She Turned The World Day-Glo: A Poly Styrene Obituary
, April 28th, 2011 07:03
Zoë Howe pays tribute to the former X-Ray Spex singer
The inimitable Poly Styrene, real name Marian Said-Elliot, is now at peace after her battle against cancer, leaving us for a higher place at the age of just 53 on Tuesday. But while we think of the loved ones she leaves behind and mourn the loss of a dazzling creative spark, a warm yet satirical voice and another true punk queen just months after the passing of Ari Up, we should remember that in a way, we haven't really lost her.
As she told me in an interview for the Quietus just a month ago, "this body is just a material body, like an outer shell. It will deteriorate and die, but we can leave something behind in our music or art." And she leaves us with much more, not least her infectious positivity, uniquely beautiful spirit and brave, philosophical take on her illness. Even weeks before the end she was quiet but resolute in her determination that she was 'trying to get better', trying to walk again after the cancer had ravaged her spine, meditating daily and all the while promoting her excellent new album Generation Indigo from her hospice.
On the morning of the day Poly died, I'd been up all night unable to sleep and I went for a walk just after dawn. The sky was the most stunning blue and Poly popped into my head – she had talked about her song 'Electric Blue Monsoon', a track from Generation Indigo, and had said that she was inspired to write it after seeing the sky over Oxford Street one day, the colour of which reminded her of the celestial blue of an electric blue monsoon, a colour associated with Krishna, a healing colour you could meditate on. I looked at the sky and I thought of it, and her, and I saw what she meant. Hours later she passed away.
The word 'inspiring' is over-used, but it is everything Poly was and is and will continue to be in different ways to different people. We'll remember her for her fierce teenage rejection of sexist ideals and the bondage of misogyny – 'little girls being seen and not heard' - covering up her body and defiantly shaving her head in protest against the expectations of a music industry which had certainly never come across anyone like Poly before, her spirituality which brought her so much strength and her sharp, poignant dissections of popular culture from Germ-Free Adolescents to her current material.
But most of all we'll remember that everything she did was infused by a sense of bubbling, kaleidoscopic, child-like joy as opposed to anger or fear, always forward-looking, always incisive. 'I Am A Cliché', 'I Am A Poseur'… she made fun of pretentions, sang about Woolworths, turned the world day-glo. And Poly Styrene did indeed see life through x-ray specs, but unlike many, she never allowed cynicism or negativity to consume her. She opened her heart to it all.
When I was first working on the Slits book Typical Girls? in 2007, I mentioned to Ari that I'd been in touch with Poly, as she was working towards the X-Ray Spex comeback at the Roundhouse and I was writing a press release for them. Ari said she was anxious to be put in touch with Poly again as she had "been in another world” and not been in contact for a long time with her fellow punk pioneer. To think that so soon we would be paying tribute to these two exceptional individuals after their respective deaths from this insidious disease is hard to take in.
So, thank you Poly, we were lucky to have you. And I'm not the first or the last to say this but to paraphrase the lady herself: oh cancer, up yours.