SO NAUGHTY TO PRETEND ..."
STUDY OF TYRANNOSAURUS REX AND THEIR ROLE IN THE HIPPY UNDERGROUND SCENE
Forget all the clichés
- forget 'fey acoustic hippy-dippy folk phase before he went Glam'.
Forget the 'unique offbeat sound.' In particular, forget any
proto-New Age witterings about "Ancient Wisdom and Truth." The true
key to the secret behind the appeal of Tyrannosaurus Rex was, quite simply,
the fact that it was a "Fake".
If that last statement reads
like a moral indictment of Tyrannosaurus Rex, then frankly it shouldn't.
After all, it was one-time Bolan manager Simon Napier-Bell who once described
Marc as "a wonderful charming fraud." Classic pop music, especially in
this manufacturing nation Britain, has always sprung not from some
Luddite sense of 'realism' but from creative artifice. Tyrannosaurus
Rex were enchanting, exotic and mystical because they were calculated
to be so - and what is so wrong with that? Some of the most original and
interesting Pop groups ever were indeed original and interesting precisely
because they were thus contrived - classic 80s act Bow Wow Wow spring to
mind as an example.
Throughout his life, Marc
Bolan was essentially a seducer. As Napier-Bell observed, from the
age of 14 onwards Marc got what he wanted in life through sexual manipulation
(women by every attractive male archetype under the sun, gay men by homoerotica,
straight men by accurately aping flirtatious girlish mannerisms, etc) ultimately
incorporating this into T.Rex's stage act. When it came to seducing
a certain strata of the counterculture - middle class, trendy, culturally
snobbish and a tad self-righteous - Marc, with the connivance of Steve
Peregrin Took and later Mickey Finn, instead exploited quite different
levels of their conscience - their senses of fantasy and their aspirations
for cultural superiority.
In essence he was manipulating
their anxieties about being apart enough from the herd to be capable of
searching out rare gems of profound Serious Art - the more esoteric the
better. Thus Bolan was able to conduct a few years of advanced pop
apprenticeship by carving out a temporary career fronting an avant-fashionable
Alternative Music act. Tyrannosaurus Rex was, correct, a con trick,
yet it was the group's very 'phoniness' which gave them the freedom to
create music and visuals far more captivating and appealing than that of
more 'real' folk-hippy festival troubadours such as the Incredible String
Band or Gong.
Such 'genuine' acts, being
themselves slaves to the same obsessions with authenticity as their fans,
lacked the potency to charm and so have aged very badly indeed. The
'counterfeit' Tyrannosaurus Rex, by contrast, still stand up today as beguilingly
beautiful and soothing (if offbeat) music with which to chill out and so
has lasted the test of time.
Tyrannosaurus Rex's history
divides into two distinct phases - Seduction and Abandon. The cut
off point lies with the change of sideman, but that isn't the real point.
In essence, the Took era represents The Seduction and the Finn era represents
the Abandon. The latter quite simply covers the gradual dismantling
of the increasingly obsolescent Contrivance, starting with Took's departure
and ending with a glammed up T.Rex giving its first glammed up Proper Pop
performances on Top Of The Pops in March 1971. As such, it incorporates
the first few months of T.Rex - Marc and Mickey cracking the charts with
Ride A White Swan, the eponymous 'brown' album plus the brief but spectacular
Bolan/Finn/Currie power trio - and for the purpose of this article, these
will be treated as part of Tyrannosaurus Rex.
The former, contrary to
popular belief, was not an element in the band's conception. Rather, it
gradually evolved over the course of the summer and autumn of 1967.
The original intent of Tyrannosaurus Rex had not been an ersatz flower
power unit, but rather an economy version of the Marc Bolan Band of the
same name (featuring Took as drummer) which had been created to show Marc's
former band John's Children how things should really be done, only
to fall flat on its face at its Electric Garden debut in July 1967.
That debacle had cost Bolan's
new band its electric equipment and amplification plus half its line-up
(pipe-smoking guitarist Ben Cartland plus an unnamed ulcer-ridden bassist)
while the resulting destitution drove Took to sell his drum kit (bought
on the proceeds of a GPO clerical job.) to buy food. The two impoverished
remnants were reduced to busking the band's set in an underpass near Hyde
Park on a battered acoustic guitar and purloined bongos. While this
new format soon proved workable enough to be kept as the long term arrangement,
the band's early demos with a session bassist - immortalised on The Beginning
of Doves - still follow the Rock 'n Roll style of most other era's of Marc's
career. Tracks like Rings Of Fortune, Hot Rod Mama and Sara Crazy Child
sound as if they were rough acoustic demos for T.Rex or even John's Children.
By the time the busking
act (with the help of John Peel including their live show as part and parcel
of his DJing gigs) made the jump over to the club and concert stage scene,
however, (as immortalised on TAG's There Was a Time CD of the 23rd
September 1967 gig at the Middle Earth club) the duo had adapted their
sound and style to acclimatise to their new surroundings. Dressing
the part to enhance their enchantment (the Barrett-curled Bolan in gypsy
waistcoat, tap shoes and proto-New Romantic frilly shirt, Took in cape
or stylish long jacket, flamboyant women's boots, shades and goatee) the
twosome presented an image which captured what every doped flower-child
liked to imagine themselves to be - far from the cheap-robed proto-crusty
reality of your average boggie in the street.
Marc's lyric writing had
often displayed a mystical edge in the past, now his wordplay frequently
became a musical sound unto itself, designed to make his verses sound far
more profound than perhaps they actually were. Tony Visconti cites
the song-title "Salamanda Palaganda" as a fine example of this - meaningless
but rhythmical. One could similarly pinpoint namedrops of far and
distant cultures - Afghan Woman, "my lovely Inca love" "old
gold" "Madras silk and satin" - were designed to massage middle
class hippy longings for eclectic exotica.
It speaks volumes about
Tyrannosaurus Rex's punters that this tactic worked without having to bother
to blend these references into any kind of coherent context. On occasion,
Bolan might even work in brief 'mystical' parables - cod versions of the
sort of tales from stoner bible The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, such
as the evil 'cobra seer' who 'slaughtered a Malayan (!) sun bear'
only to have the tables turned on him by a manifestation of Night.
While only the most deluded of potheads (plus a smattering of latterday
Bolan fandom) could regard this seriously as "ancient wisdom" Bolan's ability
to synthesise such a veneer was a vital ingredient in the Tyrannosaurus
Sitting in uncharacteristically
humble Lotus position (with Took perched on a stool) and eschewing any
overt showmanship would both reinforce Marc's "message" as would much of
the mystical dogma of his interviews. "Mythology is old truth" he
once postured in typical Hippy rhetoric, "changed and woven, because people
do that, but it's Truth." Of course, harping on about Truth or being
Real is an old tried and tested way of pressing buttons (or displaying
ones own buttons depressed) in alternative music ideology, one that neatly
evades any need for coherent analysis.
