Monday, January 18, 2010

"And when I'm sad, I slide..." Looking for meaning in T. Rex's The Slider.

I've been dealing with a wicked case of the winter blahs lately, and of course, music is there to cheer me up. In case you haven't been paying attention, that doesn't mean burying myself in wrist-slitting epics like Big Star's 3rd or Lou Reed's Berlin. A lot of people turn to rock n' roll to find a sympathetic voice, someone or something to identify with, to make them feel they're not alone in the world. Not me! I look at music as entertainment, first and foremost. Besides, once an album leaves the pressing plant it doesn't belong to the artist anymore, it belongs to US! If people can spend centuries finding all kinds of symbolism in a painting of a chick sitting in a chair, then it stands to reason that everyone's interpretation of a song is different, essentially giving it so much meaning that it becomes meaningless, right? Crying is for suckers. I wanna smile when I'm down and out. It didn't always use to be that way, though...



Many years ago I went through a particularly nasty break-up, one where I may or may not have evoked the name of a recently deceased relative for sympathy points when everything went down the shitter. Hey, I ain't proud OK?! When all the wreckage had cleared, Gentlemen by the Afghan Whigs was waiting for me. Gentlemen is the quintessential dude's break-up album, the one you listen to the first time you realize that it wasn't all her fault. I lived inside of that thing for a solid month. It made me paranoid, reckless, bitter, irrational, and struck with a strange urge to either start a heroin habit or punch Greg Dulli in the mouth. One thing it didn't do, however, was make me FEEL BETTER!

One afternoon, I realized that the last thing I wanted when I was depressed was to be constantly reminded of it by the thing that brought me the most joy in life. The pity party had to end, because it was making me not even want to listen to music anymore. Why the fuck does anyone want to wallow in their own misery when they're feeling miserable, anyway? Someday you're going to be lying in your death bed with liquid shit spraying out of every orifice, wondering, "Gee whiz, why did I spend those six weeks back in 2005 all bummed out because some girl didn't want to hang out with me? I could have been rollerskating or learning to yodel or getting spectacularly drunk with all those good friends I was ignoring because I thought they were all out to get me!" You miss out on a lot of life when you're feeling sorry for yourself! The song "Kites Are Fun" by the Free Design came into my life at the exact same time. It was so beautiful and perfect and stupid and ridiculous that I never wanted to listen to Gentlemen again. Kites are fun! What could be more fun than a kite?! Why am I pissing my days away listening to Greg Dulli moan like a spoiled child when there are fucking kites in this world?! Dammit!




My go-to album for these winter blahs has been The Slider by T. Rex, which should be everyone's go-to album in ANY circumstance, honestly. A record that starts off with a blissful holler like "Metal Guru" couldn't be a downer, right? Strip away the obnoxious Flo & Eddie harmonies and glam rock stomp though, and you'll find Marc Bolan confused, directionless, and more than a little burnt out. Metal guru, is it you? Is it true? Are you gonna bring my baby to me? T. Rextasy hit England like a bomb in the early '70s, finding a huge audience with kids who didn't give a fuck about the Vietnam war and didn't want their AM radio clogged up with songs about politics or self-discovery. They just wanted to bang a gong, get it on, and have fun. "Metal Guru" is fun as fuck on the surface, but you can tell that Bolan was getting tired fast of being the prophet of good times. Could it have been a plea to be taken seriously? The album cover is as good of an indication as any. Underneath the stovepipe hat and corkscrew hair are a pair of cold dead doe eyes looking directly into your soul, probably because he'd looked into his own for so long that he was disgusted with what he'd found.

It's easy to assume that T. Rex lyrics are just a bunch of dopey post-hippie poetry; strings of silly rhyming words that don't mean a goddamn thing, but sound perfect when mixed with classic guitar riffs and a bed of Tony Visconti-arranged strings. In fact, this is what drew me to The Slider as a perfect soundtrack for gloomy January navel-gazing. Marc Bolan wasn't a genius like Bob Dylan, Phil Spector, or John Lennon, just a dude with a knack for writing catchy pop songs who happened to be in the right place at the right time. I don't have to think when I'm listening to T. Rex! I don't know what the fuck a "Chariot Choogle" is or who Junglefaced Jake is, and I don't really care. In the title track, Bolan sings "I have never ever kissed a car before, it's like a door." That can't mean anything profound, can it? Follow it up with, "And when I'm sad, I slide" then it makes perfect sense. When I'm sad, I slide too! That's the all the emotional depth I need from introspective music. I just want a specific mood, not to be reminded of the really stupid shit I've done in my life. The thing just sounds so SAD, beaten-down, and melancholy, and it doesn't make me feel bad for feeling bad.

Bolan makes a point of throwing in "Buick Mackane" and "Telegram Sam" directly into the middle of the album. Even at his lowest, he couldn't resist singing about his two favorite topics, cars and girls. Stick a quarter in the guy and he'll come up with a perfect rock n' roll tune. That was his job! My favorite songs of all time were written by people sitting in a room with a guitar or piano under the watchful eyes of producers and sketchy business managers, ground out like sausages for an expectant audience that was always hungry and always wanting more. Once Marc Bolan left the world of Tolkien-obsessed folkies, he became a ROCK STAR with all the responsibility that it brought upon him. The machine had to keep going, even if it meant throwing in godawful "rabbit fighter/rapid fire" puns to fill out an album. Glam rock was supposed to be non-offensive ear candy, but it's the moments where the raggedy edges come to the surface that make The Slider such a brilliant album. It's the work of a talented moron on auto-pilot, putting all the emotion to the side and doing what he did best.


That's probably why I keep coming back to The Slider when I'm down. It makes me smile and laugh and think a little bit, but not enough to take over my world. I've spent the entire day listening to "Spaceball Ricochet" over and over, trying to figure out what the fuck it means. Marc Bolan might have been confused as shit and worn out, but he knew how to make some money. All he does is play the spaceball ricochet. He's a fucking entertainer above all, playing simple music that makes you forget about all the stupid bullshit the human brain gets itself caught up in on a daily basis. No one comes to him for spiritual enlightenment, and I'd like to think he's OK with that. The message is hammer-obvious. "With my Les Paul, I know I'm small, but I enjoy living anyway." Ride those winter blahs out like a wave, because there's always another pretty girl or perfect song up around the bend. That's why Telegram Sam will always be my main man.


Zach B. is the main man behind
Random Old Records blog and podcast. He wants to fly a kite really, really bad now.

2 comments:

  1. Kinda sounds to me like the song is about cocaine...

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  2. The song "The Slider" is about doing drugs.. Marc Bolan had a HUGE influence on David Bowie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and more and for that I thank him immensely for helping shape the future of pop.. Also it wasn't his "job" to make music it was his passion.. Just saying.. ;) and no disrespect but those two songs "Kids are Fun" and "Gentlemen" make me want to stab a pencil in my ear.. If you ever want to talk music I would love to chat.. Music is the best form of art to me, and I love to feel every single way possible from every single song possible.. *muah*

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