Tuesday, 15 October 2013

"... She's Not Working on The Checkout"

This afternoon my boss noticed my 'Poly Styrene' signature metal badge on my jacket, except she read it as 'polystyrene' with a puzzled face. I then had to explain who Poly was in increasing detail as she backed away realising that asking about my badge had opened the floodgates. Luckily this meant that my new, much younger, colleague could state that he knew about X-Ray Spex, had some songs by them and liked the current bunch of punk bands. Punk isn't a musical genre to me, it's part of my personal history.

That started me thinking about punk on the train home (and I've blogged about it before). Coincidentally, I was listening to Viv Albertine at the time.

As I left the train I remembered Chumbawamba's 'Girlsong' about Poly that includes the line, "She didn't understand why only boys were allowed to be in bands". She was brave. Poly started a band after seeing The Sex Pistols and started gigging. There weren't many women in bands and especially not fronting bands. Most women singers back then wore fancy frocks and sang ballads, playing the sex symbol and adding a bit of sparkle. They weren't rockers although there were always exceptions like the leather-clad bass player Suzi Quatro. Suzi opened doors and the punks kicked them wide open.

There was Poly and Siouxsie and The Slits all finding their own way, writing and performing their own music and creating the way for more women. There was Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Chrissie Hynde and Pauline Murray and, a little later, Pauline Black and The Selecter. Kate Bush was, of course, her own creation. They were powerful women and they probably didn't know the impact they would have. They just wanted to get up there and sing and play their songs.

Poly dressed in her own creations and sometimes dressed like her mum while Siouxsie wore stockings and underwear making it clear that it was her choice and you couldn't touch her. That was empowering and a powerful lesson. They dressed and acted as they wanted to, not because they fit in with a certain role. They were their own templates and role models because no-one had travelled there before. They did it for the first time.

I can't help but wonder where it went wrong, where women became objects again. Where Beyonce bounces her bum and Gaga wears a dress of steaks and Miley "twerks'. That's balanced, I suppose, by Amanda Palmer, Theoretical Girl and She Makes War.

The women of yesteryear did so much to carve a new path for women musicians and it's sad to see that restricted again. I was listening to Viv Albertine today (centre top in the photo below) and one of her songs, 'Confessions Of A MILF' includes the great line, "I chose being an artist over being a wife, I will have a lovely life".

This photo from 1980 shows Debbie Harry, Viv Albertine, Siouxsie and, in the front row, Chrissie Hynde, Poly Styrene and Pauline Black. Great heroes indeed!

The message of punk was always 'be yourself'. I always try to be me.

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