T. Rex: Born To Boogie

And through it all, Marc Bolan kept his hat on.

T. Rex is great. Not just a c*ck ring or a coke tray, but a rock & roll band. (Yeah!) Marc, the dandy child with a duck walk, bit hard on heaven’s heels and T. Rex was born. It’s a ripoff — a plain kind of self-plagiarism. But he didn’t care, and neither should we. (He was on the fast track.) Here, then, is our simple funk tribute: Why the T was so goddamned Rexy. JC

Non-word Verbalism

Ouch! Mmm — beautiful. Bippity boppity boo boo, yeah!

A sensual language does Bolan use, to melt the girls and make the men feel OK. He was a sprite, but he was the MAN of glam, the one who couldn’t pass for gay because, clearly, he was going for the ladies. Neo-glam tends to miss this. The fey voice and makeup were not a celebration of homosexuality. They were the supreme badge of manly confidence. KC

Tony Visconti

It wasn’t so much that he had his own style (like Phil Spector, or Steve Albini). It was the attention paid to the proclivities of the artists he produced that mattered. Listen to “Rock On” (full disclosure: I got this from reading Tony’s website). Baritone sax and French horn pop in and out — why? Marc’s guitar has a brassy tone (much like Brian May’s for Queen). Without overdoing it, Tony filled the sound. The same goes for the string orchestrations. They augment the guitar.

The quality and variety of Visconti’s work is a rare thing indeed. I don’t think it a coincidence that, when Marc’s ego made him get rid of Tony as producer, T. Rex took a nosedive. KC

Built Like A Car

The band made jungle noise for the “urbs.” The diction is twin to the music (sci-fi, chrome, sex), a cherry on the cherry. Set in the dream of rock & roll, it’s a time machine.

Visconti whipped up a gloss, but he kept the snap intact. There was nothing wasteful, sloppy, or dated about the music.

But look at the band. They followed the rhythm section, Steve Currie (bass) and Bill Legend (drums). Making damn near everything percussive, they showed just how fast rock could be in the maw of 50s pop trash. Because of this, they were both futuristic and, well, nostalgic.

They were clean — clean and raw. Listen to the drums: The snare has a clapping depth — the sound of beating skin. The bass guitar is right behind the bass drum. There’s Mickey Finn on the bongos. There’s Marc on the power chords. Then a bunch of handclaps, overdubbed.

Rock & roll (when it’s good, and when it’s on) is the sound of roadkill. Marc tricked it up, claiming the parity of sex and cars in a fey voice (androgynous?) – pure daydream for the teenage boy, poeticized into some weird personal take on the body electric. And the beat spelled conviction. There was never any doubt as to the primacy of his quest and perfect ideal: Rock the she-god, built like a car, and therefore quite f*ckable. JC

Guitar Grind

Lou Reed’s playing was distinct and important. So was Marc’s. Lou was primal, a backdrop where even the minimalist strokes of Sterling Morrison were symphonic – all because Lou’s rhythm was so very, very tribal. Bolan, though, had groove in the heart. Folk expressionism and proto-hard rock gnash – that’s Marc. The rhythms are based on the blues. They scoot and shuffle where a rockier guitarist would have played it straight, and he went for distortion too. KC

Was A Ball

Cathartic, my ass. Aren’t things a bit dour with the current state of rock? The white-boy angst is so…grave. Rock & roll should be fun. So many bands feel so much “pain.” When did rock dull up? Shouldn’t there be some kind of lift to it?

Marc had fun. He enjoyed himself immensely. The music is full of screeds and horny little toads. The grin of the imp pervades T. Rex; a smile forms an invitation to get up and dance. What a relief it is to know that he didn’t take himself seriously, that he’s in on the joke. He laughs even now, his head cut off from the rest of his frame. JC

“And meanwhile, I’m still thinking”

One of those great little moments in rock, half-hidden just because we think the song is over. It turns the hyper-sexual thrust of the song on its head, making “Get It On” a slutty cerebral fantasy. KC

Is The Slider The Electric Warrior?

