By Moina Arcee, May 16, 2014 Edited July 5 2018
But events in little Susan’s life led her into dark corners of human behavior, causing her to grow up too wounded too soon. She couldn’t bring her friends home because her father didn’t work and spent the day drinking in the house. Alcoholism has a way of socially isolating the family containing the alcoholic, and this was true with Susan’s family too. Susan’s brother and sister were ten years older than she was, adding to her isolation. At age nine she was sexually assaulted.
According to Susan, her parents chose to ignore the episode. At age fourteen Susan’s father died from cirrhosis of the liver. Susan felt betrayed and abandoned. Looking back on those painful years, she would say:
“The suburbs inspired intense hatred…I grew up having no faith in adults as responsible people. So I invented my own world, my own reality. It was my own way of defending myself – protecting myself from the outside world. The only way I could deal with how to survive was to get some strong armour.”
In 1976 Susan left high school and began hanging out in clubs. She became enamored of a new punk rock group called the Sex Pistols. The Pistols were good at getting themselves noticed, and Susan was too. She wore black clothes with bondage and fetish accessories. Her spiked hair was dyed black. Once she wore a swastika on a black armband and got beat up. Susan was not being anti-semitic, she was trying to shock the bourgeoisie. She succeeded.
To really make a statement, however, Susan would need to form her own band. But the few people she knew did not know how to make music. At an open mike her friends improvised while Susan recited poems. She named her group Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees. They were immediately linked with the notorious Sex Pistols in the media, but by the late 1970’s English club music had moved to post-punk and to Goth. Siouxsie was at the front of both movements.
Other bands in the gothic rock stable were The Cure, The Damned, Adam and the Ants, 45 Grave, Play Dead, and Southern Death Cult, to name a few. Siouxsie was a trendsetter who followed her own lights. Her on-stage presence was remarkable. Critic Jon Savage described Siouxsie as “unlike any female singer before or since, commanding yet aloof, entirely modern.”
The Goth subculture of the 1980’s consisted of young intelligent people who didn’t fit in (or felt they didn’t fit in) with normal society. Many of them were absorbed by medieval, Victorian and Edwardian history, and by the writings of Dante, Byron, and Tolstoy. There was a preoccupation with death and blood, and all things Dracula. They tended to appear depressed and gloomy and communicate in tones angsty and morbid.
“Kiss Them For Me” was a movie starring 1950’s sex symbol Jayne Mansfield, a blonde Playboy pinup who rivaled Marilyn Monroe for sex appeal. Mansfield’s career had peaked by the time she was killed in a gruesome car accident in 1967. Her daughter Mariska was in the car but because of her small size received only minor injuries. Mariska (Hartigay) currently stars in the long running series Law and Order SVU.
Siouxsie’s song was an unlikely ode to Jayne Mansfield’s life and death, referencing her heart shaped swimming pool and using Mansfield’s own word, “divoon” in the lyrics. It was the last major hit the Banshees had. The band announced its retirement in 1996. Artists as diverse as U2, Morrissey, Depeche Mode, Jane’s Addiction, and Sonic Youth all site Siouxsie and the Banshees as major influences to their music.
Today young Goth wannabees can go online and check out Siouxsie’s fashion sense back in the day, or as recently as 2013, when Siouxsie appeared at Yoko Ono’s Meltdown concert at The Royal Albert Hall.
Siouxsie Sioux. (2014). The Biography.com website. Retrieved 10:25, May 12, 2014, fromhttp://www.biography.com/people/siouxsie-sioux-17178808.
Paytress, Mark. Siouxsie & the Banshees: The Authorised Biography. Sanctuary, 2003.
Johns, Brian. Entranced : the Siouxsie and the Banshees story. Omnibus Press, 1989.
Rolling Stone, June 15, 1995, Siouxsie and the Banshees, New York, Roseland, April 28, 1995, by Bill Van Parys.