David Bowie turned out to be the more enduring artist, but T. Rex's Marc Bolan was the greatest star of glam rock. Keith Altham interviewed him for NME in October 1971, following the release of T. Rex's classic Electric Warrior album and just before their smash hit 'Bang a Gong'——Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages
I do believe I am in grave danger of becoming a pleb! For example, in the opinion of a number of eminent musical critics Marc Bolan "the little Bopper" is contributing nothing significant or worthwhile to the pop music front with his recent singles or new album Electric Warrior.
There is, for example, very little in the way of progressive musical diarrhoea or intuitive cosmic flashes from the lyrics department. What there is appears to be good old-fashioned funky kind of music in the form of easy rock and roll, which has brought him a string of big hits like 'Hot Love', 'Ride A White Swan' and 'Get It On'.
Is it right that someone should be making music apparently just for the sheer joy of it and transmitting that enjoyment to other people, I ask myself, without any apparent regard for intellectual, spiritual or political well-being of others? Are there no more philosophies of the Id to be expounded? No more secondhand quasi-religious theories to be elaborated upon? No more individual egos to be bared?
Just well-played, refined rock and roll with some good hooks and story lines. Tish and Tush. But I like it. Should I wash my mouth out with few thousand decibels from the "Fathers of Destruction" or go bury my mind in a good mantra from Ravi Oli? No. I've decided to play it clever and admit my deficiencies. A pleb and proud of it, sir.
Meanwhile off Little Venice where Mrs Bolan bakes an extremely appetising spinach pie, I find the lad himself straight from his long tour around the Stateside recording company, where he has been attempting to put a little fervour into their ardour by ringing round the positions of T. Rex in the around the World's singles charts in red ink and inviting them to remove the proverbial digit from the all American arse.
I taxed our man at the top as to what he had to say for himself and how dare he be a success and an entertainer to boot? Just what did he mean by going on Top Of The Pops and camping it up anyway?
"Oh come on," grinned the amiable imp ensconcing himself upon the lounge sofa lounging, "I've always been a wriggler. I just dig dancing. It was just a bit difficult to wriggle when I was with Peregrine sitting cross-legged on the stage.
"I mean, I am my own fantasy. I am the 'Cosmic Dancer' who dances his way out of the womb and into the tomb on Electric Warrior. I'm not frightened to get up there and groove about in front of six million people on TV because it doesn't look cool. That's the way I would do it at home.
"It's not serious. I'm serious about the music but I'm not serious about the fantasy. It's no big deal being on TV! I'm on Top Of The Pops doing that routine next to people like Val Doonican to demonstrate just that point — it's not serious.
"Way back in 1970 I decided that if I could go all out and just let go with the visual thing I'd drop out and write science fiction. My head is perfectly clean inside. I'm sorry if my actions upset some people but I'm absolutely honest about what I'm doing and I know it gives a lot of people pleasure. Those who are offended can always switch off.
"It's my life and I'm enjoying myself more now than ever before. I'm a rock and roll poet man who is just bopping around on the side. I'm not about to do the Engelbert Humperdinck Show — they can rip me off when I get into that bag but what I do now is what I believe in and if they don't like it they can go ride a bike!
"Y'know it's really ironic that if I had made an album like Unicorn today the critics would have really got into the words and the motivations whereas when it was issued it got put down for being pretentious jive. In today's critical climate it would be regarded as a masterpiece! Electric Warrior might appear simple on the surface but it has a lot of little 'sneakies' in there if you want to dig deeper.
"It's probably the loosest album I've ever recorded because it was done between gigs in America and I was essentially concerned with putting down rough tracks to establish a sound but they felt so good that we kept them after for the finished track. It's a highly communicable album and that is the name of the game as far as I'm concerned.
"There is so little time for us all I need to be able to say what I want quickly and to as many people as possible. Time passes so slowly if you are unaware of it and so quickly if you are aware of it. But there are some really worthwhile things on that album you can get into if you put your headphones on — backward guitar, baroque strings..."
You will certainly not find Marc putting down his success in the singles charts or underrating the importance of the teen market. Young people have a habit of becoming older people. What about the pseuds who gave him a bad time when he appeared at the Weeley Festival apparently because of his number one top of the pops success.
"I felt like I was reading about some other concert," replied Marc. "It really wasn't a question of 'booing' — I never heard any. There were a few loud mouths, one of which made a nasty remark and I replied in kind. But he made the same remarks to the Faces. A few flying bottles and a lot of noise — what usually goes down at a pop Festival, but I was pleased with the reaction we got. I thought it was a very good gig.
"I don't contrive my success in the sense of going into a studio to make hit singles. I've no idea what makes a hit single anyway. I go in and do what I like — just the funkiest thing I have goes into a single. I get a few people in the business come up and give me a nudge and say 'Go on, Bole, you've got it made — you're a sly one', but I really don't have any kind of secret formula. I just don't think like that.
"I honestly believe 'Get It On' was one of the best things I've ever done and the only kind of criticism I'm going to accept about it is that if someone can say 'well that's out of tune or the guitar work is crap' O.K. but I know it isn't."
Mr. Bolan's greatest sin appears to be that he is popular. However for those who are looking for some heavier intent they might feel consoled to learn that Marc's next album is to be Children Of Orion, which is a science fiction symphony with more substantial material. The entire album is a story and there have already been two generous offers to film the saga.
Just in case you happen to be a pleb like me at heart, who enjoys the little bopper, you might be more relieved to learn that 'Ride A White Swan' was taken from this epic and so it should not be too far above our heads.
© Keith Altham, 1971
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- Marc Bolan