One area of the Seduction
in which Bolan lacked expertise was the issue of communicating to an audience
of drug-takers in the throes of high. The experience of the failed gig
at Middle Earth was evidence enough that Marc by himself lacked the specialist
knowledge needed for making music that was palatable to acidheads.
If he was going to take the music down this road, he would need expert
So Steve, an actual LSD
user, would be invaluable in rendering Bolan's rock'n roll Safe For Freak
Consumption, much as Gloria Jones would prove useful as an advisor on how
to make convincing Soul music. Tookie was Bolan’s translator, turning
his words into audio signals to trigger off mental pictures in a tripped-out
audience. It was Took’s arrangements which were instrumental in transforming
Bolan’s music from the straightforward rock ‘n roll it had once been (and
would again be one day) into an 'exotic' brew of musical eccentricity.
A typical example of this
would be Strange Orchestras, in which Took stole the show with his
vocals. Bolan sang about strange creatures playing tiny instruments
but Took actually brought them to life. His squawking parrot vocal
at the start, sighed harmonising, terrifying draws of breath and deep,
bassy, “goo-goo-black-cat” during the darker final verse help the mind
provide visuals to the lyrics, but best of all is the final malevolent
chittering, which halts the song.
Marc once summed up
Tyrannosaurus Rex as an acoustic version of Pink Floyd and indeed one can
highlight their most vital instrumental trademark as being an obsession
with toy instruments - generally played by Took - which could make their
songs sound like a psychedelic toyshop of chimes and taps and flutes and
whistles, or perhaps like the “room of musical tunes” mentioned in the
final verse of Pink Floyd’s “Bike” as a lead-in to the similar array of
toyshop sounds which had seen out that band’s debut LP.
Even their choice of basic
instruments, while motivated more by budget than image, fell in line with
their overall manifesto. Marc's use of acoustic guitar pandered to
the prejudices of "back to nature" authenticity obsessives still smarting
from the electrification of the 'Judas' Dylan (this whole acoustic fetish
would ultimately result in such atrocities as MTV Unplugged) while Took's
use of bongos fell in line with hippy acts and other muso-types who worshipped
their use for creating a distinctly marijuana-derived sense of ‘profundity’
(to this day, one can barely walk round parts of Camden Market, Notting
Hill Gate or most major rock festivals without tripping over some stoned
percussionist playing/’meditating’ his way through ponderous heavy beats!)
All this would presently
strike a chord with the same hippy audiences who had condemned the earlier
electric version of the band. In the final analysis, Tyrannosaurus Rex
were the musical equivalent of the assorted windchimes, scarves, rugs,
pipes, ornaments, joss-sticks, Nicaraguan coffee, dreamspinners and other
'tasteful' goodies which can be found on sale at Camden Market or festivals
and found draped around the suburban houses of many a middle-aged middle
class hippy couple who, back in the 60s and 70s would have decorated their
student pads in quite a similar fashion (perhaps minus the pinewood Ikea
furniture and Observer colour supplement!).
This massaging of the tastes
and sentiments of certain subspecies of the counterculture took Tyrannosaurus
Rex a long way. Their initial burst of chart action in the first
half of '68 - two top 40 hits Debora and One Inch Rock, plus
a top 20 LP - My People Were Fair And Had Sky In Their Hair But Now
They're Content To Wear Stars On Their Brows (a title based loosely
on a speech by the character Tom Bombadil from Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings)
compare respectably with the alt-music apprenticeships of many other Proper
Pop icons - for example current pop princess Sophie Ellis Bextor's two
top 30 hits and #21 LP fronting late '90s indie band Theaudience.
They also displayed neat
business acumen by not blowing their underground credibility with too many
hits. The awkward follow-up album Prophets Seers And Sages, The Angel
Of The Ages, plus even more awkward single Pewter Suitor helped avoid charges
of hype and sellout for the time being, while high profile sets on the
festival circuit, as well as the Hyde Park concerts (allegedly Bolan's
idea) cemented the reputations of Marc Bolan and Steve Took as, to use
journalist George Tremlett's phrase, "Crown Princes of the Counterculture"
But of course, this Seduction
couldn't fool the whole underground community. Tyrannosaurus Rex
may have appealed to the flower-power subspecies of hippies - but there
were others. The flipside of the bourgeois self-satisfied romanticism
was a decidedly anarchic, wild and revolutionary wing of the Underground,
into Garage Rock and Hard Rock and influenced heavily by Detroit-based
pre-punk revolutionary band the MC5 and another crew of raucous sixties
punks, the Fugs. While John Lennon and CND anti-Vietnam War peaceniks
harped on about Giving Peace A Chance, this crew actively rooted for the
Viet Cong to win the war - which of course the VC eventually did. It was
this sector that the real action of the '60s Revolution - the agitprop
stunts, the bikes, the riots, the idealist literature and the wild chaos
- truly found seed.
By 1968, a musical core
for this side of the Counterculture had emerged in the twin shape of failed
pop act (and nearly-Rolling Stones) The Pretty Things, plus a uniquely
wild and angry Rock outfit from Notting Hill Gate, the Deviants - perhaps
the nearest sixties equivalent to the Sex Pistols, led by Underground ringleader,
activist, and International Times writer Mick Farren, he of the
wild afro and raging attitude. When these two bands came together
to raise holy hell on double bills (with cover encores of The Birds' "Why?"
and the Velvet Underground's "Sister Ray" degenerating into invitational
chaotic jams) they brought to British shores a new radical face of the
counterculture ethos - one that would come to dominate the underground
in the 70s.
To this sector of the Underground,
cod New Age acts like Tyrannosaurus Rex were a joke, plain and simple.
But not so much of a joke as their fan following. Farren would, in
his 2001 autobiography
Give the Anarchist A Cigarette, put the boot
into such genteel boggies, decrying them as "the bopping-elf lovers of
hippiedom - the ones so full of happy-happy Toytown mysticism that they'd
sooner die than brave an evening of the Deviants or the Pretty Things."
Mickey had good reason to despise this crowd - to wit his exasperating
experiences with them while manning the UFO club door each Friday night,
or their bemoaning his not sacrificing himself to the police the night
the Middle Earth club was raided.
If the likes of International
Times represented the radical underground, then the infamous mystic mag
Garden flew the flag for the other pole. Despite being lumped
together under the hippy banner, in truth the two elements were like chalk
and cheese. Farren and his ilk would have no truck with Bolan and
Took's fans - his epithet "from Narnia" would also be applied to acts like
Quintessence and Dantalion's Chariot. Much of the blame for this
kind of act he would lay at the door of UFO co-owner Joe Boyd after the
jailing of Boyd's business partner, hippy prankster John 'Hoppy' Hopkins
would, in his view, destabilize the scene
Tyrannosaurus Rex would
be unlikely to ever become heroes to this jolly saucy street-level crew.
