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    Journalism

    Marc Bolan 1972

    Category: Interviews
     

    MARC BOLAN   (Evening Standard, February 1972)

     

    Marc Bolan of the group T. Rex is the one super pop hero to have emerged in the vacuum left by the dissolution of the Beatles and the emigration of the Rolling Stones. While Jagger, Lennon, McCartney and friends drift quietly down the path towards middle age, Bolan, at twenty-four, with five number one hit records in just over a year, is beginning to scale the heights of mass hysteria and teeny-bopper adulation.

    Bolan and T. Rex (formerly known in more pretentious days as Tyrannosaurus Rex) had been around for some time before they first began to make big circles in the pool of pop, but it wasn’t until they moved from a rather dull acoustical sound to straightforward electrified rock and roll that the screaming began.

    To speak of T. Rex in the plural is actually misleading. Marc Bolan is T. Rex – and the rest of the band are just faceless back-up musicians. It’s Bolan with his sequinned tears glued to his cheeks before every performance, his guitar jutting out rudely like some enormous phallic symbol from his hips, his hair like an abused loofah, and his elfin, effeminate face who the kids go to see.

    I interviewed him at the shabby Maida Vale flat he and his wife June have been living in since before he hit the big time. A couple of joss-sticks burned like props from ‘The Summer of ’67’ in one corner while we talked and Bolan drank a glass of whisky. He is at once an intensely irritating, totally gullible yet strangely likeable fellow.

    Doesn’t June ever get jealous of the fans, I ask.

    ‘No,’ he says. ‘I don’t think any natural, intelligent level-headed person can get jealous of something so impersonal. I mean I don’t screw fifteen groupies a night. Look, I had my first chick when I was ten and once I got over being fifteen I only liked people for their heads. If they have nice bodies that’s very nice, too, but I really don’t want to go around the countryside giving babies to ladies who I don’t care about, and who may then write to the Sunday newspapers.

    ‘It will be interesting to see if there are any paternity suits. I’d never allow it to happen, and in a way I’m looking forward to someone bringing one – because they always do. But it would be impossible.’

    Rarely can a boy have faced his future with such single-minded ambition. Brought up in Hackney (his dad was a lorry driver and his mum had a stall on a market) he was photographed at thirteen by Don McCullin and briefly became known as King of the Mods. The year was 1963.

    Educated at a secondary modern school, he left at fifteen and took a two-year sabbatical. He explains: ‘When I was thirteen I was really into clothes as an energy force – the same way that I’m now into music. But by the time the pictures came out (in Town magazine) I was into books. After I left school I stayed at home for about two years learning many things – reading, teaching myself to write and play the guitar.’

    Did he mean he stayed at home doing nothing for two years, I asked, wanting to get it quite clear.

    ‘No,’ he said with a little impatience. ‘I’ve just explained. I grew. I educated myself in the way that I wanted to be educated. I didn’t work in the conventional sense. My mother used to give me five bob a day if I wanted to go out. But I didn’t go out much. I made my first record when I was seventeen. All the record companies had turned me down, then Decca let me record something and chose my name for me. My real name is Feld, but they called me Bowland. I didn’t like that so I later changed it to Bolan.

    ‘It’s very ironic because among the companies who turned me down was EMI. Now I have my own label – T. Rex Wax Company – with them. They just distribute my records and stick on the labels.’

    Had he ever done any conventional work, I wondered.

    ‘Yes, I worked for a week in a clothes shop in Tooting, and every night I went washing dishes in a Wimpy bar. I never got any sleep so I collapsed at the end of the week. I think I just did it to show my mum that I wasn’t a lazy little boy.

    ‘And then another time I did a week’s modelling. I got £1000 for that. I worked every day.’

    I expressed surprise at the size of his pay and this annoyed him.

    ‘Ah fuck off! Have you ever done any modelling? It’s hard work. I didn’t think it was a lot of money.’

    ‘I think it is,’ I said.

