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Ride a White Swan: The Lives and Death of Marc Bolan
Ride a White Swan: The Lives and Death of Marc Bolan
by Lesley-Ann Jones
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 13.59

15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I love Marc Bolan, that's why I refuse to ever get in a Mini", 12 Sep 2012
Bit of a drastic statement, you may think, but that's exactly what a work colleague said to me when I pointed out that there was a new book on the horizon about the T. Rex fellah.

Following on from the rip roaring Freddie Mercury bio that Lesley-Ann Jones wrote so beautifully, my expectations were high when it came time to start Ride A White Swan - The Lives and Death of Marc Bolan. I thought it was going to follow a similar format as the Mercury book when chapter one kicked off in the same way with a direct link between Lesley-Ann and her subject. Honestly, this was the only part I felt was a tad bit weak as I was thrown into Bolan world and had yet to get up to speed.

After those initial pages Jones hits her stride - brilliantly. With the Freddie Mercury book she told a linear biography of the boy from Zanzibar who became the greatest showman to grace a rock stage. This time, Lesley-Ann takes a different approach. It is still the linear story of how Mark Feld became Marc Bolan, how Tyrannosaurus Rex became T. Rex and how the young man who was vegetarian and refused drugs was led down a path that resulted in eating meat, consuming booze and drugs in ever larger quantities towards eventually to a fateful night in a purple mini.

What makes this book so compelling and readable is the history. Each chapter pours with facts and historical information on the music biz as well as the world events that music was reacting to. So good were some of the social history depictions of the type of house and lifestyle the boy Mark Feld would have lived in that I found myself telling my Mom. She was born two years before Bolan and grew up in similar conditions in Birmingham (it seems inner cities post war were all the same) and I spent an evening talking about food rationing, handmade clothes and eventually the type of music that she listened to that the Feld family probably would have enjoyed too.

Jones weaves the biography through the world history and music timeline to show how first Feld was influenced by what was happening around him and in the end how Bolan became a part of our musical history. It isn't just a tick sheet of facts and figures either, it reads like an exciting adventure to go on. Imagine sitting with Lesley-Ann and saying "tell me what it was like to grow up in the 60's and 70's..." and this is pretty much what she would tell engrossing detail!

If you ever doubted Lesley-Ann Jones' credentials you should be reassured by the fact that Marc's brother and extended family have provided assistance and access as well as time and a wealth of information towards the writing of this book.

So, Mark Feld the boy who became Marc Bolan the man - what do we learn of him from this book? Why is it worth reading? Why am I describing it to friends as "the final full stop on the Marc Bolan story"?

To begin with you have to understand what this book is not. It is not a critique or examination of his music or a clever hack weaving together the press cuttings of the 60's and 70's while embellishing the old myths and legends just to make a quick buck on the 35th anniversary of his death. No, Jones is a respected music and entertainment journalist and goes to great pains to track down everyone connected with the story. She has conducted new interviews with the key players and got people to open up who previously have held their tongue.

As Jeff Dexter says when she asks why he is telling these things now, after all these years, "No one has ever asked me such personal questions before. It has only ever been superficial stuff about Marc and T. Rex and the music. You asked me some things that made me think deeply about who and what we were."

Some have recognised that time is running out to finally dispel some of the inaccuracies of the Bolan story, which has led Mick O'Halloran to talk candidly about his life on the road with Marc and how Steve Harley, The Cockney Rebel, states "...this is the last time I'm ever going to be interviewed about Marc Bolan"

Want to know if it really is an egg breaking during "Get It On"? Then read this book. Want to know why John Peel championed Marc so much and then why he turned away from him later? It is here. How did Bill Fifield become Bill Legend, you wonder? Wonder no longer. Want to know who was fired and who walked away? Yep, you guessed it....It is like Jones wrote a list of all the questions Bolan fans always wanted answers to and then went away on a musical sleuthing quest to get to the bottom of it all.

And what of Bowie? All the way through the story, the Thin White Duke stalks. The two friends remained friends. Lesley-Ann keeps "Deeb" at arm's length and tells an honest tale of how their dynamic worked...and tantalisingly puts to bed the whole "did they/could they/would they have recorded together?" question.

