“What is one to make of the shrines that are now regularly erected in the aftermath of fatal car crashes? It may be a failure on my part but I can’t remember these extempore street furnishings being part of the British landscape or urban environment until the late 1970s. Indeed, the first shrines – such as the one in Barnes that sprang up after Marc Bolan’s accident – were an obvious outgrowth of the hero worship their subject inspired in life. It followed that depositing flowers, cards and handwritten poems at the site where he died had a certain logic: these were funerary gifts suitable for a pop star, adulation to sustain him in the netherworld.
“I think it highly likely that this is the sort of cosmology cleaved to by serious fans, whose belief in the quasi- or wholly divine nature of guitar-pickers, and even actors, supports an entire iconography, complete with relics and – after Elvis – resurrections. The religion of fame is a syncretism, of course, between deep-seated animism and whichever monotheism happens to be locally dominant. If a 20th-century boy such as Bolan was accorded a kind of sainthood by virtue of his notoriety, then it also made sense to pray at his shrine for a similarly glittery and platform-soled career.”
To read the rest of the latest Madness of Crowds column, visit the New Statesman.