If you know me, you will know that, apart from Richard III, I have a passion for Marc Bolan, the leader of the ’70s rock group, T.Rex, and the initiator of Glam Rock. I could just as easily have titled this post ‘Ricardus Rex and T.Rex’! Having been concentrating on Richard over the last few years, it was only recently, when I revisited a documentary about Marc, that I realised there are quite a few parallels between the two.
An obvious similarity is in their deaths; both died too young and in a violent way, from multiple injuries. As we know only too well, Richard was killed in battle in August 1485 at the age of thirty-two, surrounded by his enemies. Marc was killed in a car crash when he was just two weeks short of his thirtieth birthday, in the early hours of September 16th 1977; he was a passenger in a mini and that side of the car took the brunt of the impact. Both of their faces were left fairly intact, Richard’s deliberately in order for Henry to prove he was actually dead and Marc’s by lucky chance; when she viewed his body, his wife described his face as still beautiful with just a small mark on the temple.
Since Richard’s remains were found, we know a lot more about his appearance. He was about five feet eight but would have lost some three inches because of his scoliosis, making him five feet five, approximately. His bones were described as ‘gracile’ or slender and delicate. Marc, also, was of slender build and about five feet five inches tall.
Both had a determined chin, fine cheekbones and were handsome men. Both were clean shaven (at least as far as we know – Marc is reported as saying he didn’t think he could grow a beard as he only had to shave about every three days and most credible portraits of Richard show him as clean-shaven). The forensic reconstruction of Richard revealed that his resting expression was a smile – his lips turned up at the edges at rest and so did Marc’s.
Richard is often portrayed with frown lines between his brows and Marc had the same kind of lines when he frowned too!
Both of them married only once and both their wives were useful to them in their careers. Anne Neville, Richard’s wife, was a rich heiress and brought support in the North, whereas June Child, Marc’s wife, was an astute business woman and helped on that side, enabling Marc to concentrate on the creative part of his career.
Both men only had one recognised child, both male (yes, we know Richard had at least two illegitimate children but only Edward was legitimate). Marc’s son, Rolan, was his only child, born to his girlfriend, Gloria Jones, after his marriage failed. Regarding children, we know that Richard acknowledged his illegitimate children and took them into his household, which suggests he had some kind feelings and showed responsibility towards them. We also know that he and Anne were ‘almost mad’ with grief when their son, Edward, died suddenly, so he obviously loved him deeply. Marc, too, liked children. There is a song called Mad Donna which features a little French girl introducing it in French – it must have been wonderful for her to be able to have been involved like this. There is also a surviving interview where he teases another little girl telling her his guitar isn’t a guitar – ‘It’s a dog!” He obviously had a good rapport with children.
His own son, Rolan, was only two when Marc died but Marc was reported as being besotted with him and he had cleaned up his act after Rolan was born (Marc had gone a bit off the rails with cocaine and cognac), showing the same responsibility that Richard did. Of course, many of Marc’s fans were also still children – I myself was just fourteen when I first became a fan. He was considerate of them and took them seriously, often releasing records or doing tours to please ‘the kids’. He even had two children appear on his show, Marc, and seemed to have a great rapport with them.
Both of them were Librans (Richard October 2nd and Marc September 30th) and they both loved music. We know that Richard collected great singers for his own choir and that Nicklas von Poppelau commented that the music was ‘the loveliest’ he had ever heard. Marc’s whole life revolved around music – it was the only thing he knew anything about and was good at, according to an interview. Marc believed in reincarnation and thought he might have been a minstrel or troubadour in a past life – perhaps he once performed for Richard!
Marc wore this jacket which has a mediaeval design – do you think one or two of the people depicted look like Richard?
Speaking of mediaeval matters, when Marc began with his band, Tyrannosaurus Rex (before he shortened the name), he wrote not rock songs, but gentle, olde worlde, poetic tunes which he played on an acoustic guitar, accompanied by one bongo player. Many had mediaeval words and several have been covered by a singer called Catherine Lambert. They have been set to instruments which are more mediaeval in character and sound as if they could have come from those times! Here is a link if you would like to hear one of the tracks. The words and melody are Marc’s, just the vocals and arrangement has been changed.
Their station in life seems to have been as different as it is possible to be. Richard was a noble from birth, a prince of royal blood, and had the best of everything available at the time. He loved rich clothes and fabrics as suggested by a list of items purchased which still survives. He would have been allowed to wear clothes, colours and items reserved for royalty and would have loved bright colours, which were considered appropriate for the nobility as they were more expensive. Some have even said he must have been something of a dandy!
