Bolan was a huge star at the time of this interview. But still, he tries to downplay his fame and status amongst his fans despite the interviewers insistence to follow this up with several questions. Good man and down to earth is two ways to describe Mr. Bolan after reading this article.
Bolan: rock and roll star through the people
By Steve Peacock
Walking into Marc Bolan`s new offices in Holborn last week, you were walking off the street onto a film set. People everywhere, cameras, bright lights, hush-signals from the office people; a film crew who said they wanted half-an-hour in the morning, were still there at four.
It`s been one of those days and Marc Bolan is very tired – even after the film crew has gone, it takes a while to settle into an interview. We talk first about the new album, due out next month, which is mostly recorded (basic tracks with the band in France, then mellotron and Marc overdubs in Denmark, Mothers Mark and Howard putting on backing vocals in America, and still some strings to be overdubbed) but not yet mixed.
For Marc, it is the most important album so far, and the best. It has, he says, the best songs he`s written on it, and he`s lived with it for a while, using a lot more in the production, making the sound fuller.
“There`s a couple (of tracks) which are so solid, they`re as solid as anything that`s ever happened in rock and roll, and there are some which sound like something I could have written when I was 12. It`s strange the way it`s come together.”
After all that`s happened with T. Rex and their enormous popularity in the last year, recording has become a lot more important to Marc. Gigs aren`t that frequent now, because they`re such monsters to organise, so it`s the one sure way he can involve himself in rock and roll – in a studio.
“It`s strange,” he says, “because a rock and roller is only alive when he`s doing what he does, which is rock and roll. It`s like a carpenter working with steel is no good – he has to work with wood, so if you`re not actually doing what you do, you function, but you don`t function well. It`s a great dilemma.
“What happens is that one becomes so big that you can`t play anywhere, so what happens is you don`t play at all, and that`s cool. But then recording becomes all important – which is probably why I groove on this album, and the single, I love the single so much. I always know, when I feel that I really don`t care if it doesn`t sell, not that there`s really any problem in that direction, obviously. But I mixed it for me and I played it about 20 times, and each time I got off on it, and the overall feel of the three tracks is just so fine. And that`s what it`s about, that and getting into people`s homes. The rest is garbage.”
Did he feel he`d been driven back into himself by what had happened? “Yes, being very honest. It`s hard, because while you`re there you have to totally disappear and be unobtainable, which is very boring. Or you have to go out and do it – and you have to go out and do it regardless actually, it doesn`t really matter, it doesn`t matter what people say. What matters is that you can put up the electric fences to keep the people that are a drag out. But one mustn`t dwell on it too much.”
But did he feel at all close to T. Rex fans – the people who idolised him and bought records and stuck posters on the wall? He did, he said. But in what way, because it was impossible for him to have any personal contact with them?
“When you make a record though, I believe you put basically 95 per cent of the goodness that`s in you onto that record – it`s very revealing. If you do it seriously. If you`re singing a double track melody by Itch Miller and it goes out and it`s a million seller, and you weren`t even on the session, it doesn`t really mean too much; but if it`s a thing that you`ve thought about and lived with for three months and re-mixed 12 times, and cut and made sure it was loud enough and got a good design on the cover – lived with it for three months, it means everything to you.
“So consequently when it goes out it`s me. No more, that`s it – the most I can give, and it`s there. So people accept that, and they take that to their hearts or wherever, to their heads, I don`t care, I`m not going to diagnose the way they use it. I don`t really care, because I have moments of being really into lyrics, and then it`s a guitar lick, and then it`s the sound, and then if it sounds good in mono, I flash on a million different things all at the same time anyway, so if they can pick up on one of those sections it`s right on. I demand nothing – I only demand the radio plays it; that`s all one needs with a record.
“If radio plays it I know we`re going to have hit records for ten years. If they don`t play it, like they didn`t play `Deborah` when it came out, we won`t have hit records. I mean I knew `Deborah` was a hit, I knew `One Inch Rock` was a hit – the only one I never liked was `Pewter Suitor`, and it wasn`t really my decision to release it. The B-side, `Warlord Of The Royal Crocodiles` was a monster, and I`m going to re-record it.”
Putting yourself out through a record is surely a very one-sided form of contact, though – contacting people, rather than having contact with people.
“But I get the knowledge of knowing that they enjoyed it, which is ultimate contact. You know – and on live gigs there`s so much atmosphere that it doesn`t really matter, as long as you play well. I still believe that you have to play – I don`t believe all that stuff about a group can go out and cough and get a standing ovation. I don`t believe that for one moment – I don`t care who you are. I`ve seen people deteriorate during a performance -they go out and it`s all over, and then by the ninth number people were leaving. That would upset me.
