Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Celebrate Bolan

Marc Bolan was, if anything, defined by his contradictions as both a musician and a man. A model who became a dyed-in-the-hemp hippie. One of rock's greatest creators of gleaming seven-inch slabs of three minute perfection, who often extended the songs to great length in concert with long guitar solos and Dionysian percussion jams. A generous man to his fans whose ego often destroyed close relationships when he needed them the most.

The ups and downs of the Marc Bolan story are the stuff of rock and roll legend. From Tyrannosaurus Rex and the underground, to the Top Of The Pops and T.Rexstasy, then straight down to a morass of drugs, drink, and a sometimes quixotic quest for continued chart success. Naturally, according to the strictures of storytelling, there would have to be a return to form, which Marc accomplished in 1977, partially by aligning himself with the burgeoning British punk scene. He connected with bands like The Damned and The Sex Pistols based more on his acknowledgment of the roots of rock and roll in their sound, than to any real understanding of their feelings of nihilism and disenfranchisement. Never mind - the connection and mutual respect between Bolan and the punks was genuine and good for the careers of all involved.

While Marc was certainly capable of pandering, he didn't punk up his sound on his last album, Dandy In The Underworld, which was released while he was touring England with The Damned as the opening act. He just wrote some good songs, especially the towering title track, I Love To Boogie, and The Soul Of My Suit. While the album was well-received by critics, it didn't exactly set the charts alight.

For his next single, he decided to release Celebrate Summer and while still not a punk song, there were definitely nods to his new buddies in the joyful tune. With a briskly chugging beat and a melody straight out of 1957, the track was a simple invitation to engage in the behavior promised by the title. Unless you're a complete curmudgeon, it's hard not to smile at catchphrases like "Summer is heaven in 77," and "Summer's not a bummer, it's a stunner, and it's now!" He also rhymes dance, romance and chance, in case you're wondering. As for the nods to the musical revolution of 1977, in one lyric, he bemusedly warns "Hey little punk, forget all that junk," - likely the message to Rat Scabies, et al, was "Lighten up!" - and for the guitar solo Bolan abandons his usual liquid style for a five second blast of noise. Perhaps he was borrowing from Captain Sensible or he could have been harking back to a decade prior when, as a member of John's Children, he often let loose barrages of atonality from a Gibson SG.

Celebrate Summer, a fairly simple song and no great chart hit, proved to be Bolan's last single: on September 16th, 1977, barely a month after its release, he died in a tragic car accident. The end of summer is always bittersweet and, with Bolan's death, Celebrate Summer became the perfect soundtrack for that time of the year. So take a little chance on a quick romance and dance to Celebrate Summer - in memory of Marc and summer itself - as soon as possible.

This piece originally appeared in issue two of #flatoutfucked, a black & white photocopied fanzine published by the estimable Michael James Hall, proprietor of Marketstall Records, and a fine musician himself.

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