Why Didn’t Marc Bolan Break America?
Elton John said he was reminded of Marc Bolan when he first met Prince, saying the two artists were equally “ethereal” and “androgynous.”
John was a friend of glam rock pioneer Bolan and appeared on stage with him a number of times. Prince illustrated his own appreciation of the T. Rex leader with his 1991 No. 1 hit “Cream,” but Bolan’s death in a car crash in 1977 meant they had never been able to connect.
“When I met Prince, I thought he was like Marc: ethereal, very androgynous,” John told the Guardian in a new interview. “If you look at the two of them, they’re very similar, the way they posed. I can imagine Prince singing ‘Telegram Sam,’ I can imagine Marc singing ‘Raspberry Beret.’”
He described Bolan as “the perfect pop star,” explaining: “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.… He was sitting there in a cloak covered in stars, writing songs that sounded like Chuck Berry, very simple songs. What?”
In the same article, U2 guitarist The Edge recalled first seeing Bolan on TV. “Marc Bolan was magical, but also sexually heightened and androgynous, with this glitter and makeup,” he said. “I’d never seen anything like it: ‘What the hell is this? Real lads are not into this kind of stuff – this is clearly music for girls.’ But when I picked up a guitar a year later, ‘Hot Love’ was the first song I learned to play." He continued: “I’ve no doubt every aspect of how he presented himself was just an outpouring of his understanding that things could be magical, things could be heightened. Out in the ordinary world, he managed to cast a spell over all of us.”
Joan Jett, who said Bolan had been her first crush, revealed she understood why he’d failed to make the impact in America that he’d done in the U.K. and among artists of his era and afterwards. “I think he was just too androgynous for a lot of folks here,” she reflected. “Radio just went for the safer stuff. I know from being in the Runaways how everyone treated us, so I just know they would have had issues with a Marc Bolan type of guy.”
John, U2 and Jett all appear on the T. Rex tribute album Angelheaded Hipster, which is available now.