I promised I would post the remarks I made for the Punk Feminism and The F Word shows in Stanford and Oakland last week. The first half of my presentation, with images from the slide show and notes of music cues, follows. I’ll post the Patti Smith critical karaoke another day. The lecture began with music: X-Ray Spex’s “Oh Bondage Up Yours.”
Punk is a female energy.
Look it up, in the Oxford English Dictionary. The first use of the word punk dates back to the 17th century and meant strumpet or whore. Later, the word referred to catamites, aka homosexuals, and then petty thieves. Etymologically, punks are gender outlaws – the OG victims of slut shaming and fagbashing. Musically, punk is the sound of dissonance, of dissent against even the hegemony of dissent. Making noise and ugliness virtues in a culture obsessed with harmony and beauty, punk’s means are destructive, but its impulse is creative. Sometimes, in its frisson of friction, lies escape.
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.
One of my favorite sheroines of all time is back: Poly-Styrene of X-Ray Spex has a new album out in April. The first single is even all new media ish. Oh bondage, up yours!