Remembering the First Lady of Punk, Poly Styrene
July 3rd would have been the 60th birthday of the late Poly Styrene. Born Marian Joan Elliott-Said in 1957, she sadly passed away in April 2011 after a battle with breast cancer. A singer and writer with several solo recordings, she will always be remembered as the lead singer of the punk band X-Ray Spex.
In 1976, after seeing the Sex Pistols perform, she was inspired to form a band. After placing an ad searching for “young punx who want to stick it together,” X-Ray Specs were born. They quickly shot to fame with the song “Oh Bondage Up Yours.” Styrene calmly begins the song by saying “Some people say little girls should be seen and not heard… But I think…” then shouts “OH BONDAGE UP YOURS! 1-2-3-4!”, to create one of the greatest openings of any song. Styrene went on the release only one album with X-Ray Spex, the acclaimed Germ-Free Adolescents in 1978. Styrene left the group shortly after, some say because of the spotlight, others due to misdiagnosed schizophrenia.
Poly Styrene’s vocals.
Although she only fronted X-Ray Spex for a short time, Styrene’s voice, mixed-race looks, and blatant feminism made her unique in the early punk scene, helping her gain multitudes of adoring fans. Billboard.com said: “She sang in a raw, untutored scream that quavered and shook when she looked to extend her range, a vocal style echoed by riot grrls like Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill) and Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney).”
John Lydon (Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols), when asked about X-Ray Spex’s “They, came out with a sound and attitude and a whole energy – it was just not relating to anything around it – superb.”
Her overt feminism and refusal to be seen as a sexual object reject the conventional concepts of feminine sexuality and beauty. Styrene quickly developed a reputation for being much different from stereotypical female performers of the day. She wore braces and dressed in dayglo clothes as a deliberate attempt to rebel against the traditional sexuality of the female image. In 1978, Styrene in an interview with NME explains, “I said that I wasn’t a sex symbol and that if anybody tried to make me one I’d shave my head tomorrow.” She also related well to young girls. Kate Schellenbach, the drummer for Luscious Jackson, in an interview with Rolling Stone’s Donna Gaines, said: “She was sort of little, chubby, with braces—like any of us.” She was the first real lady of punk and ahead of her time. She helped to change Punk Rock and feminism, and the world is sadly void of her talent.
d-_-b “identity” – X-Ray Spex