Ballrooms of Mars
by Neil Nixon
Posted: 23 February 2008
Word Count: 3023
Summary: Short (15 min) radio play, completed for Oneword Radio before their demise.
BALLROOMS OF MARS
SCENARIO: 29 year old PJ – a hospice nurse – lost her own father when she was a baby. One thing she shares with her father is a love of Marc Bolan. To feel closer to her father she makes a journey to the site of Bolan’s fatal accident, eventually meeting Bolan himself.
PJ: 29, a nurse working in a children’s hospice and doing therapy with her young patients. Independent minded, intelligent, thoughtful and very much her own person.
NEIL: Mid-forties, a Bolan fan of many years standing, Northern accent.
MARC BOLAN: From interview released on official Bolan album.
CHORUS OF VOICES: PJ and Neil’s voices looped and reading messages posted by fans at the site of Marc Bolan’s fatal accident.
MARC: Rock ‘n’ roll is a bitch, you’ve got to come on like a bitch. I mean, you can’t be real. I’m not the boy the next door. I never was, and that’s why I’m successful. I don’t want to be the boy next door, and they don’t want me to be the boy next door. So, in fact, on that stage, I’m at liberty, I’m in a realm of fantasy. I can do whatever I want to do and get away with it.
MUSIC: T.REX ‘BALLROOMS OF MARS’ 03-39 – 03-49 – STARTING WITH WORD ‘ROCK!’ PJ’S FIRST LINE COMES IN AS FINAL SECONDS OF MUSIC ARE FADING.
PJ: 1977 was the year everything happened in our family. Four dates, four times our world changed. On Tuesday March 1st, I was born two weeks early. That was good. My dad wanted to see it. He also had a ticket for March 17th, to see T.Rex.
PJ: My birth or T.Rex would have been a hard choice. Dad said T.Rex were brilliant, and the next album, the one to follow Dandy in the Underworld would be the best since Electric Warrior.
Friday 16th September 1977, (PAUSE) Marc Bolan died. (PAUSE) Wednesday December 21st 1977. The shortest day, the longest night. My dad died of a brain haemorrhage. He was 24. (PAUSE) When I was growing up I didn’t have anything I could touch knowing my dad wanted me to have it my whole life. But there was something. The night he saw Marc Bolan my dad made a decision. He gave me my middle name. (PAUSE) Everyone knows me as ‘PJ’, or ‘Polly.’
MUSIC: T.REX ‘JEWEL’ 00-00 – 00-25 – FADE TO SILENCE AT 00-30. PJ’S NEXT LINE COMES IN AS FINAL SECONDS OF MUSIC ARE FADING.
PJ: It’s Polly Jewel, PJ. Mum said that when I used to dribble as a baby dad sang that line about a babe with jewels on her lip. I grew up hearing T.Rex. The music seemed to have a strange power, it was sad for mum and me, but it was more than that. It’s always felt like part of my life, part of me. It seems strange to say it, but that music. That sound, the words, the idea of Marc Bolan, all of that together. It’s been like a parent to me. Like part of what I’ve inherited. I think it was always going to be that way. And, I suppose, I wouldn’t want it to be any different now. But one thing I learned very early in life, is that music can change with you. As your life changes, the things that seemed familiar, the things that made the most sense, suddenly change, and reveal themselves in a different way.
Mum says I’m like my dad. She’s great, she let me do all the things I wanted. Like train as a nurse instead of going to university. Now I work in a children’s hospice.
PJ: (CONT) No careers teacher would suggest the job. You just find yourself talented to do it. Working with the children, and sharing everything with their families. For a long time I thought the job picked me. But, thinking about it later, I think we chose each other. I was always a different sort at school. I’ve got that quiet, thoughtful, side. And I could always see things a different way. It’s funny but the way Marc’s songs seem to be in the real world and also in some strange place where only our feelings are the same, well, my job is like that. Dad would approve. One thing I’m good at, I mean, really good at, is helping the children see that the most familiar things can change, when their lives, and illnesses force a change. That’s not easy, sometimes it’s heartbreaking. To see a young child looking out as the apple blossoms come in spring, it seems a crime against nature when things are so alive, to talk to that child about dying.
