Monday, October 15, 2007

Marc Bolan's 60th Birthday Party

From Ron Ramone:

Dear Punk Professor,

Part of your response to the question "Is the UK cooler than the USA"? struck a chord with me. You wrote, "One distinction that I have observed: the English generally tend to prize eccentricity more than Americans, which partly explains why punk flourished there." Let us not forget that punk in the UK was way more a political statement than it was in the US. The Ramones were not singing about anarchy or dead-end jobs like the Pistols & the Clash were. In the US it was driven by boredom with the status quo, how corporate rock music was and how conservative society had become. In the UK it was also more of a fashion statement & in the US it was more of an anti-fashion statement. That said; I believe that you'd see that the East & West Coast of the US prized eccentricity more than the South & Midwest. That is why the punk communities in places such as Boston, New York & LA flourished. So I guess I really don't have a question.

Dear Eric,

Thanks for your interesting points, which all make sense. It's very punk of you to "not have a question"! But negative's the flip of positive and your non-question actually extends the debate on the links between US & UK punk -- what do you reckon about it, rough readers? -- and even takes it a stage further. So here's a non-answer to your non-question. You reinforce a general observation that's cropped up quite a bit in chats with NY people who've moved to Miami, where I'm writing this. Everyone agreed that coastal areas around the world, not just in US or UK, are often more receptive and sophisticated than inland regions; maybe because they're so obviously on the edge, just oceans away from Other Cultures. Anyway, Other Cultures are likely to be sitting next to you on the subway, so we're all Other Cultures now. OK, let's hear it from angry landlocked readers!

I wish you glitter, fierce reader, and plenty of it. Like the glitter that twinkled against the dark trees as a motley crew pranced onto the stage at Marc Bolan's (posthumous) 60th Birthday Party at Central Park's Delacorte Theatre on a recent warm Saturday evening. It was like a carnival "by the light of a magical moon" as Marc sang.

Marc Bolan was an enchanted, enlightening figure in 1970's UK pop who went through many mutations -- almost as many as his frenemy David Bowie -- starting out as a mystic hippie bard ("My people were fair and wore stars in their hair...") and switching teams to become the prototypical glam rocker ("Bang a gong/Get it on...") leading an army of swooning schoolgirls, including me. His shocking death in a car crash in 1977 froze him forever young -- a fey, dirty dandy with dark ringlets and intense kohl'ed eyes. Bolan was a bohemian freethinker who punks adore. A true rock icon.

Marc - Always Amazing
Looking spiffy in a satin waistcoat by designer Zandra Rhodes

In homage, a galaxy of punk rock stars appeared at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park on a warm Saturday night to show respect. Moby happened to be there celebrating his birthday (though he was careful to point out, it wasn't actually his birthday that day,) and joined a mega-jam onstage. "I'm honored to be playing 'Twentieth Century Boy's visceral libidinous, riff," said Moby. The true Metal Guru, American producer Tony Visconti who helped mold both Bolan and Bowie, played with lots of the bands. He spoke tenderly about when he had a flat in London and Bowie and Bolan were always coming round to jam and party as they both still lived at home with their mums.

Richard Lloyd (Television) 

 Moby, Clem Burke (on drums), and Tony Visconti

Surprise guest Patti Smith took "Children of the Revolution," right to the barricades and over the top. By the power invested in her, Patti chanted Marc's words like a punk preacher, riffing ferociously on "They're trying to take us down, don't be fooled, child!" and relishing my personal fave couplet, "I drive a Rolls Royce/'Cos it's good for my voice."

The High Priestess of Punk

An honor roll of NYC's original CBGB's posse brought Marc's music back to its home away from home -- it turns out that Bolan recorded a lot in the Village. Backup through the show and "Born To Boogie" were performed by NYC punk heroines, Tish and Snooky, who used to be in the Stilettoes with Debbie Harry before Blondie. Now, best known for Manic Panic, their vivid line of punk hair dyes, they're still a rainbow riot. The drummer for Blondie, Clem Burke, lived up to his hype by Moby as "the best rock drummer of all time." Richard Lloyd from Television did "Jeepster".

Rocking très glam/trash leopard-skin jeans as he put some passion into "Ballrooms Of Mars," was Ivan Julian, ex-Clash/Richard Hell and the Voidoids. Two of the New York Dolls did two separate sets, Sylvain Sylvain rampaged through "Get It On" and Steve Conte growled "Rip Off." The Bongos' Richard Barone swanned through "Mambo Sun" and Joe Hurley, who was a prime mover in the show along with Joe's Pub and Bill Bragin, gave "Life's A Gas" some spine-tingling vibes. There was also a dazzling version of "Dove" by a barefoot Icelandic flower child called Ragga.

NYC punk heroines, Tish and Snooky
Ivan Julian
Two New York Dolls get it on again with Tony Shanahan
Joe Hurley
Barefoot Icelandic songbird sings a spell

A funky living link to Bolan is pop's own Irish eminence grise B.P. Fallon. Like Zelig, the ageless, elfin B.P. has been scene making since pop began. Not so much a publicist as a vibe conjuror, B.P. promoted people like Elvis Costello at one of the original punk indie labels Stiff Records. Now he has three books out, has a globally roving club night called Death Disco with Alan McGee (who founded Creation Records of Oasis fame.) As always, B.P.'s skating merrily along the cutting edge and now he's managing a very tall, very genial bloke called Justin Tranter, of rad glam band Semi Precious Weapons, who looks as good as Grace Jones in his high fetish heels and corset.

Looking dashing in Bolan's own stripey black/silver satin waistcoat by designer Zandra Rhodes (value: $20,000) Justin kindly lent his own silver waistcoat (value: $20.00) to The Scissor Sisters' glam man, Jake Shears, who joined him along with Steve Conte as Justin conveyed Marc's feline ways on "Metal Guru" and led the multitudes through "Hot Love."
Jake Shears, Justin Trantor and Steve Conte

From the past, look to the future. Right now B.P and Justin are pushing on through the mist of confusion round the music business. They are giving away their new CD, "We Love You," (and I love "Her Hair Is On Fire,") free in stores like Urban Outfitters, and even Barney's, where Justin sells his SPW glam/punk jewelry line. B.P sees it as a way forward for musicians, though even he agrees it's not much help for broke musicians who are only good at music and want to work at it all the time. These days, the Children of the Revolution gotta multitask.

Semi Precious Weapons' "We Love You" is out October 30 on Precious Records.
All pix by Kevin Yatarola/Joe's Pub & Bruce Alexander