The odds against any common ground between "We of the wind must rejoice
and speak and kiss all our starbrowed brothers on the cheek" and "Garbage
makes you feel so large - puts two cars in your garage" were pretty
highly stacked. Yet events would conspire to give Tyrannosaurus Rex
and unlikely modicum of street-cred. The first strike was, quite
simply, the jailing of Took in Ashford Remand Centre for marijuana possession
(just as Tyrannosaurus Rex were due to promote the Debora single.)
This earned Took - and the band by extension - colours as martyrs to the
Took would also be the determining
factor in the more crucial source of band credibility. In early '68
he had struck up a friendship, with John "Twink" Alder, formerly of top
UG band Tomorrow (cradle both to Keith "Grocer Jack" West and future Yes
axeman Steve Howe, he of the Gibson guitar which flew Concorde.), but now
thumping tubs for the Pretty Things. Their relationship was based on a
mutual interest in acid, Tolkien, mysticism and rock 'n roll lunacy. (Although
Farren insists that Took "did not live in Narnia," it is worth noting the
formation by Steve of a Tolkien appreciation society under the name 'Steve
From this basis, Took was
rapidly plugging into the Ladbroke Grove freak community and the Pretties/Deviants,
often turning out as a guest on their aforementioned notorious double-bills.
In tandem with original Pretties drummer Viv Prince, he was getting up
to all sorts of mischievous mayhem at venues like the exclusive Speakeasy
club. More importantly, he would play a prime role in several community
projects such as the Freaks & Straights cricket team, and most vital
of all, the Pink Fairies All-Star Rock 'N Roll Motorcycle Club, of which
he was a pivotal member.
So the end result was that
Tyrannosaurus Rex, represented by Steve, had a reputation in the other
half of the hippy movement. That much credibility was beyond even
Marc's vision for the band, or maybe it was a double-edged sword.
Quite apart from the fact that it took attention away from Bolan, it really
didn't fit with the duo's image of elfin innocence. "Flower children,
rushing around with revolutionaries – bad for the image." commented Took
ruefully in '72. "I'd go 'What image? I'm Steve Took, well-known
For the record, Marc only
ever had two significant encounters with the Anarchist/Revolutionary wing
of the Underground. The first of these was an all-night outdoor jam
session on Parliament Hill, involving personnel from several top underground
bands, including both members of Tyrannosaurus Rex, probably playing their
songs together. This sort of unsolicited concert in a major public
place was a common agitprop stunt in those days - other examples include
the Deviants' gig on the steps of St Paul's Cathedral and later a Pink
Fairies set at Trafalgar Square.
The other occasion, as recalled
by Mick Farren, was at the conclusion of the band's April 1969 concert
at the Lyceum, where members of the Pretty Things and the Deviants all
piled up on to the stage during the finale of "The Wizard" and proceeded
to jam in much the same fashion as at Pretties/Deviants double bills.
Unfortunately, Marc was not in the mood for these kinds of games, and stormed
angrily offstage! How much of this is audible on the "Midnight Court"
CD release of the gig is anyone's guess.
It should be clear by now
that Tyrannosaurus Rex's 'authentic' hippy image bore no resemblance to
either of its two members in real life. Bolan, tucked away at home
with June, was a trainee Pop Star slumming it in the Underground. As for
Took, he was, in Farren's words, "kicking over the gossamer traces and
determinedly hanging out with the bad boys." Or as Steve himself cynically
put it "I was a 'Flower Child', and there's **Things that a 'Flower
Child' Can't Do**. Being a natural born rebel, I wanted to do all the
**Things I was Not Meant to Do**!. That caused a lot of raps with
the management - and a lot of raps with Marc!"
Nonetheless, the Seduction
continued its lucrative pace as Tyrannosaurus Rex began to mount the hill
of Progression. In retrospect, Unicorn is merely the most sophisticated
and most produced of the three Tyrannosaurus Rex LPs, its hippy veneer
disguising a wealth of influence from Spector's Wall of Sound and the Beach
Boys' "Pet Sounds" LP. It's probably just as well that not too many
people spotted the Spector influence at the time, given that the hippy
authenticity police regarded Spector - and Brill Building pop at large
- in the same sort of disdainful light as 80s/90s indie snobs viewed the
output of Stock, Aiken and Waterman (even to the point of using all the
same insults - notably referring to its producer-led nature as being "Manufactured")
The best examples of the
direction the band were heading in were Chariots of Silk and Cat
Black (The Wizard's Hat) where Took, equipped with a Chad Valley toy
drumkit, was able to produce a powerful booming drum-sound which actually
out-powered many of the flashy kits of the Prog era. There were also
Took's freeform vocal sections on 'Pon a Hill (“Squawk – jumping
in the sky!” ) as well as the acapella freakout section on The Sea Beasts
which all the buzzing, bouncing, squeaking phantoms of Took’s drug fantasies
have come out for a grand sing-a-long Carnival Of Monsters, amply illustrating
the kind of insight Took provided the group which Bolan could not supply
Also worthy of note were
Was Born To Be My Unicorn as Visconti bled and echoed the gong until
it became a flexing wash of sound alternately stretching the width and
height of the song like a fairground mirror – or a pulsating acid dream.
It's hardly the most lively of tracks, (and as stated above, it's a fool's
errand to search for any 'profundity' therein) but as a chill-out tune,
it's beat an entire box set of Ambient hands down. The wash of gongs gives
a dreamlike quality to the song – it washes over the listener in a low-pH
sea. All in all, it's clear from this album that had the Seduction
continued unrestrained into the 1970s, then Took and Bolan would have been
assured of places in the Prog Rock firmament, among (post-Barrett) Pink
Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Genesis.
The duo's arty acoustic
visions of erethral beauty seemed to slot in perfectly with the grand Hippy
project of the detournment and assimilation of Rock (’n Roll) into the
pantheon of the High Arts, like Cinema and Jazz before it. Perhaps
the new decade might have seen Bolan perform 30 minute epic acoustic folk-ballads
(the Children Of Rarn, perhaps?) with lengthy instrumental passages, sat
in a giant model of a petal, while Took filled out the stadium stage prancing
around masses of kettle drums, tubular bell chimes, Paste gongs, steeple
chimes, full-sized Xylophones, mellotron, grand pianos and other expensive
goodies, all the while clad in his 20-foot cape.
Perhaps in that case, we
should be glad that at the heart of the eye of the storm, brutal reality
was coming back to disrupt the fantasy dream of innocence. The seeming
whole – a pair of superhumanly elfin musical pixies embodying the deepest
dream of the flower-child ideal – was failing to match the reality of the
sum of the parts – one half ambitious potential future pin-up star, the
other a screaming Wild Man Of Rock with a penchant for debauched chaos.
