Just an Observation Friday September 14th

 Jumpers, central heating and howling storms –scarves and hats are being eyed up longingly but (only just) being resisted- raise the question, is this September or November? Certainly there has been a temperature dip in the last week which is more than unseasonable but instead is unnecessary and unfair.

The onset of winter has only been slightly alleviated by the news of Andy Murray’s win at the US open on Monday making him the first Scot to win such a prestigious event.  The last person to bring such a major award home to the British Isles was Fred Perry some seventy years ago and look how ubiquitous his name-and logo- has become. No wonder Murray has had little time to visit his homeland thus far, those branding negotiations must be taking up a vast amount of his time. There does seem to be much debate as to whether Murray should be referred to as Scottish or British but I think the most important thing is he is referred to as a winner.

This week I paid a visit to Edinburgh Zoo to eventually see the much heralded and discussed giant pandas. Not wholly approving of zoos my integrity was slightly challenged by this outing but the pandas were absolutely beautiful creatures although a little smaller than I previously imagined. Despite this they were about the only thing actually on show during my visit and the zoo felt deserted-by animals not visitors- and apart from them there really was not a lot to see. It all felt rather sad and desolate as we wandered past one empty enclosure after another. Even the penguins are on a sabbatical whilst their area undergoes some much needed repairs. I am not sure whether the entrance fee to see two admittedly gorgeous-though generally sleeping at least sixteen hours a day- creatures justifies itself when there is so little on offer. As said before I don’t wholly approve of zoos taking animals out of their natural environment and keeping them doped up and in enclosed spaces but at the same time I don’t approve of people being fleeced in times of recession.

Recession wasn’t something that ever bothered the former Vogue editor Diana Vreeland who saw fashion as a fantasy and escape with money and expenditure as no consequence. The subject of a new film The Eye has to Travel which details her life, or more correctly the facets of her life she wants you to know about, and her rise to being one of the most influential people in fashion during its most glamorous era, the culturally changing nineteen-sixties.

There are some grandiose claims made during this film concerning Vreeland being the most important cultural shifter of this decade and although her legacy looms large let us not overlook the designers, models, rock stars artists and the younger generation who also contributed vastly. Vreeland might have drawn all these factors together and presented them to the public but her role was more of a grandmother gathering her kin around her for a grand party.

The feeling was of someone who wanted to relive their youth- interviews see her harking back to the golden days of the twenties- and was worried about being left behind. This is not to decry her input however and Vreeland’s contributions were inestimable and her influence still looms large. This film is more than worthwhile for anyone with even the remotest interest in fashion and a full review will be published nearer the time of the films release towards the end of the month.

As fashion at the moment seems to be going through one of its most boring stages I can remember perhaps someone like Vreeland needs to emerge and take things in hand whilst giving the fashion industry the boot up the arse it so obviously needs. A trip round the shops this week revealed this season’s collections to be either inherently dull- grey and black are the dominant colours I was told on more than one occasion as if this is in anyway innovative or challenging- or trying too hard to be different and edgy whilst failing greatly. The latter efforts seem to have taken leopard skin and studs and turned them into something your grandmother might wear. It is all so disappointing especially when the supposed great designers are also all following these trends with few exceptions. Time for a fashion revolution methinks.

As everything seems to be so backward looking at the moment it seems like a fitting time to consider one of our greatest pop stars, Marc Bolan, whose premature demise marks its 35th anniversary this weekend.

Ousted from his top spot as Glam King by his erstwhile friend- and soon to be nemesis- David Bowie the corkscrew haired bopping elf had reigned supreme for the first two years of the seventies with his futuristic blend of fifties rock and roll all glammed up with glitter and his own version of satin and tat.  A virtual one man hit factory Bolan was unstoppable during his tenure at the top. His mystical lyrics blended with smooth electric rhythms were impossible not to dance to then and still hard to resist today.

Emerging from folkie beginnings from the wasteland of the sixties Bolan-the name was chosen in deference to one of his idols taking the first two and last three letters from Bo(b) (Dy)lan’s adopted moniker- was a breath of fresh air for a new generation who had missed the boat with the Beatles and the Stones. Bopping across the television screens with glitter under his eyes, an effete manner and a succession of hits, ‘Ride a White Swan’ ‘Hot Love’  and ‘Get it On’, he was the seventies first real pop sensation straddling the divide between pop and credibility. By 1972 he even had his own record label and still the hits kept on pouring out of him. ‘

‘Telegram Sam’, the first release on this label, was a personal awakening for me specifically being the first time I actually realised it was okay to be different. Its follow up ‘Metal Guru’ was perhaps the apotheosis of Bolan’s career; a song whose title was simultaneously mystical and futuristic. It also was a record with euphoric promise and in many ways not so much a song but just something tangible and vital in the air; so much so that fourteen years on when Morrissey and Marr were asked to send in a demo for the Smiths next single they sent  their producer a copy of this record as an indication of what they wanted to attain. The result of the sessions which followed was ‘Panic’ another song which could go on forever and not be long enough though somehow still perfect in its just over two minutes time frame.

Bolan never hit the top spot again although ‘Children of the Revolution’ ‘The Groover’ and ,most especially, the stupendously rifftastic ‘20th Century Boy’ –which would have made a fitting epitaph- kept him close to the top of the charts and in our hearts. It was almost all over by mid 1973 however as Bolan appeared to be washed up and formulaic in comparison to the mercurial changeling Bowie and the arrival of the outlandish New York Dolls which made his posturing seem dated and tame in comparison.

Seeking solace in the bottle the former teetotaller sought solace awash in brandy and acquiring the de-rigeur coke habit-rumours of two heart attacks surfaced in the press- whilst committing the ultimate sin of any teen idol by becoming monstrously fat. He did seem to be on the road to redemption by 1977 however and his muse was re-ignited by the upcoming punk generation many of whom held him in high regard and recognised his influence.

A TV show followed wherein he showcased some of these new bands and gave the scene coverage when other media was ignoring it in the vain hope it would simply go away. On his last show and during his very last performance he appeared with his old friend and former nemesis for the first -and unfortunately last-time  David Bowie and promptly fell off the stage. This was to be his last appearance and days later he was dead in a car accident after his girlfriend Gloria Jones lost control of the mini she was driving and crashed into a tree.

Bolan’s death came two weeks short of his thirtieth birthday- an age he had predicted many times he would never reach- and several weeks after Elvis Presley’s demise. With Bing Crosby’s death following weeks later it was as if the former musical ages were being kissed goodbye as a new era swept in. One can almost imagine Bolan cajoling those two along with Lennon, Hendrix, Cobain and all the other rock legends into some sort of heavenly mammoth jamming boogie session with him at its epicentre playing the true star and loving every second. To quote a line from ‘ Mainman’ on The Slider ‘ Heaven is hot babe’.

So thirty five years ago the musical world lost one of its true innovators and shining lights. Listen to any of the singles or the two albums ‘Electric Warrior’ and ‘The Slider’ and you will see what was once so right with pop music and what is so wrong with so much of it  it today. RIP Marc and keep the neighbours awake.

Here is a legendary TOTP performance of ‘Metal Guru’. Keep a little Marc in your heart.

  1. Brava Ms Marren!!

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