on 16 November 2012
This is a classic case of what I call Hit and Myth (here's a quote):
`Bowie releases concept album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, a sensation. Promo tour takes US by storm. Marc watches helplessly as Bowie steals his thunder. Bowie is gracious, mentioning T.Rex in his lyrics for `All The Young Dudes', the song he gifts Mott the Hoople. Bolan bitches.'
This is manipulative writing at its most hard-faced. It comes in the extensive back notes (designed to flesh out the book and probably up the price). It's implied here that Bowie becomes a US sensation in '72 while Bolan flounders. In reality, this US storm/sensation was such that it took Bowie's `Ziggy' album to the unimpressive low of number 75 on the US chart. It might as well have landed on Mars for all anybody in the US cared at that point. But that isn't the impression somebody who didn't know better would get.
The '72 T.Rex album `The Slider', on the other hand, was a top 20 hit in the US, peaking at number 17, and released to huge critical acclaim, with one critic calling it `flawless' and another comparing its magical artistry directly with the Beatles' white album. None of which is mentioned.
To put the above in context, Bowie was in '72 enjoying his first flourish of success in the UK after three years in the commercial wilderness, while `T.rextasy' was at its height, with T.Rex records accounting for around 6% of domestic record sales in the UK, selling an estimated 100,000 records a day (apparently more than the Beatles sold in the UK at the height of Beatlemania). Even Paul McCartney was quoted as saying, "T.Rex is bigger than the Beatles were!"
All this, of course, is the real reason for Bowie's `gracefulness' (aside from the fact that he and Marc were close friends), and none of which is mentioned, or even dealt with as a possible exaggeration of some staggering figures.
Now read the above quote again and you'll get a flavour of what you can expect from this hatchet job of a book (if you're still determined to buy it).
The build up to the glory years of T.Rex is indepth and quite good (mainly because this hack writer is very well connected and gets the interviews that count; all of which, ironically, paint Marc in a very good light, dispelling many of the negative myths about our magical elf). The problem is that whenever Jones' narrative starts up again, the bile starts up again.
The clue that there will be problems comes at the beginning, when Jones mentions Marc Bolan, then goes on a long ramble about her childhood love for Bowie. That section becomes all about Bowie, not Bolan. From that point on, Bolan is derided constantly while Bowie is bigged up, even to the point, as mentioned, of what amounts to bare-faced lies.
It gets worse as it goes on. During the build-up to the glory years of T.Rex, all anticipation is deflated in a passage that is again about Bowie. Jones mentions that producer Visconti chooses Marc over Bowie and that Bowie is badly disappointed. She ends the paragraph by stating that Bowie `wouldn't have to wait long'. When I read this, I knew that Jones was planning to skim the T.Rex glory years and head straight for the decline, but I didn't realise just how badly ripped off I had been until I got there.
Jones deals with `Ride A White Swan' by lazily throwing in a deconstruction of the song by some Tolkien expert, which is interesting enough in itself. Later there's a write up about Telegram Sam, but that's about it. Electric Warrior is dealt with quickly and The Slider is slid over in a paragraph, with just a mention that it wasn't promoted by Marc and slid quickly down the charts! Metal Guru, arguably T.Rex's most glorious pop song and the pinnacle of T.Rextasy as a phenomenon, is only mentioned in the notes at the back; and, of course, in a negative light. Jones does mention in the notes that it was a number one and spent four weeks on the charts. In fact, it was selling up to 100,000 records a day and spent four weeks at the number one position; an important detail.
The back notes do admit that The Slider's number four placing in the UK was due to a compilation record of T.Rex songs being released by another company. There is no mention of critical acclaim for the album, or the fact that it was a US top twenty hit while Ziggy flopped... for obvious reasons.
Even when Jones acknowledges a T.Rex hit, she does it in summary fashion, along the lines of `Hot Love was a hit, spending 6 weeks at number one and selling lots of records'. The moment infamous for kick starting Glam and a whole new era in pop, when Bolan made his now legendary appearance on TOTP in androgynous style and with glitter teardrops sparkling on his face, is also written up in summary fashion and bitterly dismissed as `starting a craze'!! One T.Rex hit that spent weeks at the top spot is described in negative terms as having `languished' there!
Jones revels in Marc's decline and the US stardom that Bowie actually did achieve in 1975 (sprinkling Beatle stardust onto this career by co-writing the hit 'Fame' with John Lennon; also by concocting a song designed specifically for the US: `Young Americans'). From '73 on, Bowie had enjoyed album hits in the US, but 'Fame' represented not only his first US singles number one, but also his first foray into the US singles top ten. (Odd for a 'sensation' who had taken the US by 'storm' back in '72.)
Jones does mention that in '75 and '76 Bolan did have a couple of songs that `charted'. What she doesn't mention (apart from in the back notes), is that of all the T.Rex songs that charted during this time, two were top twenty hits, with one peaking at number 15 and one at number 13 - an incredible achievement for somebody who had so recently paid the price for truly massive media over-exposure.
But that is left unsaid; along with the fact that her love Bowie's singles action both in the US and UK was always patchy. Aside from a few serious hits, scratching the top twenty was often the best he could manage even at the height of his powers in the seventies. He didn't get a number one in the UK until the re-release of 'Space Oddity' in '75 and had to wait until 1980 (three years after Bolan's death), to enjoy another. Bolan's chart placings in '75 and '76 beat both 'Young Americans' and 'Fame' on the UK singles chart.
By the end of the book, the gloves are off completely and it makes king-of-the-corpses-hatchet-job expert Albert Goldman seem like a writer of true artistry. Jones can't avoid mentioning that Bolan is enjoying a huge resurge of popularity, but hates doing it and quickly dismisses him as (wait for it) `an end of the pier piss artist'! This is in preparation for a last mention of her great god-Bowie.
When Bowie flies in to appear on Marc's new TV show, it is described as if a god is descending from the heavens to bestow a blessing on his servants. Marc and an associate are described waiting for Bowie (as if in awe), as the "little mates who couldn't believe their luck"!!!!! A couple of lines down and she describes them as "the oiks".
While people influenced by T.Rex are mentioned, there is no acknowledgement of the fact that pop music experts find Bolan's distinctly original sound in virtually all great pop/rock music from his death up to the present day. A genuinely major achievement.
Marc Bolan reinvented the rock 'n' roll three minute single; he stole popular music from self-important naval gazers and brought it back to the kids, where it has stayed, firmly rooted, ever since. His influence is seen in almost everything. He is the ultimate teen idol, gaining too much, too soon, and burning very, very brightly for a short time before crashing and burning. He wasn't a manipulator, he was an innovator; he wasn't a schemer, he was a dreamer. He just made damn sure his dreams came true, that's all.
Was the author using this book as an audition for a Bowie biography? Remember one thing: Bowie has always been a graceful person and a generous person, as well as a brilliant artist. This book isn't his fault. Bolan and Bowie loved each other and competed with each other like brothers, even Jones doesn't deny that.
I'm amazed at the rave reviews, although I know how fake celebrity reviews can be (given as a favour to the well-connected, often without having read the work). The skimming of the glory years makes this book a rip off from any point of view, let alone the negative twisting of all things Marc whenever Jones is at the helm.
So the question is: How will Marc's real fans feel about this disgraceful piece of trash? I'll end by quoting Marc Bolan himself:
`The heat's on, mister ... can't you hear them scream?'
So far, though, I can't; which is really the saddest part of this farce.