Oh Cancer, Up Yours
April 26, 2011 2:02 AM   Subscribe

"I said that I wasn't a sex symbol and that if anybody tried to make me one I'd shave my head tomorrow". The rumors have been swirling all day, but sadly appear to be confirmed - Marianne Joan Elliot-Said aka punk legend Poly Styrene has passed away after battling breast cancer. Her new album , Generation Indigo is scheduled to be released today.

In 1976, she recorded the single Silly Billy and What a Way under the name Mari Elliot.

Inspired by The Sex Pistols, she then turned her powerful voice to punk, not only battling the conventions of normal society, but subverting the orthodoxies of punk itself.



Germ Free Adolescents

I Am A Poseur

World Turned Day-Glo

I Live Off You

Warrior in Woolworth's

And of course, Oh Bondage, Up Yours (posted at the top, but let's hear it again, since its awesomeness is readily apparent even to the newest of listeners.)


The Punk Years
Tony Wilson
posted by louche mustachio (98 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
posted by DanCall at 2:05 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by louche mustachio at 2:06 AM on April 26, 2011


X-Ray Spex is one of favourite bands... Poly's voice was unique. First Sarah-Jane now Poly, both too young, fuck cancer.

Poly Styrene: The Spex factor Interview she did with the Guardian last month.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:14 AM on April 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

(I appear to have misspelled her first name. It's Marianne, not Marion. And I know this. Apologies.)

In 1995, when she briefly reformed X-Ray Spex ...a nurse said, "Get back out there! Don't let Kylie Minogue take over!"
posted by louche mustachio at 2:24 AM on April 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

she has thrown off the shackles of this earth.
posted by lapolla at 2:25 AM on April 26, 2011

Wow. This sucks. I've been looking forward to checking out the album ever since it got a glowing review in the Quietus the other week. I wasn't expecting this to be next thing I heard about her...
posted by Ted Maul at 2:29 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by El Brendano at 2:33 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by Smart Dalek at 2:40 AM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


oh cancer, up yours!
posted by tim_in_oz at 2:49 AM on April 26, 2011 [9 favorites]

RIP Poly Styrene
posted by Ardiril at 3:15 AM on April 26, 2011

Yeah, shit. Another voice of my youth gone. She had a great voice, and without her punk would not have been as, well, punk
posted by the noob at 3:22 AM on April 26, 2011

The Day The World Turned Monochrome.

I'd heard she was seriously ill with this so it hasn't come as a complete shock but still, fuck. Another one of my generation down. Depressing.
posted by Decani at 3:32 AM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by klausness at 3:45 AM on April 26, 2011

Motherfucker. What an awesome and inspiring voice to have lost.
posted by Aversion Therapy at 3:48 AM on April 26, 2011

I heard about this last night, but it was unconfirmed, so I chose to hold out hope. This is very sad.
posted by OmieWise at 3:49 AM on April 26, 2011

goodbye punk godess

posted by marienbad at 4:04 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by gorgor_balabala at 4:11 AM on April 26, 2011

A sad thing, she had a great voice.
posted by marxchivist at 4:17 AM on April 26, 2011

Well, that sucks. Still, she left more to this world than I can claim when I inevitably shuffle off (as we all do).

posted by cj_ at 4:26 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by acb at 4:26 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by dabitch at 4:28 AM on April 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

posted by ArmyOfKittens at 4:33 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:39 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by chinston at 4:46 AM on April 26, 2011


What a shame. NPR's All Things Considered just did a story on her and her new album last night. May she rest in peace and may her loved ones find comfort in the days to come and happiness in the joy she left behind.
posted by Daddy-O at 4:48 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by Not The Stig at 4:57 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by HandfulOfDust at 4:58 AM on April 26, 2011

Damn it, breast cancer.

posted by autoclavicle at 4:59 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by nangar at 5:01 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by kinnakeet at 5:04 AM on April 26, 2011


Thanks for the post, louche mustachio.

That's very sad. X-Ray Spex has had a special place in my heart ever since I picked up Germ-free Adolescence on vinyl for cheap back in my teens (or inherited, I can't quite remember). It was one of the albums which molded my taste in music.
posted by Kattullus at 5:07 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by Grumpy old geek at 5:07 AM on April 26, 2011


Signed up to comment, long-time lurker here.

For a brief period in the 70s I was one of a rag-tag bunch of "groupies" that surrounded the Spex. I put "groupies" in quotes because this was a band that was pretty much uninterested in the stereotypes that surrounded musical excesses . We called them "the Spex" and some others would call them "XRS", enunciating or slurring each letter depending on how drunk you were.

