(First off, apologies for slacking on posts this last couple days, I’ve been rather busy and, as much as I love making queued posts, I didn’t really anticipate getting as caught up in various errands as I had.)
I was ten, and that was the first year I started reading about influential musicians of the 1960s. True, I grew up with a lot of that music from my parents, and it still strikes me as weird that “oldies” stations are playing ABBA now, but learning things from exposure really doesn’t give one a fair understanding of it, as it’s just what people do when you’re only given exposure –it’s like learning how to read from just learning that words are pictures that mean things and learning how to recognise those words, without learning phonics so that one can actually read above a the expected level of an eight-year-old child. Mere exposure is learning “Dick is a boy. See Dick run,” means that painting of a boy running is of a boy named Dick, and he is running. Learning things from a historical perspective as well means that you are getting a lesson in what each letter is, means, and the various nuances of how it is pronounced in language, so that one can actually read words one has never before seen in print, sound them out considerably well, and usually even recognise them from things one has heard in the past, and also figure out a fair meaning from context. Learning from a historical perspective is not necessarily better, but if one learns the history as well as the exposure, the knowledge is invaluable.
Now, my grandparents were British, but my mother, being something of a rebel, was more distinctly Amerikan than her parents (or her middle child, who she dumped off on her parents with alarming regularity) ever were. I grew up on a lot of Amerikan music, a lot of Motown, and a lot of… You know, I never know what genre to dump Frank Zappa in –a lot of his most famous work was of a rock-jazz hybrid, but he tackled various subgenre, including folk, rockabilly, and doo-wop. My mother listened to a lot of Captain Beefheart. Alice Cooper. Black Sabbath. Big Brother & the Holding Company (both with and without Janis). The Mamas and The Papas. And I knew a lot of the British bands that had the biggest impact on the States: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Jimi Hendrix Experience (yes, Hendrix himself was an American, but his career was predominantly expatriate). And when I was ten, I began reading more in-depth about these people and the music that changed the world of music, and it all just snowballed from there. I packed on more and more information about more people. I learned about The Doors (who were more influential than they were popular, during their prime, barely selling enough records to be considered a success). I learned about The Kinks.
Eventually, I found this book at the library called Only the Good Die Young, and it gave a few pages of short bio on musicians who are all said to have died before their time, from Hank Williams and Buddy Holly to John Lennon and Sid Vicious. There was an appendix at the end that gave a smaller blurb on many other musos the author chose not to profile, and the author’s descroption of Marc Bolan intrigued me. This was the first instance in which I had seen the term “proto-punk”, as well. I decided to read a bit more about him before I had even knowingly heard any of his music.
Being in the States at the time, I had limited info on Bolan accessible to me, especially at the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library at that time. I read a lot of anthologies of information on rock music, including self-identified Encyclopaediae of Rock, and with just the knowledge, and very little, I didn’t have much of an impression of Marc Bolan, aside from his face; that darling and just gorgeous face, framed in auburn curls.
I first became exposed to Marc Bolan’s music when I was about twelve, and the Detroit-area radio station, 97.1FM, was an all-1970s station. A pretty limiting format, and it didn’t last very long, and after that, it was an active / modern rock station for less than a year (since it was actively competing with the long-established 101.1FM), and then switched to an all-talk format –but I digress… “Get It On (Bang a Gong)” was pretty much their only T Rex song, but on a very regular, about twice daily, rotation. At this point in my life, I don’t really remember what it was that really struck me as incredible about that song (and since then, I’ve decided that it’s one of his weakest, lyrically and in composition, but I often think that about a band’s hit single/s), but I knew I had to head more. Without really thinking of the answer to the question, “what if the rest of the record sucks?” I bought the Electric Warror record, from PJ’s Used Records in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when I was thirteen. A few weeks later, after listening to the record nearly non-stop, I asked my step-mother to make an appointment to get my hair a permanent wave.
My perm relaxed and grew out, but I still have that record.
It never mattrred what subculture I got involved with, Bolan’s music was known, accepted, and respected –at least among people who have a vested interest in the history of the music and subculture in question. MARC gave showcase to many punk bands in 1977, and he even claimed to have invented the genre (a moment of extreme modesty toward his talents, if you ask me). Bauhaus covered “Telegram Sam” and Rozz Williams recorded a beautiful version of “Sunken Rags”, released posthumously. Bolan has long been credited as an instrumental force in the emergence of both glam rock and psychedelic folk. John’s Children are often regarded as a latter-day post-RSG “first generation” Mod group, and one that paved the way for the emergence of punk music. No matter what I’ve been into, there was Bolan, and his influence ran deep, whether those around me were aware of it or not. His personality placed him well outside the mainstream, but by serendipity, he was alive at a perfect time to have earned considerable success.
There are few things I’m more grateful for than his music, but there’s something about his short life that makes sense. Don’t get me wrong, I mourn his passing, and the personal tragedy that I shall never meet him, even though I know I’d be blubbering nonsense, barely able to speak a word to him, but at the same time, there was something about him, maybe you could call it UPG, but it just makes sense to me that he wasn’t going to live long enough for me –it’s sad, tragic, even, but it was meant to be this way, and so I’m at peace with this sad reality.