Few musicians have been written about by their contemporaries as often as Bob Dylan. Everyone from David Bowie to Joni Mitchell has used him as their muse, as did T. Rex’s Marc Bolan.
Dylan himself was guilty of writing about his musical hero when he penned ‘Song for Woody’ in homage to Woody Guthrie. The line drawn between Guthrie and the musical stylings of Dylan is an easily discernable one. However, to draw a similar connection between Dylan and the late, great glam rock superstar, Marc Bolan is far more difficult.
Despite their musical differences, Bolan thought of Dylan as perhaps the ultimate songwriter. If it was down to Bolan, he’d have thrown away being a teenage icon and his string of hit singles if it meant he could have been an ounce more like Dylan.
In fact, during the early days of his career, Bolan was more open about his folk leanings, but with a view on the future and the desire to be a bonafide rock star he turned away from his Dylan-esque roots. The new, exciting wave of glam rock enticed the singer, and he decided to change up his style to cash in commercially and artistically on a brand new venture.
Producer Tony Visconti later reflected on Bolan’s development, “They wanted the most underground thing going and they wanted to preciously hang on to that. We know how many of those people there were: it was 20,000,” he told The Guardian.
He continued, “We always hit the ceiling at 20,000 album sales. Marc fancied himself as a Bob Dylan or a Donovan. He wanted to be seen as a folk-rock poet, but once teenage girls started screaming at the shows he had to become a pop star. People like John Peel, who had adored him as a cute hippy boy, completely dropped him.”
Even after Bolan had left his acoustic guitar behind, Dylan still inspired him relentlessly. On T. Rex’s ‘Telegram Sam’, the singer decided to shower the folkie in praise. Admittedly, the whole song isn’t an outpowering of his love for Dylan as various other individuals are mentioned on the track. However, the lines, “Bobby’s alright, Bobby’s alright, He’s a natural-born poet, He’s just outta sight,” shows exactly how high Bolan thought of the mercurial talent.
Moving away from folk territory did see Bolan desert his core fanbase, yet, it allowed his talent to flourish. As much as he admired artists like Dylan, that type of songwriting didn’t suit his capabilities, and he was never going to be the British equivalent of his hero.
His bold move to completely revamp his sound would elevate Bolan’s status to ‘The King of Glam Rock’, and the singer’s face was a fixture on bedroom walls of teenage girls all across the land, but he’d still have swapped it all to be Dylan.