I just checked my blogroll for the first time all day and saw the bad news, posted by Brian at This Ain't the Summer of Love, that Poly Styrene just passed away due to complications from cancer. Poly (born Marianne Elliott-Said) was one of the great women of punk with a wonderful air raid siren of a voice. She was the lead singer for one of the most creative bands to emerge from the British punk scene of the late '70s, X-Ray Spex, and she wrote some of the most trenchant lyrics of any punk songwriter, questioning the daily rituals of consumerism that give us all a sense that our identities have been manufactured for us by some large impersonal system. Anyone reading this who has not heard the X-Ray Spex album Germfree Adolescents, stop reading and go find a copy to listen to now. You won't regret it.
Meanwhile, in memory, here's a rockin' video performance of the band playing their pivotal first single, "Oh Bondage Up Yours!" An anthem for female rockers everywhere...
This wasn't as cool as Durbin singing Judas Priest's "You Got Another Thing Coming" a few weeks ago, but gotta give the man props - he is unapologetic in his metal-ness, even if he does choose a pretty suck-ass song (Sammy Hagar's title track from the film Heavy Metal) to prove it. If nothing else, this was easily the most time given to a guitar solo in the history of American Idol and for that alone it was sorta neat.
Last night Holly and I went to see Sebadoh, and it was a great show, better than I'd anticipated. Holly went to high school with Jason Loewenstein, who mainly played bass but switched instruments with Lou Barlow at various points and played some damn fine high-wire indie punk guitar along with singing most of the evening's more punk-fueled tunes. A fine and funny moment happened while Jason was at the mic. He recounted all the time he spent at Pearl Street - the club where they played - and all the hearing he'd lost going to shows there, and looked out at the club to the spot he usually remembered standing, which just happened to be right where Holly and I were positioned. Looking out, he looked right at Holly and said "Hey!" For some reason she found this embarrassing but I thought it was sort of cute.
In a much weirder vein, Iggy Pop appeared on American Idol this past Thursday night (!). The sheer novelty of the thing was fun in and of itself, but I have to say, it was sort of underwhelming all in all. It would have been one thing if he'd appeared with the Stooges but he was there with a bunch of younger musicians who were sort of just okay in the manner of much of Iggy's non-Stooges solo work, and he sang a song - "Wild One" - that was cute in its self-referentiality but really, it mostly proved that Iggy on network TV is largely innocuous, because he can't do the things that really make him Iggy. Still, though, gotta wonder just which producer of the show thought that of all the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-related folks (that was the week's theme) to bring on, Iggy was the one. And it definitely seems to consolidate the show's progressively growing play for a more straight-up rock audience (also indicated by this season's big rocker contestant James Durbin, who sang a Judas Priest song earlier this season - which to my mind, was a way more radical breach of American Idol decorum than having Iggy perform).
A final note: next Saturday (Apr. 16) in Northampton, underground legend John Sinclair will be performing at the First Church chapel downtown. Tickets are $15 and apparently aren't selling like hot cakes so anyone with an interest in seeing one of the most intriguing characters in the past several decades of alternative culture still has a chance to check it out.
For those who don't know, Sinclair was a poet, writer and activist based in Detroit who became the manager of one of the great rock bands to ever hail from that city, the MC5, back in the 1960s. Sinclair wasn't just a manager, he was an ideologue, master publicist, mischief maker and tireless advocate who mentored the Five in the ways of avant-jazz improv and sent shivers down the spine of local and national authorities. In 1969, having caused so much trouble, he was sentenced to ten years in jail for possession of marijuana in a trumped up charge that was obviously motivated by politics. While in jail, Sinclair collected many of his writings in a great document of countercultural idealism, Guitar Army; upon his release in 1972, Sinclair went on to found the Ann Arbor Jazz and Blues Festival, and has continued to write poetry and make music with a distinctive vision. He'll be accompanied for his Northampton gig by some cool and creative musicians who play in a manner conducive to Sinclair's adventurous character.
Axman is Steve Waksman, a professor of music and American Studies at Smith College, author of Instruments of Desire: The Electric Guitar and the Shaping of Musical Experience and a new book on heavy metal and punk.