Real Time Short Stories

Posts Tagged ‘pina bausch

We’ll only know of our own deaths when someone hacks into our Facebook accounts and changes our status to “Deceased”. It was no surprise, therefore, that I learned about the death of Poly Styrene from seeing it mentioned on someone else’s Facebook status.

More thought-provoking was the way, within a few hours, the news served to provide the kind of generational stratification today’s come-one-come-all kidult playgrounds more usually eliminate. The “RIP” comments, quoted lyrics and YouTube links to X-Ray Spex videos started appearing with regularity and you could throw a blanket of no more than 10 or 15 years over the ages of the people making the comments. X-Ray Spex came and went and never became the mass media definition of punk the Sex Pistols had been; never grew to the global profile earned by The Clash; never became a pop act like Adam and the Ants; never had the 80s hits of The Damned, The Jam, Siouxsie or The Stranglers; were never re-discovered by younger fans to quite the same extent as The Buzzcocks. This means that they necessarily remain a detail of memory, a reminder of what formed “us”.

Of course, it’s unfair to label Poly Styrene a simple late 70s period detail, like Spangles, and not just because she had recently released a new album. The old punks shedding a tear of appreciation this week would have recognised that this was an outspoken feminist, unapologetic and uncompromising in Pan’s People Britain; that her identity as a mixed-race woman fuelled her activism but was not the most conspicuous feature about her public profile; that the music itself was instead the thing that mattered, anti-consumerist satires delivered with a ferocity that could be equated with Ginsberg’s beat poetry or The Watts Prophets’ declamatory Black nationalism, backed with a sound defined by a saxophone seemingly lifted from a manic klezmer band. There are sound arguments to be made about the influence Poly Styrene had on the music industry and on British culture, but there’s no escaping the feeling that hers was the sort of death that makes a group of people, who can be quite precisely identified as the John Peel generation, reflect on their own lives, their own development.

And this has made me think about the way influence works, how slow, often dormant, and then suddenly packed with coincidence, is the journey of an idea to the point where it becomes a piece of writing. This week, I also saw Wim Wenders’ astonishing 3D documentary, Pina, and it has nothing much to do with Poly Styrene’s death except that both happened at roughly the same time, and Poly happened to me when I was 11 or 12 and still taking shape, and then Pina Bausch happened to me about five years later. It’s another marker of a particular generation that I can remember when Channel 4 was known for its arts programming. I watched 1980 by Pina Bausch over two nights on Channel 4 at the age of 16 or 17. I had no knowledge of dance theatre; I don’t believe I even knew beforehand that what I was watching was dance theatre: it was simply the strangest and most captivating performance I had come across.

I’ve not really explored Pina’s work much since then – I treated it instead like a buried childhood treasure, something to create excitement if glimpsed again, as in Pedro Almodovar’s Talk To Her. Yet projected by Wenders into the midst of the dance, I was able to recognise how much influence that brief introduction half a lifetime ago had exerted on my approaches to performance over the years. I also realised that one of the key works featured in the film, Cafe Muller, speaks to this blog’s present fixation with cafe-frame short fiction, as illustrated by the empty chairs and tables witnessing this terribly beautiful sequence from the stage production:

I’m not just saying see the film (but see it). The coincidence of having the space to think about these two women, how each set ideas in motion in my young mind and then left them there, and what these reminders of their lives have made me think about this week – like a pinch of saffron in a pan of paella, these will form a part of the ingredients for a work of fiction, at some point. What else goes in, I will – I hope – be able to record here as and when they make themselves known to me.


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