, people like that?
“Well the whole Cassidy thing is a very different scene from mine. And I think it`s much too soon, with no disrespect to David, to put him in the same class as me.
“Slade are on a different level – I`d give them that credibility but, without being arrogant or unfair, I certainly wouldn`t give it to David. He`s still very much a one-hit wonder I`m afraid. In four or five records` time it may be fair to put him in the same category – statistically speaking that is; it`s nothing to do with my own personal taste.
“Really, I`ve always thought Mott the Hoople were bigger than David. When you`re talking about him, you`re only talking about one record so far.
“I see myself put alongside all the people you see my name put alongside and I feel no kinship with them in any way. It`s not that I don`t like them, I just don`t listen to them.
“I`ve never heard a David Bowie album, or at least any of the last four. I`m not saying whether they`re good or bad, I just haven`t heard them. I`m still into Charlie Pattern or Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Leon Russell and Smoky Hogg.
“I know all the titles of these other things but I`ve never heard `Mouldy Old Dough` and don`t intend to.
“But anybody who can write a good song, to me, is a brother. People like Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne I think warrant more than some other people. And Pete Townshend is incredibly under-rated.
“As for David Bowie, I`ve known him for years and always been interested in what he did and his abilities. I think maybe he`s been sucked into something that`s unhealthy for him. I don`t know…But you can`t create an image, it`s only what you are. I don`t think you can create a James Dean.
“Also, the whole pop star machine thing is a heavy one to handle. Maybe David can cope with it. I suppose I managed, so…”
Bolan, in fact, seems to have handled all the pressures extremely well. Close to, he looks pretty healthy even though he says most of the time his system is a little done in.
“I look done in, don`t I?”, he asks. “I certainly have moments when I am.
“I suppose it`s part of the pain you have to bear as a musician. That`s how people become a great artist I suppose, it`s part of the pain they have to bear.
“I always say I`m a poet whether people like it or not. I`ve got a poet`s soul and it means you can hurt yourself a lot.”
Bolan once said he was a romantic poet and that all romantic poets have a death wish. Does this still stand?
“Yeah, I don`t know whether I`m going to be around for much longer as a human being. Like we had about four near-death plane crashes on this last tour, that`s why I can`t take everything seriously.
“I might easily stop tomorrow anyway. I don`t feel any obligation to carry on.”
Is he ever worried that in years to come he may be remembered more as a teenage idol than a serious musician?
“Look at it like this. As far as I can see, Michael Cassidy…no…that`s good, keep it in…Michael Jackson is a superb singer, unbelievable on stage. And there`s no way he`s not going to be around for the next forty years.
“If I`m still about I`d put myself in the same category, although some of the other people I`m not so sure about…namely the Top Twenty, Tin Pan Alley pop rock and rollers.
“I`m not that sort of person. I don`t mind if people think of me like that but it`s not true and never will be.
“Like the Beatles when they first came out were supposed to be the ultimately banal thing, but after five years people had just about got as far as dissecting their bogies. I don`t consider myself like the Beatles but I`ve got that credibility and I intend to use it, believe me.
“I can`t believe you would think I`m that shallow. Like, I paint. I`ve got enough for an exhibition and I`ve got five books finished which I`ve been sitting on for a long time.
“It`s not that people aren`t ready for them, it`s just at present they`re secondary to the music. There`ll be a time when they won`t be…maybe in five years` time if I get bored with being born to boogie.”
This number of the NME also contains articles/interviews with these people: Elton John, Ralph McTell, Blondel, King Crimson, Hawkwind, Liberace, Brewer`s Droop, Birtha, The Jacksons, Alice Cooper, The Osmonds.
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