But it’s important to say those things. It’s important, to be there and listen as well. It breaks me apart inside sometimes to talk to a child, letting them know that all the things they like, the sunshine, their pets…
PJ: (CONT) …that they’ll go on, and other children might love them, and feel the same things, but the child I’m talking to won’t be there. There’s an ache, inside, that comes at those moments. And that’s one reason I think I’m good at my job. Because I’ve always known that ache. At first lived with it. Sooner than I should have done, maybe when I was about nine or ten, I really understood it. You understand it when you know, I mean really know, that everything will go away at sometime. Everyone you know, everything you love, anything you can think. There’s nothing that lasts forever. Not really. In fact, forever is impossible to hold, or to really understand.
I can listen to the children, and be patient, and hold them when they cry. It’s important somebody does that. There could be nothing more important at those moments, especially in the middle of the night. Because it’s in those moments, when it seems so hard and cruel that you know, you really know, that the most frightening thing there is, (PAUSE)
PJ: (CONT) Is fear (PAUSE)
Things will change, more than you can control, and more than you can understand. And you can’t help being afraid. But I learned that when I was the same age as the children I care for. I learned that the ache can stay, but it doesn’t have to stop everything. You just know that the things you have are there for a short time, and you should love them all the more for that. Time is the most precious thing, and love.
My life is changing. I’ve been with Martin four years. He’s an accountant, really solid next to my emotions and dreaming, it works for us. He fills in the bits of my life I imagined were there. He’s good at planning and looking forward. I can make him laugh, and do the stupidest things. His mum told me she knew right away that I was special. She was his mother, and she doubted he’d ever have fun in his life. He smiles a lot these days. Now we want children. And the thought of being a mother, started off an ache inside.
PJ(CONT) I need to feel close to my dad, somehow. I’m not sure I can explain it, only to say that I want to pass something on to my children. And sometimes, it’s hard to do that, when so much of me has been missing through my life. It doesn’t make sense in words, but deep, inside me, where that ache lives, the one I’ve accepted for so long, all of this makes sense. The best way I can explain it is to say, that I have to know how to pass things on. I have to feel sure, that whatever happens, I can feel in touch with my dad. To remind myself he did pass something on to me.
Not long before he died Dad went to the tree where Marc Bolan died. He was among the first to leave a message. Yesterday, I went there too.
MUSIC: VERY BRIEF BURST OF DISTORTED GUITAR FROM T.REX: ‘FUTURISTIC DRAGON (INTRODUCTION).
FX: AS PJ’S NEXT SPEECH UNFOLDS TRAFFIC NOISES AND SOUNDS OF A CITY FADE UP UNDERNEATH HER VOICE QUICKLY ESTABLISHING A BACKGROUND.
PJ:(CONT) I walked past, and looked at the memorial stone, (GETTING MORE EMOTIONAL) I was shaking.
Which I didn’t expect. I kept looking and walking past. This man, Neil, was there:
NEIL: (FROM A DISTANCE) You alright?
PJ: (UNCONVINCING) Fine, thanks.
FX: FOOTSTEPS FOR A COUPLE OF SECONDS AS PJ APPROACHES.
PJ: (BREATHES DEEPLY) (TOTALLY UNCONVINCING) I was just passing, I wondered what this place….
NEIL: Oh aye?
PJ: Am I that obvious?
NEIL: Most obvious I’ve seen here. And I’ve been a few times.
PJ: It’s just……it’s just, well, my dad (STARTING TO CHOKE UP), he came here once, I’ve always loved Marc Bolan and….(STARTING TO SOB) and…..
(SHE BREAKS DOWN CRYING)
MUSIC: 2 SECONDS DISTORTED GUITAR FROM T.REX: ‘FUTURISTIC DRAGON (INTRODUCTION) FADES UP UNDERNEATH PJ’S CRYING. THE WHOLE MIX SUDDENLY STOPS AND IS REPLACED BY T.REX: ‘BALLROOMS OF MARS’ 00-00 – 00-31, THIS MUSIC FADES DOWN TO NOTHING BETWEEN 00-32 AND 00-34.
PJ: I told him everything, cried my heart out and this stranger, Neil, was there, and…I needed it to happen. It was still strange though, and frightening. Hell, I hate being that far out of control. After I’d cried for a bit, he put his arm round me. I couldn’t explain right then, but it felt alright. Later, in the coffee bar I realised. I’d cried about my dad when I was little.
PJ: (CONT) Mum cuddled me on her knee, we’d sit there, really sad.
