By

R.I.P. Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex (1957-2011)

Beth Warshaw-Duncan is the Founder and Executive Director of Girls Rock Philly and the Line Producer of WXPN’s The World Cafe.

“Oh Bondage, Up Yours” is one of the first songs that campers hear when they come to Girls Rock. A lot of them think they’re hearing something brand new. In our History Of Women In Music workshop, we show everyone X-Ray Spex’s Germ Free Adolescents; many campers see themselves in the teenagers on the cover—especially the one in braces. They laugh and hopefully feel more ready to see themselves on an album just the way they are.

Then everyone runs off to discover their own voices, and I wonder if we’ve really shown what a Big Deal Poly Styrene was (and will continue to be). She said—and screamed—what she needed to say about feminism, consumerism, anger, spirituality, and emotional authenticity. But her music and her life were always changing, making her legacy harder to pin down and even more admirable. She battled mental illness, she joined and left the Hare Krishnas, she raised a daughter (who now leads her own band). This is a woman who was hit by a fire truck and then wrote a New Age album (Flower Aeroplane); her new solo album, Generation Indigo, was released to critical acclaim in mid-March—only a month after she announced that she was battling cancer.

Poly was simultaneously politically active and full of love. Her earlier, angrier lyrics are getting a workout in the press now, but her most personally resonating quote, and the idea we most want to leave campers with, is one from The Guardian last month: “I’m quite discerning about what I get behind, but when I really get behind something, I give it everything.” —Beth Warshaw-Duncan