Friday, 2 July 2010

Six Women full of Fire.

From the left: Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders), Deborah Harry (Blondie), Viv Albertine (The Slits), Siouxsie Sioux (Siouxsie & the Banshees), front: Poly Styrene (X-Ray Spex), Pauline Black (The Selector). By Michael Putland for the New Musical News in 1980.

It was 30 years ago today. I remember it well, because I was there for a brief while looking for the next time step. I was looking for a something indistinct, a kind of spirit that had come from the earth itself. It seemed to draw the people it wanted to itself. Something had changed in Britain, something harder and nastier had begun. The year before Britain had unknowingly elected, one of the worst prime ministers it had ever had. But they were taken by the fact that Britain would have for the first time a woman prime minister and had become disillusioned by the previous Labour government. They did not know, they could not - that she would introduce disharmony and rage in the country. That she would go to war for her own ends, though that was not new in itself.

In reaction to her and her nasty party, a spirit of fire seemed to ignite and spill into the young and into the culture. But while the rage against Thatcher blazed, the fire spirit did not want all of those who arose. The Women's Movement was still full of it's own fire and in the feminist spirit of the time certain women caught the attention of the Fire Spirit. These women were not all from Britain, but the spirit was not concerned with that. National boundaries were irrelevant to it. It wanted expression and it wanted them to express it's fire and flame.

I had been looking in the wrong places. I looked at fine art and only when I heard the Sex Pistols and the Clash did I realise that I had been looking in the wrong place. I set the detectors in my temporal vehicle to look for the spirit in music. The culture seemed to open up and rage against the conservatism of the time but for a while I could not find the spirit.

I bided my time having reconfigured my temporal vehicle to resemble a skip at the back of an old council building. The vehicle soon filled up with all kinds of rubbish but it digested it and transmuted it into what it needed. Meanwhile I rented a bedsit in North London, a grim place with a hardness in the air and rage waiting to ignite at any moment. For when the poor cannot strike at those who would crush them, they lash out at each other or those they perceive as different.

Then my temporal vehicle alerted me and I caught traces of the spirit flashing out. It began with Viv Albertine and her group The Slits. There was a bright living breathing flame in her and the music she was making. I know, I saw it. Then Siouxsie Sioux took a small band out of dull suburban Bromley and transformed both herself and music with a unique voice. She wore a dark edge lightly and with a humour that barely covered the depth of her flame. I became excited for I knew that the next time step would soon appear. I set my temporal vehicle to calculate when the time step would appear.

In small clubs in London a new band with a 1970s rock edge suddenly appeared and in Chrissie Hynde, the flame flickered and caught. She seemed to have something of Suzi Quatro about her without being like her. The Fire Spirit took on a dry, sardonic flavour in her. Not so, Poly Styrene's band X-Ray Spex. The Fire Spirit blazed furiously in her, against the consumerism and the viciousness of the times. My temporal vehicle caught the presence of the Fire Spirit in them and I moved out of the small dreary bedsit with it's faded tatty linoleum and grubby bathroom with a small cracked window. I reconfigured my vehicle again to a lean-to between the other skips at the back of the council building and moved into it. The computer continued to calculate the time when the time step would appear. In the meantime I bought one of the current musical playing devices called a 'Walkman'. I could not play music on my FlightyFlicker from the 35th century, but it did not matter. This music, was so unlike Red Sky and the Overlanders. It had something passionate and wild in it, something determined to get up and stand up for their rights.

It took a while, but finally when the Fire Spirit found Deborah Harry and her New York band, Blondie it seemed to catch a fire with delight. In her it found something dark, snappy and yet with a hint of mischief. A certain I-don't-care quality about her. The culture fell for her too and seemed to come alive a little with her. The calculations of the computer raced now. I was close to finding the time step, I could feel it. I began to realise that there was someone else and began to actively look for her - for I was sure it would be a woman. I was right too. When Pauline Black's warm, crisp voice came on my red radio I knew instinctively that the Fire Spirit had found it's next home. I enjoyed the music of these women, I admit it, but more than that I revelled in the sheer passion of their music and their pointing out the stupidities of prejudice. The times as that other man I'd heard before sang, were definitely a-changing. They were changing fast too and my temporal vehicle soon found the next time step clue.

A journal of the time, the New Musical News had arranged to photograph these six Fire Women at a specific time and place. I used the signal calyxer to find the time and place and visited the site before the date. With my temporal detectors I caught traces of time leaking through the vortex and moved my temporal vehicle to the place, reconfiguring it to look like a Delorean car. It was a year early, but I did not think anyone would notice particularly. I was ready for the date and time. I watched from a nearby cafe as the women entered the building and as soon as the last of them was present, I crossed to the temporal vehicle and started up the engines. The trans-temporal capacitor purred and the computers slowed, calculating the moment when the time step would appear. The Fire Spirit flickered, blazed and at a certain moment the photographer took his photograph of these six women full of the Fire Spirit. They would blaze for some time, but the time step appeared and drawing the temporal vehicle's magnetica-traceries to it, the Delorean was pulled into the time vortex.

Many years after the picture was taken I saw the image and smiled to recall how the Fire Spirit had woven itself so perfectly within them that these women would be part of the cultural change that shook Britain and much of the Western world. As for Thatcher, Britain soon saw that woman or not, she was trouble and threw her out of office. It was not for another fifty years that the country got another woman prime minister and while she was compared with Thatcher, it was at least in favourable terms.

And me? I keep travelling through Earth time and finding plenty to interest me, although I no longer have the same temporal vehicle. These days I have an upgraded machine - the Trans-Temporality IX with a far more accurate trans-temporal drive.


Rosemary in Utah said...

Well-- "and now for something a little different" would describe this. I'm not familiar with their music and barely know the names-- but I'll take your word that fire was within.
My heart is full when I think of "my" '60s people-of-talent, too.
I enjoyed the political jabs and comedy in this one too!

Griffin said...

I loved the picture and these women meant such a lot to me when I was a teenager through their music.

It was also a specific time and place that is long gone now. Debbie Harry is still going with Blondie, but Viv Albertine's group the Slits is gone as has the Selector tho' Pauline Black is still singing. Chrissie Hynde's, The Pretenders are also no more as far as I know.

Siouxsie Sioux was with The Banshees and they aren't going any more as a band, but she still does stuff. Poly Styrene's X-Ray Spex are gone too.

The neo-liberalism of Thatcher is still with us in the UK arguably and still wrecking things here and globally.

bad penny said...

Girl Power ! Loved 'em - especially Blondie - but you know that already.