ere's a good example of how things began to get really weird in the '70s. No sooner had a series of new trends begun to remove rock and roll from its original intention (spontaneous anarchy and fun) and toward a more cranial approach (the singer/songwriter trend, the progressive rock trend) than a series of backlashes took things thoroughly too far in the opposite direction. Marc Bolan, the mastermind of T. Rex, gave new meaning to the word "dumb." If you were a hyperactive teenager who needed to rebel against all these sensitive singers with sad eyes and acoustic guitars, or bands whose only goal was to get thoroughly lost while jamming, then Bolan was your cup of tea. Just try to recite any of his lyrics aloud without breaking into hysterics: "I got stars in my beard, and I feel real weird, for you," or "Rocking in the nude, I'm feeling such a dude, it's a rip-off," or "Just like a car, you're pleasing to behold. I'll call you Jaguar if I may be so bold." Need I extract more? If truth be told, though, his lyrics are so phenomenally dumb that they transcend themselves and manage to be quite entertaining (in a dumb sort of way). The thing is, his riffs are so mind-suckingly good (and simple) that it is easy to convince yourself that he really was heavy after all.
In 1971, more than a few fans thought Bolan's ideas could hold up not just for a few hits, but for an entire career. Times have changed. Judging from the sobering distance of twenty-odd years, I'd say that his albums sound painfully dated and that his material lacks any sense of variety. Over the years, his musical ideas (all three of them) have become transparently threadbare. His songs all share similar rhythmic ideas and lyrical thrust, while his singing never varies from the double-tracked, whispering frenzy technique that he developed.
Did I say driving? That reminds me, what exactly was it with this guy and his auto-erotic imagery? "You're built like a car, you got a hubcap diamond-star halo. You're built like a car, oh yeah" is only a sample lyric from his catalog of songs that use the automobile as a metaphor for sex.
Before his chrome-finish fetish became public knowledge, Bolan's music was actually quite different. Originally, he was a folkie from Donovan's School of Outer-Space Sensitivity and called his partnership with a bongo player Tyrannosaurus Rex, because he expected to become the biggest thing on earth. When this slightly pudgy and inarticulate guy with luminescent blue skin decided to drop his sad-eyed, acoustic guitar act and trade it in for electric glamour and a new bongo player, T. Rex was born. From that point on, English critics treated Bolan as though he were a treasonous phony. The kids loved him. American critics had trouble putting him into perspective. Seemingly out of nowhere, here comes this supposedly sensitive guy dressed in the most campy attire, wearing heels and women's mascara while singing to teenagers. The unisex styles of the '60s, such as love beads and long hair, had begun to develop into the androgyny of the '70s, and Bolan was intelligent enough to aim it at the kids who were open-minded and eager to develop their own identity separate from the hippies. It took American kids a while to catch on. "Bang a Gong" was a hit in America almost a full year after it topped the English charts. By then, Bolan had opened the door for other acts who subscribed to the decidedly English phenomenon of glam-rock, such as Sweet, Slade, Gary Glitter, and Mott the Hoople. Over the years, David Bowie would be elevated to superstar status as he developed glam-rock into a futuristic amalgam of sex and theater. Overshadowed by these later acts, Bolan's popularity decreased, despite his attempt to remain in the spotlight. While riding in a car driven by his girlfriend, Gloria Jones ("Tainted Love"), he was killed in a crash on September 6, 1977.
- Thomas Ryan, American Hit Radio, Prima Entertainment, 1996.
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