The moment David Bowie performed with Marc Bolan just days before his death, 1977
Just seven days before the tragic death of the legendary Marc Bolan, the mercurial singer asked one of his fellow superstars to join him on stage as part of his ongoing television show Marc. That certain person was the enigmatic David Bowie, who, as well as being the king of glam rock also happened to be one of Bolan’s closest friends.
The pair, widely lauded as the pioneering forefathers of glam rock, if not modern rock and roll as we know it, first met back in 1964 when a young David Jones was on the same roster of manager Leslie Conn, as the young Mark Feld. Conn had put the pair of prospects to work on painting an office for him as a way to balance out the cash he had spent on kitting out the duo in Carnaby Street’s finest garments.
Bowie and Bolan painting an office in the business district of London as a way to pay back their manager is an image we never get tired of imagining. When Conn returned from lunch, expecting to see a fully-painted room, he found the pair missing and only half the walls painted. It was the beginning of a beautiful and mischievous relationship. Together, they littered Carnaby Street with their hopes and dreams of becoming pop stars—it was an intoxicating mix and one that would prove fruitful.
Despite high hopes, the pair spent most of the 1960s in rags, chasing their dreams and trying to match up to the swinging decade’s constantly changing tempo. The ’60s were a bust but the ’70s would see the pair on top together if only for a hideously short while. The decade saw Bolan and Bowie reach the pinnacle of their field and even welcomed the two of them trading ideas and songs with the same affection as brothers swapping football stickers.
Bowie’s song for Bolan, ‘Lady Stardust’, was not only depicting a space-age traveller but the starry-eyed Bolan himself and with it, Bowie laid the foundational stones to his own alien rock star Ziggy Stardust.
As the rise and fall of glam rock came and went Bolan found himself in serious trouble. Without a whole scene to lead, he had lost the vigour and verve which had made him a star, he was back to gigantic album titles, LPs which didn’t chart and off-record the star lived on a diet of cocaine and brandy. It was a spiral that many had faced in their time, least of all Bowie.
As the glitter stopped falling from the sky, the party had moved on and Bolan had lost his sparkle. Bowie, on the other hand, was flying high (in so many ways) on the success of numerous progressive albums, breaking America and generally being received as a king among men wherever he went. Having managed to put the large bulk of his drug abuse behind him, Bowie was now the example to follow—he had ultimately left Bolan behind.
The pair reunited, however, in early 1977 as Bowie was on his tour with Iggy Pop. Staying with Bolan at his London apartment, the pair went on to half-record a track titled ‘Madman’ which Bolan claimed was going to be the centre of his next record. The only version we have is a ferocious, vicious and seductive piece of music and sounded much like the beginning of something new and spectacular for Bolan.
It was the shot in the arm the T.Rex singer needed and by the summer of ’77, he was clean from cocaine and back on form, ready to challenge for the crown once more. With the wave of punk crashing through the streets, Bolan felt rejuvenated and engaged again, he was writing songs and was on the way up.
As a hint of his upcoming ascendancy, the singer landed the lucrative role as host of a short-run TV variety show with TV network Granada. Bolan brought on some incredible acts to the show like The Jam, X-Ray Spex, the Boomtown Rats, Generation X—but there was only one man for the finale, his old friend, David Bowie.
Although the taping had its issues—with Bolan feeling quite put out as Bowie directed and orchestrated his performance of ‘Heroes’ leaving Bolan out in the cold—the performance was an all-around success. The ego issues arose as Bowie became consumed by achieving the right sound for his own performance (perhaps a level of professionalism that Marc wasn’t used to) and Bolan felt aggrieved by Bowie’s lack of respect to him as the host of the show. With the Starman’s security then stopping Marc from even reaching the stage while Bowie continued to work, things got tense. As the taping began the pair were barely speaking.
But as ever, one thing would save them; the music. The pair duel over their pre-dictated jam session song (which some call ‘Sleeping Next To You’ and others ‘Standing Next To You’) and quickly become equals in the middle of the stage fiercely playing their guitars and enjoying the spotlight.
The great reunion would end in laughter though as Bolan went to strike a move and fell off the stage and Bowie cracked up. It broke the tension and the two of them would make up later that night over dinner. Bowie was off on his worldwide tours and Bolan was determined to put himself at the centre of the music scene yet again with his new record.
Just a week later, Bolan and his girlfriend, Gloria Jones, went out for a night of drinking and joyful revelry. At five in the morning, Jones crashed Bolan’s Mini GT into a tree on Barnes Common, striking the tree with enough force to kill Bolan almost instantly.
He would never see his 30th birthday and never make that all important record. It was a loss that is still felt today.