If Bolan’s marginalisation of Took by refusing point blank to play any
of his songs (their very existence coming as a shock revelation to Marc
around the conclusion of the Unicorn sessions) set a time bomb under the
band, then the fuse was lit by the boredom of both men with the gentle
acoustic format and their desire to get back to electric rock post-haste.
Even here, their ambitions
in this direction reflected the re-emergence of their true personas – Steve’s
interest in Heavy Metal and American shock-rock could never have fitted
with Bolan’s increasing desire to revert back to the kind of mainstream
electric guitar pop tunes on which he had cut his creative teeth. For a
while, a compromise formula was reached - more acoustic Rex tarted up with
electric guitar lines, plus a few heavier songs. This proved enough
to induce Bolan and Took to start work on a fourth album, although by the
time it was completed and released they had gone their separate ways in
both life and music.
Life carried on for a few
months, with gothic Rock stomper King of the Rumbling Spires released as
a single (backed with Do You Remember, a song used for an electric experiment
at the aforesaid Lyceum show) while at the same time such tracks as nocturnal
live favourite Once Upon The Seas Of Abyssinia, rustic Blessed Wild Apple
Girl and magical Demon Queen welded electric playing into Tyrannosaurus
Rex's existing milieu. But it was Took's insistence on playing his own
songs - and his eventual donation of two of them to Twink's Think Pink
solo LP that finally broke the camel's back. Given that Took
and the gang celebrated the completion of the album with a trashing of
King Crimson showcase gig at the Speakeasy, as a result of which Took overslept
and missed his flight out to a US tour with Bolan, it would seem that Steve's
patience had finally snapped too.
Bolan had become so settled
into the Seduction that perhaps he had even come to believe it himself
- witness Visconti's account of Marc's meeting with Buddhist monk Chime
Rimpoche, "the only time I ever saw Marc in a humble posture." The reawakening
of Marc's sense of dominance, resulting from the "threat" to his tacit
ownership of the band by Took's songs, was what caused him to end the seduction
and move Tyrannosaurus Rex into the second half of its history. With
Steve only staying around long enough to fulfil his aforesaid US tour contractual
obligation - a tour either marred or enhanced, depending on your viewpoint,
by Steve's wild Iggy-esque shock-rock onstage antics, the seduction was
brought to a close. Marc began to gradually strike camp and resume
his pursuit of Proper Pop stardom. The Abandon had begun.
The best definition of
the Abandon phase and the two albums made therein was that it was basically
T.Rex, but with just enough hippyishness to not frighten the horses ahead
of time! When war was finally declared in March 1971, hippy ex-fans
of Marc would proclaim him the Anti-Christ of the counter culture, the
great Sell-Out who had betrayed and backstabbed hippy values for life as
a cheesy glittery teenybop idol. (Many of them even rapidly twigged the
vital question, as writer Johnny Rogan put it in 1997, "Had [Marc] ever
Sold-In in the first place?") The truth was that Marc and Mickey
had been laying the groundwork for the 'Great Betrayal' for the past 15
months - right under the hippies' noses.
It's worth mentioning in
passing that the split between Bolan and Took was one of a number of elements
making up a general reshuffle in the underground music scene around '69/'70.
Already, the Think Pink LP had come about in the aftermath of Twink's departure
from the Pretty Things. Just days after the end of the Tyrannosaurus Rex
tour, Mick Farren found himself ousted as frontman of the Deviants while
they were visiting Vancouver, Canada. Farren returned home to the
proto Fairies lineup, a solo album Mona The Carnivorous Circus and
ultimately dropping out of music for a few years to focus on editing IT
and writing fiction.
Meanwhile the remaining
Deviants, trapped in North America until February 1970, worked out a telephone
deal with Twink to form a more serious Pink Fairies band, a wild and heavy
Rock 'n Roll effort that at times verged on being more of an ongoing agitprop
stunt than a serious band, but nonetheless still retain a reputation as
a powerful live juggernaut. And as Bolan drifted to safer Hippy waters
(and ultimately out of hippy culture entirely) , so a ferocious new force
emerged on the scene in the shape of freeform space-rockers Hawkwind, a
band who took Bowie's obsession with SF/Space travel as metaphor for drug-taking
and soundtracked it with raging psychedelic Heavy Metal. Together
the Hawks and the Fairies would go on to dominate the early '70s underground,
as we shall see.
The biggest problem facing
the consideration of the Abandon as an era of the career of Marc Bolan
is that it rarely gets treated as one single era. Often it is awkwardly
spliced into two, with the cut placed at the time of the bandname abbreviation,
coinciding as it did with the release of the first hit and the 50p
concert tour. Thus, A Beard Of Stars gets appended onto the three
Tyrannosaurus Rex albums with Took, while the T.Rex brown album, by virtue
of its offspring hit single Ride A White Swan gets treated as the dawning
hour of T.Rexstacy.
About as good as it gets
are Mark Paytress's two biographies which encompass within a single chapter
the period from which the Took-era Rex started to lose momentum until the
charting of Ride A White Swan. In truth, the transitory period from
October 1969 until February 1971 is a vital and fascinating period of Bolan's
career. For a start, it was the phase during which the sound and
style of hit-scoring T.Rex was conceived, refined and perfected. Moreover,
it serves as an amusing parable about just how effective the previous seduction
of the middle-class hippy audience had been, - as evidenced by just how
hilariously long (in retrospect) amongst the said crowd it took for the
penny to drop regarding the true motives of their beloved "bopping elf."!
That Marc privately flaunted
his contempt for this following is evidenced by his reasoning behind who
should fill the empty bongo stool - Visconti recalls how Bolan commented
"by the way, I've sacked Steve. I've got this new guy Mickey Finn,
he's great, he's 1000 times better than Steve. It's the same image,
the long hair and the conga drum - the kids won't notice the difference!"
While Mickey Finn certainly developed his own style and identity musically
and visually, there can be no doubt he was originally hired to dupe gullible
stoners into thinking he was Took. To enhance the illusion, he even
grew his stubble into a full beard - from which the album would take its
The Tyrannosaurus Rex brand
identity still had enough clout amongst student hippies and stoned festival
goers for Marc to be able to coast on previous honours as a cover for the
re-orientation of the band's career trajectory. Of course, any credibility
amongst the true revolutionary Underground had followed Took out of the
exit door that autumn, manifesting itself in counterculture goodwill towards
Steve's involvement in the proto Pink Fairies line-up, his Shagrat band
and eventually his solo career.
The UG didn't bother to
raise too much of a stink over the validity of the new line-up, however,
they were too busy guffawing at the sanctimonious quasi-religious fools
of whom Bolan remarked to his publisher "As long as they pay for songs
about fucking fairies, I'll write em." Marc's gleeful cynicism contrasts
wildly with the parallel abandon of hippy roots by David Bowie, the curly-haired
flowerchild so ideologically obsessed with aliens/UFOs and Arts Labs that
he could only possibly be disappointed with the lazy litter-spewing reality
of most hippies, and thus be set on the road to Ziggy Stardust. (likewise
over four albums - the path from Unicorn to Electric Warrior equals the
trail from the Space Oddity LP to Ziggy.)
