Poly Styrene RIP (1957-2011)

Poly Styrene died Monday after a battle with cancer. I know I’m just one of countless who were affected by her music with X Ray Spex. We were all Germfree with Poly singing.

Back in ’96, I interviewed her via email (which was revolutionary back then) for issue ten of Chunklet, and I’m publishing it here for the first time since it was originally published. At the end of our email exchange, I asked her for an autographed photo and a week later, one arrived in the mail which I still cherish to this day. Goodbye, Poly. You will be missed.

Marian Joan Elliott
3rd July 1957
5 ft. 2"
Shoe size:
4 or 37
Prescription Lenses:
None but I like wearing shades
36" 26" 36"
What sort of background do you come from?  Positive family environment, etc?
A slightly unusual one I have seven different races flowing through my veins. I had lots of fun & love as a kid, mum was quite strict, I have fond memories of British life.
Before the band started, what did you do?  School?
I was designing wacky clothing and had a small unit in the Kings Road, Chelsea called Poly Styrene. Vivienne Westwood was just around the corner.
What were the first records you bought?
My Sweet Lord by George Harrison, Aretha Franklin’s first gospel album, Holidays In The Sun by the Sex Pistols.
X Ray Spex formed in what year?  What was the impetus for the band’s creation?
1976, I wanted to have fun with some kids my own age. I also wanted to communicate with the rest of the world.
How did you all meet?
I put an ad in Melody Maker for young punx who want to stick it together. Paul Jak came B.P. & Lora came later Lora left and then Rudi Tompson came over from Australia.
When the band initially formed, what was the most musical training any of you had?
Everybody had some training, Paul & I had the most, Paul played clarinet and guitar as well as bass. I was trained classically at Wigmore Hall and my singing teacher wanted me to sing opera soprano but I had other ideas.
Given your ages at the time, how did you  fit  in with other contemporary bands of the time?
We were babes compared to bands like the Pretenders. We said hi to everybody but kept a respectable distance.
What was your take on the whole punk scene?
A new attitude, we wanted a new world order.
Do you believe that punk is still a viable movement?
Yes, but it needs to evolve from self imposed negative nihilism to positive thinking. It could also do with a spiritual injection.
Did punk mean anything to you?  How about now?
It meant a lot at the time for lots of people, and now it’s up to capable individuals to build on what was started.
How did the lyrics for songs come about?
Divine inspiration, I hope? And of course wordly experience.
What about your music?  How are songs written?
Something fires or triggers my imagination, then words, concept & melodies flood my consciousness then I express this to the people I work with and they become a tangible reality.
Were you ever turned away from a club you were playing at because they wouldn’t allow minors in or they didn t believe you were in the band?  Please elaborate.
No because I always drank orange juice or Perrier at the bar and my braces and clothes made me very recognizable.
I know you played America in 1979.  What was your initial impression of America and Americans?  Has it changed?
I loved it and the positivity of American audiences was ab-fab.  I have some frends in the USA in a band called Shelter and they’re absolutely brilliant.
What have been the most pivotal moments in the band’s career?  In your life?
Playing Victoria Park, East London Anti Nazi League rally, for Rock Against Racism. It was a real political-musical high, thousands and thousands of people marhed and of course making "Conscious Consumer" was a giant step into the 21st Cetury.
What was (were) the reason (s) that the band dissolved at the end of the 70’s?
I wanted to continue my education and I needed to grow spiritually.
How did you initially get involved with Krishna?
Singing and dancing with them in the early seventies at various pop festivals in the UK. I also read a book called Easy Journies To Other Planets and when I ate some halava I was hooked.

Was your involvement with Krishna part of the reason that  Germ Free Adolescents  became the collector’s item that it became (due to going out of print)?  When did you decide to allow the first record to be rereleased?
I guess you could say Krishna had something to do with the band’s current underground cult status, 1991 we allowed Virgin to rerelease Germfree on CD. Of course there’s been lots of bootlegs which we knew nothing about.
Why did you finally allow it to happen?
I wanted to continue to communicate with the rest of the world.
Have you found X Ray Spex’s popularity to have risen over the band’s hiatus during the 80’s?
Yes it has especially in the USA and Japan.
Describe what it was like to reassemble the band and record this new album.
Great fun.
Your lyrics have definitely changed….how do you comfortably go from  "I’m a Cliche"  to songs about cows and their religious significance?
Quite easily, why not? I’m certainly not bound by my own myth, as my consciousness evolves so my songs naturally evolve.
Does the Krishna organization encourage your musical endeavors?  Please elaborate.
I have lots of friends that are Hari’s, but there’s no great plot. Sure they like my music, and true friends are always supportive. Sometimes I might get inspired at a lecture or a love feast to write a song.
What is the current status of X Ray Spex?
You tell me, I’m a little detached from that side of things. I think we’ve got some cred though.
Will America ever see you playing here again?
I should most definitely say so – and I hope it’s not in the too distant future.
Do you have any suggestions for 13 year olds trying to do what you did 20 years ago?
Chant Hare Krishna and be happy, don’t eat dead animals, have fun with your music and keep some straight-edge principles.
How has the electronic/cyber revolution changed the way you do things?
Artistically, not a lot, but it’s been great for communications and maybe we will utilise it a bit more on future albums.
Parting words?
Peace, Love & Blessings.

(originally published in Chunklet 10, 1996)