Marc, on the other hand, was born to poor, working class parents in London’s Stoke Newington, although his parents gave him and his brother, Harry, whatever they could, such as an acoustic guitar for Marc when he was nine. However, growing up, Marc knew that he was special. He became involved in the mod scene of London and was ‘the king of three streets in Hackney.’ He was ambitious and determined and wanted to be a star more than anything. And one of his songs was called Dandy in the Underworld. His mod roots, which revolved around a love of clothes, led him to develop an individual way of dressing – clothes were almost as important as music to him, since it was all part of his persona and image. However, this was his own personality and not a construct. Marc, like Richard, loved bright colours and dazzling clothes of good quality, the epitome of glam. He dressed ‘glam’ all the time, not just on stage.
As king, it was important for Richard to project an image of luxury and privilege – to look the part – and Marc is quoted as saying that most of his success was down to ‘look and presence’.
Both Richard and Marc are associated with the colour white. Richard’s emblem is the white boar and his house (York) associated with white roses. Marc’s first big hit was ‘Ride a White Swan’ and a white swan features in several memorials to him; there was a huge white swan in flowers present at his funeral in 1977. Marc’s favourite flower was the gardenia, a flower I knew little about. So I was surprised when, on Googling it, I found it was white and looked very similar to a rose!
I recently found out that there is a Marc Bolan rose, so he is now, like Richard, associated with roses, although his is not white but pink/purple. (At least it isn’t red!)
It is thought that Richard disliked being in London and the court life of the time – he preferred to live in Middleham in the North, surrounded by countryside. And although Marc was born a city boy, he actually preferred the countryside too and disliked politics, saying:
I don’t want to know about society as it is – it brings me down. I can’t associate with it at all. And I can’t be involved with politicians. I wish I could get away to another place where mountains rise unspoilt to the sky and you could ride horses as far as the eye could see.
He did actually own his own horse at one time.
Both Marc and Richard were leaders of men. Richard was known as a great general and lord, respected in the North where he was known and also a great warrior. Marc was always the central figure of T.Rex – he wrote the music, sang, played guitar and even produced later on. He really WAS T.Rex. His most iconic album was called Electric Warrior and he even sometimes wore ‘armour’.
Richard went into battle with his battleaxe and Marc went to play his concerts with his ‘axe’ (slang term for an electric guitar)!
We know that in his final battle, Richard inspired his men to fight:
•‘…having donned his coat-of-arms began to fight with much vigour, putting heart into those that remained loyal, so that by his sole effort he upheld the battle for a long time’
Mickey Finn, T.Rex’s percussionist has stated that Marc had so much energy it helped him to keep on playing even when his arms were exhausted, and that his inspirational energy was so great that he would have continued to play until his arms came off!
Both Richard and Marc were innovators, changing history in their own way. Richard did so through his laws and the way he treated the common people – something that may have led to his downfall at Bosworth, because the nobles didn’t like this new regime. However, some of his laws formed the basis for those we still have today, such as legal aid and bail laws, thus standing the test of time.
Marc changed the course of music history, as he was the instigator of Glam Rock – the first time he wore glitter under his eyes started the ball rolling and he also changed the way men were perceived; he made it OK for men to wear bright colours and make-up. There is an article from the New York Times which explains his influence on fashion, called ‘The Least-known, Most Influential Man in Fashion’. Also, his music was different from anything else in the ’70s and incredibly exciting. His lyrics were pure poetry and often misunderstood at the time, but he is now thought to be way ahead of the rest of his contemporaries, just as Richard was for his way of government.
Richard, as we know, was betrayed by those he thought he could trust and Loyalty Me Lie, his motto, and the concept of loyalty was of supreme importance to him, which is why he was so angry when Buckingham betrayed him. In Marc’s case, he was praised to the skies by the music press of the early 70s and could fill Wembley Arena (or Empire Pool, as it was then known), with thousands of screaming, adoring fans (I was one of them)! However, once he was at the top, the music press began to target him to bring him down from the pedestal where they had helped to put him and many of his fans defected to the Osmonds or David Cassidy. Marc has been quoted as saying that he thought his fans would stay with him forever. These two ‘betrayals’ must have hurt him deeply and his girlfriend says that it drove him to the edge of insanity. I still have some of the ‘reviews’ of Marc’s later records and have seen others of his later concerts, and many are quite vicious and cruel. But probably the worst ‘betrayal’ from Marc’s viewpoint was by DJ and presenter, John Peel. Peel had championed and promoted Marc when he was playing acoustic guitar in T.Rex’s previous incarnation, Tyrannosaurus Rex. Just as Buckingham helped Richard to become king, Peel helped Marc to attain the heights of popularity, but he didn’t like it when Marc’s sound became electric and much more rock ‘n’ roll. T. Rex’s third official single release, Get It On, was never played by Peel. Marc was very upset by this snub from his friend of four years and regarded it as an act of treachery. He ended the friendship at that point, just as Richard dealt decisively with Buckingham.
