Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Prophet/Profit: T. Rex: "Children of the Revolution"

Without any doubt, the biggest star of '72 was Marc Bolan of T. Rex; there may be up-and-coming ones, he may have been eclipsed here by Slade, but here he is, caught up in...revolutionary ecstasy?  This is a serious bump-and-grind of a song, with an indefinite 'you' that is contrasted with an equally indefinite subject.  Just who are these children, and what revolution is going on? 

Bolan never intended his songs to just be jolly rave-ups to get pissed to; he wanted to make songs that would last, not necessarily message songs but ones that had some content to them.  Here, with purple glittery eyes, he proudly and even snarlingly states his prophecy; you can twist and shout, you can let it all hang out, but the children - well, they won't be fooled.  He seems absolutely sure of this, as if he has somehow already seen the future and knows what is going to happen.  If he is singing to his generation (the 'you') then they (and his younger fans) were upset and even offended by the line about the Rolls-Royce being good for his voice*.  He said that because he meant it; and if people were turned off by his workshy fop aestheticism, well, too bad.  In truth, it was his one obvious luxury; it wasn't a brand new custom job but one from 1960, but the kids may not have known about that, or cared.  He's showing off in a time when being a rock star meant (especially in the UK, I'd guess) that sure you had money, but you didn't talk openly in a song about your wealth or status.  Whereas in the US, that was more or less acceptable; if you came from nothing - like, oh, Elvis for instance - you had every right to sing about being able to afford nice things, to viva your Las Vegas.  But in the UK in '72, it wasn't exactly okay.  And so I think this song suffered, because T. Rex's audience wanted to be caught up in the revolutionary ecstasy too, only to find themselves tripping over a car, so to speak. 

Of course another place where Bolan's line would make sense is in hip hop; particularly the kind of self-knowing hip hop where material excess and aestheticism do battle, where achieving something good materially can indeed be good for you, but then how much bling is really needed to fill up that hole of need?  I don't sense Bolan knew that hip hop was about to start in NYC in '73; but his prophecy about the children of the revolution isn't just about the kids who all found themselves being described by Mott the Hoople in "All The Young Dudes" (particularly in Ian Hunter's totally endearing ad-lib lyrics at the end - how many kids took hope in "You in the glasses - I want you - I want you in the front**" - a lot, I'd bet). 

The children are, well, us - those kids who discovered hip-hop; the ones who didn't know a firsthand thing about the 60s, the younger and wiser ones, the ones who at the time were playing with a Spirograph and learning to tie our shoes; ones who, if their parents had participated in the revolutionary 60s, had nothing but artifacts and stories to absorb as the slogans and messages and lessons learnt were passed on.  We can't twist and shout; that time is gone, and anyone trying to bring back that time (as it will eerily be happening in the 70s) will get some attention from us, but in a different way - different because it is the hazardous and somehow incomplete 70s now, when anything of lasting value will be ignored or derided.  I know I'm making some big statements here, but at this juncture the world of MSBWT is moments away from the funhouse ride/haunted house that is 1973, and this strutting song of revolutionary fervor would give hope to us and to Bolan's loyal fans who were impatient to have a revolution of their own. 

Not that revolution is always going to happen; think of Elton John and Pete Doherty doing this at Live8 and wonder just who is actually more revolutionary, and how in order to give confidence and strength to others, you first have to have it for yourself.  That is what Bolan is doing; as much as Gen X is going to be that tough generation he's talking about, the real answer is that the children are everywhere, as long as they are genuine and willing to take up the fight. 

Next up:  It's not art rock, it's not prog rock, it's four guys from Manchester.         

*Bolan couldn't drive, so for him the car was an art object as much as anything else; I have no idea if, had he bothered to learn to drive, he would have avoided his accident just five years later.

**Not to mention the "I've wanted to do this for years" line.  I have no idea what he's talking about, but it's heartening all the same.

1 comment:

Wood Farm Woodman said...

I actually discovered this song through the Baby Ford cover version. Which I still prefer, in fact.