To those of us who actually attended their shows, the Spex were nothing like what came before them. I remember the first show that my friend Alex dragged me along to. A regular-looking cast. Oh no I said not another "punk" band. And then out trotted this wee black pixie, who seemed in terrible agony from all the attention she received. I figured she was a hanger-on, a girlfriend perhaps, or some exotic stage-candy. This was England in the seventies after all, and a half-Somali girl in braces and a miniskirt drew some attention. She skulked around as the music picked up. The trumpets started droning and then suddenly there she was yelling her head off. I remember that initial shock and thrill of hearing her for the first time. It was a rush.

The first night we saw them (at the Hungry Duck) we tried sneaking back to talk to them. They weren't famous yet or anything, and even in later years Poly would remain the most unassuming and approachable of people. Talk about social anxiety! Poly would mumble and shuffle her feet or lick her braces thoughtfully during conversations. This turned off a lot of people and gained her a reputation of being a poseur (which led to the eponymous song I believe) but the truth is, she was one of the most painfully shy people I knew. She was anything but fake.

In later years I would meander though my own life and grow to dislike the Spex and Poly's lyrics, thinking them to be shtick, a one trick pony, a contrarian approach to mainstream consumption and deliberate ironic posturing. I thought this for a while. Then two years ago a young lad I teach came up to me at the school canteen and said if I knew of a band called the X-ray Spex and a song called Warrior at Woolworth's. He'd been reading up the history books he said, and was most struck by this charismatic and endearing singer, she who now lived in council flat and said Nirvana's "Polly" made her smile if only because of the number of people who insisted on playing or dedicating the song to her on the radio.

That sounded like the Poly Styrene I once knew. I wept that day. Thanks for the music Poly.
posted by beshtya at 5:17 AM on April 26, 2011 [41 favorites]

Oh geez, what a sad way to start the day. Their songs are sprinkled all over the compilation tapes and mix tapes we handed back and forth and copied from each other -- honestly, I'm not sure if I have ever listened to her music except as a crummy fourth generation copy. It was great, great music; I will have to look for her new album (and not as a bad copy, either).
posted by Forktine at 5:22 AM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by rtha at 5:22 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by Capt. Renault at 5:24 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:25 AM on April 26, 2011

I remember the exuberant joy her music caused, especially among the young women, in the punky/gothy clubs of Sydney. No doubt in my mind, that happily defiant UP YOURS attitude propelled many onto great, fun and interesting paths in life. There'd be so many x-ray-spexlings gonna be saddened by this news. Well done, Poly. Hats off.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:30 AM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by Morrigan at 5:37 AM on April 26, 2011

So sad to hear this. I was just talking to someone about her this week. An amazing voice. Part of my teenage years I will never forget.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:39 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by jtron at 5:44 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by safetyfork at 5:45 AM on April 26, 2011

She had perhaps the best ever punk name.
posted by beerbajay at 5:55 AM on April 26, 2011

She was punk rock's Blossom Dearie -- in the sense that the remarkable sonic quality of her voice just stops you short -- who is that? and it takes a few minutes to grasp that it's not just the voice, but the mastery with which it's used, and the smartness of the song. "Day-Glo" remains the highlight for me. RIP.
posted by escabeche at 5:55 AM on April 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

Oh! Soundtrack to my second adolescence. X Ray Spex were amazing. Now I'm going to be listening to X Ray Spex and thoughtfully strumming my guitar all day.

Thanks for your music, Polly.
posted by entropone at 6:11 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by pernoctalian at 6:16 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by Human's Nephew at 6:23 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by ryanshepard at 6:29 AM on April 26, 2011

Man, I am sitting at my desk at work trying not to cry mainly because there is no way I could make anyone here understand why I am so affected by this... I still remember the first time I heard Oh, Bondage off a mix tape while driving around in my old station wagon and just being floored by the power of that voice. I fell in love with Poly the first time I heard her and while trapped in my suburban hell I dreamed of meeting someone like her.

posted by Bango Skank at 6:29 AM on April 26, 2011

Also, great post Louche, thanks very much for this.
posted by Bango Skank at 6:31 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by heatvision at 6:33 AM on April 26, 2011

I was just listening to Germfree Adolescents this weekend and thinking what an amazing album it was and how amazing she was, and thinking about what a tough life she'd had. Oh, this is sad. Too, too soon.
posted by Frowner at 6:35 AM on April 26, 2011