Mickey Finn, for his part,
had his own roots in counterculture - albeit at the very opposite end of
the spectrum from Steve Took. Finn came from the trendy Chelsea end
of the hippy scene - a world of fashion boutiques, bespoke psychedelic
and gratuitous hip-capitalism. A painter of trippy wall murals by trade
(the interior of the Beatles' Apple boutique in Baker Street was amongst
his credits), Finn (with a couple of underlings in his charge) worked for
the fashionable art-group (and sometime Rock band) Hapshash And The Coloured
Mickey's colleagues in the
crew were Nigel Waymouth and Michael English, the former of whom would
eventually finish up on the 'Hates' list of Malcolm McLaren's 1974 Loves/Hates
t-shirt, alongside June Bolan and Chelita Secunda. Their complacently
trendy world was as repugnant to the Ladbroke Grove freak scene as it would
prove in time to early punks. To the average be-kaftanned middle-class
stoner of a future suburbanite, however, it made no odds, it was all "far
out, man" and in some ways, the Vogue end of Hippyism might seem a more
natural home for Tyrannosaurus Rex than the street-credible end of the
Finn's arrival on the scene,
together with Marc settling into electric playing, does mark the first
flushes of what would eventually come to be recognised as the T.Rex sound.
Mickey, like Took, had a distinctive playing style which lent a great deal
of individuality to his work. Like Steve, he eschewed flat handed
beats; unlike Took, Mickey's style was a funky bebop rhythm, played with
cupped hands and bending at the elbow and wrist. This resulted in
a frequently bouncy foot-shuffling beat which, in times to come, would
be vital to the boogie vibe of tracks like Jeepster, Cadillac and Mambo
Sun. In late '69, it simply substituted what was lost in sophistication
by Took's departure for a new danceability.
As noted above, the Abandon
era was T.Rex hidden under a veil of minimum hippy trappings. The
aptness of this description becomes clear when one listens to the two LPs
recorded during this era. Vast swathes of T.Rex identity make their
debut on the finished A Beard Of Stars, far more than just electric guitars
and Mickey Finn. The most distinguishing feature of the album is
its sense of schmaltzy warmth (far at odds with its Bowie counterpart,
the cold prog of Ronson/Woodmansey debut The Man Who Sold The World,)
heard to best effect on single By The Light Of A Magical Moon, B-Side track
Find A Little Wood, love ballad Dove and the crystalline A Day Laye.
The lyrics, despite their
literary/fantasy veneer, speak mainly of love, warmth, dancing and partying
- all very much Pop subject matter. Many tracks display an aura of
rustic cosiness, already showing its face during the early sessions before
Took's departure (witness Blessed Wild Apple Girl) Soundwise, the
electric guitar chords have drifted away from the harsh fuzz of the spring/summer
'69 experiments towards a rich fluid tone, while the lead solos have taken
up much of the stellar sparkle previously provided by the pixiephone (as
exemplified on the title track).
The acoustic has likewise
become more plaintive and vibrant - much more like T.Rex's occasional acoustic
ballads. Marc's voice has become throatier and clearer, his singing
accent more English, his vowel sounds often a soulful cockney. One
big change is the heavier bass frequencies - there are various bass guitar
parts by Marc, Mickey and Tony Visconti, while Finn's percussion is echoed
and mixed to give it a booming thumping quality. This is heard to
the best effect on the bouncy Fist Heart Mighty Dawn Dart, where bass and
bongos combine the produce explosive flurries on the intro, and the descending
chords midway through each verse.
Other innovations were very
much nuts and bolts of the future T.Rex formula. Marc's war-cry of
"Ow Yeah!" makes its debut here (on A Day Laye, Organ Blues and Elemental
Child.) Woodland Bop would be the first of a whole string of Bops
for Bolan and Glam in general, and featured the very Proper pop couplet
"Everybody's a-doing the Woodland Bop/ Once you've started you'll find
it hard to stop." Rampant 4/4 R'nB rolls based on E and G chords
surface for the first time on the outros of Pavilions Of Sun and Dragon's
There were a few false trails
to alternative futures in the mix, of course. There was the keyboard-dominated
sound of Organ Blues, Wind Cheetah and Took-sessions leftover Great Horse
(sung in a Welsh accent!) There was the glissando descant rock-solos
played on acoustic ballads - to wit A Daye Laye and the second half.
The track Pavilions Of Sun is set in that world of pastoral chivalry, scented
Perfumed Gardens and jaded pagodas that only the stoned and idealistic
can possibly equate with a litter-strewn festival site field. One
vital loose end from the Abandon era was a flirtation with Heavy Metal,
which Bolan would later disparage as his "Marc Hendrix" tendencies, embodied
in particular by two live numbers, the first of which, Elemental Child,
gets its studio capture here.
The biggest indication of
the dismantling of the old facade was the album sleeve, and not just in
terms of the exile of Finn to the back cover to allow for a close up of
Marc's face. It's worth comparing the way Bolan looked on the new
album with his appearance on its predecessor. Unicorn shows a more
hippy-friendly Bolan, hair wiry and unkempt, not a hint of make-up, an
expression of ancient sagacity and Zen humility. He looked like a
much older man, to quote Iscariot "old and bruised but [his] fate is that
of youth." On the A.B.O.S. album sleeve, Marc actually looked younger
and fresher, his curls coiffed and fluffed, his eyes sharp with a hint
of eyeliner. Most of all, there is his facial expression displaying
ambition, attitude and just a hint of an arrogant sneer about the mouth.
The album was a start, but
it was at live concerts that the hippy audience bore unwitting witness
to the gestation of the T.Rex recipe. After a quick tour in November
'69, the duo's first major gig was a short concert on New Years Day 1970,
transmitted as part of the first edition of John Peel's Sunday Show.
All seven songs from the gig have been released on legitimate CDs, and
of the three Tyrannosaurus Rex gigs to get such treatment, this is the
only one from the Abandon phase. Indeed, apart from the 1968 French
TV performance of Salamanda Palaganda, this is the only pin-sharp live
sound-desk recording in known existence of either pre-stardom two-man line-up.
One piece of the puzzle
was already very much in place - Marc and Mickey's acoustic/bongos rendition
of Debora remained unchanged over the next two years of T.Rexstacy.
Then there were Finn's explosions of bebop beats during the outro of Hot
Rod Mama, sounding like the rhythm of a trad-jazz Fred & Ginger tap-dance
routine - Astaire and Rogers being in many ways an appropriate metaphor
in many way for Marc and Mickey's onstage chemistry together in T.Rex.
Another piece slotted into
position with a chance remark by John Peel at the end of a rather muted
performance of Elemental Child - "Scotty Moore would be proud of you!"
