Wednesday, April 27, 2011

R.I.P. Poly Styrene

Poly Styrene (aka Marianne Elliot Said) in a recent publicity photo
It took Poly Styrene (aka Marianne Elliot) all of 10 seconds to become an immortal legend.
"Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard,
But I think,
Oh Bondage up yours!
One, two, three, FOUR...."
Before the first notes of her band X-Ray Spex's first single were even played, Poly uttered those words from a mouth still full of braces in her little girl cockney accent, and she would never be forgotten, nor could she be.

I was greatly saddened to learn of Marianne Elliot Said's passing after a battle with breast cancer at the age of 54. She lived a life as bright as her signature day-glo fashions, but one that was tragically cut too short.

Strip away the obscenity and titillation, and "Oh Bondage Up Yours!" is very simply a song about refusing the chains that other people would put on you. Widely embraced as a feminist anthem, the message is also universal. The obscenity of the metaphor, the shocking quality of hearing it shouted so forcefully from the mouth of someone who was barely more than a little girl herself at the time, only amplified the power inherent in the refusal. The song is at once potently nihilistic and forcefully affirmative. In many ways "Oh Bondage Up Yours!" is the punk-rock single, and I rank it up there in importance with The Sex Pistol's "God Save The Queen," or anything else to come out of the English punk rock explosion of the late 70s. It might be the greatest one of them all.

Likewise, I consider X-Ray Spex's first album, Germfree Adolescents, to be one of the very best UK punk rock albums, and just as vital as the debut albums by The Clash, The Damned or The Sex Pistols. With her day-glo fashion, bi-racial beauty, and mouth full of braces, Styrene cut a smashing figure across the punk rock scene, one that no doubt has served as inspiration to the hundreds of rebellious female (and male) musicians who followed in the trail she blazed so brightly.

Styrene quickly refused the shackles imposed by punk rock, releasing the decidedly non-punk solo album Translucence, then dropped out of the music scene altogether to join a London based Hare Krishna sect. She would periodically reappear on the music scene, most recently with Generation Indigo, which was released earlier this year.

According to her BBC obituary, Styrene recently said, "I know I'll probably be remembered for 'Oh Bondage Up Yours!' ... I'd like to remembered for something a bit more spiritual." I know nothing of the spirit world Poly now belongs to, but I don't think there is much better advice for living in the material world than that contained in "Oh Bondage Up Yours!"

"Oh bondage, no more!"


Mark N. said...

Nice eulogy, very well said. Poly Styrene became a respected and successful artist entirely on her own terms, and I think that in itself is a great legacy.

Anonymous said...

great post, she also was featured in Girl Talk's album Night Ripper on the "Too Deep" song.