A month-long monument hunt, and what I learned along the way.
25 August 2013
Marc Bolan – lead singer with English glam rock band T. Rex – died in the early hours of Friday 16th September 1977. His purple Mini was being driven by his girlfriend Gloria Jones, when it swerved over a bridge and crashed headlong into a sycamore tree. Bolan was killed immediately.
The tree itself, leaning over a small lane on the edge of Barnes Common in South West London, has since been preserved as a memorial shrine. I ventured out to pay homage to one of England’s most celebrated fallen idols.
The Rise & Fall of a Metal Guru
The band ‘Tyrannosaurus Rex’ was founded in August 1967; exploding onto the music scene of hippy-era London with a distinctive blend of acoustic guitars, bongos and the unique vocal stylings of frontman Marc Bolan.
By 1970 the band had adopted a harder, electric sound, shortened the name to ‘T. Rex,’ and were enjoying their first chart success with the single Ride a White Swan.
The following years would mark the heyday of T. Rex, as they released now-classic albums such as T. Rex, Electric Warrior and The Slider.
After 1973’s Tanx however, the band would slide into a steady state of decline. Two of the original members, Bill Legend and Mickey Finn, left the band over the following year… accompanied by Bolan’s split from producer Tony Visconti.
Marc Bolan became increasing neurotic, gained weight, and isolated himself from friends and fans as he embarked on a self-enforced exile to Monte Carlo. The albums that followed were moving gradually in the direction of a solo project, as Bolan’s vision turned towards futuristic dystopia and fantastic pseudo-personas. Music critics slammed the band’s new releases, which often didn’t register on the charts.
In the spring of 1977, T. Rex released Dandy in the Underworld; suddenly met with renewed critical acclaim, Bolan slimmed down and toured the UK with punk band The Damned. Finally things were looking up for the band, and following a successful tour Bolan began talking about reuniting the original members of T. Rex.
Then tragedy struck.
On the night of 15th September, Marc Bolan and his girlfriend Gloria Jones were returning home from the exclusive Morton’s Club in Berkeley Square, London. Bolan never learned to drive, and it was Jones behind the wheel of his purple Mini 1275. He had been drinking heavily, though reports suggest that she was sober.
Losing control of the vehicle as it crossed a small humpback bridge on Queen’s Ride – a winding, tree-lined road that skirts common ground between the districts of Barnes and Putney – the car struck a reinforced steel fence, coming to rest upright against a sycamore tree.
For many years it was believed that Bolan had died on impact with the sycamore. More recently though, an eyewitness statement has emerged to challenge this theory. Nightclub singer Vicky Aram had been driving just behind the couple, invited back from the club to discuss musical projects at their home on Upper Richmond Road.
Speaking to a newspaper in 2012, Aram gave testimony to suggest that Marc Bolan was not crushed to death on impact with the tree – but rather, “suffered a horrific head injury from an eye bolt in the fence.” 
An inquiry into the crash laid blame on the Mini itself. The vehicle had recently been serviced, having its wheels balanced and a tyre replaced. Low tyre pressure has also been cited as a contributing factor to the car’s poor handling. According to Mark Paytress, author of Bolan – The Rise & Fall Of A 20th Century Superstar, “two nuts on one of the front wheels were not even finger-tight.”
Although Bolan’s fear of a premature death had kept him from learning to drive for himself, he did own a number of vehicles. On the night of the crash, his white Rolls-Royce (mentioned in Children of the Revolution) had been lent out to Hawkwind. Meanwhile, the ill-fated purple Mini was reportedly a souped-up model inherited from Pink Floyd; a band known for their passion for high performance vehicles.
Marc Bolan’s funeral was held at Golders Green Crematorium, on Tuesday 20th September 1977. It was a Jewish ceremony, attended by a supporting cast that would have made many a festival blush; including David Bowie, Steve Harley, Rod Stewart, Les Paul, Eric Clapton and The Damned. A showman to the last, Bolan’s coffin was conveyed along a railroad track into the mouth of the incinerator, decorated with a vast swan formed from carefully arranged chrysanthemums; a nod to T. Rex’s first hit single, Ride a White Swan.
The Marc Bolan Rock Shrine
From the very day of the crash that claimed Marc Bolan’s life, the sycamore tree on Gipsy lane became a popular pilgrimage destination for fans of T. Rex. Visitors would leave notes, ribbons, or trinkets, many tied to the branches of the tree itself.
The tree stands on an embankment, overlooking Queen’s Ride where the fateful crash occurred; but more easily reached from the base of the embankment on Gipsy Lane.
In September 1997 the Performing Rights Society placed a memorial stone in Gipsy Lane, honouring Bolan as a musician, writer and poet.
1999 saw the formation of ‘TAG’: the T. Rex Action Group, an organisation aimed at caring for the site and maintaining it for visitors. The following year the group built wooden steps leading up the embankment, from the PRS memorial on Gipsy Lane to the tree itself. In a ceremony in September 2002, Rolan Bolan unveiled the iconic bronze bust of his father that now marks the site.
The shrine is relatively hard to find, located on a narrow lane that cuts between the common and a residential estate. Approached from Gipsy Lane, the wooden steps lead up into the embankment, to a small tree-shaded grove. From here Bolan’s bust gazes out into the distance, a metallic purple boa draped about his bronze shoulders.
