These days, there’s no stigma left about going into show business. I guess parents today consider it uncool to tell their ten-year-old that it might be more important to finish high school than to go on American Idol or get into a boy band. But prior to our current, enlightened age, there was a long, distinguished history of musical geniuses whose families were not what you might call “supportive” – especially if they were playing “youth” or “devil” music. For example, jazz pianist Jelly Roll Morton was disowned for turning away from Mozart and taking on ragtime and the blues. John Lennon’s Aunt Mimi famously advised him that “the guitar’s all very well as a hobby…but you’ll never make a living at it.” Now, I don’t know exactly what Susan Ballion’s mum thought about her running around with the Sex Pistols and getting the crap kicked out of her for wearing a swastika armband, but I am going to assume she wasn’t thrilled. Fortunately, her daughter persisted in her punkdom (minus the swastikas) and became the goddess better known as Siouxsie Sioux.
In a moment of rock history that might tempt one to believe in a higher power, Siouxsie was forced, almost literally, on stage when a band booked by impresario Malcolm McLaren didn’t show. Maybe she would have ended up as a singer anyway, but what if? What kind of world would it be without Siouxsie’s queen-of-the-damned voice in it? Sure, even if she couldn’t sing, she might have earned a place in goth history simply for channeling Cleopatra, Louise Brooks and the Evil Queen in Snow White so effectively. But here’s the thing about most goth groups that have stood the test of time: their members are actually talented. Don’t let the eye makeup distract you.
Fortunately, Siouxsie Sioux could, and did, sing. Anything. I mean, what band besides Siouxsie and the Banshees could plausibly cover the Beatles, Billie Holiday, and Kraftwerk? Who besides Siouxsie could make a song from The Jungle Book actually sound menacing? Who else could tempt Robert Smith to quit the Cure for two years? Even her side project with Banshees drummer (and then-hubby) Budgie, the Creatures, is actually good – especially amazing when you look at the history of ’80s side projects (anyone remember Arcadia? Tin Machine?). But the core of Siouxsie’s brilliance is in the yearning, nastiness, grief and sheer terror she brings to the songs she recorded with the Banshees – every time you hear her coming down on you like a hammer in “Spellbound,” or accusing you of being filthy, filthy, filthy in “Peek-A-Boo,” it’s all you can do not to fall to the floor and beg for mercy. Keening like the mythical women who gave her band its name, Siouxsie does her mum proud.