Wednesday, 6 February 2013

My String Snapped

Enjoying a day out at the seaside
Siouxsie and The Banshees are generally classified as ‘Post Punk’, i.e. they didn’t release a record until 1978 and they were more subtle and cerebral than, say, UK Subs. Their music is distinctly ‘against’, but is cool and ironic and caustic, rather than simply angry and loud. In ‘Suburban Relapse’, a song from their aptly titled first LP ‘The Scream’, Siouxsie (formerly Susan Janet Ballion of Chislehurst, Kent) details her own potential nervous breakdown.

‘I'm sorry that I hit you but my string - snapped
 I'm sorry I disturbed your cat-nap
But whilst finishing a chore
I asked myself what for
Then - something – snapped’
There’s something horrible about that opening verse, especially its politeness and the banality of the phrase ‘cat-nap’. The violence of the situation is not in the physical attack, but in the twang of the snapping string. The words are perfectly complemented by the backing music, which sounds like sheets of metal being tipped over a cliff, and by Siouxie’s vocal, with its perfect balance of numbness and growing hysteria, full of the fuzzy, unpredictable threat of madness. She goes on to ask:
'Should I throw things at the neighbours?
Expose myself to strangers?
Kill myself or you?’

Rather a difficult question to answer.  

Not afraid
Although it’s hard to imagine the fearless Siouxsie Sioux in an apron, she nevertheless understood the underlying dread of the suburbs. Her father had died of cirrhosis of the liver when she was 14, and one can only imagine the pressure of growing up in a home where one of your parents is a chronic alcoholic. Not surprisingly, the thing that young Susan most wanted was to be like everybody else -
‘My family felt like the Addams Family, and I grew up desperately wanting to be normal. We stuck out - even our house was different from all the others on the street. It was this modern house, with a hedge in front that was so tall you couldn't see the house, and the neighbours complained’.
It’s the small details of that private hell that nag at you: the embarrassing overgrown garden, the neighbours ganging up on you, or, in another memory, the dolls pram with a bent wheel from when Daddy fell on it when he was drunk.
When her father died, Susan became dangerously ill with ulcerative colitis. As she recovered she saw David Bowie on the TV and realised that being like everybody else was over-rated. Her ‘race memory’, of the straitjacket of life in the suburbs, however, is a recurring theme in the band’s early work, and brilliantly exemplified here.

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