Poly Styrene RIP

Poly Styrene’s Talk of Toytown

Poly Styrene (Marianne Elliot Said), singer and songwriter for the 70s punk band X-Ray Spex passed away yesterday from breast cancer. I don’t often feel emotional about the deaths of celebrities and musicians but X-Ray Spex and Poly Styrene were such a looming musical presence in my teenage years that I can’t help but feeling the loss of this amazing musician.

I spent a good chunk of my early teenage years hunting down the music of X-Ray Spex. It’s not like nowadays where I find the most obscure songs, things I’ve been looking for for years, ready to download in a matter of minutes. In the 80s/90s being a music lover required much more patience.

I went to Fairfax High School on Melrose in Hollywood. All around my high school were record shops with owners who loved to price their rare vinyl in the double digits. Bleeker Bob’s was the worst, their prices were ridiculously high.  But they were the only shop where I’d ever seen my vinyl holy grail, Germ-Free Adolescents by X-Ray Spex. After school, I’d wander over to the shop and gaze at the album hanging on the wall. It cost something like $50, an outrageous price, I thought. While standing at the counter admiring the album artwork, I’d often ask some stupid question to the guy behind the counter about the record and he would give me that “Buzz off kid, you’re bothering me” look. He knew I hadn’t the money.

In the tenth grade I saw an odd boy on the bus to school wearing an X-Ray Spex t-shirt. I made friends with him and immediately developed a crush on the guy even though I knew he wasn’t into girls and even after he told me, he found the t-shirt in a pile of clothes at the second hand shop where he worked. “Will you give me your shirt? Pleeeeease?” I’d ask him all the time but he always answered with a firm ‘no’. Despite hanging out with a crew of Hollywood punks, he was the only person I knew that actually liked the band beside myself. I was a punk generation too late.

The funny thing is, I only really knew the song “Oh Bondage Up Yours!” It was the X-Ray Spex performance in the documentary The Punk Rock Movie DOA where I remember first hearing the song. That’s when I first saw Poly Styrene and I was captivated by her style, by the crazy energy of the music and by her…color. She wasn’t White and if you are/were are a punk rock kid of color you understand the significance.

Oh Bondage Up Yours from the movie DOA

As my high school years went by, I got caught up in the hardcore scene and my pining for the elusive Germ Free Adolescents album waned as I filled up my ears with the screams and grunts of suburban, angsty White guys from Orange County and Oxnard.

Inside blurb from the Guillotine EP

For years, the Germ-Free Adolescents album hung on the Bleeker Bob’s wall. Even after high school, I’d continue to make my pilgrimage. By then, I refused to give Bleeker Bob’s any of my money and I wasn’t the only one not willing to pay their exorbitant prices because it hung on the wall, untouched for years. Then one day I came across an EP called Guillotine (Virgin Records, 1979), and lo and behold, there was “Oh Bondage Up Yours!” The elusive song I’d been waiting five years to hear! I bought the record, rushed home and felt tingles of joy and excitement as I heard Poly’s famous line “Some people say little girls should be seen and not heard. But I think…Oh bondage up yours! 1,2,3,4!” I wore the grooves down on this little EP.

For many years, the only way to find their music affordably was through bootlegs

Yup, $18!

Soon after, I got a job at a popular Los Angeles record store and I was able to find all sorts of bootlegs of the album, mostly weird live recordings from England, some released on CD. I also splurged on a few on the 7 inch singles. It was the first time I’d heard many of the songs and I was pleased to find the lyrics resonated with my newly adopted Situationist-influenced politics.

From the song Art-i-ficial

I know I’m artificial
But don’t put the blame on me
I was reared with appliances
In a consumer society

From Genetic Engineering:

Introducing worker clone
as our subordinated slave
His expertise proficiency
will surely dig our grave

From Identity:

When you look in the mirror
Do you see yourself
Do you see yourself
On the TV screen
Do you see yourself in the magazine
When you see yourself
Does it make you scream

About a year later, Germ Free Adolescents was finally re-issued on CD. I played it over and over at the record store I worked at, despite the passive-aggressive protests of my Beatles-loving co-workers. “Saxophone in punk? Hmmm…” One of the indie dudes said disapprovingly. “Up yours, pretentious asshole!” I thought to myself.

Around this time, I popped into Bleeker Bob’s and the album was still there on the wall but now that the CD had been re-issued, they had finally lowered the price. I laughed a secret, evil laugh to myself – greedy bastards! The people who loved X-Ray Spex were not the nerdy, I need-the-first-pressing-vinyl kinda folks but people who loved the music for it’s passion, for it’s politics and for the raw, earnest vocals of Poly Styrene’s energetic voice.

