When I hear new bands like Sky Parade and Tame Impala or alt-rock legends like The Flaming Lips, Bauhaus or The Jesus and Mary Chain, I can’t help but think of the man, and the band who created that signature psychedelic guitar sound. Marc Bolan’s sexy mascu-feminine swagger took him into the heart of British pop in the 70’s where fans experienced a thing called “T. Rextacy”. Even Paul McCartney from the Beatles admitted he had never seen anything like the fan reaction to Marc Bolan. His band T. Rex were the poster children for rock-n-roll based in beauty, distortion and excess.
To rock historians Bolan was as big an icon as Bowie or Elvis, but popular culture seems to have mostly forgotten his existence. T. Rex had only one chart hit, “Bang A Gong” in 1971, but his best work is on the record Electric Warrior. The meeting of lyrics, feel, love and fear is (IMHO) untouchable. And it has a warmth that works like a crackling fire on a cold autumn night.
Bolan’s touch on the electric guitar was innovative because the notes rang out clearly, but were buried in edgy, fuzzed-out distortion that would break off into a spacier vibe that would propel you into the stratosphere. Many people use the guitar sound, but no one else has reached the heights of the feeling that hits when the guitar sound is lifted with Marc’s poetic vulnerability and explosive stage energy.
Marc Bolan was a triple threat — a master of guitar, vocals and lyrics. And although in real life he couldn’t handle simple tasks like buying groceries or hailing a taxi, his finesse on-stage was incredible. He understood the visual, and made each audience member feel like he was singing directly to them.
Marc died in his late 20’s. Just like other genius musicians — like Elliott Smith, Mia Zapata, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison — we lost him at a young age . All these folks, including Marc Bolan, are covered in our KEXP Documentary series Death, Drugs and Rock n Roll.
Michele Myers spins every Saturday on KEXP from 3-6pm. Every week she plays 3-in-a-row from the Saturday Afternoon Artist. She is the creator of KEXP Documentaries and hosts Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays 6-9am on WNYE 91.5FM in New York City.