Rolan Seymour Feld
“Mum and I had to struggle,” Rolan, who was almost two at the time of the accident, said..
“And that has made me angry sometimes because I am convinced Dad never meant it to be this way.”Rolan, now a singer and songwriter, has his father’s delicate cheekbones, but neither the studied effeminacy nor the flamboyant taste in clothes. Indeed, he prefers to dress down in cheesecloth, cords and chinos. He was a few days short of his second birthday when his father was killed.
“My earliest memory is of visiting my mother in hospital. She had a broken jaw, leg and foot and severe internal injuries which I was too young to understand.
“She was too ill to be told that Dad had died but I am sure I realised, without appreciating the significance, that he wasn’t coming back.” Texas-born Gloria was a talented soul singer – she recorded the original version of Tainted Love and had worked with Marvin Gaye – when she met Marc. In 1972 he was recording in Germany while she was touring Europe, and he told her how much he liked her music.
“There was an instant rapport,” she later recalled. “But nothing happened sexually because I was married and so was he.” Marc’s wife was his former publicist, June Child, an ex-girlfriend of Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett. They had married in 1970 and she later looked after some of his business matters while turning a blind eye to his many affairs with groupies. “We didn’t cross that line for a long time,” Gloria said.
“One night in the States I wore pink and I must have looked cute because he asked me what I liked to eat. When I said seafood, he had 129 boxes of it delivered to my hotel room – every item on the menu of a local fish restaurant. Soon after that he bought me a box of jewellery. Then he returned to London but called me every day. One day he told me his phone bill was so huge that I might as well fly over to him. That’s when it became different. He met me at the airport. Nothing was right. My hair was a mess and I told him: ‘I wanted to be beautiful for you.’ He said: ‘But you are.'” Marc bought a mansion in Richmond, Surrey, and they set up home together. It was a long way from his roots as the son of Jewish tailor in Hackney, East London. Growing up, despite money being scarce – his mother worked on a fruit stand in Soho – his parents had watched as their son made himself a makeshift guitar on which he tried to emulate his favourite icons, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochrane.
Later his musical destiny took shape as he hung around the famous 2 “I”s cafe in Old Compton Street where singers like Cliff Richard first came to fame. By the time the family moved out to a prefab in Wimbledon, Marc’s rebellious streak had resulted in his expulsion from school, he had channelled his flamboyant side into becoming a Mod, he’d had a stint modelling men’s suits and swapped the “k” in Mark to a “c”.
When Gloria moved in, Marc and June were not yet divorced, but he discussed marriage often with Gloria. He told her how much he wanted children and virtually adopted her son as his own.
Rolan’s birth in a Harley Street clinic made their happiness complete.
Then came the fateful night when disaster struck.
After the last show in a music TV series Marc was hosting for Granada – where his close friend David Bowie was the final guest – Marc and Gloria went out for a meal at Morton’s restaurant in Mayfair.
“It had been a wonderfully romantic evening,” Gloria told friends. “He asked me to sing for him, and I did Who Can I Turn To? Then we drove home talking non-stop and very, very happy.” The car struck the tree after spinning out of control. Gloria has always denied she was drunk and, though the restaurant owner said the couple had had a bottle of wine with their meal, no tests were taken by the police which implicated her.
Neither Gloria nor Marc was wearing a seatbelt. She was found lying on the bonnet and he, thrown from the car into the road, died instantly. He had never learned to drive, always fearing he would die in a crash.
“If he had been in a more robust car, like his Rolls-Royce,” muses Rolan, “he would almost certainly have survived. “But he’d lent the car to a friend, and given his driver the night off, so he and Gloria had to make do with the Mini. “There is no doubt that if they’d taken me with them that night, I would have been killed too – the seats were all crushed down into a tiny space.” Gloria lay in intensive care for some weeks, while Marc’s parents looked after Rolan at their home.Finally, when the doctors declared Gloria fit enough to fly, she realised she had little choice but to return to her parents’ small home in California.
“I was in need of a sanctuary,” she said. “And they provided it. I had lost almost everything – the great love of my life, my career [her vocal cords were wrecked by the accident], my looks, my financial security and my home.
“But I still had Rolan – I didn’t let him out of my sight for 18 years.”
Says Rolan: “When I was born, my father had slowed down his lifestyle because he took his responsibilities as a parent very seriously.
“His career was not going as brilliantly as it had been, because punk was taking over, but there were still plenty of royalties coming in.
“He wanted to provide for our future, but he found he was paying tax at 83per cent so he set up an offshore trust in the Bahamas.
“Unfortunately, he hadn’t had time to sort out all the details before he died, so there was no provision for us, and the trustees told us their hands were tied.
There was an added complication in that my father was still married to June. [She died in 1994.]
“My mother went from a millionaire lifestyle to virtual poverty, and I often went without. “But even if we had money, it could never have made up for Dad not being there. “I don’t remember being upset, but Mum tells me I often cried for him.” Learning that Gloria and Rolan were almost destitute, David Bowie came to the rescue.
