Their names might not have been of the household kind, but lest you foolhardily believe otherwise, it’s been a terrible few weeks for music lovers, as we lost three gifted ladies of varying genres.
I first heard about Marianne Joan Elliott-Said AKA Poly Styrene when I started working at Greenwich Village’s long gone, but no-less legendary Tower Records in the 1980s. The sprawling “record store” was, atmospherically, a fantastic place to work – where variations of society’s children gathered, where the punks mingled with the straight-edged mixed with the preppy juxtaposed with the hip-hoppers gelled with the jazz purists jumbled with the blues men all jumbled, of course, with the rock and rollers. As a Brooklyn boy, I’ve traveled so often to Tower for any and all my musical needs for years that I jumped at the chance to work there when I got in through a trick I picked up. It was a corporate entity, sure, but with a punk rock aesthetic.
Alan (not that aforementioned trick, BTW) was a coworker who introduced me to a lot of that ‘punk rock aesthetic’ that I wasn’t totally familiar with. One of those artists was X-Ray Spex. Styrene was the lead singer of this brash, messy, discombobulated English Punk band that made beautiful noise, and whose“Oh Bondage! Up Yours!”is seminal punk rock. Their classic punk album, Germ Free Adolescents was released on CD while I worked at Tower, and I fell in love with their awesome cacophony.
Sadly – or ironically, if you will – Styrene’s solo album, GENERATION INDIGO, was released a day after her death (April 25th), and nearly three decades after her only other solo debut TRANSLUCENCE.
Read Robert Christgau’s Poly obit from NPR HERE. And here is a great live performance of “Oh Bondage…”, taken from the 1977 documentary PUNK IN LONDON
The ‘high lonesome’ sound rarely sounded so simultaneously earthly and ethereal than when sung by bluegrass pioneer Hazel Dickens, who passed away on April 21st. I’ve not been overtly familiar with Dickens full catalogue, but a few years ago, I actually did some further research of her music after seeing the documentary HARLAN COUNTY, USA, in which she appeared and contributed a few songs to the soundtrack (she also appeared in John Sayles’ MATEWAN). The two albums I own (besides that soundtrack) are a great 1990s Rounder compilation A FEW OLD MEMORIES, and the great duet album with Alice Gerrard called, appropriately enough, HAZEL AND ALICE (they actually recorded a few collaborative albums in the 1970s which have since been issued on CD and that I really must own).
Here’s a 2-part PBS OUTLOOK (from West Virginia) on Hazel, followed by a great duet with Gerrard from HAZEL AND ALICE called “The Sweetest Gift, A Mother’s Smile (Coats)”