Tokens of affection have been left by countless pilgrims over the years, blending and fading to create an adoring collage of memories. There are newspaper clippings, ribbons, pieces of fan art and mystical charms that dangle from the branches above. It’s clear that visitors come from a wide range of backgrounds, some having travelled halfway around the world to see this sacred site.
A hard-carved wooden crest pinned to the memorial board is addressed to “The Electric Warrior, The Jeepster, The Futuristic Dragon”; it reads “May you rest in peace Marc Bolan,” signed by Steve Curry from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe-Rhodesia.
The Bolan Curse
In 2005, plaques began appearing on the steps to commemorate the other band members who had passed away: Steve Peregrin Took, Steve Currie, Mickey Finn, Dino Dines and also recognising Bolan’s wife, June Bolan (née Child), for her contributions to Marc’s success.
In fact, a part of the ongoing mythology that surrounds the short life and subsequent tragic death of Marc Bolan, is the story of a curse; afflicting many of those closely associated with the star.
Founding member of Tyrannosaurus Rex, Steve Took died in 1980, when he choked to death on a cocktail cherry – his throat had been numbed by a mixture of morphine and magic mushrooms. Bassist Steve Currie died the following year, in a car crash in Portugal. Both of his parents later died in 1991. The next three deaths were heart attacks: Bolan’s widow June in 1994, manager Tony Secunda in 1995 and Secunda’s ex-wife Chelita in 2000. Chelita Secunda is sometimes credited with having started the ‘glam rock’ movement, after her idea of painting Bolan’s face with glitter before shows.
Other deaths associated with the myth include producer of the ‘Marc Show’, Muriel Young; Bolan’s manager Tony Howard; Gloria’s brother Richard Jones, and personal friend Joey Ramone; all of whom died in 2001.
Bolan’s chauffeur and minder Alphi O’ Leary died in 2002, while former band mates, Mickey Finn and Peter ‘Dino’ Dines passed away in 2003 and 2004 respectively. In 2005 a diving accident claimed the life of ‘Born to Boogie’ photographer Keith Morris; later, in 2007, Paul Johnson of ‘The Bolan Society’ died aged 48.
Now aged 69, percussionist Bill Legend is the only surviving member of the original T. Rex line-up.
Marc Bolan & The Illuminati
There was one aspect to Marc Bolan’s untimely death that has provoked a lot of subsequent thought and discussion; namely, the suggestion that Bolan himself had predicted the event.
Marc Bolan had on numerous occasions stated his belief that he was destined to die young (for example, during a 1972 interview with Russell Harty). Some of his song lyrics seem to veer towards the prophetic, appearing to describe aspects of the tragedy to come.
The young singer had a preoccupation with mortality… and cars. His semi-autobiographical final album, Dandy In The Underworld, was released on 11 March 1977 – just six months before his death. The 1972 track Metal Guru was written about an automobile, while in Children of the Revolution, Bolan makes the claim, “I drive a Rolls Royce / Cause it’s good for my voice.” In an interview following the accident, the band’s publicist BP Fallon drew attention to some of these themes himself;
“But when you think about some of Marc’s phraseology… ‘Tyrannosaurus Rex – eater of cars.’ ‘Hubcap diamond star halo.’ ‘Summer is heaven in seventy-seven.’ It’s all writ. It’s all known.”
More striking still, in retrospect, are the lyrics to T. Rex’s 1972 Solid Gold Easy Action. The track opens with the lines, “Life is the same and it always will be / Easy as picking foxes from a tree”. Fans have pointed out the apparent correlation with the number plate of Bolan’s Mini, the car which would drive the couple into the sycamore tree: FOX 661L. In the song, Bolan goes on to sing about, “A woman from the east with her headlights shining.”
Marc Bolan’s own prophecies aside, there are others who have tried to place the star – and in some cases, the nature of his death – within a wider framework of conspiracy.
In his book Trapped In a Masonic World under a chapter titled, “The Illuminati, Satanism, Drugs & the Music Industry,” David McCann refers to Bolan’s alleged dealings with the occult. Along with David Bowie, Sting, Jim Morrison and Jimmy Page, Marc Bolan is claimed to have been a student of Aleister Crowley: the notorious English occultist whose name is synonymous with secret societies such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Ordo Templi Orientis.
Writing for Illuminati News, Wes Penre also raised concern in an article titled “The Jewish Control Over the Entertainment Industries.” Describing the music industry as one wing of an Illuminati Mafia owned almost exclusively by Talmudic Jews (and with the sole purpose of conducting mind-control programmes on a world-wide scale), Penre goes on to list the Jewish-born puppets appearing within this charade; including Marc Bolan alongside the likes of Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Alice Cooper and half of KISS.
Was Marc Bolan an Illuminati pawn, ritually sacrificed once he had served his purpose? Or did he indeed develop powers of prophecy, through dealings with the occult? There are some who would have you believe such theories.
Regardless of how far you choose to read into the details however, one thing seems certain; Marc Bolan was one of the greatest English rock musicians to have lived, an artist and a true entertainer. The tragic events of 16th September 1977 robbed the music industry of one of its brightest stars – and though perhaps seen to be waning in his later years, Marc Bolan nevertheless proved time and time again that his true potential had yet to be realised.
 “Mystery of Marc Bolan’s death solved,” The Independent, 16 September 2012.