“Nobody knows what I know and what I have seen. Only I can tell my story. Anyone else who tries is a charlatan and a fool.” So wrote a brilliantly biting Madonna on Instagram after plans for a biopic based on the Queen of Pop’s life were revealed. The script for Blond Ambition – which apparently focuses on the early years of Madge’s career in scuzzy, frantic late 1970s and early 1980s New York – has just been picked up by Universal and she is not best pleased. And if Madonna’s not into it, well, then neither are we. Frankly, there’s another music-based picture in the pipeline that we’re far more interested in.
Currently crowdfunding on IndieGoGo is Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché, a documentary about one of punk’s most powerful, important players. As a mixed race woman, hers is a story often erased from the history of rock’n’roll, but this film – slated for release next year – is here to help make sure that everyone knows her name.
On her 19th birthday Marianne Joan Elliott-Said saw the Sex Pistols play on Hastings Pier and things were never the same again. The opera-trained teenager had already released a reggae track, but made a swift sonic detour and quickly took out ads in NME and Melody Maker asking for “young punx who want to stick it together”. X Ray Spex was formed, a day-glo gang who were unlike any of the punk bands that had come before.
With the newly christened Poly Styrene at the helm they replaced the Pistols’ filth and fury with taut lyrics about anti-consumerism and furious sax solos from a 15-year-old who went by the name of Lora Logic. In ‘Oh Bondage! Up Yours!’ the band made a tune that was not just ferociously feminist but excellent to dance to. While the Clash were wearing battered leather jackets and Johnny Rotten was popping a safety pin through anything he could get his hands on, Poly Styrene – who juggled the band with selling homemade jewellery on a market stall in Chelsea – was rocking 1950s twin sets and granny pearls, single-handedly inventing kitsch vintage style.
I was lucky enough to interview her a couple of times and her desire to be different shone through in every meeting. “Most songs for women then were very romantic and I wanted to write about other things, so I wrote about genetic engineering,” she told me once. Legend. Tragically, Poly Styrene passed away in 2011 at the age of 53, but her work has influenced everyone from riot grrrl acts like Bikini Kill to FKA Twigs, who started out making X Ray Spex-style punk before she started making liquid R&B. Here’s hoping Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché will influence many, many more.
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