Marianne Joan Elliott-Said – Poly Styrene – born July 3rd 1957
“Identity is the crisis, can’t you see?”
Taken from X-Ray Spex’s 1978 debut album “Germfree Adolescents”, the track “Identity”, manages to deal with self-esteem, vanity, and self-harm, in a break-neck two and a half minutes. I don’t think I fully understood how sophisticated this was at the time; Poly’s choice of, and use of, the word “Identity” gave it an over-due airing out. Identity wasn’t something we talked about in the 1970s, unless it was proceeded by the word “fake” in a crime report or spy novel, where it would be accompanied by a picture of a man in a false beard and sunglasses.
Identity was who you were, and how you looked, but it was also tied up with who you were supposed to be, and how you were suppose to look. Quite often the “were” and the “supposed to be” didn’t match, and that was the part of the song I understood.
This will probably come as no surprise, but as children, some of us might have been classed as a “bit of a tomboy”. We would return home with scraped knees, muddy shoes, grass stains and grand tales of derring-do. Although this kind of behaviour was not exactly encouraged, it was generally tolerated in girls up until the age of about 11.
Once you started at secondary school, dirt and rough play were now apparently off the menu, not because they were dangerous, the critics didn’t have our safety in mind, but because these sort of activities were deemed “un-ladylike”.
Girls like me were being wrong-footed by the still unwavering social mores of a past era, we might as well have been living under Queen Victoria. Girls that were less like me were learning to be “demure”, and would aim to end the day looking exactly as they did when it started; crisp, clean, perfectly ironed and unfettered by activity. Life was becoming some sort of prison of socially acceptable behaviour, and I didn’t like it.
What I had started to like though, were the early punk bands.
If anyone had told Poly Styrene not to get sweaty or shout she certainly wasn’t listening, and from here on in….neither was I.
More X-Ray Spex, HERE