Tuesday, April 26, 2011
R.I.P., Poly Styrene
Dig the photo: This ain't Madonna or your typical pop diva. The young lady's a bit chunky, she's half-Somali/half-Brit, wearing braces, a military helmet liner and what is basically an adorned garbage bag. The pop music business would never push someone like this in a million years! (Although, in a time prior to this, the young lady above had attempted just such a stab at the big time, with a bubblegum reggae single called "Silly Billy" issued under her real name, Mari Elliot.) Instead, inspired by a Sex Pistols gig attended when she was 19, Mari gave herself the above-depicted remake, emerging as Poly Styrene. Her coming out party with her band X-Ray Spex warned the world in the first few seconds: "Some people say lil' girls should be seen and not heard. I say...OH, BONDAGE! UP YOURS! ONE TWO THREE FOUR!!"
The racket was unique, even for the then-radical punk scene: A typical sub-Pistols thrash, yet leavened by the mock cocktail lounge sax of 14-year-old Lora Logic. It was as if Roxy Music had been hijacked by a pair of teenage girls and forced to see the new way of thinking. And then, you had to deal with the lyric matter.
"I was trying to do a diary of 1977," Poly explained to Jon Savage for his landmark UK punk history, England's Dreaming. "I wanted to write about everyday experiences....My thing was more like consumerism, plastic artificial living....There was so much junk about then. The idea was to send it all up. Screaming about it, saying: 'Look, this is what you have done to me, turned me into a piece of styrofoam, I am your product. And this is what you have created: Do you like her?"
A lot of us did. X-Ray Spex' sole LP in the day, Germ Free Adolescents, was startling in its ferocity and humor. As I posted on Facebook last night: "