Marc Bolan remains one of the most iconic figureheads in the history of British music despite losing his life in tragic circumstances, painfully too early as the T. Rex man passed away following a car crash on 16th September 1977, just two weeks prior to his 30th birthday.
What T. Rex conquered in their decade long career is truly remarkable. Along with David Bowie, the band helped put the glam rock movement on the map and went on to have a staggering run of eleven singles in the UK top ten, even scoring four number one hits. The band’s stock had dropped slightly by 1977 but they still remained one of the most successful acts in the country, one who had a repertoire of material that was the envy of the musical world and, more importantly, Bolan still had that undeniably powerful presence that made him a one of a kind talent.
Bolan and Bowie shared a close friendship, one which stretched way beyond professionalism and one deeply entrenched within their personal lives: “What I saw in Marc Bolan had nothing to do with strings or very high standards of artistry, what I saw in him was raw talent,” Bowie once commented. “I saw genius. I saw a potential rock star in Marc – right from the minute, the hour I met him.”
On the evening of the 15th September 1977, Bolan and his girlfriend Gloria Jones went into central London where they spent the night drinking at the Speakeasy before going out for food and, later, continued their drinking at Morton’s club on Berkeley Square in Mayfair.
Bolan had never learned to drive as he worried that it would lead to him dying before his time which, on reflection, would prove to be a tragic foresight despite him never actually getting behind the wheel. Despite never driving, it didn’t stop him from owning a wide range of cars which included a white 1960s Rolls-Royce that was loaned by his management to the band Hawkwind on the night of his death.
Instead, Jones drove the couple back in Bolan’s Mini 1275GT which turned disastrous after she crossed a small humpback bridge near Gipsy Lane on Queens Ride in Barnes, South West London, a decision which led to the car striking a fence post and then a tree at full force. The crash killed Bolan instantly, whilst Jones suffered a broken arm and broken jaw. The only glimmer of positive news was that their son, Rolan, was left at home with his grandparents while the two parents enjoyed a night out.
Even if Bolan’s life was cut painfully short, his legacy will live on forever. At the scene of his death now sits a shrine dedicated to the musician which was unveiled at the site in 1997 and a bust of the T. Rex added in 2002. Recently, a new tribute album featuring the likes of Nick Cave, Father John Misty and Joan Jett was released which shows that the work of Bolan is still as important now, as ever.
“He was the perfect pop star,” Elton John stated to The Guardian. “His songs were great, his records rocked, he had attitude, he had performing skills, he looked fabulous, he dressed the part. At a time when I was still becoming Elton John, he was a great role model. I thought: ‘This guy doesn’t give a fuck, he’s just being who he is and he’s loving every single minute of it.’ And that had a great effect on me.”
Elton John’s words on Bolan is a perfect tribute, what the T. Rex leader managed to accomplish in those 29-years isn’t just the creation of jaw-dropping music but also a refreshing attitude which would inspire a generation and change culture in a positive, more open-minded direction.