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Marianne Joan Elliott-Said, aka Poly Strynene. (Photo: BBC Arena / South By Southwest Film Festival).

The O’Toole Chronicles: Poly Styrene

By Kevin O'Toole, August 30 2022 12:01 am

Sometimes you hear or see something that stops you in your tracks. I was channel surfing the other day and came upon an interesting documentary called “Poly Styrene: I am a Cliché.”

The documentary was about a singer from England, “Poly Styrene,” – real name Marianne Joan Elliott-Said. She was the main singer for a punk band, X-Ray Spex.  The documentary was being told by the singer’s daughter, Celeste Bell, and what surprised me was a statement from the daughter about her mom.

Celeste remarked that her mother would often collapse after a show and Celeste said…“it is unnatural for someone to be on a stage and receive adoration and cheers for something that was said….that isn’t normal.” WOW.

In our political world, we think it’s quite natural to get on a stage, podium or milk crate and give a speech and hear applause. Some of us even count the number of applause interruptions (usually the first thing pointed out by the talking head of the same party as the President). In our world we think it’s normal, but maybe we have it wrong. Maybe Celeste Bell has it right.

I think there is a lot to drill down on one’s capacity or desire to actually get on a stage. Most people don’t want to be put on the spot or be the focus of the attention. I fully understand that.

The flip side is once you are on stage, you certainly don’t want to get booed or criticized.

One poll I read says 75% of all individuals have a fear of public speaking. That is an astonishing number. And when you break it down, college educated individuals have less fear, only 24% of them have Glossophobia — fear of public speaking, while 52% of high school graduates (or less in the education department) have this legitimate fear. People have less fear of dying, spiders or snakes than they do of public speaking.

I know that we are talking about two different concepts here, but both seem to meld together…somewhere.

Back to Poly Styrene — she was a groundbreaking performer who sang in an unconventional voice about serious topics like race, identity, consumerism and other important topics of the 1970’s. Sadly, Poly Styrene died at the young age of 53 of breast cancer, but her influence lives on.

Next time you see someone speaking in a public forum, and before you begin your critique of their performance, try and put yourself in their shoes and see if you would like to trade places — I bet I know the answer.


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