Poly Styrene

Originally published at Verbicide

Legendary punk front woman Poly Styrene has cancer and is reportedly too weak for chemotherapy. Three months after diagnosis, however, she is promoting her new studio album, Generation Indigo, from a hospital bed while nurses administer a miracle drug called Herceptin. It is from this bed in a British coastal town (very near to Hastings pier, where she first saw the Sex Pistols perform and famously said, “I could do that”) that Ms. Styrene grants us a short but upbeat interview.

Alongside Laura Logic, Poly Styrene came to popular consciousness while fronting the iconic punk rock band X-Ray Spex. The only criticism that can be leveled upon this amazing group (important in the history of New Wave as well as pure punk) is that they didn’t produce enough work. Two archetypal studio albums and two live recordings have left fans desperate for more. Parallel to her work with the Spex, Poly has enjoyed a solo career, starting in 1980 with her album Translucence. Putting aside the heavy and grubby punk guitar of the Spex, her solo work tends to be gentler, jazzy, and inspired by her spiritual outlook — Poly was initiated into the Hare Krishna movement in 1983 and lived as a devotee in their temple for several years.

The latest installment to the Styrene canon is Generation Indigo and its first single, “Virtual Boyfriend.” “I just wanted to do something that was very current and that was about modern relationships,” Poly tells me in regards to the single. “There wasn’t a lot of thought. It channeled through me and just happened.” The narrative of the new single concerns technology and our relationship to it: “Human contact is necessary, and we need to be careful we don’t lose this and its importance.”

The new album is produced by Martin Glover, perhaps most famous as “Youth” from post-punk kings, Killing Joke. “It was a pleasant experience [working with him] and we got on. He works pretty fast and so do I, so the pace was familiar.” Poly Styrene is often cited as the original feminist punk icon. What are the challenges for feminism today?

“I don’t think there are any challenges anymore. Just the over-sexualization of women, but that’s quite small in reality. I’m in a hospital at the moment and all the nurses are women and they’re lovely. In the media they’re portrayed in a different way, but just like the nurses I’m talking about, the majority of women are out there being themselves. Women are quite caring and nurturing and that’s good. If that’s feminism then there should be more of it.”

I ask the question to which we’re all nonchalantly hoping for an affirmative. Will there be a future excursion for the X-Ray Spex or perhaps a release of older, unheard material? “I’m not sure at the moment, as I’m concentrating on this album and also on getting better. There are some early recordings that haven’t been out there yet… maybe one day in the future it will be released.”

I think Verbicide speaks on behalf of all the fans when we wish Poly a speedy recovery.

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