Poly Styrene (Marian Joan Elliott-Said) has died at the young age of 53 on the eve of the release of her new album Generation Indigo. She had been battling cancer and, unlike other battles she took on, she lost it.
After an afternoon and evening of reading rumors that Poly had died, and hoping they weren’t true, the sad news that she did indeed pass away was just confirmed on several news sites and I’m having a difficult time writing this right now.
There will be more from me and DM contributors on the death of the beloved Poly later today. There’s not a single one of us that haven’t been enthralled by her magic.
I saw X Ray Spex perform at CBGB in March of 1978. It was among the most exciting rock and roll shows I’ve ever experienced. Poly was 21 years old at the time but with braces on her teeth and bows in her hair she looked 13, as did the other Spex. The remarkable thing about her and the group was just how fucking good they were. They played with a ferocious intensity that was raw, undisciplined, and yet totally confident and glorious. And as good as the band was, it was Poly that demanded your attention, got it, and rewarded it. She was a powerhouse. I was overwhelmed.
Poly upended every stereotype of the female rock and roll front person. She looked like an innocent school girl but when she opened her mouth she had a soul searing wail that made John Lydon sound like a squealing mama’s boy with his dick stuck in a zipper. Poly had one of the greatest punk rock voices in all of rock and roll. From banshee to wounded vulnerability, Styrene emoted with a range far beyond her worldly years. Within this child-woman was a fierce siren drawing liars and fools to crash upon the rocks of her uncompromising feminine power. Feminist? I don’t think so. That’s a label that Poly would find too limiting. Poly could, like Walt Whitman, claim “I am large, I contain multitudes.”
“Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” is one of the great “fuck off” anthems in the history of rock and roll, an unequivocal declaration that no one was going to restrain the power and glory that was Poly Styrene.
From the documentary The Punk Years:
X Ray Spex live at CBGB, March 17, 1978 (audio). Crank it the fuck up: