A small memorial for Nora is finally in the works - for Saturday April 17th - meet at 2pm at the southeast corner of Tompkins - on Ave B.
Hopefully I will get more details and post them here, otherwise, see you there!
by Judy Nylon on Friday, October 22, 2010
I’m flipping memories, like wild cards spinning over 37 years of Ari. She often seemed barely contained by her body. Because she and I were so different, yet always totally comfortable with each other, I think I should speak up about all that we had in common and celebrate the vast wingspan of British punk that sheltered and formed us both. In those days Chrissie Hynde always said I reminded her of a cross between Lily Tomlin’s character ‘Edith Ann’ and ‘Howdy Doody” because my clothes were always too tight under the arms and I walked around like an angry ‘Snow White’ but was over-smiling in private. If I was all that, Ari reminded us all of a cross between Kay Thompson’s ‘Eloise at the Plaza’ and ‘Big Bird’ on Sesame Street. From the first day I met her she has been my favorite tattered fairy. In the prevailing style of the times, both of us were neither fish nor fowl…..and we weren’t British. We were what I have come to call ‘Fourth World”.
I remember how much fun it was watching the Slits that night on stage at the Holland Park Comprehensive School and helping Palmolive load out her drums because friends and the band were the roadies and Nora drove. Everybody was there. Chrissie and I had walked from Chelsea. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holland_Park_School
I think Ari was enrolled at HPCS in those days, it had probably been suggested to Nora by Chris Spedding who was then reading about the ideas of Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner.. And then I remember trying to jam with the Slits when I got my first bass on Denmark St. I had no idea how to do anything with a guitar, but just to be among typical girls and feel comfortable enough to flail at it made me so happy. I could be loud and awful and laugh about it. I ate my first ‘chip butty’ that afternoon.
Much will be made about Ari being Jamaican identified. Ari, Little Annie and I all worked under the On-u umbrella. All of us were interested in empathizing with the whole rainbow of cultures. We still are. To be different is to have something new to offer. There was no special ghetto in punk to be separated into by race, age, looks, nationality, sexual choices, or whatever. But there was also a reality. Even recently it came up again, talking with Carolyn “Honeychild" Coleman”, that when it comes to handicaps “gender” trumps race, or anything else every time. In the struggle for gay rights, it is most often the perceived “feminization” of men that calls out the worst hatred. It’s not a level playing field and Ari, by example, helps me come to terms with female history being a special and an almost secret lineage to be proud of. To reorder things historically is to particularly fly in the face of the male history of the entertainment business and it’s not about blaming individual men; there is an ancient structure in place that just needs the spotlight thrown on it regardless of how tiring that gets. Ari was all for honoring and telling the story through time from the girl point of view. We were determined to be strong. We all loved Nico. Tessa and Nico were quite close at one point and Nico and I go back even earlier. I remember Ari saying that ‘if only Nico had been born a little later she would have been with us and not been so alone.’ None of us felt alone; Ari was the queen of inclusive. She was ‘of the people’ and faced more heartbreak and disappointments than you’ve heard about.
We did a guest night in LA on She Rocks at KXLA together last year. Ari had reached out to the younger generation of girlfriends and dragged me in. She was a ‘steamroller’. Man, you could hardly get a word in. On another occasion I ran into Ari on the street in NYC and she twisted my arm to come along and speak to a group of twenty something year old women who get together as Ladies Lotto. I didn’t want to go because I didn’t have any makeup on and was in my funky old clothes after getting something out of my storage bin. Ari stood up there and encouraged self-creation, a revolution starting with oneself. She espoused her truth that having children shouldn’t hold you back and talked about how much she loved her kids, music, and believed in change from the heart. I talked too; we had to show that it was possible to stay true to the beliefs of youth and build on them. I met quite a few of her Brooklyn girlfriends that summer night and walked back from Chelsea with Kyana Gordon. There was another time when Ari spent everyone’s last cent on a tiny red wooden piano in Chinatown that she wanted to use on stage. When we got to the restaurant to meet, Jane Friedman, June Hony and Claire O’Conner, we had a piano but it was not a place where you could sing for supper. She was loud and clear on the punk panel for HOWL in NY one year too. There are so many stories. I’m glad she got her artist’s quote out in her own voice, “I’m not here to be loved; I’m here to be heard.”
The day that keeps coming back to mind though, is a special day we spend in LA. Nora, Ari, Wilton and I took John’s boat out off Santa Monica. It’s a beat up huge powerboat that Nora had to stand on a cushion to drive. She put the petal to the deck. That boat flew. I had to use the safety pins off my key ring to keep the boat roof tarp from flapping. It was a punk pirate ship and we were surrounded by maybe two dozen tiny dolphins’ playing in our wake. The light was perfect late afternoon in LA pinkish amber. It was shared magic followed by excellent fried clams in Malibu. I roll that day, even with the cranky bits, across my brain over and over when I think of her gone. There will be a lot written about the Slits and the punky reggae she lived. You know Ari would not leave the writing to the professional pundits so all of us who knew her can coax out a few words, like shards, offerings, to build the larger than life memory of her that’s hand made and mad true.
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Even while battling cancer in a hospice, the former X-Ray Spex singer was talking about writing new songs and fighting cynicism. Here was a pop star who truly made a difference
The internet is already melting with the warmth and love extended towards Poly Styrene, who died yesterday after a brave battle with breast cancer. As the singer with X-Ray Spex, her songs such as Germ Free Adolescents and The Day the World Turned Day-Glo were among the most memorable of the punk era.
Born Marianne Joan Elliott-Said, she was also a feminist and "misfit superstar" who paved the way for everyone from Kim Gordon to Karen O. Beth Ditto credits her with "shaping my identity" and her fans include Boy George and David Baddiel. But for generations of followers, the unassuming singer was more than an icon: she was someone who felt like one of us, and who will be mourned like an absent friend.
When I was 13, she had a huge impact on me because as a small, ginger-haired kid struggling with identity she was the first pop star I could identify with. Mixed race, young and wearing bonkers outfits and dental braces, her simple but powerful message was that it was OK to be different because everyone is special.
During the punk explosion, I owned just two punk albums: the Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks and X-Ray Spex's Germ Free Adolescents – and I played the latter most. Poly taught me about subjects that school didn't: identity crises, genetic engineering, and consumer society. Even today, those lyrics – and her wonderfully untamed phrasing – are burned into my brain: "I live off you, and you live off me, and the whole world lives off of everybody ... see we're gonna be exploited, by somebody, by somebody."
Back then, I could never have imagined that I'd end up interviewing her in a hospice as she battled breast cancer. Bed-bound after a fall broke her back in two places, she accepted the illness with incredible grace and I was struck not just by her bravery but also her humour. We spent much of the interview chuckling, beginning with her telling me she had once been taught by future Queen guitarist Brian May. "We used to heckle him. 'Sir, are you married? If you are married, why doesn't your wife iron your shirts?'"
She explained that her distinctive worldview had been formed by a mix of seeing the Sex Pistols and living off the land for a summer before returning to London and finding "everything seemed to be made of plastic".
X-Ray Spex were about "not trying to be like anybody else, but being yourself. High energy, youthful music, creativity. Better than expressing yourself through crime. Being in a band, saying what you want. It was better than being in a girl gang."
She explained how, as punk turned from liberating force to straitjacket, she'd quit the band – after being pelted with tomatoes during a gig in Paris. "We'd tried to change our sound," she explained. "They didn't like that, the anarchists in their black leather jackets. They thought it was the French revolution all over again."
But she admitted to not realising the significance of what she had started: "I didn't really think about it. I just went steaming ahead, like a bull in a China shop. I'm quite discerning about what I get behind, but when I really get behind something, I give it everything."
To the last, her optimism and energy never waned – and she was even talking of ideas for new songs coming to her in the hospice. Her new album, Generation Indigo, – uplifting, playfully opionated pop and her best music since the 70s – was "something really positive" she could leave behind, should the worst happen. Not that she feared it.
"I try not to be negative or cynical," she explained. "Even though we're in a crazy situation, economically, and with wars, when things go far right, they will have to swing left. We have to become more caring and sharing. Generation Indigo are the people who will protest peacefully, and it's happening already."
And then she smiled: the smile of a woman fighting a terrible personal situation, but thinking only of the world she had yet to leave behind. The smile of someone with no regrets, who had a lot of fun, and made a difference.
Poly is a tremendous loss, WAY too young - thanks for posting this, Seven.
Also very recently, the death of Ira Cohen. Here is a beautiful Romy Ashby blog posting about him..
I would be interested in hearing the album that Poly had just released shortly before her death; I've heard many good things about it. Has anyone on the 'Boards heard it?