Another month bites the dust. And it’s the birthday of the late Marc Bolan, of T. Rex, formerly Tyrannosaurus Rex. I don’t know much of the early hippy Tolkien-influenced stuff Bolan got up to with his musical partner Steve Peregrin Took, but when they split and Bolan substituted T. for Tyrannosaurus and joined up with producer Tony Visconti, the new band produced one of the stellar albums of that little blip of time known as the early Seventies.
Electric Warrior was not an album I admired at the time. It was the height of glam, which Bolan was a poster boy for over there in the UK. He had some top ten hits there but the only one he had here was “Bang a Gong (Get It On).” And yet he became a critics’ darling and I was a bit annoyed by the hype. Bowie I liked better because he had a lot of darkly apocalyptic ideas and some great power riffs. Bolan was more of a popster for our love.
Eventually—long after his day and his death in 1977—he won my allegiance to EW and its follow-up The Slider (1972). That change of heart came during the early part of this century when I went back to much of the music of my youth and discovered neglected psychedelia and neglected Brits like Bolan. EW boasts great production, lots of nice guitar fills, little touches that recall psychedelia mixed with R&B licks and overlapped voices that might not be out of place in a girl group.
It was hard to choose the song for the day. I played both albums and almost settled on the irresistible hit “Bang a Gong” for its chugging rhythm guitar and Flo and Eddie backup vocals. Or, from The Slider, “Spaceball Ricochet” with its druggy delivery and its “changeless angel.” But I settled on “Monolith,” an early favorite from the album, because its lyrics are interesting and Bolan’s delivery, with his coiled snake voice, seems to be sneaking up on some kind of vision of the dregs left this vault to brag on.
The song feels like a good one to end the month on—the month that ends summer and with it all sorts of faint visions of hope and succor. Don’t get me wrong: October is one of my favorite months, much as April is over there in the first half of the year, but I have the sense that things will be growing more darkling. So let Marc Bolan pronounce his oracular sense of where we are now:
The throne of time / Is a kingly thing / From whence you know / We all do begin / And dressed as you are girl / In your fashions of fate / Baby it’s too late
Yes, “too late” and “of fate” rhyme easily enough (my early complaint with Bolan was that his rhymes were too easy—the lyrics are printed on the back of that great cover image and just seemed so unspectacular to my teen critic’s mind, filling up with Dylan), but his way of alternating the final phrase with the final phrase of the second verse, “Girl, it’s no joke” puts a spin on that “throne of time” bit I find compelling. And a shrug off like “Shallow are the actions / Of the children of men” rebounds on the whole idea. Time is kingly, and it’s where we all commence—like we’re all kings’ kids. Whereas the “children of men” are shallow, their vision “fogged.” And that’s no joke because it’s too late for us to live up to our fate. We’ll end up dull and human if we’re not careful.
There’s an autumnal feel there, no? And my favorite lines let me reference my zodiacal symbol—whose period just passed away before August (“die she must”) did: “And lost like a lion / In the canyons of smoke.” The lion is lost to us now, kids. And, girl, that’s no joke.
See what I mean about “oracular?” Who knows what the hell Bolan is really on about. But that’s the way the poetry of the song works: it sounds so portentous while his Les Paul licks are so teasing.
And why “monolith”? We all remember it from 2001 (and the memory was even easier c. 1970), where it was a symbol of extraterrestrial intelligence. Bolan liked to flirt with our star-born essences, with the wizardry of occult practices. For me, the monolith is that big amp on the cover.
All hail the electric warrior.