Thursday, May 24, 2012

Energy Burst: T.Rex: "Ride A White Swan"

After the earnestness of 1970, we get a break at long last; a break that is like a bridge between the hippy 60s and the modern 70s.  It takes ambition to do this, but in Marc Bolan’s case I am guessing it was frustration as much as anything; always a confident musician, his 60s duo Tyrannosaurus Rex were well-respected and well-known, but never chart-toppers, more of a cult, and perhaps Bolan felt slighted by this; so he decided to up the ante.  He was going to keep the mystical lyrics, sure, but now the acoustic duo was going to go electric, and the sometimes obscure and intricate music would be groovier, hand-clappier, and proudly become rock ‘n’ roll in the best sense of the term.

It is as if Chuck Berry and Oscar Wilde were somehow melded into one and had just attended a Wicca ceremony; there is a roughness to the elegance, a polished grit. 
This song begins the glam era, one that reclaimed the right to rock and wear shiny clothing and have FUN; and this song celebrates Beltane, the spring, new life bursting out everywhere after a long winter.  It doesn’t hurt that Bolan looks a bit like a Druid himself, wide-eyed and wise, the sort of guy who could say (from an interview in Voxpop) that in the mid-60s he “boogied around for about a year doing nothing” and that if this song wasn’t a hit he was going to leave music and be a writer.  This song was his last shot at music at the time, as “the business as such was at a very low ebb at that point, there was really nothing going down.”  He expected to get flak for it, but obviously it was a success, and he quickly had to get a band together and before he was perhaps ready for it, T. Rex was a rock band, no longer a hippy duo. 
Sometimes things get to such a low point that something new has to be done, as the old is indeed the old and must make way for the new; and the lyrics – which Bolan is proud of – herald this new time, a time for flights of fancy and wisdom, all to a beat and a rocking guitar.  Bolan’s voice is  pretty – not an adjective I use lightly – with a vibrato that is somewhat like a bird, high and nearly androgynous, the vocal equivalent of a cool breeze.  Even if you don’t have any interest in Wicca and have never danced around a maypole this is a seductive and inspiring song, and amongst the angst and anger it was like the return of flower power, a big hint that elegance can rock too.  I do not know if it was coincidence or not that glam anticipated a period when people would need something groovy to boogie to – as a way of escape – but this is as noble and serene as a swan itself, admirable at any time, a mixing up of so many things that it was open to all to love.  Bolan had rolled the dice and finally won; this blog will get back to him once he is a star at last, and many musicians of the time as well as future ones will be inspired by him.  But for now:  “and I wanted to get on there and make some changes in a way that wouldn’t hurt anyone.”  Change is the word; we shall see, dear readers, how much change there is in ’71.

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