To the coffeehouse crowd of the early ‘70s, Phoebe Snow was cool. To the punk throngs of just a few years later, she was a blizzard of yuck, the kind of artist whom new singers such as the same-initialed Poly Styrene were put on earth to destroy.
Both singer-songwriter Phoebe Snow and X-Ray Spex frontwoman Poly Styrene died this week. I never saw X-Ray Spex live, but their singles were in every self-respecting punk’s record collection, and I know from some of my young-adult friends that those old records still awe and inspire, especially the empowerment anthem “O Bondage Up Yours.” The British obituaries depict Ms. Styrene as amiable and down-to-earth.
Phoebe Snow, as I noted, was the enemy to my chosen pop culture, but in the ‘90s I found that I’d been wrong about her. I went to a charity concert at Irving Plaza in New York to see one of my all-time favorite bands, Cheap Trick, perform with one of their own idols, Roy Wood (of The Move and Wizzard fame). Al Franken was hosting, Annie Haslam of Renaissance had put the show together (to benefit Bosnian orphans), and the roster the gamut from artists I respected (Tony Visconti, drummer Steve Holley, Procol Harum’s Gary Brooker) to those I actively disliked, like Justin Hayward of Moody Blues… and Phoebe Snow.
I grinded my teeth through Snow’s set, thinking about the orphans. But then Al Franken came out and reminded Snow of a bit they’d worked on together in the early days of Saturday Night Live. And Phoebe Snow performed the theme song for the fake high-fiber cereal Colon Blow.
“Colon Blow and you-oo-oo-oo in the morning…”
Not a far cry from the Poly Styrene catalog, which advertises “Germ Free Adolescents.” If there’s a soft-pop-‘n’-punk heaven, they may have a hell of a duo.