Damn, I loved X-Ray Spex and of course her amazing voice. Thanks for the post, though I'm very sorry to hear the news.
posted by languagehat at 6:36 AM on April 26, 2011

Wow. She was one of the recurring soundtracks to my teen angst years. One of the first bands the first love of my life took me to see in London. Now, he's dead, she's dead...and I don't feel so good myself right now.
posted by dejah420 at 6:45 AM on April 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

posted by battleshipkropotkin at 6:54 AM on April 26, 2011

This stinks.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 6:54 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by whuppy at 6:59 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by .kobayashi. at 7:16 AM on April 26, 2011


what escabeche said.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:17 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by dhalgren at 7:26 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by omnidrew at 7:34 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by kuppajava at 7:40 AM on April 26, 2011

Oh man, I still remember hearing "Oh bondage, up yours" for the first time as a teenager. It was great to know that other girls were as angry as I was.

posted by honeydew at 7:44 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by Stagger Lee at 7:51 AM on April 26, 2011

When I was punk in high school, I'd write "I'm a poseur" on my arm with sharpie.

posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:02 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by brujita at 8:14 AM on April 26, 2011

Some Metafilter people asked me to share some of my stories of the times I spent with the Spex. Here's one.

One of my memories of Poly is that she was always eating something or the other. BP (Hurding) thought it would be well jolly to put plastic lizards and spiders and vomit around the many plates of food that Poly had strewn about. Poor chap. It rarely worked. Only once did I ever hear her yell or scream, and that was mock horror. She'd be unfazed and would brush aside the plastic nasties (oh the ignominy!) or shoot a glance at BP or me (or Alex, cos she knew who the pranksters were) and keep on eating.

At a certain infamous show in London one gray autumn the bobbies arrived and threw out most of the people at the show. Someone had tipped them off about some gang violence or somesuch gossip and what was a somewhat peaceful gig soon turned to a raucous free for all. The Spex hadn't played yet so we were all in the wings to a side watching as beerbottles were thrown and bodies fell on glass and blood and sweat and piss started flowing.

Now this gig was right next door to a (rather excellent) fish-and-chips place run by some Surinamese (I believe) folks. We hung out there all the time. Cheap too. They had this piquant batter for the fish which we figured contained tamarind and fish sauce. The fish sauce was pretty nasty. I mean the kind of sauce that you find in cheap Chinese restaurants, artificial and chockful of ajinomoto. If kept out for a few days the batter would smell fetid and awful. Now the Surinamese owners, while excellent, were not the cleanest cooks in the world if you know what I mean. Some of the fish heads and batter and leftover chips would often be dumped over by the back of the shack. Every weekend of revelry at Boojum and Beezlebub (the gig venue) would bring steady business to the Surinamese and by the early hours of a Monday morning the place resembled a pigsty to be honest.

Now what happened is, the police shut down the gig for the night. We had gotten used to this sort of thing and we headed out to the shack. Some of the other punks in attendance came too.

Pretty soon, a fight erupted, as it usually does at such places. The Surinamese generally kept afar from the punks and were treated most civilly in return. However one of the punks grabbed hold of one of these nasty plastic baskets with fish slime and batter and whatnot in it and tossed it at the people he was fighting with. It was ugly. We were hit by some friendly fire too. There was a big commotion and finally the punks who started the melee settled down.

So there we were, at three a.m., my friend Alex and I, a bedraggled Paul (Dean) and a bemused Rudi (Thomson) struggling to get this slime off our clothes when there comes Poly, from a door out to a side of the big barn that Boojum and Beezlebub was, with nary a care in the world. She had stepped inside with some friends to the greenroom when all of this ruckus had taken place and didn't know any of it. She could vaguely make out where we were and started walking towards us with a sandwich or a baguette of some sort in her hand, when the same irate punk spots her and came rushing with another of these slime buckets and flung it in her direction. She wasn't the target, but the person the slime was intended for ducked, and Poly caught it full frontal.

The scene unfolded so quickly and was so cartoonish that we kept staring for a bit. No one spoke. There were a few gasps and some wags called out this and that to Poly but she hadn't reacted yet. We expected her to yell. She hadn't sung all evening after all.

But no. Poly flicked off some of the more putrid bits off the black plastic outfit that she wore and walked off coolly. She still had the baguette in her hand that she had shielded from the slime. She walked towards us with her deadpan face and sat by our side. We watched as she ate the baguette in all, slowly, in silence and mirth.
posted by beshtya at 8:41 AM on April 26, 2011 [15 favorites]

I used to go to punk shows, in the 90s, long after punk was dead, and for all of the political posturing, it was a place that was profoundly white and profoundly male. One of, because it was hidden b y progressive politics, a place that was quite misogynist. I liked the anger of punk, and the fuck you energy, but i hated that it was done in my circles by men who were quite privleged.

