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Poly Styrene RIP

April 26, 2011 2 comments

In 1978 I walked into the basement of the Plymouth branch of Woolies, and asked proudly for ‘Up Yours!’.

Sounds puerile now, but at the time it was thrilling, rule-breaking, and more to the point ‘part of something bigger’. And ‘Oh Bondage, up yours!’ — a thrilling clarion call against all forms of human and mental restraint — has a nursery-rhyme simplicity and clarity which still embodies the best of that moment.

And that voice! Clear and screamy at the same time, perfect for the brilliant tumult of lyrics and subjects: ‘anti-art was the start/establishments like a laugh’//’the day the world turned dayglo’//’youths meet a Stockwell tube/weapons rule their lives’//.

But equally significant was the look. That brief moment in 75-76 — before punk ever got on telly, or became a tribal way of dressing and sounding, there were people like this: defiantly odd, brilliantly transgressive, oddly wonderful. If people walked around like John Lydon did in those years, or Poly Styrene, or the Slits, they’d still cause significant public upset. I suspect Poly was the only person to embody this fleeting moment in the charts, and thus ensure it reached spotty nerd/softies in west Devon.

And at the same time, like so many people of that era, she seemed to be ‘one of us’, not a star but an ordinary misfit who stood up and made whatever art came to her head. Perhaps today that is the most unfamiliar, and most valuable, aspect of that precious time.

Thank you Poly.

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