Quietly, Bowie arranged to pay for Rolan’s education in LA and settled other expenses as he was growing up. Bowie has never spoken of this.
“The money allowed me to go to a good private school and meet children of celebrities. “They knew I didn’t have any money, they always took me to one side and said: ‘Keep your character. Stay who you are.’ “So that has helped with motivation. For my mum, what mattered was love and the fact she was able to raise me. “She didn’t want to go back to England and scream about the cash.” It was some years before it dawned on Rolan just how big a rock idol his father had been. Since the age of six he would spend hours playing one of his father’s songs, Born To Boogie, on a tiny portable record player.
It was one of the few reminders of his father – that, a gold disc and an autographed tambourine. In 1997 he went to a screening of Marc Bolan’s film, Born To Boogie, directed by Ringo Starr which showed two T.Rex concerts at Wembley Arena.
“I had never seen him on stage before that and I had never appreciated his magnetism. “The film changed all that – I was blown away seeing him on screen and realising how powerful he was. “It was very emotional for me, of course, because I’m thinking: ‘Hey, that’s my dad up there.'”
He graduated from university in LA with a degree in fine arts. Determined not to cash in on his own name, he had registered in his father’s real surname, Feld. He took a series of menial jobs, including working in a jewellery store for £3 an hour. But at the other end of the pay scale he has also modelled for Tommy Hilfiger. Neither he nor Gloria have much in the way of mementos of Marc because after his death, there was a series of burglaries at their house Apart from the theft of dozens of unreleased recordings and unpublished compositions, almost all his glam rock props were taken – the latter only to emerge on eBay in the past few years.
“I don’t feel inclined to follow up the auctions in the hope of getting some of Dad’s belongings back.
“I don’t have the stomach for a fight. I’ve had enough hassle over the estate as it is.”
He is understandably relieved that the legal wrangles have been ironed out and that Marc’s legacy is now coming through There is no suggestion of course that the trustees of Marc’s affairs – Wizard (Bahamas) – have acted with anything less than strict regard for the legal rules. It is only thanks to the determined efforts of Marc’s record producer, Tony Visconti, that the way has finally been cleared. He explains: “Gloria and Marc never married, there was still a legal wife – June – in the background and Rolan suffered from archaic laws which don’t allow an illegitimate child to inherit as of right.
“The Estate of Marc Bolan stopped Rolan getting any regular payments. They were also holding up my own royalties as producer.
“I successfully sued and it opened the gates for Rolan, because I got through. The Bolan fortune was quite a huge sum.” After a lengthy battle, the Trust has now arranged that Gloria and Rolan, who lives with his stepbrother, Walter Therman, can have a house from the investments in LA and that he will be given a “controlled” yearly allowance from the trust fund. Marc’s funeral was a hugely emotional affair, with thousands of fans sobbing as his coffin – topped by a huge floral white swan – was carried into the crematorium at Golders Green.
The tree on Barnes Common where the car crashed is a shrine permanently decked with flowers.
To commemorate the 30th anniversary of his death, and his 60th birthday, there are TV documentaries, a double CD package called T.Rex – Greatest Hits and an exhibition of Bolan photos at London’s Redfern Gallery. On September 30, which would have been Marc’s 60th birthday, there is to be a gala cabaret night, Bolan’s Birthday Boogie, at London’s Cafe de Paris which will feature a soundscape of his hits and evocative songs. The evening will include the world premiere of A Fantasia Bolanesque, starring guest artists, including Boy George.
Rolan and Gloria Jones, and Marc’s brother Harry Feld – a taxi driver – have been invited as guests of honour. Gloria now helps run a children’s orphanage in one of the poorest areas of Sierra Leone, West Africa, where she is also building the Marc Bolan School Of Music.
“I want this time to be a celebration,” she insists. “It is sad he is not here to see for himself how his music has lived on, but he was a happy person so everyone should be happy for him. “It is ironic that he is probably even bigger now than he was in his heyday.”
She says she still finds it difficult to talk about the car crash.
“I didn’t come out of shock for 14 years. Marc was my soul-mate and we believed we had a great future together, which makes his death all the harder to bear. “There was the rock ‘n’ roll side to Marc, but really he was a quiet, humble boy. “I never saw the addictive side of him. Once Rolan was born he became a hands-on dad, and was very proud of him.”
Says Rolan now: “I’ve never tried to be like my father. Lately, I have been creating my own identity and impressing on people that they can be a fan of my father and still enjoy my music.
“So I think any pressure I felt being ‘son of Marc Bolan’ has kind of gone away.”
But after all the grief he has felt, he doesn’t complain.
“There are many times when I feel him around. Once I dreamed I was backstage at one of his shows and we talked as if we were really good friends but he didn’t know I was his son.Then I was in the audience and he pointed at me and he knew me. I woke up really happy.
“Now, I go into a recording studio and I instinctively feel his spirit encouraging me, advising me.”If there is a problem in my life, I wonder what Dad would have done and I feel the answer coming into my head.
“It’s not as good as having him around in the flesh, but it is the next best thing.”