The allusion to Elvis's sidekick should have sent a few alarm bells ringing
in the hippy firmament - in 1969/70, fifties rock 'n roll was still seen
as sad, retarded and retrogressive pop. Indeed, from this springs
the very term "Retro" - opposite and enemy of progressive "Prog".
To openly admit to being a fan was an act of potentially untrendy heresy.
To be a closet fan, therefore, was to part of a secret coded world - it
was the basis of Peel's friendships not just with Bolan but also with David
Bowie and Mick Farren.
The two key tracks, however,
are the acoustic love ballad Dove, and the poppy pure-electric version
of A-side By The Light Of A Magical Moon. The former, despite being
performed on acoustic/bongos (with Marc humming the electric guitar solo
of the studio version) bears no real resemblance to the folky acoustic
Tyrannosaurus Rex of the past. More than anything, it points to the
future place of acoustic sounds in T.Rex, for use on smoochy slow-dance
ballads like Cosmic Dancer, Girl and Spaceball Ricochet. In particular
it resembles the live two man performances of Cosmic Dancer - early 1971
US Radio versions bearing the closest semblance.
Magical Moon, however steals
the crown as the first real example of the T.Rex electric boogie, bouncing
along on a similar rhythm and vibe to 'Cadilac' two years later.
Unlike the gentle meandering studio version, this one is tight, clipped
and aggressive. It's all there - the beat, the chords, the hooklines
the poppiness, the guitar solo (not dissimilar to the twists and turns
taken by Cadilac at the TV session at Chateau d'Heroville two years later)
and most of all the energy. In many ways, it's a pity this arrangement
wasn't used on the studio version - it could have usurped the place of
Ride A White Swan (which it actually blows out of the water) to be Marc's
first hit, ahead of time.
Better yet is the June 1970
version from the Kralingen Festival, which can be seen on the event film
Ground. By this time Mickey (to Marc's initial chagrin) had shaved
off his Took-a-like beard, revealing a second pretty face for the band.
The performance of Magical Moon is tighter even than the BBC concert version,
the solo even more Cadilac-ish (with much the same minor key notes as the
above Chateau version). Amusingly, even the screen caption introduces
the band as being T.Rex. It might well do so; just days later, work
began on sessions for what was meant to be a fifth Tyrannosaurus Rex LP
(but in the end came out as the T.Rex brown LP ) including the taping of
breakthrough hit Ride A White Swan.
As Finn rinsed the last
swirls of facial follicle down his bathroom sink drain, so was unmasked
both halves of a musical tag team of pretty boys that would do the job
in the early 70s UK music scene nowadays reserved for boybands. Neither
man would initially change costume much at the time of Ride A White Swan's
success and Marc's dungarees - uniform of the rural farmhand bumpkin -
would show up in the earliest pin-up pics for teen mag Jackie. Even
the actual instruments used - Marc's second most famous guitar, the white
Stratocaster with the paisley teardrop and Mickey's brown clay bongos -
can both be spotted again in the 1972 Born To Boogie footage of T.Rex at
The only throwback to past
days is the audience which (apart from one nice young lady at the end)
consists of Dutch hippies in varying states of druggy regression.
A grotesque naked grandmother flails her arms about randomly, a blond haired
girl, head on one shoulder, eyes closed, swivels back and forth, a balding
man with uncoordinated eyes performs cosmic experiments with two soup cans
on passers by. It really doesn't seem to have dawned on them that
their beloved hippy duo aren't really hippies much more (not that Marc
really was to start with) and are practically playing them for fools by
charming them with the very T.Rex formula they would soon grow to hate.
There is something gloriously
incongruous about this rabble of mashed freaks gullibly tripping out to,
of all things, cutie-boys Marc 'n Mickey doing the T.Rex electric rock
'n roll boogie, a mismatch that just months later would prove deeply embarrassing
for them. For sheer retrospective unlikelihood, it's only topped
by Genesis in 1976 circa Trick of the Trail, (immediately after Peter Gabriel's
departure) when a bearded, bobble-hatted Phil Collins - yes,
the corporate AOR devil-on-earth himself - just briefly actually became
a serious icon to legions of New Age tree-hugging environmental-protesting
proto-Swampy anti Newbury Bypass types! It's the image which sums
up the Abandon as an era - the oblivious boggies still somnambulant in
their blind love for a band in fact looking to dump them forthwith and
go for a poptastic ride to the Stars.
Other parts of Tyrannosaurus
Rex were being metamorphosed into their future forms by now. Earlier
that same month, on BBC Radio 1, former Top 30 hit One Inch Rock, once
a gentle strolling English ukulele-folk beach tune, had been revamped into
a bouncy electric tapdance, complete with intertwined jazz-scat from Marc
and Mickey, further confirming their status as the new Fred and Ginger.
Listening to the vocal, one can almost hear them skipping and tapping their
way round the floor, cheek to cheek during the "doo pa doo dai-dai"
vocal. It wasn't for nothing that Marc wore Annello & David tap
On the same session, the
other half of the "Marc Hendrix" pair Jewel, had also been unveiled.
Influenced heavily by Jimi's "Voodoo Chile (slight return)," the extended
jam at the end of this song and on the coda to Elemental Child grew into
unwieldy 10-minute freakout pieces in their own right that hint at an alternate
career of for Marc Mickey and (once he'd joined) Steve Currie as
prog Metal musos. But like the band's fast dissipating hippy identity,
such a direction would have proven a roadblock to pop stardom. It
was very much a dead end. Although the Marc Hendrix pieces would
survive in the live set well into 1971, their true heirs were the good
messy fun of the chaotic tambourine-bashing, soloing, feedback-ridden jams
during curtain song renditions of Get It On. These more serious earlier
jams were just to give the hippy audience just a few more straws at which
to clutch - for now.
Given all this, it does
seem rather strange that the planned fifth Tyrannosaurus Rex LP provisionally
christened The Children of Rarn, (not to be confused with the mooted
concept LP project of the same name) and later retitled The Wizard,
is treated as the start of a new era and quite apart from its predecessor,
really for no other reason than it eventually emerged as the eponymous
brown LP towards the end of the year. In fact the only significant
modifications since the previous album are the use of strings instead of
keyboards, more reverb on the electric (possibly due to the debut of the
Les Paul) and the now near-exclusive use of soulful cockney vowel sounds
on Marc's vocals.
At the end of the day, the
brown LP is an album of cleaned-up hippy guitar-pop, more radio friendly
than the three Took albums. but still not venom to the festival field -
much like its Bowie equivalent, the clear singer-songwriting piano balladry
of Hunky Dory. In retrospect Mark Paytress was bang on the money
when he described the vision sold by the album sleeve as "a sanitised version
of the longhair cult." Like the glossy-haired Bowie on the Hunky
back cover, the photos of Marc and Mickey portray a pair of family-friendly
bohemians - the sort who got nice jobs teaching art or music at summer
camps, or else presented summertime kids programmes on 70s ITV. And
also like Hunky Dory, history has misguidedly linked it in with the Glam
Rock masterpieces which followed.