All Ricardians know of the major part Morton, the Bishop of Ely, played in Richard’s downfall. He was in league with Margaret Beaufort and the negative rumours about Richard originated in locations associated with him. Marc’s demise was not caused by anyone named Morton but, interestingly, on the night of his death he had been partying with Gloria and it is possible they had both been drinking (although I must stress that Gloria was never charged with drink-driving). Where had the celebrations been located? At a restaurant called… Morton’s!
Richard was famous for being a very pious man but what about Marc? Well, he wasn’t religious as such, but he did believe in God as a superior being and he was a spiritual person.
Richard was also renowned for his courage, even his enemies could not deny this – he was quoted as:
Fighting manfully in the thickest presse of his enemies
Marc also showed courage in his own way – some might call it cheek. He rang up a music manager and asked if he could personally bring round a demo tape for him to listen to. When he had the address he went straight round there and blagged his way in, playing his guitar in person for the man. He ended up taking Marc on. Marc told everyone he was going to be:
Bigger than the Beatles
They all laughed at him, this little unknown singer with a strange voice, but he had the courage of his convictions and proved them all wrong, bringing back the screaming fans just like the Beatles had done. The media called it T.Rextasy! He WAS bigger than the Beatles for a couple of years.
A few years ago, I did a fun analysis of Richard’s handwriting. Richard, in common with all mediaeval people, had angular handwriting and this is partly because of the use of quills. Angularity in someone’s handwriting can mean they are ambitious and a forceful, go-getting personality. Apart from this, Richard’s hand reveals he liked to be in control and that he was very intelligent.
Marc did not have to contend with the quill, but his handwriting is also very angular. As well as the ambition and drive, it also shows positivity and creativity. He was dyslexic, so his spelling isn’t the best. Both their hands show they have good communication skills and were articulate speakers.
Both Marc and Richard have had their character brought into question since their passing. Marc was regarded (both before and after his death) as lightweight, his lyrics nonsensical and his guitar playing mediocre. It may be that the importance of image and the fact that he was so physically beautiful made some think his music was not to be taken seriously. Richard, of course, was terribly maligned after his death and it is only today that his character is being rehabilitated. Likewise, Marc’s reputation has now grown and he is seen as he always should have been, as a unique, talented musician and a lyrical, poetic song-writer. T.Rex were at last nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the first time in 2020 and on January 15th this year were accepted into the Hall. He would be so proud. The ceremony was supposed to be in May, but it has been postponed because of the Coronavirus, so Marc, like Richard, will have to wait a while before his reputation attains its rightful place.
Both Marc and Richard had insulting remarks made about their physical appearance. After his death, Richard began to be called a hunchback and Shakespeare used many more cruel jibes relating to his appearance, such as ‘bunch-backed toad’ and ‘elvish-mark’d, abortive, rooting hog’ (referring to his cognizance). There were many references made to Marc’s small size, some unflattering. When Marc was struggling with drugs and put on some weight he was dubbed ‘the glittering chipolata’ and ‘the porky pixie’.
We know that many of the records from Richard’s time were destroyed by the Tudors – they even tried to destroy the Titulus Regius, his Royal Title. Marc appeared many times on Top of the Pops but only a handful of these recordings remain as they were wiped by the BBC, so both of them have had historically valuable ‘records’ lost.
Richard, although betrayed, fought on to the end and never gave up, and Marc did the same, metaphorically speaking. Many music artists would have given up and stopped trying to regain their previous standing, but Marc never did. He persisted and persisted until, by the time he was killed in the car crash in September 1977, he had cleaned up his act and slimmed down to his lean best, his records were again being praised, his concerts were popular again and he even had his own TV series, called ‘Marc’.
