T. Rex and Billy Elliot by Asher Brown-Pinsky

After watching the recent New York
Broadway production of Billy Elliot recently, there was one salient cultural
reference that struck me in particular, the inclusion of the Marc Bolan Penned
“Born to Boogie” near the end of the first act of the play.

The song, originally released on
the 1973 album Tanx with his band T. Rex, and featured in the original
soundtrack of the original 2000 film, is not one the band’s best songs from the
band’s canon. Additionally, the standard Broadway musical treatment (remove any
grime, filth or edge, replace the idiosyncratic vocals with proper singing)
doesn’t do much to argue for the song.

However, the inclusion itself of
the song, in a play written around neither the band or rock music in general no
less, iss peculiar and telling however. Inclusion of T. Rex is telling (six
songs by the band appeared in the original film soundtrack) is unsurprising
given the theme of dance in the band’s song titles, but also for the very
specific place Marc Bolan and T. Rex had in the popular culture of the British
Isles.

In the beginning of the 1970s, the
void in pop music left by the Beatles was quickly filled by Marc Bolan and a
newly revamped and electrified version of his old psychedelic folk outfit Tyrannosaurus
Rex. Playing a distorted, throwback style of rock and roll, with spiky guitars
and often lush brass and string instrumentation with often nonsensical lyrics,
simple rhymes and subject matter touching on cars, dancing, all through a lens
of absurdism, delivered with an unfathomable depth of sincerity. This
combination of pop catchiness and characteristically British oddness was
supplemented by the striking visual appearance of the band that would become
known as glitter or glam and was defined by androgyny, outlandish colors and
clothing, and, yes, glitter and makeup.

Although the band achieved only one
US hit (Bang A Gong), the band struck a nerve with the British public, resulting
in a cultural event known as “T. Rextasy,“ a moment of hysteria rivaling
Beatlemania. Bolan’s androgynous looks, ambiguous sexuality, outlandish
costume, helped usher in the glam the entire glam rock genre, including Queen,
David Bowie, Elton John, et al.

It could be argued that Glam rock
with all of its gender bending could be seen as both an outlet and presence in
public eye for gay youths in addition to establishing an acceptable alternative
to the hyper-masculine blue-collar model set by other bands. And while Marc
Bolan’s life and chart success predated the events of Billy Elliot a few
years, considering the immense cultural impact of the band and the resonance
this might have with audiences regarding the characters of Michael and Billy,
the inclusion of the band’s songs is understandable.

 Alas, this band was a greatly underappreciated British export
in America, greatly preferable in my eyes to those most overappreciated products
of modern Avalon, Margaret Thatcher worship and Winston Churchill quotation.

Anyways, here are some videos some
weirdos made for youtube with clips from the film and T. Rex songs from the
soundtrack. Enjoy:

This one is about cosmic dancers and birth and death and dancing and stuff.

This one is about enjoying boogying.

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