Sadly, David himself hasn't been involved in the book. I bet he was asked and I bet he turned it would be so Bowie. Instead, it is left to others to fill in the gaps, like Bob Harris, "Both recorded at Trident, they were working with the same producer, they sat in on each other's sessions. They were massively interested in each other, regardless of what might have been said or written since."

Heartbreakingly, she doesn't flinch telling the events of that last ride in the purple mini, the days after his death and the shocking post-script will have you shaking your head and tearing at your clothes.

My personal feelings at the end of the book towards Bolan were conflicted - like most humans he had his good and bad points (which is where Jones is so good at being balanced when she writes about her subjects) but Rolan Bolan comes out of it which such huge gravitas. If there was a better way of summing up Marc Bolan, he perfectly encapsulates his Dad with this statement. "The people who took the money know what they did with it What's left is a great story of music, of love, and of a piece of time when everything stood a bit differently. We all need to remember where we came from "

So, add to cart, lap it up - Bang a Gong, Get It On!

Freddie Mercury: The Definitive Biography
Freddie Mercury: The Definitive Biography
by Lesley-Ann Jones
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Definitive and Brilliant, 28 Jun 2012
Who was Freddie Mercury?

Showman or Frontman? Shy Guy or Great Pretender? In her book, Freddie Mercury: The Definitive Biography, Lesley-Ann Jones helps to peel away the layers of media nonsense and rumour to paint the picture of a man she met several times and watched perform live (most notably side of stage during THAT Live Aid Performance).

I took to the book as a casual Queen fan, growing up with the music as a boy and then a teenager, Freddie was long gone before I really got into collecting music seriously. But I remembered watching Live Aid and of course that barnstorming performance from Queen. My knowledge of Freddie himself and Queen's recording history was a little hazy based on red top newspaper headlines surrounding Mercury in later life and the odd documentary I had seen of the band play on TV. A mate at college had all the albums and subjected me to them in his car when he used to run a gang of us around. When music is forced on you, sadly, you don't always appreciate it and I honestly did switch off.

But, as you grow older, your musical tastes change and mature. You have the opportunity to delve into the musical archives of friends and relatives and the digital download has made it even easier to collect a back catalogue quicker.

Stood in the bookshop I thumbed through the hardback and found myself engrossed enough to want to buy it. Surely the best advert for any book?!

Jones plays a blinder for any casual Queen fan by starting the book off with Live Aid. Like Queen before her, she knows exactly the Greatest Hits to tick off and the first few pages draw you in to the world of Freddie, Queen, Wembley and Montreux so that when the "real" start of the journey to understand Mercury begins in Zanzibar you are fully prepared.

Lesley-Ann went to Zanzibar to research her subject's birthplace and understand where he came from and why possibly he may never have gone back. It is this attention to detail that is throughout the book. It is obvious that the author personally cares about Freddie and yet still paints an honest picture of the man with all his flaws and genius balanced. This is no rose tinted reflection of a bygone era of a Rock Showman. Nor is it a gossipy no holds barred delve into the more salacious areas of Freddie's life on and off stage.

The hardback edition has some reviews on amazon stating that this was written by a journalist who worked on the Daily Mail and that this is a regurgitated journalistic exercise pumped out to cash in on Freddie. This is both an insult to Jones and massively misses the point of what this book tells you. Lesley-Ann has indeed written for the Daily Mail amongst a number of other titles (what a crime!) but toured extensively with Queen and saw first hand a lot of what is reported in the book. Take a look at some of the photographs within the volume and you see not publicity shots of Freddie or Queen but more candid shots of the author with close friends and family of Freddie written about within the pages. She might be a journalist but that is just her "job". This book is written by someone who honestly was best placed to tell you what you want to know about Mercury the man.

If you are a huge Queen fan then this will be the perfect companion to the music and other books you have. A nice volume that easily covers everything you need to know. It is bang up to date taking in life post Freddie's passing with nods to We Will Rock You, Paul Rodgers and where Brian and Roger see Queen now.

I got hold of a paperback copy before reviewing this to double check there was nothing substantially new from the hardback I had read. But really, it was perfect in hardback...!

So, the casual Queen fan, after reading this book, has now gone out and bought the remastered cd's and wishes he had paid more attention in the car all those years ago! I gave my hardback to a friend with the "you have to read this" statement. Her response? "I like the way it is written, it fills my head like watching a documentary!"

Treat yourself....Add to Basket!
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