(PAUSE) When I got older we had some fights, I’d shout, and we’d both know some of it was anger about my dad. But until yesterday…
FX: SOUNDS OF A COFFEE BAR FADE UP UNDER HER NEXT LINE UNTIL THEY FORM A FULL BACKGROUND TO THE SCENE BY THE TIME NEIL SPEAKS.
PJ: (CONT) (DIFFERENT TONE, SHE’S TALKING TO NEIL NOW) I’ve never cried just for me, as an adult. I see families losing each other but…when it’s me..
NEIL: Marc Bolan, is it just to do with your dad?
PJ: Oh no, Marc’s part of me. Sometimes I say, I work in the ballrooms of mars.
PJ: Like I’m in another world but the feelings are the same as here.
NEIL: Oh aye.
PJ: Honestly, it works.
NEIL: Yeah, I think I understand….
PJ: I hope you don’t, not the way I understand it.
NEIL: (PAUSE) How about you explain it?
PJ: Well, it sounds morbid, but it isn’t, not really. It’s just that, missing my dad, right through my life. It’s as if, part of me has been somewhere else. Somewhere I couldn’t reach, but I was always imagining.
NEIL: That bit I understand.
PJ: But it’s my whole life. I mean, not everything I do and everything I am. But it’s always been like that.
Sometimes, when the children at work ask really hard questions, they leave the talking to me. I don’t suppose they should, we’ve got a psychotherapist, and counsellors. But I’m good, I mean really good. The thing a lot of the children want to talk about is where they’ll go, and how it might be when they’re dead.
I can talk about how it is, how people left behind think of the dead. The thing I think the children really understand, is the uncertainty. They’re all right with that. Like death is just a fact, and you can imagine, and hope, but you’ll never know. But non of that uncertainty takes away the love you feel, and what you want for the people you care about. Like you always want them to be happy, and to think about you well after you’re dead. And to know, you’d be with them, if you could.
I think I’ve understood that, I mean, really understood it, as long as I’ve understood anything. If my dad gave me a gift, he gave me that.
PJ:(CONT) Well, and my name, and the music he left behind. But mainly, knowing that he loved me, and wanted things for me he never had a chance to see.
NEIL: You should go back to the memorial.
PJ: Yeah, I know. I can’t explain it, about wanting to go there, not fully, I mean…
NEIL: I think I can, a little.
NEIL: You and your boyfriend, are thinking about children, right?
NEIL: That’s a hell of an investment in life for somebody who understands so much about death.
PJ: I’d never thought about it like that.
NEIL: Maybe not, but you know how much you stand to lose. No matter how much time you’ve spent at that hospice, if you want your own children, you know you can’t protect yourself from feeling vulnerable. Creating a life, bloody terrifying, man.
PJ: (BEMUSED) Yeah……..(MORE CERTAIN, AND DECISIVE) Yeah!
NEIL: Kids, I’d never be without them, but it’s not always easy.
PJ: Look, would you….?
NEIL: Come along? Aye. I’ll see if I can squeeze it into me busy schedule.
MUSIC: T.REX: ‘BALLROOMS OF MARS’ 00-51 – 01-01, (APPROX) WITH RAPID FADE UP AND FADE DOWN FEATURING LYRICS BELOW:
MARC: And gripped in the arms of the changeless madman, we’ll dance our lives away in the ballrooms of mars.
FX: TRAFFIC NOISES AND SOUNDS OF A CITY CONTINUE THROUGH NEXT SCENE. A COUPLE OF FOOTSTEPS ARE HEARD.
PJ: (DREAMY/SLOWLY) Hell
NEIL: That’s not quite how I’d describe it.
PJ: No, I can’t believe it, I’m here, really here.
NEIL: Go and read the messages? That’s what matters now. All those messages, pinned up there.
MUSIC: A LITTLE DISTORTED GUITAR FROM T.REX: ‘FUTURISTIC DRAGON (INTRODUCTION)’ IS ADDED TO THE SOUNDS OF THE SCENE.
PJ: (OBVIOUSLY FRIGHTENED) Yeah, right.
NEIL: Just a guess, like. You’re afraid you’re saying goodbye to everything. Your dad and Marc Bolan won’t be there for you anymore.
PJ: (VERY FRIGHTENED AND BREATHING HARD) Yeah.
NEIL: (CALM) Read the messages.
FX: FOOTSTEPS ARE HEARD STARTING DURING NEIL’S SPEECH THEY STOP AFTER A COUPLE OF SECONDS DURING THE NEXT EXCHANGE.
