Poly Styrene of X Ray Spex

I was extremely saddened to hear about Poly Styrene’s death a few months ago. She was always one of my favorites… didn’t stick to the punk formula. And she certainly was unique in the late 70s London punk scene, being one of the few black women around (‘cept maybe Pauline from The Selecter).

I got to speak with her via email in the summer of ’96, after the new Spex put out their record, Conscious Consumer. We talked about eastern religion, the Pistols reunion, and more. Shame I never got to meet her in person. -JM (2011)

Interview by Josh Medsker

(from Noise Noise Noise #11, Oct. 1996)

(note: after their appearance at the Holidays in the Sun Brit punk reunion-fest this summer, the Conscious Consumer lineup has split.)

What have you been doing, since the breakup of the original band? I heard that you put out some solo records in ’80 and ’86? Have you done anything other than music?

I’ve been writing songs, and a diary and a book on Bhakti Yoga. I did put out a solo album in 1980, called Translucence, which was a therapeutic retreat from electric music, and was mainly for my personal development as an artist and a human being. I also put out an EP, called Gods and Goddesses, that was a fusion of styles.

spex95How would you say going to India changed your personal life, and your musical outlook and ideas?

I’ve been very much influenced by Indian culture and philosophy, which has had a profound spiritual significance in both my personal life and music and has helped me introduce mantra therapy in my work and private life.

How do you think the new album, Conscious Consumer, fits in with the other X Ray Spex material?

It’s a progression but still carries quite contemporary concepts of social issues, which aims to se the listener free from consumer bondage. I’m no exception to this rule. I like to hear the messages transmitted as much as I like to sing them. I think Conscious Consumer was more an exercise in communication.

What happened to the original band? Who’s in the new band?

The original band tried to do X Ray Spex without me, unsuccessfully. So I went solo for a while, and then re-formed Spex with new people. The new band is me and some friends.

What do you think of the Sex Pistols reunion tour?

I haven’t seen them. Paul Cook said he gave all his tickets away for Finsbury Park. Everybody who sees them says they sound great. Shame they haven’t any new songs.

You keep up with music these days? Which bands interest you?

The band Shelter have a good message, but musically, I like instrumental, chill-out music. I hope to put on a one-day event once a month, in London and LA, of all my undiscovered bands.

SEMI-VISIBLE HANK: Punk Icon Eludes Dogged Interviewer

This piece will always have a special place in my heart. It was the first thing I wrote that I got paid for, launching me on my first (albeit short-lived) career. All thanks goes to Robert Meyerowitz for taking a chance on me. And Mark and Gretchen Fitz for letting me crash in their spare room even after walking out of my day job. Read on! -JM (2017)

By Josh Medsker

(from The Anchorage Press, Feb 1999)

I had tried to get an interview with Henry Rollins for a week, shortly after his spoken-word date at UAA was confirmed. The UAA Concert Board put up a brick wall: no interviews. Then I noticed a paper on the fridge at my friends’ Mark and Gretchen’s house, where I was crashing. Mark was working with the Concert Board, and had Rollins’ itinerary, including t19059140_10155555496924994_2609964065141975273_nhe hotel where he was staying. I knew what I had to do.

I was supposed to go to work at the Century 16 Megaplex the day of the show. I was the barista boy. I had to weigh my options. Shitty minimum-wage job or possibly meeting Henry Rollins. Serving coffee (with no tips) or talking with one of my punk rock heroes. Making $30 dollars and sitting with my thumb up my ass for most of the day or sticking my neck out to do what I love to do.

I got up at 6am, the day of, and headed out to the Captain Cook Hotel. I was scared as shit. My first balls-to-the-wall journalism experience. Most of the interviews I’d done before were calm, set-up affairs. No big surprises. But this was guerilla commando shit. I expected the hotel to put me out on my ear, when they figured out what I was doing. But I staked that place out for hours.

