That line can be taken two ways. We know that T.Rex and Marc Bolan like to rock now; they indeed show it on their 1972 album The Slider as they did on its predecessor and the joint high watermark Electric Warrior from 1971. As was the case when we wrote about The Jam in late 1978, on the cusp of becoming the biggest singles band in the UK, The Slider capped a period when T. Rex wore that spangly crown. Of their first ten UK singles as T.Rex rather than their earlier Tyrannosaurus Rex moniker, the lowest chart position was for their tenth release, ‘The Groover’, which “only” made #4. There were four #2s and four chart-toppers in that run. If you look at other acts that impacted the charts in such a short period, you must turn to The Beatles, Slade, The Spice Girls, Westlife and Oasis as competitors.
Given what we know about the song, the third-person declaration is as likely to be about Bolan rocking back and forth in a catatonic state. In a 1972 interview, Bolan described "Main Man" as a song about himself and the emotional pain he had experienced during that period.
The sleeve notes of the expanded edition sat as much:
[‘Main Man’ is] a song about me “As a child, I laughed a lot, now it seems I cry a lot”. I've never cried so much in my whole life as this last year. “Giraffes in my hair”, that's a Top of the Pops flash about having giraffes coming out of the top of my head. I thought it would be funky... I'm weird, man…
Bolan also told Richard Williams at Melody Maker that year that;
I think I was hipper when I was born than when I’ll go back. You just get sadder. You see more pain and suffering. Life is loving people, screwing people, mentally having affairs with people, seeing old friends, going back to your old home where you used to live, going to school… But you end up disliking yourself most of all, probably.
That feels quite heavy and profound, the loss of innocence from growing older explored on a track from an album with two #1 singles. That’s not the angle Take That took two decades later to fill up their records. I wonder if it resonated with Bolan’s listeners as they aged into adulthood through those peak years of his career.
When you look at a track-by-track breakdown of The Slider, you can see how some of the appeal lies in its balance of fast and slow songs, the previous record might have higher highs, but it is a little samey compared to The Slider. ‘Main Man’ is one of the slower numbers that match the lyrics and their introspective nature; it’s vulnerable, and there is almost a hypnotic, droning quality - like the one you hear on ‘Debora’, an early song from Tyrannosaurus Rex - and that trance like nature with the double-tracked falsetto harmonies juxtaposed with the baritone of Bolan’s main vocal. The music would be very well deployed as the soundtrack to someone rocking back and forth having a personal crisis in a film or TV show.
The song is used in the critically acclaimed 2013 films Dallas Buyers Club, one of three T. Rex songs featured in the movie. The song was also covered in 2020 by Father John Misty, who released a cover for A Bolan/T.Rex tribute album.
Musically, ‘Main Man’ shares similarities with the penultimate track on Electric Warrior, ‘Life's A Gas’. The structures of the songs are similar, and the melodies are alike though the earlier track has a much more caustic and biting guitar line from Bolan that constantly threatens to wrestle control of the song. What makes T.Rex’s ploy to go half and half on fast and slow songs interesting is that in weeks leading up to the album’s release and for the rest of the year, fans of that Electric Warrior sound had albums from Roxy Music, Mott The Hoople, Slade and a particular David Bowie album to add to their collections. Before too long other contenders and pretenders like Sweet, G**y G*****r, Mud, Suzi Quatro, Mud, and Wizzard had burst onto the scene, and they were selling hippy wigs in Woolworths now.
The other two are ‘Ballrooms of Mars’ from The Slider and ‘Life Is Strange’ from 1973’s Tanx.
Electric Warrior is an all-timer album, and The Slider isn't too far behind. T. Rex had such a unique groove, which seemed effortless.
It"s only in recent years that i've started exploring Bolans' albums: before that i just saw them as a singles band. Far more depth to that guy beyond the glitter and glam.