I thought about this for a long time, and started wondering what to do about it--i mean part of it was that women occasionally started bands, which was awesome--and I would always go to their concerts, and the women who started bands would have their history stop with Kathleen Hanna or Courtney...

But Hanna and Love always acknowledged, always noted Lilliput, and Polly and the Slits and the Raincoats, so I bought all those albums. Poly Sterene's voice was one of the great pleasures of my adolsecent years, because it corrected boy punk, of course, but because it was beautiful, and expressive, and weirdly optimistic.
posted by PinkMoose at 9:01 AM on April 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

posted by pdxjmorris at 9:27 AM on April 26, 2011

She was so contrary in so many beautiful ways. She was a reminder that the spirit of punk was and will always be "Screw your rules".

Travel well, traveler...
posted by lumpenprole at 9:35 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by stinker at 9:38 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by genehack at 10:03 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by cazoo at 10:14 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by Sophie1 at 10:14 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by jonp72 at 10:19 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by obloquy at 10:53 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by godshomemovies at 10:57 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by fillsthepews at 11:13 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by Twang at 11:43 AM on April 26, 2011

posted by PHINC at 11:55 AM on April 26, 2011

There's a really horrible portray of Poly in the movie Sid and Nancy. There's a brief scene in a bar where she's made out to be a goth sex bomb. Someone really slacked off on their homework.
posted by PHINC at 12:02 PM on April 26, 2011

posted by mwhybark at 12:13 PM on April 26, 2011

I was about to share this, but you beat me to it and with a far better post, too. Sad news.
I was really into the Spex in high schoo, and Up Yours! got a lot of play. Poly's voice was just incredible, and what's this? Sax? In my punk music? (It's more likely than you think.)

Farewell, Poly. I am now enjoying your totally not work-appropriate music at my desk. Oh employee handbook, up yours!
posted by xedrik at 12:27 PM on April 26, 2011

posted by stagewhisper at 12:27 PM on April 26, 2011

Oh Poly! Whenever I'd listen to X Ray Spex at a certain age, Poly Styrene always made me feel so damn brave. If she could kick out the motherfuckin' jams like that, I could certainly start stepping out of the junior high conformist/comfort zone a little if I wanted. She was my original punk rock girl-crush.

posted by scody at 2:10 PM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I would like to call out this quote from one of the articles confirming her death:

“We can confirm that the beautiful Poly Styrene, who has been a true fighter, won her battle on Monday evening to go to higher places.

As someone who officially resents the "lost the battle" construct that inevitably gets said around whenever a cancer patient dies, I love this twist on the phrase so much!
posted by scody at 2:20 PM on April 26, 2011 [7 favorites]

posted by radiocontrolled at 3:48 PM on April 26, 2011

posted by jammy at 4:36 PM on April 26, 2011

Some nice thoughts from the LA Times music blog here.
posted by scody at 5:19 PM on April 26, 2011

posted by Max Power at 6:26 PM on April 26, 2011

posted by fido~depravo at 6:58 PM on April 26, 2011


Experienced seeing/hearing her in NY when she was 19 and I was 16. CBGB's I think. I had no idea what to expect when my boyfriend said, "Let's go see Poly Styrene tonight!" Good thing, 'cause no expectations could possibly have prepared me. She had braces still and so did I. I'd have been proud to have anything else in common, but I can't say I did, not then anyway, except maybe lots. Still grateful to the adventurous boyfriend for taking me to the show.
posted by emhutchinson at 8:22 PM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Me and my little punk circle (boys AND girls) in L.A. in the early 80s considered her someone to emulate. She HOLLERED.

My feminism is born of a lot of loudmouthed liberators, and she was one.
posted by goofyfoot at 10:19 PM on April 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

posted by susanbeeswax at 11:56 PM on April 26, 2011

posted by Jess the Mess at 8:14 AM on April 27, 2011


Aw, damn, this is sad. Hoping her music continues to inspire- so punk, and also so unabashedly girly in a way, and really just surprisingly consistently *listenable* and good as well.

Fer yer listening pleasure, A Dog in Sweden!
posted by hap_hazard at 5:59 PM on April 27, 2011

. One of my favourites, still.
posted by mdoar at 11:17 AM on April 30, 2011

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