Wednesday, April 27, 2011

TIMOR MORTIS CONTURBAT ME. It's already a big death week for music. I thought I was unacquainted with Hazel Dickens, but apparently that was her heart-rending voice in Harlan County U.S.A., which I hold in my memory to this day. At least she made 75. Phoebe Snow was just 58 when she passed and had been sick. I saw her in the early 70s; she didn't move much, just stood there and skeined out that distinctive sound, which would often start big and then turn into husky static and evaporate. That trailing-off was her signature, which is kind of eerie considering how she went out. No one should have so much death and sorrow in her life, not even an artist.

For me, though, the chill wind really came with the news that Poly Styrene had died of cancer at, gasp, age 53. I saw her and X-Ray Spex at CBGB in 1978. James Wolcott was there too -- I was probably further back from the stage than he, because my stoner friends were not in the mood to be rushed and I lost my reservation. But I could have been out on the sidewalk and her presence still would have reached me. She was physically ample but in no sense heavy, and bounced with obvious pleasure every time the music started. Her voice was strong and from the gut, but though angst was the style in those days, she clearly delighted in her power and shared it with the crowd cheerfully. She lit that dank hellhole right up. It was one of those occasions in which showmanship and animal spirits are indistinguishable. I remember her full of life.

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