Tuesday, May 08, 2007

ROCKIN' remembers--as does Britain--glam-rocker Marc Bolan

T Rex EP, with "Cadillac" (above)
Marc Bolan clowning in car (he didn't drive). Keith Morris photo (above)
a characteristic portrait (above)
accident site from below grade, showing "the tree." Marc's bust (above)
the plaque (above)
the tree the Mini hit; messages of condolence attached (above)
the full shrine, from below Queens Road (above)
from overhead; impact site shown by "x" (above)
past the bridge, and downwards, accident site to left (above)
approaching the railway bridge (trains below); accident site beyond, left side (above)

In America, a death caused by an automobile crash is often marked by flowers and personal remembrances, and then within a week the authorities remove all physical traces so the site does not become a further distraction to motorists. Not so in the UK, where the site of glam rocker Marc Bolan's tragic death remains a public shrine.
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Marc Bolan is best known for his work with the band T.Rex (sometimes spelled T Rex or T-Rex), which he founded in 1967 but did not become a true success until 1971. Led by Bolan, glam-rock would sweep the UK and was a huge influence on David Bowie and, in America, Alice Cooper. Even hard rock groups such as AC/DC took notice of outrageously sexual songs like "Bang a Gong (Get It On)." Punk rock, BritPop, hair-metal, and even modern indie bands all reference elements which Bolan introduced. At the height of their popularity, T.Rex was reportedly selling 100,000 albums a day and those sales accounted for nearly 6% of the UK's total domestic record sales. People still remember that Bolan was the original glitter-rocker, and for that moment in time the single biggest pop star in Britain.
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Bolan's death is briefly addressed on page 71 in ROCKIN'. After pleasurable hours of drinking at the Speakeasy and then dining at Morton's Club on Berkeley Square (central London), a few minutes before 5:00 a.m. on September 16, 1977, Bolan was killed almost instantly when a purple Mini 1275GT (license plate FOX 66IL) driven by his lover and band mate Gloria Jones, in which he was riding, left the road, shot through a guard-rail (and fence) and smashed sidways into a sycamore tree at the southern edge of Barnes Common, South West London, less than a mile from his home at 142 Upper Richmond Road West in Richmond, a London suburb. This was Jones' car. It's not evident from the press reports how fast she was driving, but excessive speed likely was the key cause of the accident.
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Bolan himself had never learned to drive a car, and even had visions of dying in a car crash through much of his adult life. Jones survived the accident and relocated to the United States. Bolan would have turned 30 in less than two weeks.
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According to www.roadpeace.org and other accounts, "The Mini came over the local railway's hump-back bridge (shown in the sequence pictured above) and because the road narrows and curves to the right immediately beyond, the car hit a tree amongst those lining the left hand side of Queen's Ride road (B 306 on the maps), near Gypsy Lane. Bolan died instantly after his side of the car (the passenger side) took the full impact of the crash."
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The tree where Bolan died has become a shrine to his memory, and after over a quarter of a century it's still visited by fans from around the globe. The road by "the tree" has no shoulder per se and fans previously risked injury as they paid their respects. In 1998 it was reported in the Daily Mirror that "the tree" itself was in poor health and might have to be felled. As well, over the years rain runoff and the considerable foot traffic took their toll on the embankment below the accident site. In 1999, T.A.G. (the T.Rex Action Group) was formed to create a memorial shrine and preserve "the tree." The landowner, Railtrack, granted T.A.G. a lease in perpetuity on the site. The shrine would then include a viewing platform where fans could stand safely off the road. So, in 2000, T.A.G. laid steps, built the platform, and after consulting tree surgeons, fitted a metal calliper across the rotted section of the trunk to support the weight of the tree, thereby buying additional time. lFor the twenty-fifty anniversary of Bolan's death, a bronze bust initiated by T.A.G. was unveiled by Bolan's only son, Rolan.
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Wikipedia.com notes that "the manner of Bolan's death was made even more incredible when one considers the number of automotive references made in his songs. Whilst some of these may appear coincidental, and may easily be explained by Bolan's love of fifties US music showing a similar obsession, there are a few references that have led some commentators to see an uncanny element to Bolan's death. One such oddity concerns a copy of the NME (New Musical Express newspaper) found in Bolan's wrecked Mini. It was open at an interview with Pete Townsend of The Who, the headline on the interview reading 'Hope I Die Before I Get Old.'"
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Indeed, Bolan's 'automotive' songs include "Buick McKane," "Cadillac," "Jeepster," "Hot Rod Mama," "Black and White Incident," "Get It On," and "Mustang Ford."
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"Get it on.
Bang a gong.
Get it on.
You're built like a car
You got a hubcap
Diamond star halo
You're dirty sweet
And you're my girl."
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Here are a few of Bolan's own observations about life (from www.brainyquote.com):
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"Be strong and follow your own convictions. You can't assume there is a lot of time to do what you like."
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"I'm a performer and only a performer. I don't know how to do anything else, like blueprint a building or fix autos."
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"I never understood why people had dark windows in cars. I do now. There are times when attention can be fun. But it's not always like that."
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"I live my life with a sense of urgency that most people can't comprehend."
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For more photos and commentary, see www.tag.mercurymoon.co.uk/tree-history-1.html.
RIP Marc Bolan.

7 comments:

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Stephen said...

One of the Bay Area auto accident attorneys gave this as an example in our company seminar about DUI last year. A co-worker even cried when the story was told because she was a big fan of Bolan. It was indeed a terrible accident that claimed the life of an influential artist. I'll probably ask my accident lawyer (Oakland-based) if he knows how to go the shrine, since I'm flying to London next month.

Alecia Longsworth said...

Marc Bolan is my mom's childhood crush! And she told me once that when he died late 1977, she felt like she was dying too. But it's surprising that UK made the crash site into a shrine after the smoke disappeared. Can that be a nice idea here too?

gleb said...

Ahd whose are those names and faces at bronze-looking plates on the base of the stone? Whom they commemorate?