In the past few years, I’ve done portraits of famous musicians and icons, such as David Bowie, Lemmy Kilmister, Quentin Crisp, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Elizabeth Taylor, Wendy O Williams, and a few others. My focus are on those who had some sort of impact on my psyche, whether it’s small or significant.
Which brings me to Marc Bolan. My introduction to the ’70s Glam band T Rex was through covers by Bauhaus, Violent Femmes, The Power Station, Siouxsie and The Banshees, etc. Being curious, I decided to go straight to the source.
Recently came the news that T Rex is going to be an inductee into the 2020 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Usually I don’t give a rat’s ass about who’s been included. Being part of Gen X, I should’ve been happy for Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails. Instead I’ll wait to rejoice when Kraftwerk gets in. I’m always that one person who goes against the grain.
For those who don’t know who Marc Bolan is, here goes. Marc Bolan, real name Marc Feld. His father was an Askenazi Jew, his mother English. Marc was born for the showbiz life. He first appeared as an extra on the British television show Orlando as a Mod. Age nine he was given his first guitar, and his life course was set. After being expelled from school at the age of 15, he tried modelling. It’s rumored he was bisexual, piling his trade as a ‘rent boy.’ In 1964, Marc met his first manager. The result was one of Bolan’s professional recordings. The track was in the style of U.K. teen idol Cliff Richard. Marc soon moved on to a second manager. He had changed his style, adopting a Boho-chic look. The contract was later sold to a landlord to back off back rent, in which the contract was later destroyed. In 1965, Marc signed Decca Records. It was this point Marc switched his stage name to Marc Bolan. Two Decca released singles went nowhere. In 1966, British music producer Simon Napier-Bell, met Bolan, listening to Bolan’s claims about how he was going to be a ‘big star.’ Napier-Bell was managing The Yardbirds at that point. He put Bolan in the band John’s Children, which had some success. It was short-lived, so Marc had to reconstruct his plans for stardom. Influenced by fantasy and romance, he came back with the first formation of T Rex, originally known as Tyrannosaurus Rex
Tyrannosaurus Rex gained a cult following among the U.K.’s Hippie subculture, releasing four Psychedelic-Folk-Rock albums. However, Marc wanted more. Despite charting success, percussionist Steve Peregrin Took was terminated due to drug use. Tyrannosaurus Rex then developed into T Rex, adding electric to the sound. Took was replaced with Mickey Finn on the bongos.
1970 saw the release of the rebooted formation with the self titled album T Rex. As the cliche goes, the rest is history. Marc reinvented himself yet again, setting the bar for what would be known as ‘Glam Rock.’
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. This also synchronized with David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust era. In fact, both T Rex and Bowie worked with the same music producer, American Tony Visconti and the same manager, Les Conn. Hippies were replaced with teenage fans as Marc performed on stage wearing satin and glitter. This is the iconic T Rex everyone knows. At one point T Rex was as huge as The Beatles over in his native country. T Rex did have success over in the U.S., with the top 40 hit ‘Bang A Gong’, but never as massive as they were back in the U.K. With releases such as Electric Warrior and The Slider, the band was rumored to be selling 100,000 records a day.
It really should be noted that Marc would probably never had the success if it wasn’t for his wife, June Ellen Child. June Child already had connections within the British music industry, and was instrumental in T Rex’s success. Finally Marc achieved the rock star status he so desired.
The wave continued to ride high, appearing in Ringo Starr’s film, Born To Boogie. After the album Tanx in 1973, the success T Rex had started to taper off. His marriage was disintegrating too. Marc found new love with American R&B singer Gloria Jones. Jones has her own interesting history. She was involved with Motown. Finding success in the U.K., she was the Queen of the Northern Soul movement. Most importantly, Jones was the original vocalist for the song Tainted Love, later made internationally famous by ’80s New Wave band Soft Cell.
Marc and Gloria’s paths first crossed in 1969. It wasn’t until 1972, when Jones got a gig as T Rex’s backup singer. You can guess the rest, as Jones and Bolan became romantically involved. Out of that union, Jones gave birth to their only son, Rolan Bolan in 1975. By that time, Bolan’s star was fading. He had gained a bit of weight, acquired a drug habit, and record sales slowly declined. Jones and Bolan continued to collaborate. In 1975 Jones did background vocals for the T Rex album Bolan’s Zip Gun. Unfortunately the tenth studio album did poorly, only being released in the U.K. (The American version was Light of Love, released on then new Casablanca record label) Another pairing for Jones’ 1976 album Vixen. Jones continued her tenure with T Rex with the albums Futuristic Dragon and Dandy In The Underworld.
Marc’s luck turned around in 1977, when he landed his own variety show on Granada Television. Now this synchronized with the imminent U.K. Punk movement. (The Damned opened up for T Rex on a later British tour) Marc had a few appearances from bands like The Jam and Generation X (with future ’80s New Wave superstar Billy Idol). Thin Lizzy also did a guest spot on Marc. The rest was littered with local performers, never to be heard from again. David Bowie was the most significant delegate, with a spot on the last Marc episode. Bowie was both a rival and a friend – but later proved himself to be a loyal friend as we’ll find out later.
Marc was renewed by Granada, but the next season never came to be. After celebrating on September 16, 1977, Marc and Gloria got into a car crash. Jones was the driver of the Mini 1275GT. While Jones survived, Bolan died instantly. Marc Bolan was only two weeks from his 30th birthday.
While the funeral was taking place, Gloria Jones was hospitalized in a coma. When she came to, to her horror she discovered the home she had shared with Marc had been looted dry. Matters were further complicated because Bolan never divorced his estranged wife June. This meant that Bolan’s assets was tied up, freezing out both Jones and child. Skipping the U.K. legal inquiry over the car crash, Jones and son returned back to Los Angles, California. Jones continued to be involved with the music industry, but destitute. This is where David Bowie comes into play. Bowie just happened to be the godfather to Rolan Bolan. Refusing to let Rolan suffer, Bowie stepped in providing financial assistance, paying for Rolan’s education. It was all due to Bowie’s loyalty towards friendship he shared with Marc Bolan. It wasn’t until June Child’s death in Back in the U.K., a plaque was placed where the crash occurred. For decades, the site has, become a small pilgrimage to T Rex fans.
Over the years, people have held torches in Marc’s memory. Marc On Wax was a label run by two former heads of Bolan’s fan club. Most importantly, the influence Marc and T Rex had continues. As mentioned earlier, many late ’70s/’80s Post-Punk and Alternative bands have covered many a T Rex ditty.
As for Gloria, she later co-founded with the Light of Love Foundation UK, a music school in Sierra Leone, West Africa named in honor of Marc. Called Marc Bolan School Of Music, it gives children opportunities to learn all facets of music and film. Oh, and in 2007, she did a duet with Marc Almond once on a U.K. stage performing Tainted Love.
Honestly, I don’t know why there’s hasn’t been a biopic film about Marc. If they can do one on Freddie Mercury and Elton John, surely they can do one on Marc. I digress.
Now that you’ve read more about Marc Bolan than you originally wanted to, here’s my portrait of him, just in time for his induction into the class of 2020, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Hand drawn, pen, ink and watercolor. There’s a tiny bit of sheen and glimmer with the watercolor, but I don’t think Marc would’ve minded. Here’s a little Marc in your heart.