We Ricardians are well aware that Richard championed the common people and often found in favour of them in cases where they were up against rich or noble men, unusual for a mediaeval lord. He instructed his judges:
…to justly and duly administer the laws without delay or favour, (dispensing justice) indifferently to every person, as well as to poor as to rich
He also brought in a primitive form of legal aid, the Court of Requests so that anyone who couldn’t afford a lawyer could present their case directly before the king. Also, Thomas Langton, Bishop of St David’s said of him:
He contents the people wherever he goes best that ever did prince; for many a poor man that hath suffered wrong many days have been relieved and helped by hym and his commands …
What about Marc? Well, even when he became a mega-star, he never forgot his fans nor what it was like to be a fan. He wouldn’t allow the prices of concert tickets to be too high, overriding the advice of the venues, because he knew his fans, mainly teenagers, did not have much money. And he never endorsed the practice of releasing singles which were already on albums because he felt it was ‘ripping off’ the fans. When he did release a single there were usually two equally good tracks on the ‘B’ sides and albums often had extras such as posters or lyric sheets. He often said how much he appreciated the fans and would almost always take time to chat to them, sign autographs and even, in the early years, cut off locks of his hair to give them! One dedicated fan, who followed the band on a whole tour of the UK, also went to France for a concert. When her group ran out of money, Marc booked and paid for hotel rooms for them at his own expense.
After his death, Richard’s body was stripped, the valuable armour pillaged and his precious book of hours was taken from his battlefield tent by Margaret Beaufort, his enemy’s mother. After Marc died, his house was ransacked and many items stolen, maybe by fans, ‘pillaging’ for souvenirs or possibly to protect his assets from the taxman. These items included his guitars, his iconic clothes and his notebooks full of lyrics and poetry. His most famous guitar, his Gibson Les Paul, was not stolen at this time, but had already been filched while he was alive.
There are many mysteries surrounding Richard, as we well know. Apart from the ubiquitous ‘Mystery of the Princes’, we are unsure of the reasons he executed Hastings, Rivers, et al, whether he had a relationship with Elizabeth of York (now refuted by the evidence of his proposed marriage to Joana of Portugal, but still argued by traditionalists) and who was the mother or mothers of his illegitimate children.
There are also a few mysteries involving Marc. Firstly, his death was, at the beginning, blamed on his girlfriend, Gloria, being drunk. But apparently the purple mini he was in had recently been serviced, yet there were some anomalies with the tyres. Some were worn down and there were some bolts which were not even hand tightened. However, the crash happened at a notorious accident blackspot, so these may be red herrings.
Secondly, there is some dispute about who it was who first thought to put glitter under Marc’s eyes, thereby launching Glam Rock. Some claim it was his manager, Tony Secunda’s wife, Chelita. However, Marc’s own wife, June, said in an interview that she had suggested it as she had seen it used to look like tears in a drama and thought it would have a good effect under the TV lights. Then Marc himself once made the claim that he had seen June’s glitter pot on the side and just used it on the spur of the moment!
Thirdly, there is a lot of discussion about how he came by his stage name, Marc Bolan. When I was a fan, I heard the name he chose originally was Bowland, but that he changed it later, or that the record company chose it. However, there are several other theories. He lived for a while in the same premises as the actor, James Bolam, and some say he was inspired by his name and just changed one letter. Another theory is that his hero Bob Dylan was being referenced by taking the first part of his first name and the second part of his surname: Bo(bDy)lan, making Bolan. He certainly was a fan of Dylan’s and mentions him in several songs. A new theory, which I love, is that it came from a book he had in his youth, called ‘The Wizard of Boland’, and that this inspired him! He certainly loved the idea of wizards and magic, so I suppose it is possible!
Finally, one of his most famous songs, 20th Century Boy, causes opposing views on the internet regarding the lyrics. Some say the second line ends ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and others, ‘Robin Hood’. Even though someone has isolated the vocals and the latter is obviously what Marc sings, some still insist they hear ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and many cover versions sing this. Tony Visconti, Marc’s producer at the time, has also said it’s ‘Robin Hood’ but it still causes arguments and even fallings out in internet ‘discussions’, very similar to some of the controversies surrounding Richard! If you want to listen yourself here is a link to the isolated vocal version.
Something I have noticed in particular is that both of these men, who passed over years ago, still have a great following. Both have large numbers of Facebook groups supporting them and many ‘fans’ who speak about them in the present tense and often feel emotionally attached to them. Both have organisations who officially support their memory. Both have ‘new’ supporters, often very young (Marc has many fans who weren’t even born when he died). Both also have supporters who write about them, paint portraits of them and defend them to anyone who dares defame them. As you may know, I have written four novels about Richard. Below are my latest efforts to capture Marc’s likeness.
Both of their ‘fan’ groups have acronyms that they use regarding them: Richard’s is LML – Loyaulte Me Lie and Marc’s is KALMIYH – Keep a Little Marc in Your Heart.
They were both human and therefore flawed, but they both had the sort of lasting charisma that ensures they will never be forgotten.
All photos are freely available on the internet, but if any are copyrighted, let me know and I will remove them