When his manager—likely jokingly—cautioned Marc Bolan that his obsession with James Dean might end up with him dying in a Porsche, as well, Bolan reportedly said, "I'm tiny. I'd like to die in a [Morris] Mini."
That comment proved eerily prescient, as the diminutive rocker passed away on September 16, 1977, when the Mini driven by his girlfriend Gloria Jones crashed into a fence post, killing Bolan instantly. It was said that his body was unmarked, as if he had merely gone to sleep. He was just 29 years old.
Bolan's flamboyant run as a hit-making teenage idol with his band T. Rex seduced scores of kids in the early '70s to grab guitars — or simply to join the glam-rock legions and wear makeup and women's clothes. Bolan was a friend of, and sometimes competitive with, David Bowie, and the duo certainly shared huge heaps of self-absorption, self-promotion, ambition, and, of course, the vision and talent to capture hordes of fans and embed themselves into popular culture.
But Bolan's guitar playing — wild, unbridled by comprehensive knowledge of the fretboard, funky, buzzy, and manic — was the main attraction for aspiring rock guitarists. I was certainly one of those. Seeing T. Rex on television while I was a teenager was a revelation. Like Mick Ronson and others, Bolan absolutely glowed with power and beauty, and he was one of the touchstones for what the complete glam-rock guitar hero should be — just enough guitar chops to drive audiences insane, infinite charisma, great songs with killer hooks, an understanding of "show biz" and how to move just right onstage, and stunning looks and flashy clothes.
Through albums such as Electric Warrior (1971) and The Slider (1972), Bolan also introduced future recording nerds like me to the spectacular audio-production work of Tony Visconti.
Like many rock stars obsessed with their own myth, it is said that Bolan could be extremely hard to handle. London's Guardian reported today on this anniversary of Bolan's death: "He was hard to love, but everybody loved him."
Long Live the Electric Warrior!