I arrived at 7am and sat in the hotel restaurant, figuring it was a safe place to start my spying. As far as the hotel knew, I was just another guest. I went over and over the questions I was going to ask, careful to keep my pad and tape recorder out of sight. After about an hour, I got up and took a look around. I noticed there were two towers, with the front desk right in the middle. I sat near that desk for the next five hours, reading Johnny Cash’s autobiography, ready to nab Rollins when he checked out. I never did see him. I was so pissed.

I found out later that night that Rollins was producing commercials that day and left the hotel early. I also found out that the hotel had made special arrangements to get him out of the hotel unnoticed and untouched. There was no way in hell I would’ve gotten to talk to him. But at that point, I was just looking forward to relaxing and enjoying his show, with a scant possibility of getting backstage after.

Rollins busted out for over 2 hours, on everything from Christianity to Black Sabbath to dating, and did it all with graceful showmanship. He’s much funnier than he’s given credit for. He went back and forth between his obsessive fanboy antics hanging out with Black Sabbath and his acting roles without missing a beat. He railed against mediocrity over and over. One of his targets was modern music. “All those guys sound the same,” he said. “Hootie. Eddie Vedder. The guy from Creed. They aren’t particularly bad or good–they’re just sort of there. And that’s the worst.”

Whenever Rollins is home in LA, he says he gets the urge to roam again. He calls it immaturity, but it seems more like an overwhelming desire to explore. Fear of dying without accomplishing anything seems to drive him.

After the show I wandered into the wings. My plan was to find a friend of mine who’s on the news staff at KRUA. I found her, and she’d been denied access as well. I found out later that a group of high school journalists were grilling Rollins backstage. No interviews, huh?

On my way out the door, I ran into Mark. “What one question would you ask Rollins?” he asked. I knew what he was getting at. “I’d ask him what lessons he’s learned, having been deep in the alternative music scene for nearly 20 years.”

I met up with Mark later at Village Inn where we guzzled coffee and ate shark pate taken from backstage. He was one of the few people allowed to talk with the man. He and Hank had sat and talked punk for a bit, and upon hearing my question, Rollins imparted this bit of wisdom: “If you want something done, get off your ass and do it yourself, because no one is going to do it for you.”

The Day of The Damned

In preparation for the unveiling of GEEZERS OF PUNK SPECTACTULAR (PART DEUX), the massive gathering of interviews with “punkers of a certain age” I’ve done for my zine / small press, Twenty-Four Hours, over the last decade or so, here’s an article I wrote in 1999/2000 for a fanzine I’m quite fond of. Please excuse the hyperbole. I was young and excitable.– JM (2017)


(From Neat Damned Noise fanzine, 2000)

The Damned with The Doormats and Wench @ The Fillmore, San Francisco. Oct 1, 1999

vanian nnn

Vanian with a copy of my old zine Noise Noise Noise (#6), SF 1999.

If I’d thought of it, I would have tried to get a free ticket too… I was so excited when I found out The Damned were coming to town, I thought I’d puke. On the day of the show, I went up to the Fillmore, the famed 60s hippie hovel, and asked to get backstage to talk to the band. Their tour manager said okay when I explained I was writing this article for NDN (Hi Henrik!). I was ecstatic. I still can’t believe I met the Damned.

I missed the first band, The Doormats, but I caught the next band, Wench. They kicked some ass. Their main instrument was the drums. Huge booming electronic drums. They were a tasty mix of Ministry and early Siouxsie and The Banshees. Then came the Damned. “Sensible’s a Wanker” and other chants were thrown out from the crowd as the band boarded the stage. Monty the Moron came out in a sort-of clown suit, and wowed the crowed with an extended, moody keyboard into to “Wait for the Blackout”, which sounded a lot like the version from their late 80s reunion period, on Final Damnation. After Monty came Patricia Morrison (ex-Sisters of Mercy, The Bags) all resplendent in her black vinyl dress and long black hair. Sensible walked out in some horridly silly t-shirt and camo pants, plus his trademark beret. He looked the same as ever. Then Dave Vanian waltzed out from the wings, microphone in hand, singing.