In the case of the T.Rex
brown LP, the main culprit is not actually on the album itself. The
breakthrough hit Ride A White Swan was not, contrary to popular
belief, the declaration of war. It was, of course, the first A-side
to use the poppy pure-electric sound that Marc had been developing at live
shows over the last 11 months (quite distinct from the heavy chords of
of the Rumbling Spires.) As previously observed, ...Magical
Moon may have been robbed of first-hit status by Marc opting for a
safe, mostly acoustic version and indeed this time around he later admitted
he had been prepared to disown the single if it backfired.
In the end, Swan was still very much a hippy song dealing with hippy-friendly
fantasy matters - in this case, Wiccan-derived.
Its essential hippy appeal
can be further demonstrated by its most valuable promotional plug - blanket
airplay by Bolan's old friend DJ Jeff Dexter to the half-million strong
crowd at the 1970 Isle of Wight festival. The promo opportunity was not
without its ironies - the festival would see the coming of age of a new,
Ladbroke Grove-based regime in the hardcore Underground as the battle raged
over the perimeter fences and overlooking hill - triggered by Mick Farren's
"White Panther Party" communiqué - while the Pink Fairies and Hawkwind
assumed their crowns as The People's Bands, playing an alternative free
festival outside the gates. These two bands and their Free Music
ideology would become the dominant countercultural philosophy in the 70s,
their Pinkwind jams continuing the Deviants/Pretties tradition and both
outfits, collectively and individual members, being intertwined with the
life and music of Steve Took.
Not that this mattered much
to Bolan and Finn who were quietly headed towards the exit door of the
hippy world. A breakthrough hit was the key to the exit door but
it was not the exit door itself. Stardom and Hype may have been anathema
to freaks, but a hit single was not necessarily seen as the death of one's
hippy cred. It could even be seen as a subversive triumph - case
in point Hawkwind's #3 hit Silver Machine. Jethro Tull's Ian
Anderson took the flute-playing hairy boggy archetype into the Top 5 twice
in 1969. On the other hand, for example Deep Purple often found themselves
taken to task for daring to hit #2 with Black Knight, while following
the success of Fog On The Tyne, folksters Lindisfarne actually made
good on their pious threat to break up if they ever had a hit.
This kind of breast-beating
"Oh woe is me, for we have had a hit!" approach (quite popular in the '90s
amongst ex-Britpoppers) was quite commonly used by bands trying to plead
forgiveness for daring to succeed. Frankly, methinks the Pink Floyd
did protest too much with regards to their disowning of See Emily Play,
and there is the much vaunted tale of how Tomorrow was wrecked by frontman
Keith West's solo hit "Grocer Jack". Even David Bowie briefly threatened
to pack himself off to a Tibetan monastery after Space Oddity hit
#5. He was acquitted as the song became the emblem of his hippy phase.
Since Ride A White Swan did not hit its #2 peak or even the top 5 until
late Jan '71, one can understand how its slow progression from another
Debora/One Inch Rock to its pre-Xmas peak of #6 didn't ring too many alarm
bells. If Bowie could get away with it, so could Bolan.
By this time, the song which
would prove to be the real Declaration of War on hippydom, Hot Love
was in the works. T.Rex, now featuring Steve Currie and operating
under the temporary guise of a hippy-Rock power trio, even managed to Trojan-Horse
it into the public domain early. The rustically inclined stumbling 2/4
electro-folk arrangement on the BBC Radio version from December '70 gives
virtually no indication of the high-camp first-ever Glam Rock Anthem
the hit version would become. Then again, many elements of the coming
party were arriving in camouflage. The 50p T.Rex tour, for instance,
was promoted with the slogan "Last Of The Great Underground Groups." Bolan
and Finn performed their hit on Top Of The Pops in front of a lysergic
Eye backdrop. Poster artwork depicted a bearded spirit figure while
the first few handfuls of screaming teenybop fans arrived not in sequins
and glitter, but bearing gifts of bead necklaces!
The best insight into the
state of play on the eve of battle is the French TV footage of the 28th
January 1971 gig in Paris, where Marc and his two sidekicks are still -
barely - hanging onto Alternative trappings. Bolan in his floral shirt,
denim dungarees and minimal showmanship (apart from the odd flick of his
curls, mostly focusing on his guitar-playing), moustachioed bassist Currie
and Finn in his floppy hippy hat still sat in his chair playing bongos
act out a temporary formula - the three-man tasteful jamming Hard Rock
Musicianship unit who recently scored a crossover hit. The main focus
of the gig seems to be the serious freewheeling noise-scapes on the codas
to the two 'Marc Hendrix' numbers Elemental Child and Jewel.
The overall impression is not of a Pop Group per se but more a post-Hendrix/Cream
improvisational Progressive Metal project.
It disguised Marc's intentions
well enough for the last lap of the journey. The folksy live Hot
Love distracted attention when the Glam version - featuring session drummer
and future 'Bill Legend' Bill Fifield - appeared on the shelves of
record stores. Even the Glam clothing could be sneaked into the mix
quietly - shiny synthetic jackets from proto-Glam boutique Alkasura were
all the rage on the trendy Kings Road so not too many eyelids were batted
when Marc started turning up to gigs with such jackets draped on top of
his dungarees. There was only one place to truly declare War - the
stage of uber-Proper Pop show Top Of The Pops. Even then, the
first performance, with the dungarees finally replaced with yellow silk
trousers and glitter on Marc's face, was an understated affair with attention
shared with dance troupe Pan's People.
It was the second Top Of
The Pops appearance that proved the final straw for the hippies - just
about the time the Glam version of Hot Love, in all its camp schmaltzy
glory hit the prized #1slot. George Tremlett wrote of Hot Love that
it "was such obvious teenymeat that the underground might disown him
- and indeed they did." It would be more to the point to suggest
that Hot Love was partly an exercise in deliberately antagonising the Hippy
audiences and this TV performance achieved this in spades. Dressed
in a shiny silver sailor suit (in fact made of velvet but looking like
satin or even lamé), its plunging neckline further enhancing his
femininity, face daubed with glitter and make-up erupting into girlish
giggling, throwing shapes with his guitar and even the odd pointed arm
gesture Marc waxed alliteration, a study in silver, sparkle, smiles
schmaltzy saccharine and showmanship. He knew his time had come and
didn't need hippy values one second longer.
