X-Ray Spex's Poly Styrene Dead at 53
Early last year, former X-Ray Spex singer and '70s punk icon Poly Styrene (born Marianne Joan Elliott-Said) started work on Generation Indigo, her first solo disc in 31 years. And over the next several months, she worked in the studio with ex-Killing Joke bassist and producer Martin "Youth" Glover, finishing the 12-track album.
But then Styrene started getting back pains. And they only got worse. And worse. Eventually, in November 2010, Styrene was diagnosed with breast cancer. And within months, the disease had spread to her spine and lungs.
On February 22, she finally decided to go public with her illness, issuing a short statement via poly-styrene.com: "It's been a bit of a battle fighting this cancer but hey ho I'm still alive, Luv Poly x."
Sadly, though, Poly Styrene died last night in her sleep, just a day before Generation Indigo was set to be released in the US.
Hijacking her name from one of the most commonly used kinds of commercial plastics, Styrene joined the late '70s London punk scene after spending her 18th birthday at an early Sex Pistols show. "They had drainpipes, shortish hair, and played covers," she recalled in an interview with The Guardian last month. "But they must have had something because I thought, 'I can do that!'"
Almost immediately, Poly put an ad in British music mags NME and Melody Maker, looking for "young punx who want to stick it together." And just a few weeks later, Jak Airport, Lora Logic, Paul Dean, and B.P. Hurding auditioned for X-Ray Spex, made the cut, and kicked out a half-dozen rehearsals before debuting at London's Roxy in Covent Garden.
That first night's punky mess can be heard on the recording Live at the Roxy. But Styrene and X-Ray Spex's main manifesto was the snotty anarchist single "Oh Bondage Up Yours!," loaded with spiky pseudo-feminist lyrics like, "Some people think that little girls should be seen and not heard/Well I think, Oh bondage, up yours!"
Shortly after "Oh Bondage," Lora Logic quit X-Ray Spex and she was replaced by Rudi Thompson just as the crew pulled together its only true album, 1978's punk masterpiece Germ Free Adolescents. But following a UK promo tour, Styrene began complaining of exhaustion, left the band, and the Spex split up.
Less than a year later, it looked as though Styrene might be ready for another stab at punk stardom when she released her solo debut, 1980's Translucence. But the 31 years between that album and Generation Indigo ended up being a strange, twisting saga. For the most part, she didn't record. And she almost never stepped on stage.
Instead, Styrene disappeared. It all began in the late '70s when she was misdiagnosed as a schizophrenic and briefly institutionalized. A few years later, she joined the Hare Krishna movement and, according to The Guardian, "eventually fled over reports of paedophilia within the sect, and attempts to marry her off."
Following a bipolar diagnosis in 1991, however, Styrene's life settled into some kind of calm. She and X-Ray Spex got back together for a short reunion and an album, 1995's Conscious Consumer. And then there was Generation Indigo.
Earlier this month, Styrene told Richard Gladstone of the Hastings St. Leonards Observer that "I am living with cancer, but not dying from it." Yet after months of Herceptin treatments and failed surgery, Styrene's last Twitter update on April 19 sounded significantly less punk: "Slowly slowly trying 2 get better miss my walk along the promenade. Would b so nice 2 sing again & play #GenerationIndigo live. Luv Poly X."
Last night, Poly Styrene spent her final minutes with her mother and daughter Celeste Ball-Santos of the Madrid-based band Debutant Disco. And this morning, the world received another Twitter message: "We can confirm that the beautiful Poly Styrene, who has been a true fighter, won her battle on Monday evening to go higher places."
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