“But we`re only here for 60 years or something – if we`re to do it, do it, don`t jive about. We have an allotted amount of time which we can make as funky as we want, and we have to be funky or not at all. We have nothing to win and nothing to lose either way. So if you`re going to do it, do it. Don`t worry about other people.”
He doesn`t worry about other people?
“How can you? You can ask them, but how can you be worried about them? How can you get over-concerned? If you do what you do and you do it well, and you know you do it well, you do it well. If someone else thinks you do it well, that`s for them to decide.”
How did it feel to be on stage, like at Wembley and know that all those people were focusing right on him idolising him?
“I`m more concerned whether my guitar`s in tune, to be honest. There`s too much to think about on stage because I know that if I stop playing, or if no-one plays for 10 minutes the whole thing will be a shambles, so you try to keep the motion of the show together. Because it is a show – I don`t deny showbiz. I`m not a part of it, but I don`t deny it. So people come and you can`t let them hang for 25 minutes while you tune a guitar, it doesn`t feel good; if they`re up they want to get higher, and once they`re down you won`t get them up, I don`t care who you are.”
The feeling I got at Wembley, though, was that while Marc Bolan, the person, was up on stage rocking out with his tongue half into his cheek, there were thousands of kids out there going through all kinds of very intense changes, with a very different idea of what he was doing.
“But it`s science fiction, you`ve got to realise. I mean there`s some dude on the moon now isn`t there? Nothing is real to them, it`s all gone. If that thing blows up now it`s got nothing to do with what`s happening here now in this room.
“We used it for the movie, basically, but I don`t consider having 20 foot blow-ups of me egotistical, even. I consider it setting a mood, because I`m not that thing – no-one is that thing. It makes a mood, creates a situation, which is acceptable in the life of a person. It makes it slightly more ecstatic. I find it much more enjoyable to listen to rock and roll through cans than listening through a radio, because I can`t hear people talking. And that`s what I was trying to do with that concert – vibe them up.
“To me it was unique, to them it was unique, and it was unique anyway. Right on. That`s all it was – we made a night. Everyone in that place was an artist, everyone at that concert helped create a piece of art. If there`s going to be a rock and roll history it`ll go down in it. End of story. But this is seven weeks later – really. That was the end of an era for me, that concert.”
Bolan admits to what, in Los Angeles, they call a faultline mentality – where people reason that they might disappear in an earthquake any minute, therefore do what you have to do immediately, don`t plan for security, and try anything you want. “Do you not think it`s wise to look at your life like that? … I mean that`s what it`s about man, there`s nothing more. Any moment. If you don`t live your life like that then you don`t have a life, because there`s nothing – only people.”
But what I felt at Wembley was an overwhelming sense of people submerging themselves as people, becoming not people but worshippers.
“But they`re tuning in to that feeling from me, maybe. I don`t know, I haven`t seen that. I read your article and it read very strange to me because I didn`t see that – I wasn`t there. I see the movie and it`s a movie. It`s bigger than I remember, and the people were more excited than I remembered; but I was thinking about guitar leads and wah-wah pedals working. I was thinking about holding the gig together. I didn`t see what went down, I just know that the impression it made was very strong.”
He said the cardboard cut-out thing was a jive, camp, and the same could be said, I suppose, of the tambourine and guitar-neck trick, the whole boogie stage act. But even when it`s jive to him, to the kids it`s not, they don`t realise.
“They don`t want to.” So it`s down to them, not to Marc Bolan? “It`s nothing to do with me. I`m what I am and I can`t change what I am. I do what I do, and I respond – it`s all the same thing, it`s one. Without them, I`m just a poet. With them I`m a rock and roll star – trophies man, like rhinoceros heads. I didn`t shoot them though. I didn`t shoot the rhinoceros. That`s the difference.”
But did he see what I meant about the effect it has on people?
“Yes, but I don`t experience it. You see what I don`t see, so I can`t really comment. The times change, and things expand, and it`s just odd for all of us to see what`s happened with T. Rex in the time now, because it`s a very odd period of history, very fast. We`ve done in a year what took the Beatles four years. And if I never put another record out we`d stretch out this year.
“So if one had a Manson complex one could convince everyone you were a god – you really could. But that`s not what it`s for. It just depends what you want; I`d find it incredibly empty and boring.”
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. Any errors in the text from the original magazine may not have been corrected for the sake of accuracy. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of Sounds also contains articles/interviews with these people: Wishbone Ash, Maggie Bell, David Clayton-Thomas (Blood, Sweat & Tears), Matching Mole, Jon Lord, Ornette Coleman, Peter Frampton, Rod Argent, Rita Coolidge, ELP, Robert Altman, Happy And Artie Traum.
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