Forty years ago, the death of Marc Bolan had seemed of more immediate relevance than the death of Elvis Presley a month previously.
Elvis may only have been forty two years old when he died in August 1977, but, to a sixteen year old who listened to the news of his death, he seemed to belong to a different generation. Elvis’ music was music loved by my parents’ generation, his success had begun before I was born; he may not have been old, but, to a teenager, he certainly was not young.
Marc Bolan was different, while only twelve years younger than Elvis, he belonged to a different generation. The music of Marc Bolan and T. Rex was music that was played by girls on the record player at the youth club in the village hall, teenage girls had posters of him, they bought magazines that featured him. When Elvis died, it seemed that someone from a former time had died; when Marc Bolan died, it seemed that someone from our own time had died.
Perhaps the twelve year age gap between Elvis and Marc Bolan seemed much greater because they were on either side of the watershed summer of 1967.
Elvis was an established popular icon in his thirties by the time of the summer of love and the cultural revolution initiated by the movement in San Francisco. Elvis Presley may have been a ground-breaking figure, but his appearance and conduct were not a challenge to the conservative American society in which he lived. When Elvis was drafted into the United States Army in 1958 it was a major media event that added to his personal popularity and that affirmed the military establishment.
Marc Bolan was still a teenager when the hippies were gathering in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, his rise to stardom was in times that were fundamentally different, in times when former cultural norms had been swept aside. Marc Boylan’s sartorial choices, his blurring of the lines of gender, his style of performance, were in the context of the social revolutionary times in which he emerged.
Elvis Presley and Marc Bolan may have occupied different spheres of reality, but the occurrence, within weeks of each other, of the fortieth anniversaries of their deaths recalls how each of them were major cultural icons in their own right. In times when culture has become fragmented and when there seem as many musical tastes as there are listeners, it is hard to imagine many figures as young as Marc Bolan being recalled in forty years time.