MUSIC: DISTORTED GUITARS FROM T.REX: ‘FUTURISTIC DRAGON (INTRODUCTION)’ STOP.
PJ: (FULL OF WONDER) Oh….yes…..
NEIL: Rest in peace Marc, you’re my Metal Guru
PJ: Ride on, fight on...love is gonna win.
NEIL: Thank you Marc, love Keiko.
PJ: You’re always with me, Bolan lives on.
NEIL: Every dawn of our lives a heart is born, love you Marc.
FX: AS NEIL’S VOICE ENDS THE FIRST MESSAGE STARTS AGAIN BUT IS SOON JOINED BY THE SECOND, THIRD ETC, UNTIL ALL VOICES ARE BRIEFLY JUMBLED TOGETHER IN A COLLISION OF MESSAGES, OTHER MESSAGES ARE ADDED – PJ DELIVERING THE LINES NEIL DELIVERED AT FIRST AND NEIL DELIVERING THE LINES PJ READ AT FIRST - ONCE ESTABLISHED, THIS COLLISION OF VOICES QUICKLY FADES.
PJ: (SNIFFLING, CRYING)
NEIL: You have the things they left, Marc Bolan and your dad, the things they wanted you to have. When people matter that much, you never lose them completely.
PJ: (SNIFFLING) Yes. (DISTRACTED, AS AN AFTERTHOUGHT) Thanks.
FX: THE COLLISION OF VOICES FADES IN QUICKLY AND LOUDLY, BUT FADES DOWN AGAIN WITHIN A COUPLE OF SECONDS TO FORM A BACKGROUND FOR PJ’S NEXT SPEECH.
PJ: (VERY EMOTIONAL, CRYING THROUGH THE WORDS) To Marc, and to my dad, always with me, love you both….your Jewel.
FX: THE COLLISION OF VOICES FADES UP AGAIN AND PJ’S LAST SPEECH IS LOOPED IN TO JOIN IT, THIS FADES INTO MUSIC.
MUSIC: DISTORTED GUITARS FROM T.REX: ‘FUTURISTIC DRAGON (INTRODUCTION)’ FADE UP, AFTER A COUPLE OF SECONDS THESE FADE DOWN INTO OPENING OF T.REX: ‘LIFE’S AN ELEVATOR’ THIS MUSIC PLAYS UNDER PJ’S NEXT SPEECH.
PJ: I heard a story, supposed to have happened in an American hospice. A girl is dying. She’s very young. She opens her eyes and says; ‘Elvis is here.’ Those are her last words. Maybe it’s just a story.
When we went to bed last night I asked Martin to snuggle round me. (PAUSE) I dreamed I was back at the tree. When I looked up there was a table. Marc Bolan was there, in his top hat from the front of The Slider and Neil was sitting there with him and (SHE CHOKES BACK A LITTLE) my dad. They were passing round some vinyl albums, talking about music. I knew, I just knew that the album my dad was holding was the one that was going to come after Dandy in the Underworld, and my dad loved it, he really loved it.
Dad looked at me, with so much love in his eyes. But it was Marc who spoke. He came down the steps and he said:
PJ: (EMOTIONAL, CHOKED UP) Your dad was right, Babe. You’re a jewel, a radiant jewel.
(EMOTIONAL AT THE START OF THE SPEECH, CALMING HERSELF DOWN TOWARDS THE END) I met Marc Bolan, and Neil met him, and my dad met him. It was beautiful, just like it should be.
MUSIC: T.REX: ‘BALLROOMS OF MARS’ 00-00 – 01-04 RAPID FADE OUT AFTER WORDS ‘DANCE OUR LIVES AWAY IN THE BALLROOMS OF MARS.’
MUSIC/MARC BOLAN VOICE
Marc Bolan: ‘Rock ‘N’ roll is a bitch’ clip - from box set A Wizard, A True Star.
T.Rex: Jewel – From the album T.Rex.
T.Rex: Life’s an Elevator – ‘Alternative version,’ performed by band, from album Dazzling Raiment. *
T.Rex: Futuristic Dragon (Introduction) – ‘Alternative version,’ performed by band, from album Dazzling Raiment. *
T.Rex: Ballrooms of Mars – From album The Slider
Note: The Dazzling Raiment tracks are demo versions, largely backing tracks, released long after Bolan’s death. Perfect as background in the scenes. Versions on other albums wouldn’t work in this context.
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