WTM #1127: X-Ray-Sax

wReck thiS meSS ~ Radio Patapoe 88.3 
Amsterdam ~ Ethno-Illogical Psycho-Radiographies
02.05.11

“Saxophone is one thing, and music is another.” • Steve Lacy

“Supreme equality / We used to compete / The right to decide / Is denied to the sheep” • Poly Styrene, “Highly Inflammable”

Train WTM ID Lagerfeltz + Borbetomagus > B/art
Part 2 > Urban Sax [Fraction Sur Le Temps / EPM]
Gitty Up Go > Teddy Bear
Part 2 > Urban Sax [Fraction Sur Le Temps / EPM][
Oh Bondage Up Yours > X-Ray Spex
Let’s Submerge > X-Ray Spex
Some Come > Blurt [Let There Be Blurt / Salamander]
Pretty In Pink > The Psychedelic Furs
Germ Free Adolescents > X-Ray Spex
Soul Serenade > King Curtis
I Am A Cliché > X-Ray Spex
Contort Yourself > James Chance & the Contortions [Buy / Ze]
My Mother Was A Friend of the Enemy of the People > Blurt [Let There Be Blurt / Salamander]
I Am a Poseur > X-Ray Spex
Pick up the Pieces > Average White Band
Pick Up the Pieces > Candy Dulfer
Ruminant Plinth > Blurt [Let There Be Blurt / Salamander]
Why Do You Love Me > Dave Clark Five [25 Thumping Great Hits / Polydor]
Art-I-Ficial 1978 [Old Grey Whistle Test] > X-Ray Spex
Everyday Sax > Tommy McCook [Blazing Horns Tenor in Roots / Blood and Fire]
Plastic Bag > X-Ray Spex
Kazimir’s Tractor > Blurt [Let There Be Blurt 2 / Salamander]
Cigarettes > X-Ray Spex 2:48
Live at the Knitting Factory 18.11.00 > Borbetomagus
End of Marvelous Night Outro  > B/art & MC Pal

I considered the saxophone to be the sexiest of rock instruments. That is why I loved the DC5 when I was a pre-teen. Wanted to dress sharp like the DC5, they had a coordinated splendor, a kinetic precision that the other English Invasion groups did not have, led by a strong frontman drummer and that wailing sax. That is why I love Blurt [in part, Milton’s lyrics also help] and early Psychedelic Furs; that is why I really liked X-Ray Spex. There is something room-filling, big, fat, ambient, voluptuous about the sax. It’s timbre goes from warm and swaddling, to blood-curdling but always full and expressive – generous.

Moreover, the way one plays a sax, holds it, maneuvers it between the legs, fondling it right at the crotch gives it that prurient factor so essential to hot rock n roll, etc.

UK punk band X-Ray Spex [1976–79, with various reincarnations], were the epitomy of junk punk, of DIY glory, of noisiness transformed into strange, affecting harmonies. Their first single, “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” represents in a nutshell the very critique that punk offered on mainstream consumer society [“My existence is elusive / The kind that is supported / By mechanical resources…” • Poly Styrene, “Art-I-Ficial”].

It also heralded the glorious rise of women in music as producers, musicians, songwriters, critics, and it is during this era that women’s participation was welcomed. When I look back at the empowering aspects of early punk it has a DIY meets OWS feel to it – the ugly [not really but in terms of consumer cliches], the poor, the disinherited, the misfits were brought front and center and the entire idea of power in an industry was shaken to the core if only for a few years.

If I begin naming all the great women in punk it totally puts to shame today’s music. These were tender women who got tough and took on their lots and exploded some gender myths along the way. You had the Slits, Ari Up, Lizzy Mercier Descloux, Patti Smith, Niagara, even Chrissie Hynde and Cyndi Lauper, but also Siouxie Sue, Annie Anxiety, Debby Harry, Judy Nylon, Runaways, Plasmatics, B-52s, ESG, Delta 5, Pulsallama, Kim Gordon … See Women in Punk for a great list.

But the most exemplary among all of these was X-Ray Spex featuring the sexy sax honking of Laura Logic [Susan Whitby] and the outspoken histrionic but terribly charming yelping vocals/lyrics of one Poly Styrene [Marianne Joan Elliott-Said].

Poly Styrene was one of those disheveled anti-sex symbols – “Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard – well I think, oh bondage, up yours!”  – that despite the deconstruction of every sex symbol/image cliché became sexy by sheer ironic force of will. She had guts, balls, and critique and daring-do. When you see/hear these punk declamations of pure DIY force and anger you know you are dealing with another level of performance, stripped of all pretense without sacrificing stage presence and intrigue. When you look at the managed/groomed images of today’s stars with their handlers and coiffures and media savvy you realize you are dealing here with raw, unadorned, even frightful energy and with a kind of clarity that was undiminished by career considerations. Her/their critique was firmly anti-consumerist/anti-capitalist in nature and they understood how we were transformed from people into consumers, from beings into statistics.

Styrene was the gal’s answer to the Johnny Rotten and X-Ray Spex were the female Pistols, inspired as she after seeing the Pistols perform…  But the true dynamic was established by the raucous interplay of Logic’s sax and Styrene’s harsh-tender vocals that often broke to reveal both consciousness and hints of fragility overcome by pure honesty.

Poly Styrene was a sex symbol despite her threatening to erase all sexiness from her being if she were to become such made her all the more sexy in the best sense of the word: intelligent, funky, spunky, braces, wild hair, untrained and yet somehow very endearing vocals. That they were all serious-but-funny, self-effacing and RIGHT and for that reason continue to be marginalized in the histories and nostalgia driven industries that rehash top 100 lists without including anything by bands like this. This is a crime against human conscience and cultural history. That Styrene passed away, dying of cancer on April 25, 2011 of cancer without much notice is really sad.

Listen to selected shows at wreckthismixcloud

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