Much to my amazement and joy, they played a smattering of songs from their gothic 80s albums. And they played a bunch of my other favorites, such as “Disco Man”, “I Just Can’t Be Happy Today”, and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”. The music was even better live than on the albums, and even though I’d listened to every album a million times. The bass guitar combo of Cap’n Sensible and Patricia Morrison played everything a little different, just to switch it up. What I loved the most, though, was that they played “Shadow of Love”, and “Curtain Call”, with a long moody introduction (although not nearly as long as long as the seventeen minute version on The Black Album).

Later on, they played more stuff from their early albums, such as “Neat Neat Neat” (or “Ni Ni Ni” as I like to say…), “Love Song”, and their ultra-super classic “New Rose”. In the midst of all this, Dave Vanian said to the crowd, “I’ll bet you recognize this one”, and then launched into a brand new song, “Democracy”. The song was fast, and had complex guitar parts, sort of like the faster songs from Anything, but with its own special feel. After this debut, they kicked off, “Looking at You” with a nifty breakdown in the middle, before roaring back into it, driving the crowd to madness. They ended the night with another personal favorite, “Ignite”.

sensible and me

Cap’n Sensible and some idiot, SF 1999.

Dig this. Go listen to that song “Shattered Dreams”, from the new Offspring album, and TELL me that that doesn’t sound exactly like Machine Gun Etiquette-era Damned (mixed with Offspring’s brand of O.C. punk, of course). I mean, they already covered “Smash It Up”! Think about it.

After the show, I walked backstage, ALL ACCESS page in hand! I talked with the dudes from The Doormats, who showed me where Sensible was hanging out. I walked up to the Cap’n, nervous as hell, and introduced myself. “Hi, I’m a huge fan! I play bass too!” After telling the Cap’n that I was from Alaska, we got onto a weird conversation about the Arctic Land Bridge and Native Americans coming over from Europe… Of course I got pictures. After chatting with the good captain for a while, I ventured into the back room, where I found Vanian. We talked a while, and he updated me on what The Damned has been doing recently. Vanian has been working to get the original Phantom Chords album from 1990 released, and hopes to have it released very soon. “It never got released,” he said. “I had the rights to re-record the song, but I wanted to get the originals. There are some good recordings in there.” He also said that this line-up of The Damned is permanent, and are going to be a fully function touring and recording band. The newest incarnation of the band (which is made up of Vanian on vocals, Sensible on guitars, Morrison on bass, Monty the Moron on keys, and guy they call Pinch -formerly of The English Dogs- on drums) have been debuting new songs at each show on this tour.

Sensible busted in, “Please say good things!” The band also has a song on the new Fat Wreck Chords compilation Short Music for Short People. “We recorded it just for that album,” Vanian said. “We packed a lot into that 30 seconds!” According to Mr. Vanian, the band easily has an album’s worth of new material, and would like to record an album soon. “The new material is sort of like The Black Album and Machine Gun Etiquette, more experimentation,” he said. “We’ve been trying to put a few in [our sets] as we go along”. He continued, “Many of them are in the rough stages, but we’ve got plenty of material.”

ShortMusicForShortPeople_albumcoverSHORT MUSIC FOR SHORT PEOPLE (FAT WRECK)

This mamba-jamba has 101 songs on it! Each of ‘em clocking in at a whopping 30 seconds! One of which is a brand-new song by The Damned! The new song, “It’s a Real-Time Thing” is over way too soon and it absolutely rules! It’s straight outta the 80s with its reverby vocals and doomy bassline. The other bands on the album crank out some great stuff too. GWAR’s “Fishfuck”, Bad Religion’s “Out of Hand”, and Spazz’s “A Prayer for the Complete and Utter Eradication of all Generic Pop-Punk” being the most boss tunes. There are also classics by Black Flag (“Spray Paint”), Circle Jerks (“Deny Everything”), and The Descendents (“I Like Food”), all of which rocked, of course. Except for the moldy golden oldies, all of the songs on this album are either brand new or close enough. Run, do not walk, to yer record store and get this album.