The most potent section
of the clip - and for hippies the most distressing - was the section of
the final 'la-la-la' outro. This time real girls from the audience
were dancing onstage and the image was superimposed onto that of the smiling
silver-clad pretty-boy. Tormenting enough was this for older Serious
Music fans, made worse by the fact that this new pin-up idol had been one
of their Artistic heroes. As the single carried on along its six
week run at the top, the nightmare vision was tape -looped over and over
again by repeated screenings and further invoked by playback on radios
and jukeboxes, as well as rough attempts from smitten young girls - perhaps
even one's own younger sister.
The hippy Rock fans might
have booed and condemned Bowie's 'Hype' project into embarrassed disowning,
but here was one Hyperman who could not be so destroyed, indeed who seemed
to draw as much strength from the hatred of mature Rock devotees as he
did from the love of his new young female following.
This was the day that war was declared on hippy values by the Glam Rock
rebellion. The hippies had been Seduced and Abandoned by Marc and
he left them bleeding, broken hearted and shafted - and in the eyes of
many young kids, it served the hippies right for being so smug. A
Superstar was born in that Top Of The Pops clip - and also born was the
new Anti-Christ of Hippydom. It was the dawn of a whole new age in
British Pop music.
It would be tempting of
course to carry on the story from here and expand the remit of this essay
to examine the full length and breadth of Marc's subsequent ongoing
rebellion against the Alternative/Credible/Progressive values of the hippy
Serious Music brigade - his avowed Pop status - a slap in the face for
those who hankered for the idea of Rock as 'the new classical music', his
backlash and rejection against dull dressed-down Authenticity (demonstrated
in his costumes make-up and showmanship ), his arrogance and attitude (a
breath of fresh air in the face of the smug 'modesty' masking hubris, adopted
by most 'respectable' Artists) his catering to the teenage female market
outraging the deeply patriarchal Rock musicians and fans.
It would be even more tempting
than a full-length Bolan-biog to tell the full pop-culture history of the
tradition of Pop-Art, Artifice and Anti-Authenticity that followed in Marc's
wake. One could trace the development of Bowie's outrageous pop-art
project Ziggy Stardust gender-bending and its manifesto against hippy
authentic values built on T.Rex's foundation, as well as Roxy Music and
their stylish sleek art-deco democratisation of the aristocratic bon
vivant outlook. One could even trace how the progeny of Bolan,
Bowie and Ferry grew up to largely kill off hippy culture with the stylish
sharp-shock early generations of Punk (who were more than happy to play
along with Bolan's claim to Godfather status) and the revolt into style
of the Blitz club, all of which burst into summer bloom with the style-pop
riot of the New Romantics, or in the '90s the Romo bands and Kenickie formed
an underground resistance to the dull, deadening Noelrock/ladrock/dadrock
parka-clad 'authentic' slop.
But let's not get carried
away and end up with an encyclopaedia! Suffice to say, Marc was now
the great Judas, the great Sell-out, the Antichrist of the Hippy Movement.
But while Hippies could previously sniff disdainfully at the manipulated
Monkees and loftily jeer at Tamla Motown (sometimes propping themselves
up intellectually with ill-digested Black Power rhetoric which made them
look very closed-minded about the aspirations of Afro-America) this new
shiny showbiz pretty boy dealt a deeper emotional cut - the heartbreaking
reminders that this was the same man who had once been a Hippy icon
now laughing, sneering and spitting in their faces. As Blackhill Enterprises'
Pete Jenner put it "I was always a cultural snob ..." (well at least he
could admit to it!) "and I always thought there was something good about
Marc's music, then he just went and made vulgar Pop records"
All this plus the added
twist of the knife - the embarrassing realisation that his brand of Ancient
Wisdom and Truth had been an utter counterfeit for which they had
fallen hook, line and sinker. Their world revolved around Authenticity,
yet they had fallen for a con-trick courtesy of the master manipulator
who knew how to caress their yearnings for cultural superiority.
They had been Seduced by the fantasy of Tyrannosaurus Rex and had failed
to notice Marc gradually Abandon them. As John Lydon would put it
nearly seven years later at the end of the final Sex Pistols concert
"Ah ha-ha, ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"
The boggies and proggies
certainly felt they had egg on their faces and got their chance to manifest
their hatred at the 1971 Weeley festival with an almighty blast of sanctimonious
Boo-ing Power. But their condemnation, once lethal to the 1967 electric
band and to Bowie's Hype was turned back on them by Marc who made them
recoil back into their seats when he sneeringly told them to "FFFUCK OFF!!!!"
The hippies, the avatars of 'coolness and 'good taste' had no power over
Bolan, quite the reverse. This feeling they would not enjoy one little
bit - it made them feel small.
Ironically, much of the
serious Revolutionary underground had similar reservations about the hippy
throngs, both in general and indeed at Weeley where the twin problems of
hunger and disgust at the hippy masses, nearly drove the Pink Fairies to
cannibalism with a cry of "Kill 'Em And Eat 'Em". Intriguingly, amongst
the survivors of this crowd, the only ones with strong opinions on Bolan
were those like Larry Wallis or Michael Moorcock who had to deal with Steve
Took's rejection scars. Sometimes there might be the odd amusing
stunt like Frendz's visit to the Boston Gliderdome gig or even IT's spoof
"Bolan - who needs him?" cover (which, its producers will be delighted
to hear, is just as potent to Bolan collectors on Ebay 30 years on as it
was in its prime ). Mostly they feel there were more important fish
to fry than the current top pop star - as Pink Fairies drummer Russell
Hunter puts it, ".I don’t have anything against him, don’t know him, he
never did me any harm."
In fact the prevailing sentiment
seems to be that T.Rex were actually an improvement on Tyrannosaurus Rex
- at least this time Bolan was being honest about his intentions and ambitions
- and at the end of the day it was good Rock 'n Roll. It's worth
observing how all of the PF cotiderie, including Took, were big fans of
Ziggy Stardust while Steve was even a Slade-head! Towards the end
of his life, Marc would form friendships with Bob Calvert and Mick Farren
(Farren can prove ready to be an unlikely defender of Bolan and T.Rex when
confronted by the hippy consensus) invited Hawkwind - "my best friends"
- onto his Marc TV shows and even gave a plug to Steve Took's own music
in his Record Mirror column.
But for all this, there
are still a generation of middle-aged middle-class ageing hippy Prog Rockers
who look upon Bolan with deep bitter hatred. In many cases, this
is not merely the product of T.Rex's glitz and glamour but also their own
shame at being gullible enough to fall for the faux-authentic charms of
Tyrannosaurus Rex. As writer Alex Stump put it in his prog history
The Music's All That Matters, "Time has not been kind to Bolan's
reputation - accusations of barefaced exploitation of the zeitgeist abound."
Pity not though such fools who would judge Tyrannosaurus Rex (or any musical
work) on its profundity and Truth, whether positively or negatively.
Freed from the constraints of 'authenticity,' Tyrannosaurus Rex were
able to fabricate some of the most original and beatific sounds around.
In this context alone should they be judged and in this context they stand
head and shoulders above their contemporaries as the most listenable of