Just because you dab glitter on your cheeks and sing freaky songs about wizards and fairies does not necessarily mean you’re a pansy. Au contraire! It more likely means you are a working class lad from Blighty. Yes, I’m talking about my homeland. Something about the oppressive grittiness of England—postwar London in particular—has produced scads of fearlessly flamboyant hetero-rebels: Mick Jagger, Ray Davies, David Bowie, and, yes, the ne plus ultra of this genre—the most original and whimsical pixie in the pile—Mr. T-Rex himself, the genius cosmic glam-rocker Marc Bolan.
Click here to watch Marc Bolan and T-Rex perform RIDE A WHITE SWAN
Born Marc Feld in 1947, this pretty petite Jewish attention-junkie got his start in rough-as-guts Hackney. At age 9, Eddie Cochran-lovin’ Marc got his first guitar. At 16, he became a mod model. At 20, he joined a band called John’s Children. Their hit song, "Desdemona," was famously banned by the BBC thanks to Bolan's lyric, Lift up your Skirt and Fly. Bolan then took his own lyrical advice: He formed a new band called Tyrannosaurus Rex, grabbed his dirndls, and zoomed off into the cosmos.
For the hippies who devoured Lord of the Rings (when it was only a book), listened to Dylan and Donovan, and schlepped off to Glastonbury back when it was still a whole Druid situation, Tyrannosaurus Rex provided an astoundingly powerful bong-hit. The group’s first album featured the longest and fey-est title in rock history: My people were fair and wore sky in their hair…and now they’re content to wear stars on their brows…
Marc’s trademark anxious vibrato and trippy diction became synonymous with the psychedelic folk movement. Three more albums followed, each jam-packed with Bolan-penned songs about lizards and wizards, and then, Kapow! A glamtastic switcheroo: The wizards all donned glitter-encrusted platform boots; Tyrannosaurus Rex became T-Rex; and Marc joined the glamrock revolution, pumping out hit after catchy gorgeous brilliant hit: "Ride a White Swan," "Hot Love," "Get It On (Bang a Gong)," "Jeepster," "Telegram Sam," "Metal Guru," and more. While Roxy Music and Bowie pushed glamrock in a cooler, elitist direction, Marc Bolan went stark-raving pop, vamping and pouting his way into megastardom.
The satin-clad elf from the wrong side of the tracks moved to a posh neighborhood and embarked on a fabulous life of sequin-encrusted luxury, complete with white vintage Rolls Royce. Cars were a leitmotif in Bolan’s lyrics and, sadly and horribly, in his untimely death. In 1977, back-up singer/girlfriend Gloria Jones wrapped their purple Mini around a sycamore tree. Sans seat belt, Marc flew through the windshield, and England lost an adored original.
Marc Bolan went stark-raving pop, vamping and pouting his way into megastardom.
So what was so cool about Marc Bolan?
He was cool because he defied the butch oppression of London’s East End by wearing fluffy sweaters and paillettes. He and his co-conspirator David Bowie developed their unique style while rummaging together through the trash cans of discards on Carnaby Street. (FYI, that’s Marc playing guitar on "The Prettiest Star" and yodeling back-up on "Heroes.")
Marc was cool because his poetic lyrics were insane and wildly imaginative:
I got a powder keg leg
And my wig's all pooped… for you.
With my hat in my hand
I'm a hungry man… for you
I got stars in my beard
And I feel real weird…. for you.
He was cool because he never straightened his hair. His iconic look—corkscrew curls, top hat, boa, and glittery cheeks—continues to inspire generations of performers, from Slash to Stevie Nicks, from Cher to Twisted Sister, and now Ke$ha.
If you happen to find yourself in London this coming Sept 16th, throw on a feather boa, stop by the Marc Bolan Shrine on Gypsy Lane, and join the fans who pay annual tribute to the fearlessly fey and fabulously talented Marc. Sequins not optional.
Writer, fashion commentator, and window-dresser, Simon Doonan, is known for his provocative "Simon Says" column in The New York Observer. He has written four books: Confessions of a Window Dresser, Wacky Chicks, a memoir entitled Nasty and a tongue-in-cheek style guide entitled Eccentric Glamour. Nasty is to be re-released as Beautiful People . A comedy TV series entitled Beautiful People , produced by Jon Plowman, will debut on LOGO in May.