Bolan’s Birthday: Life’s A Gas
Saturday afternoon, 4pm. I’m at the second birthday party for Jean-Luc Le Du’s wine store on Washington Street in Manhattan. I’m greeted at the door by Andy Shernoff, founding member of the Dictators, who hands me a glass and points me towards Fred Smith, former member of Television. Fred and his wife Paula have just launched their Cereghino-Smith winery from our shared Hudson Valley locale and are pouring from their portfolio as part of the “all-you-can-drink” party. The first wine they offer is called Rock’n’Roll, and on its label is a picture of Tish and Snooky, the Manic Panic clothes store founders who, for many New Yorkers of a certain age, embody the very spirit of the thing. Wine is the new rock’n’roll, did you not know?
Saturday evening, 9.30pm. By coincidence, design or the will of the Gods, I’m now at the outdoor Delacorte Theater in the middle of Central Park watching another founding member of Television, Richard Lloyd, twist distinctively cosmic noises from his guitar as he performs the T.Rex song “Jeepster” at a concert celebrating Marc Bolan’s 60th birthday. (And, sadly, the thirtieth anniversary of his death.) On backing vocals are the same Tish & Snooky whose image festoons Fred Smith’s Rock’n’roll wine. And while there are no founding members of the Dictators to be seen, none other than Blondie’s Clem Burke is playing drums, while the house group also includes Patti Smith’s bassist Tony Shanahan, the New York Dolls’ current guitarist Steve Conte, James Mastro (Ian Hunter’s guitar), Jane Scarpantoni ( famed cellist), the lovely Claudia Chopek (violin), my old friend Rob Youngberg, formerly of Lotion and now of Honeycomb on percussion, and former Dexys-Bureau-TKO Horns saxist Geoff Blythe. This is the kind of group you would pay to hear play the hits of the Wombles, let alone those of Marc Bolan. The whole event has been organized by my very good friend Joe Hurley, who was lead singer at my wedding, and his partner Ed Rogers. Both, incidentally, are English. The moon is rising, there’s barely a cloud in the sky, and nearly 500 Bolan fans and New York rockers are enjoying an almost endless parade of New York legends singing tribute to the founding father of Glam Rock. Time, then, for our top 20 countdown:
20) The evening has been opened by Justin Bond singing the Carpenters album Close To You in entirety, and David Driver Singing the Scott Walker Songbook. I only catch the latter act and it’s lukewarm; there’s a difference between an all-star tribute show for someone who is dead and a covers band for someone who is alive. I check the iJamming! Pub on my Blackberry. Po1ntman is raving about a Scott Walker documentary movie called 30(th) Century Man. This coincidence is extra scary as one of Bolan’s better known songs is “20th Century Boy.”
19) The Screaming Orphans open the Bolan tribute with a resplendently gentle “Ride A White Swan.”
18) Actress Cara Seymour brings news of a telegram. Ed Rogers sings “Telegram Sam.”
17) Not only is there a ten-piece backing band but three go-go dancers and the guest singers. Bolan would surely be proud of the attention.
16) Patti Smith delivers a spellbinding rendition of “Children Of The Revolution” complete with reference to CBGBs and something about “motherfuckers.” I’m not a Patti Smith acolyte; I didn’t like her recent covers album. But when you see her deliver a mesmerizing few minutes like this, you understand why she remains such a legend.
15) Dig Geoff Blythe’s deep sax. Totally glam. (Man.)
14) Lloyd Cole brings his son William out to join him in playing guitar on “Slider.” I remember when I used to see Lloyd push a baby round Greenwich Village in a stroller. Are we really that much older? I guess we are. Will is cool as f&&k and better yet, he knows it. He comes thisclose to upstaging his dad.
13) Richard Lloyd does his “Jeepster.” The beauty of these tribute shows is verifying how every talent is unique. Lloyd gets sounds out of that guitar that nobody else could imagine, let alone manage.
12) Bolan producer Tony Visconti helps validate the affair by his presence. He addresses the crowd with humor and grace, and goes on to play bass on several songs. He informs us that he recorded 160 songs with Marc Bolan. Wow. (And that’s not including the songs her produced with David Bowie.) “Jeepster,” he tells us, was recorded in New York City while Bolan was on tour, at the old Mediasound studio on 57th Street. “If you’ve stood in Le Bar Bat, you’ve stood right where that song was made.”
11) Visconti references the girl in the front row as “the biggest Bolan fan of all time.” She jumps on stage to take a bow. The bouncers push her off again.
10) Joe Hurley takes lead on “Life’s A Gas.” Visconti plays bass. Right now, life’s a gas indeed.
9) Ed Rogers and the Bedsit Poets do the Tyrannosaurus Rex song “By The Light of the Magical Moon” complete with cross-legged bongo player. The moon is conveniently rising in the sky as they do so. I didn’t quite “live” those late 60s days, but something about it brings back memories. I know: it’s Velvet Goldmine.
8) Broadway star Michael Servaris – he played ‘Tommy’ – sings “Cosmic Dancer” with Richard Lloyd back up on guitar.
7) Did I mention Clem Burke is the house drummer for the night? He’s such a joy to watch. And he looks damn good for his age, too.
6) The Coles are back on stage for “Rapids,” a song that apparently references father and son, and young Will almost loses his cool by repeatedly tuning his guitar. He’s saved from embarrassment by James Mastro handing him a ready-tuned Fender Strat. It’s that kind of night.
5) Richard Barone, once of the Bongos, looks way too fit and youthful as he leads us through an energetic “Mambo Sun.” He manages to promote his new book Frontman and a Bongos reunion show at Maxwells and get away with both because of his energy. He looks about 25. He has to be almost 50. Barone may never have made it as a rock’n’roll star, but at least he’s not a casualty.
4) Moby comes up, telling everyone his girlfriend bough him a ticket for his birthday and he had no idea he was going to be playing. We almost believe him. Then he cranks the guitar up to 11, launches into a little monologue about the great rock’n’roll guitar riffs, with snippets of “Purple Haze” and “Whole Lotta Love,” and leads the band into a suitably dirty and appropriately loud version of the epic “Twentieth Century Boy.” Joe Hurley comes back onstage to lead a verse or two. It’s a gas.
3) Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters and opening act Justin Bond bound on stage for the most energetic three minutes of the night, playing “Solid Baby” from later in Bolan’s career. Shears runs around the stage in silver spandex like the gay little bunny on heat that he is, spraying beer at the audience. Some people are born to be stars. Can you possibly imagine Jake Shears in an office job?
2) Sylvain Sylvain of the New York Dolls takes center stage for “Get It On.” He doesn’t know the words. It doesn’t seem like there were too many to remember. But it’s getting late, and no one really seems to care. The night has been so professional for so long that it doesn’t matter if it gets a little ragged at the end.
1) Tish and Snooky bring out Bolan’s birthday cake and the night’s fifty-odd performers take the stage for a final rendition of “Hot Love.” Visconti hands the mike to the girl who’s Bolan’s biggest fan. She gets the last word. Bolan gets to look down from the heavens and say, They didn’t forget me. And wine may be the new rock’n’roll, but for us seventies kids, glam rock will never grow old.