R.I.P. Poly Styrene and Phoebe Snow

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A double outpouring of grief has swept through the music community today at the news that both Poly Styrene and Phoebe Snow had passed on (Poly Styrene last night after battling breast cancer and Snow this morning due to complications from a January 2010 brain hemorrhage).

At first glance, the two could not be more different. Phoebe Snow was a Teaneck, NJ poet who took up guitar and overcame stage fright to perform in Greenwich Village clubs. She was nominated for a 1975 Best New Artist Grammy on the strength of “Poetry Man.” The same year, her daughter Valerie was born with hydrocephalus; the attention and care Snow gave her daughter inadvertently concealed the lack of support she received from her label, despite being much-loved in the musical community: her soulful voice inspired no less than Donald Fagen of Steely Dan to recruit her for the New York Rock and Soul Revue (alongside Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs).

Poly Styrene formed X-Ray Spex in 1976 in London, thousands of miles away from the folk-jazz-blues scene Snow had entered. Confrontational by necessity (her braces and Dayglo attire added power and subjectivity to the alienation she experienced from less fluid forms of dismissive categorization), she famously forced the issue(s) by introducing the band’s breakout single “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” with a sardonic “Little girls should be seen and not heard.”

And though she was musically nothing like Poly Styrene, Phoebe Snow would probably have appreciated that wisecrack. In drastically different ways, both vocalists challenged preconceived notions of how musicians ought to look, sound, and behave, even lately?both had returned to making music after time away, and Poly Stryene’s new album Generation Indigo came out today. They will both be missed.