Thursday, September 28, 2006

Marc Bolan: Born to Boogie

It will be Marc Bolan's birthday on the 30th. Or rather, it would have been his birthday, if things were different. He died September 16th, 1977, 29 years ago. He was born on September 30, 1947. He would have been 59. I can't imagine him being 59, but dying just before your 30th birthday seems a harsh way to avoid old age.

(Left: the back of the "Bolan" book.)

Last year, the DVD of the T. Rex movie Born to Boogie was finally released on DVD. It contains concert footage from 1972 with 'fantasy sequences' intercut between them. Like The Song Remains the Same, the fantasy sequences are a key insight into the characters of the stars featured in the concert footage. The disc also contains the whole concert without interludes and a whole previous concert from the same day – same songs, different audience and emphasis.

Born to Boogie opens with Marc standing in front of a giant cardboard cut-out of himself, wearing a t-shirt of himself – and getting away with it. Classic, really. I expected it to be far too late on, thirty three years too late, to recapture the feelings I had (of when I loved the prettiest star). But the few cynical elements within me got beaten down like a Wembley Pool commissionaire within a couple of minutes and after that, I was firmly and happily ensconced in 1972.

I really don't remember the film Born to Boogie. I must have seen it; I can't imagine missing out on it. I'd seen T. Rex live a year earlier and much of my life at the time was caught up in collecting pictures and finding articles on Marc Bolan. The fantasy sequences rang a bell, though not a very loud or tuneful one, but the music sequences seemed completely new to me. And what sequences they are. I was surprised by how happy Marc looked. How healthy, how relaxed. How young. It was like falling through a timewarp and finding the past not only earlier, but also a better place to be. Almost like someone had gone back and swept it and aired the beds for us. I'd like to talk to those girls in the audience; I wonder if any of them recognize themselves? Did it take them back, too, to a better time? Is it more comfortable now going to then than it was living back then? Or is it just me?

I didn't remember how much the band rocked live, either. After more than thirty years of just listening to the records, I'd convinced myself that they weren't all that much live. Wrong. They are tight, with a first-class rhythm section and Bolan's unique brand of rhythm guitar and lead fills adding up to a band that could have wiped the floor with any of the contemporary pop bands. Was this really the same band I'd seen looking glum and confused on the Musikladen set? Looked like a different timestream all together. By the time we got to the jam on Get It On, the band was positively heavy.

Marc is an elfin treasure. His spoken voice still gives me chills. His face is as pretty, as clear and guileless, as it is possible to imagine. And Mickey Finn, looking good enough to eat. A mass of raven hair, cheekbones and graceful motion. I'd forgotten how beautiful he was. And I'd definitely forgotten how essential his conga playing was. The girls in the audience too, seem to be part of this odd alternative history where everyone is beautiful and happy. They were so well dressed, so smiling, so into the music. And – I looked because I've lived in America for the last twenty years and people keep telling me that English people have bad teeth – their teeth are so clean and white and straight. Loved it when they went wild at the little bit of vocal ecstasy in Spaceball Ricochet or at "I wanna suck ya!" in Jeepster. And Baby Strange. Aren't they a bit young to appreciate some of these lines? Part of me hopes they are, part of me remembers quite clearly what I already knew at that age, in that era. Part of me back then would have died of happiness if I'd noticed Marc lick the unruly droopy microphone to make it stand up again. I swear, I would. Almost died when I saw it just now, in fact.

Hard to imagine Bolan as a vampire, though. He'd laugh and ruin the mood. Vampires and people who watch the Seal of Seasons play in the surf don't really mix, in my experience. Anyway, after the Tea Party sequence with Mickey Finn playing the worst table-mannered Man of Blood ever, I probably don't want to think about vampires at all.

Excellent photography. Clear as a bell, all angles covered. Lighting perfect for film, though that white floodlight must have been intensely annoying to people who were watching the concert live. And the sound remix is beyond superb. It's almost uncannily clear. It doesn't even sound live. Another piece of that better-now-than-it-was-then alternative history. Not that I'm complaining. Wait, are those really the words to Spaceball Ricochet? Oh, well, it's a long song. "Golden nose slim, golden nose slim. I nose where you bin." I've never got that pun before. Thirty three years in the making. Quite funny. Wish I'd been swifter as a teen. I probably missed a lot of stuff like that.

Of the fantasy sequences, I have to nominate Electric Wind as my favorite. The segue into A wop bop a loo bop a lop bam bam is just intense. Brings you up and takes you down and treats you like a king. Suddenly you're there – and now, suddenly you're then, too. And then a quick wipe followed by a treat and a half – the legendary Reg Dwight, seen here not sucking. Imagine. That and the rest of the studio set with Elton on the ivories is priceless. His black ensemble, his healthy look, the power and the physicality he brings to playing the piano. Rockin' his great heart out like the Big Bopper. Love the way he bares his teeth at Marc nestled inside his baby grand. The editing on Children of the Revolution is first rate too. Is the first time Ringo has ever been more sober than his friends? Maybe that's the key.

And where do you get a miniature zebra for a bunch of rock stars who need one in a hurry, anyway?

I have that "Bolan" book the kids are holding as they file out of the Wembley Pool Arena. It's a Melody Maker production. Poor MM. Always wanted us to like serious musicians, like, oh, I dunno. Jazz. Emerson Lake and Palmer. People who knew how to play a diminished ninth. But they had to make serious and yet strangely lightweight tomes about teenyboppers instead, written by old Beats and card-carrying journos slumming with fourteen year-old groovers who don't know a time signature from an autograph.

Got to love this set.

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