Steve Strange – fascinatrix, Bowie buddy, lead singer of Visage and Blitz Club doyen – was the pop-art Diaghilev of his generation, the New Romantic Prince Charming par excellence.
All canny, fey, fop-till-you-bop, Tin Pan Alley Tolkien, Marc mined and set free a stunningly queer, esoteric eroticism. Popularly, in Sun tabloid-speak, revolutions are harsh, brutal and militaristic, but Marc’s was sensuous and satin-wrapped with the holy fire of imagination. It also didn’t hurt that his casual, cocky aura of dandy magnificence fit him like an irresistible, phallic glove.
So – quite appropriately – Bolan and Bowie – Steve Strange’s subconscious, art-hothouse midwives – gorgeously poisoned his first taste of Sex Pistols punk. And the resulting effect? None other than the shockingly outré, uncontrollable orchids of New Romanticism, shooting up furiously in their bemused, involuntary creator’s head.
The first fruit – quite fittingly for the scorched-birth revisionism of 1976’s punk-rock summer – was The Moors Murderers, Steve’s charmingly-named first band. But even with a press tinder-dry for tabloid outrage, the incendiary name and 45 single Free Hindley did nothing. Exasperated, Steve ditched collaborator Soo Catwoman to launch his unwitting, killer path to glory; his Bowie Night at Soho nightclub Billy’s.
It did the trick, and, more prosaically, turned the creative tricks. Soon, the artistic infection – Steve’s very own, superbly peculiar, post-modernist plague, certainly the honorary enfant terrible of Bolan’s revolution – quickly spread. Nascent exquisites like Boy George and Grayson Perry, still lacking media labels but given surrogate birth by Steve’s example, became individual blizzards of pocket decadence, sartorially assaulting shocked, UK high streets.
Encouraged, Steve further consolidated his confrontational success with his now-legendary, unforgettable (for those who went) Blitz Club in Covent Garden. Now proxy father to the Blitz’s myriad, stained-glass, splintered rainbow tribes, he attracted inevitable attention from Bowie, guesting in the iconic, ‘Ashes to Ashes’ video.
Had Steve hit the Elvis Presley, ejector-seat button to instant fame and lasting notoriety? Yes and no; his inimitable hit, ‘Fade to Grey’ with his band Visage irrevocably stained the pop nostalgia industry. Even more than close rival whack-attack on conformity Pete Burns, Steve engineered an edgy, existential, street-Bible etiquette for surviving our crushingly mediocre modernity.
He needed to. Despite the Blitz Kids and New Romantics’ glorious, inner-London uprising, Maggie Thatcher – the Wicked Witch personified – was fast-tracking creative genocide by any means possible. No, she didn’t succeed, but Thatcher’s preferred, proto-fascist Britain was viciously anti-life, all true-blue, concentrated camps of xenophobic, nationwide intolerance.
Soho, however – spearheaded by Steve’s intoxicating lead – remained a feisty, life-affirming counterforce. Yes, arguably, blandness, in personal politics and society, triumphed long-term – hello, Cameron’s UK – but briefly, to paraphrase Marc Bolan, O God, Life was strange.
And it got stranger yet. Spandau Ballet, Ultravox, Japan, Duran Duran, Culture Club and uncountable others – the tip of a Blitz Kid iceberg – ravishingly seduced a limp, post-punk pop industry overnight. And quite brilliantly, the new bands used sexuality as an explicit style medium, a self-expression as explosive as art, words or image. A new Bible, in fact, a radiant Gospel of non-bigoted, guilt-free Glamour that instantly dumped bedrock intolerance.
Who, after all, needed orthodox religion, that racist, misogynistic rant of half-starved bigots hallucinating reactionary Gods? Why not procreate in your own image through the sheer, self-pleasure of passionately sparking others? Sure, pop was in danger of eating itself, becoming a glorious, shame-free act of art-rock fellatio, but why not swallow inspirational spunk?
Okay, today, perhaps we’ve taken pop’s non-stop wankathon a tad too far – live acts, laughably, even sample themselves – but isn’t that perfect post-modernism? Like it or not, we’re living the pop context Bowie, Eno and Roxy Music merely predicted – music as permanent, but inconsequential, social wallpaper.
So best, perhaps, to kiss Steve Strange goodbye as an exquisite provocateuse eternally preserved in memorial aspic, a pop Jean Cocteau poised for brilliance. Why bother exhuming his moments lesser than Fade To Grey or Ashes To Ashes? Brilliantly plucking the zeitgeist baton from Bowie just before David’s decline, Steve arguably passed the beating heart of art-pop to Gaga, his spiritual heir.
And following Lady Gaga’s inevitable fall from cutting-edge grace? Who knows, but Steve Strange’s quintessential magic – making glory from forsaken glamour – bubbles all around us every minute, in every, artistically-driven life he ever touched. There’s really no better monument than that.
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Opinions expressed in this article may not reflect those of THEGAYUK, its management or editorial teams. If you'd like to comment or write a comment, opinion or blog piece, please click here.