It was a mission, a journey and a struggle to finally get to hear the music of my favorite group but once I did, it was completely satisfying musical experience. There have been many drunken nights my friends and I could be heard singing as loudly as possible X-Ray Spex tunes at the top of our voices, the lyrics still timely and humorous. Maybe tonight I will do the same, in honor of the beautiful Poly Styrene, RIP.

Promotional video for Poly’s new album

Coincidentally, Poly Styrene’s new album Virtual Boyfriend is being released today.

Oh yeah, I finally did get the vinyl version of the album and at a decent price.

Revuelta en Argelia

Revolt in Algeria

In 2001, I visited Euskadi, also known as the Basque region which is kinda, sorta part of Spain but don’t say you are in Spain if you happen to find yourself there because the locals will either give you a super long history lesson or a dirty look. In Bilbao, the city most known for Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum, a citywide anarcho-punk conference was taking place. We didn’t know exactly where it was happening, we just followed the crusties and their dogs to various locations. The local anarcho-punks were quite friendly and freely shared their cheap wine and coca-cola concoctions i.e. kalimochos with us as we hung out waiting for the workshops to begin.

One of the gigs was taking place at a squat at the edge of town. A girl on the street pointed us in the general direction. We hopped on a train, saw a guy carrying some anarchist zines and asked if we could follow him. As we walked through a quaint little neighborhood, the zine guy asked an old man who was hanging his laundry out the window if he knew where the “punk squat” was and the old man without hesitation said “The kids are down that way.” My mouth dropped open, this would never happen here! Then the zine guy introduced us to some South American punk guy who it was assumed we’d have stuff in common with because: We were both from the Americas? Both mestizos? Who knows? But the S.A. punk was a nice guy.

At the squat, there were more kalimochos to be had. There were all kinds of tables offering various sorts of things like zines, CDs, t-shirts. One stall was a woman selling homemade postcards with scenes of riots and other insurrectionary images, like the one above. I bought this one cause they were smashing up a cash register. But I swear, for the longest time, I couldn’t figure out what country “Argelia” was, duh.

I got in a lenthy conversation with a heavy metal communist guy with long blond hair, or at least it was an attempt at conversation because the Basque Castellano was a bit difficult for me to understand. He was a collective member of the squat and was telling me all about their private bar which I listened to in wide-eyed amazement. You mean, it’s a squat and a bar? Fucken Europeans have all the fun, hrrrmph! Next thing I know, there’s a Korean newscaster and cameraman asking me if I’m really from California. Yup, you read that right. What was a Korean news show doing at a edge-of-town squat for an anarcho-punk show, you might ask? Well, earlier I’d seen them wandering around Bilbao and from what I heard later, they came across the colorful bunch of punks (2001 was the year 1977 came back in style for European squatting scene) and thought, hey these people will make a good story for our Korean morning show! So like us, they followed the crusty rainbow across the city and through the subway to the big old squat which at one time had been some kinda airplane hanger. Someone told them we came all the way from California for the conference (which wasn’t exactly true) and since I spoke English, they interviewed me. (I wonder if I ever made it onto Good Morning Korea?) Then later the music started. I had my postcard, a belly full of kalimocho and one anarchist/communist debate in broken Spanish under my belt. It was a good night.


Rioting spreads across Tunisia; unrest also reported in Algeria, Los Angeles Times, January 8, 2011.

Southern California Anarcho Punk Fest Tour
, Saturday, January 29, 2011.

Favorite Things: Amok Bookstore


In my early years, I lived in Echo Park. I went for long walks with Amok Bookstore being my main destination. The folks who worked there never much talked to me or my friends but they didn’t hate us either like other Silver Lake shop proprietors who gave us the “buy something or leave” look.
We appreciated their selection of radical literature, strange music guides and bizarre ephemera. There were no hipsters in the 90s but if there were, they’d probably like Amok.

The original location was right behind where Casbah Cafe is now.

Favorite Song of the Day: Honeybane

Honey Bane – Girl On the Run (1979)

Strangely, I have never grown tired of the music put out by the band Crass or on their label Crass Records. In fact, the music seems even more relevant and fresh today. How that came to be, I don’t know but judging by the amount of Crass songs posted to my friend’s Facebook pages, I’d say I’m not the only one.

This song by Honeybane is a good example. I’ve listened to it a hundred times and my ears would be very happy through a hundred more listens. The siren guitar that breaks into the intense rhythm bass tells you to get ready for one badass song. The sound is very Crass-ish with the military style drums (and the addition of a coconut?) but more raw sounding due to the vocal stylings of a real girl on the run. Honeybane was a runaway who found refuge in the Crass commune.

Luscious Jackson liked this song so much they sampled it on their first album.