Old bands, new century: Music for roller dating and Tolkienesque love ballads 

Electric Warrior, T. Rex (re-release)

He said he’d been dancing since he was 12, which would put it at about 1959 when hobbit rocker turned electric prince Marc Bolan actually began his cosmogonic mambo from the womb to the tomb.

Electric Warrior hit the streets in September 1971. By 1972, the five-foot-three, 25-year-old Bolan and his band, only recently edited down from the king of the dinosaurs to a more marquee-manageable, falls-out-of-your-mouth-so-nice T. Rex, was the hottest ticket in England.

The music of T. Rex, and Electric Warrior in particular, has always had its share of adherents in the United States, but in England—where one T. Rex single after another shredded the pop charts for 18 months as early as 1971—the transmogrification of Bolan the semi-obscure “Warlock of Love” folkie into sexed-up glam rock personified is still discussed in the British press in the same epochal terms that rock journalists on this side of the pond reserve for Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. Lionized and then publicly trashed (business as usual for the notoriously fickle British music press), Bolan was eventually rehabilitated into the kind of polymath poet/writer/rocker capacity he had envisioned for himself at the outset of his career when the car driven by his wife, Gloria, went off the road on a sharp turn and hit a tree in the wee hours of Sept. 16, 1977. Bolan, who had never learned to drive, died instantly.

Producer Tony Visconti, a jazz musician by training, dedicated his own career to furthering that of Marc Bolan after seeing the elfin performer sitting cross-legged onstage at a London club and reciting his Tolkienesque love ballads to a crowd of 300 thoroughly entranced hippies at London’s UFO Club in September 1967. Thirty years later, Visconti is still behind the boards for the remastered anniversary re-release of Electric Warrior. To say that the album has withstood the test of time is to radically understate the point. Listen to the twinned guitar and speaker-flapping bass lines in the solo on “Life’s a Gas.”

Still dancing.

Arrival, Journey

I was learning to go backwards and I fell down, hard, at the edge of the hurricane’s eye. Skaters whirled by me in twos and threes, laughing, spangled with little ringlets of light from the disco ball. I looked up and one of the pros, the kind who used to wear skates that looked like space-age tennis shoes with wheels and liked to strut their stuff in tight stretch pants, was bearing down on me with his legs spread in a wide bow.

He snapped his fingers into pistol shapes, Fonzie-style, and pointed towards his knees. It was clear: He wanted me to stay put while he skated over me. No time to think about it; I panicked and tried to stand, smacking him with my forehead right in his green satin nuts. He fell down and rolled around for awhile, yelling about how he was going to get me, the little faggot.

I was learning to go backwards on the odd chance I might screw up the courage to ask Cindy Wilson to “go with me,” in the less committal of the fourth-grade senses, when it came time for the slow couples skate. Backwards so we could skate and hug at the same time. Given the era, the song stacked on the 45 changer for this sweaty-palmed of all hand-holding roller rink rituals could easily have been “Open Arms,” by Journey.

What happened was, I spent the rest of the afternoon laying low by the Asteroids machine to stay out of trouble with my beetle-green nemesis, who probably felt a lot better after snorting a few lines of cocaine in the pro shop. My friend Bryan asked Cindy on the couples skate and it was instant puppy love. My mom came to pick us up. It was a gloomy Sunday late afternoon winter car ride home for dinner. “The Winner Takes It All,” by ABBA, came on the radio and so it went, a triumphant Bryan all but smoking a post-coital candy cigarette in the back seat and me going, Don’t I just know it, man. The winner takes it all.

Donna Summers, the Pointer Sisters, “Funkytown” and Olivia Newton-John singing “Magic”—that’s roller skating music for me. Journey for me was always more like Riding Back From Swimming Lessons in the Family Station Wagon music. I can still see the piece of road we were on the first time I heard “Open Arms.”

It’s fairly obvious that Journey’s Neil Schon and Jonathan Cain haven’t been listening to the radio much in the past 10 years. But then, neither have I. Two seconds into the first song and there’s no mistaking who it is, and it could pretty much be a “lost” Journey album from 1981. Steve Perry is long gone, but the new guys sounds exactly like him, right down to the eerily similar signature he puts on his “wuh-hoooaa, mwooo-yeeeahs.” The songs have titles like “All the Way,” “All the Things,” “Livin’ to Do,” and “Nothin’ Comes Close.” They are turgidly Journey and never more than a minute or two away from a guitar solo, and I would much rather listen to them than 95 percent of the rock commodity crap out there in the Sovietized “here are your three choices” wasteland of mainstream FM.

A few years ago, when my parents were getting ready to move, I was cleaning out my old room and found a school picture of Cindy Wilson that I’d somehow held onto for more than 15 years. Just in time for my high school reunion, too! I brought it to show her and she was far from impressed.

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