Bolan songs are populous, full of kooks: Telegram Sam, Golden Nose Slim, Jungle Face Jake (from one song alone). They aren’t deeply active. Unlike Bowie’s Halloween Jack, who slides down a rope to the street below, Marc’s names are just that.

But there are so many! From the same LP: Metal Guru, Mild Mouthed Rita, Rainy Lady, Tramp king of the city, Moondog. These sobriquets are tossed off, but they make for a world of uniqueness. You’d think the Rex was every glam band of the era, but every glam band should have been more like them. The Lou Reed-like cast* gives depth to this most apparently superficial and wonderful of bands.

*Two notes. First, a lyric that could have been Reed’s:

‘New York witch in the dungeon of the day
I keep trying to write my novel
But all you do is play’

-“Baby Boomerang” (The Slider)

Next is the naming of names. To “universalize” effect, many songs ignore specificity. But named names (like Reed does in the “(girl’s name) Says” round of songs) give us something to which we can relate, and the experience is richer for it. KC

Cosmic Bullshit

Hippie-dippy crap I hate. I don’t ride the Peace Train or the Magic Bus. I don’t go to San Francisco with flowers in my hair, and I don’t get hung up on a dream. By rights, the “Ballrooms Of Mars” and the “Children Of The Revolution” should be equally anathema. But they’re not. That’s because Marc can sell it. He doesn’t mean it, and that makes it believable.

The issue with the hippie dream is that it sells a lie it thinks is the truth. The nadir of self-importance, the dream is all pose and preening and flowers in guns. But Marc doesn’t sing about revolutions. The very flightiness of the wordplay shows itself up as fantasy, a jaunt we can believe in for the three minutes of song. That’s just how long those falsehoods remain credible. Maybe it’s because the music (a tight, dirty boogie) augurs cheap sex, not free love. One is societally unsustainable and philosophically empty. The other is just what happens. KC

No Phone

The Slider is sad. Metal Guru’s alone without a telephone; the Mystic Lady has a cruel life; the Rabbit Fighter’s unscrewed and badly burned. Marc sings about himself. In “Main Man,” he mentions himself in the third person (to convey the detachment from self not prone to subjectivity) before saying that he cries a lot. The record is a peak of self-knowledge, a trip to the barbs of success that Marc had just begun to taste. What it is, then, is a blues sped-up — a fun, brown study in the fate of excess. JC

“The Lunar Sheik (The Cosmic Freak)”
by Jack Cormack (1998)

(dedicated to Marc Bolan)

Well, tonight’s the night/We ride the sheik

He’ll come dancing in satins and suede

You’ll kiss and you’ll kiss/Till you wet his cheek

And the princes all live as strays.

The clothes he wears/The cosmic stare

He’ll do it like lightening and joke

You’ll miss and you’ll miss/Till you’re downright pissed

And he’ll light you up to smoke.

Run like sin, feel the din
Of his love in the clear blue sky
Take up the tent and sharpen his creases
You’ll be running into the night.
Sheik it, fake it, anyway
Sheik it, make it, that’s the way! OOOhhh, OOOhhh, OOOhhh, OOOhhh.

Well, the car is clean/With the backseat blues

He’s just a snorting magazine

That’s when you lost him/That’s when you toss him

He’s a regular pin-up queen — YEAH!


The girl in love/Took a swan-dive mug

And she held on just like sixteen

Cracked her face/All leather and lace

She cried, but she never could sing — YEAH!


Done gone to bed/She’s a heap of flesh

Just full of burning dead

Stargazer’s bright/The starmaker’s slight

You knew she’d be givin’ head.

Bennies in flight make up a breeze/The band is ready to go

The singer sways and he buckles his knees/Just fading from blow to blow.

–chorus to refrain

The lunar sheik, the cosmic freak

Yeah, yeah, yeah…

The loser lover lunar cosmic sheik

Yeah, yeah, yeah

The lunar sheik, the cosmic freak


  • Electric Warrior: A-
  • The Slider: A
  • Tanx: B

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