    ‘Well, it may be to you but it’s not to me. All I know is that I worked incredibly hard, and for three months they used the pictures all over the country. It’s all relative. Someone may write a song which earns him a million pounds, but because it only took him five minutes to write it you’re not going to say that because you work harder than he does then he shouldn’t get that money. It just happens that what he does happens to be more commercial or better.’

    At this point I began to say something about how justice seemed to be lost sight of now and again, and happened to mention the miners.

    And he said, ‘what miners?’, and I said ‘the miners who are on strike now,’ and he said he really didn’t want to talk about that.

    So we argued a bit inconclusively about nothing very much and then I asked him about a newspaper report I’d seen in which he claimed to be a millionaire.

    ‘I’ve never said I’m a millionaire,’ he said. ‘But I am, although I can’t get my hands on it. I’ve only got about £100 in the bank, but my record company, and I own it one hundred per cent, is worth a million pounds. It’s all pieces of paper, anyway. You never get paid for ages. I don’t consider myself over-paid. I give a service, and I get paid for it. I look after all the people around me. There’s not a friend who need want for anything.’

    Was it true he’d seen someone levitate?

    ‘Yes in Paris. He was standing on the floor and he raised himself about eight feet in the air.’

    Who else saw it?

    ‘I was with about five other people. It’s not important who they were,’ he said. Then adding: ‘You have a very downer attitude which I find disconcerting. Do you doubt it?’

    ‘I never doubt anything,’ I said.

    ‘I’ve also done magical rites and conjured up demons,’ he went on. ‘But these are things which aren’t really relevant.’

    How did he do it?

    ‘It takes time to learn,’ he confided. ‘I’ve also seen flying saucers. The world is mathematics … I mean it’s based on maths … and I was very bad at maths in school … well, there are certain herbs and incantations which make you invisible … you know, it’s possible to move into another astral plane by mental discipline. But, in fact, you don’t really become invisible, it’s just that you’re not visible to the person watching … you know, you might not be able to see me, but perhaps you could feel me …’

    What about the demons?

    ‘Well, I conjured up a spirit that wasn’t very friendly. It came in the form of a Greek boy. It was just something I wanted to check out to see if it was possible …

    ‘I believe you can do whatever you want to. You talked about the miners … well, I’m sure that if I were a miner, or I lived in a village with miners and I could see the injustices, then I’d make a point of going to the man to sort it out and I’d convince him into sorting it out …’

    By this time I was sorry I’d ever mentioned the miners, but he was in full flow about the ethics of self advancement.

    ‘I’d no education at school, but I wanted to be a writer so I taught myself to write. And I’d never written a song so I went out and bought a guitar and the same day I wrote three songs.’

    What else had he written, I asked.

    ‘Are you serious … you really don’t know?’ Then slipping from the room he re-appeared with a slim volume of poetry. ‘Here … the best selling book of poetry last year. Sold twenty thousand copies. There’s going to be a book of short stories soon.’

    Perhaps flattered by my interest in his literary talents he showed me his most recent piece, which he’d scrawled in a large and hurried childish hand sideways across a foolscap sheet of paper. Then taking it from me he showed me a much neater transcription of it which had been done by his wife. I noticed that she’d corrected all the spelling mistakes.

    I read the piece quickly, and I didn’t understand a word of it. But the fault must surely have been mine. Twenty thousand people can’t be wrong.

    What of the future then?

    ‘Well, I’ve no intention of playing rock and roll in three years’ time. I’ll be directing a film later this year … it’s something I think I can do a lot better than a lot of other people.’

    Did he ever have doubts about his own ability?

    ‘Of course. I have doubts about everything. There’s not a day goes by without me thinking I might die or that I won’t be able to play the guitar. There’s so much to doubt … about doing shows … television. I have doubts about this interview.’

    POSTSCRIPT Poor Marc Bolan. I suppose he had every reason to have doubts about that interview. After that flying initial start his career began to slide during the seventies. Of course, he never was a millionaire, nor did he direct a film, but I don’t believe he was deliberately lying to me. He was, I suppose, among those sad fantasisers who could never really understand why others were laughing at them. He was killed in a car crash in 1979.
     

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