Poly Styrene was not afraid to be an outsider among outsiders. She sang the anthem of the weekend warrior: “I am a poseur and I don’t care.” Long before litcrits and rockcrits got obsessed with the subject, the woman born Marianne Elliot Said — who died of breast cancer April 25 — interrogated notions of realness and authenticity. Never has there been a more riveting riposte against consumer culture and beauty myths than when she wailed the opening mantra of X-Ray Spex’s “Art-I-Ficial,” then danced and duetted with sax all the way through Germ Free Adolescents, the classic 1978 album. The punk-feminist anthem “Oh Bondage Up Yours” was X-Ray Spex’s calling card. But they were so much more than a one-issue band.
I was thrilled when I heard Poly was back with a new album, even more so when I got the advance of Generation Indigo. She sang about vegan sneakers and social media with the same wry, joyous energy and wit as she once sang about Woolworth warriors. Elliot dropped her punk name and went Krishna many years ago, but she was clearly back with Indigo. I was hoping to land an assignment and an interview.
Then I heard she had cancer. I didn’t realize how advanced it was.
Coming so shortly after the death of Ari Up, Poly’s passing has me worried that we are losing a generation of pioneering women. I hope more than ever I can document some of those voices in Queens of Noise. We’ve already lost Sandy West.
Full-figured and braces-clad, Poly Styrene fiercely rejected objectification — no corsets for her, thank you. Oh bondage, up yours. She was definitely a queen of noise. RIP Poly Styrene.