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Music

Revisiting the best lyrical moments of Siouxsie Sioux

Susan Janet Ballion, the musician better known as Siouxsie Sioux, has led a life quite like no other. Born in London in 1957 to a Belgian father and a British mother, she was raised in the leafy suburb of Chislehurst, but growing up wasn’t easy for Siouxsie by any stretch of the imagination. 

Her formative years were marked by isolation and anger, exacerbated by her father’s alcoholism, the fact her family lived on the peripheries of the local community, and that she lived on the fringes of her family. She’s spoken at length about her experiences growing up, and due to the embarrassment caused by her father’s condition, she never invited friends round to her house, and understandably, this fuelled her disillusionment and the sense that she was different from everybody else. 

Despite that, at the time, this could not have made Siouxsie Sioux feel further away from normal society, and it is this that would give her the outlook needed to take over the world and inspire countless other misfits when she finally became a musical icon in the late 1970s. Interestingly though, Sioux bore no ill will towards her father but instead saw him as a kindred spirit. She empathised with him for not fitting in with the “rigid, middle-class society” that they inhabited.

Later, Siouxsie disclosed that “the suburbs inspired intense hatred”. This was inspired by a horrific sexual assault from a stranger that she endured when she was only nine years old and the fact that the police and her parents brushed it under the carpet. This gave Sioux a bleak outlook on the world and adults from such a young age. 

She explained: “I grew up having no faith in adults as responsible people. And being the youngest in the family, I was isolated – I had no one to confide in. 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.”

Then, when she thought that things couldn’t get any worse, when she was 14, her father died due to an illness related to his alcoholism. The shock was so intense it took a severe toll on Siouxsie’s health. She lost significant weight and missed a lot of school. After several misdiagnoses, she was operated on for ulcerative colitis, and during her recovery in 1972, she saw David Bowie on TV. The alien-like Bowie would make a significant impact on her, giving her the inspiration she needed to one day leave Chislehurst behind.

A few years later, the revolution against middle-class suburbia and cultural complacency had begun. The first wave of punk was in full swing. Before too long, at 17, Siouxsie and friend Steven Severin became friends and followers of the most notorious band around, the Sex Pistols. They formed a part of the colourful ‘Bromley Contingent’ of fans, and in December 1976, Siouxsie and her friends joined the Sex Pistols on their polarising appearance on Bill Grundy’s Today show.

However, the negative press from the appearance would make her move away from the Sex Pistols and start to cultivate the image that we all know her for today. By the end of the decade, she had formed Siouxsie and the Banshees, and they had paved a new way in music, meshing gothic, psychedelic and post-punk influences. By the dawn of the 1980s, she had become one of the most consequential performers of all time, with a penchant for incisive lyrics, Siouxsie Sioux, the high priestess of all things punk and goth 

Join us then, as we revisit some of Siouxsie’s best lyrics. 

Siouxsie Sioux’s best lyrics:

‘Hong Kong Garden’ – 1978

“Harmful elements in the air / Symbols clashing everywhere”.

Where else but to start with the single that first introduced Siouxsie Sioux and crew to the world? A post-punk classic that has long been regarded as one of the definitive cuts of the genre, marked by original guitarist John McKay’s iconic work, it is also one of Siouxsie’s finest pieces of lyrical work.

Named after the Hong Kong Garden Chinese takeaway in Chislehurst High Street, which Siouxsie and her friends frequented, the song is an anti-racist anthem, and was the perfect way for her to arrive on the scene. It showed what she was all about and that she was not just some dumb hanger-on of the Sex Pistols. 

Sioux revealed that the song “was a kind of tribute” to the shop as its Chinese workers would often be victims of horrific racial abuse from the local skinheads. She told Uncut in 2005: “I remember wishing that I could be like Emma Peel from The Avengers and kick all the skinheads’ heads in, because they used to mercilessly torment these people for being foreigners. It made me feel so helpless, hopeless and ill.”

Mittageisen’ – The Scream (1978)

“Reunion begins / With a glass of mercury / Whilst television flickers / For another news bulletin / Flints light up the eyes / Of the seated family”.

Siouxsie and the Banshees’ debut album, The Scream, is one of the most influential alternative albums of all time, and has inspired a host of legends, including Joy Division, Faith No More and even Massive Attack. Whilst the atmospheric musicianship of the band is esteemed, Siouxsie also shines lyrically across the record.

Perhaps the best reflection of this is ‘Mittageisen’. A portmanteau of the German words “Mittagessen” (literally: “noon meal”, i.e. lunch) and Eisen (iron), the track showed just how artistically inclined Siouxsie and the band were. 

The title and lyrics were also inspired by famous anti-Nazi German artist John Heartfield’s photocollage Hurrah, die Butter ist Alle! (“Hurray, the Butter is Finished!”) which was used as the single’s cover art. It was a direct reference to the Hermann Göring quote: “Iron always made a nation strong, butter and lard only made the people fat”.

A Dadaist, Heartfield pioneered using art as a political weapon, and clearly, this was something that had a profound impact on Siouxsie, as she too would use her art as a tool for attacking what she perceived as societal ills. Her lyrics here are severe yet comedic, showing her genius as a wordsmith. 

‘Happy House’ – Kaleidoscope (1980)

“It’s safe and calm if you sing along / This is the happy house — we’re happy here in the happy house / To forget ourselves — and pretend all’s well / There is no hell”.

1980’s ‘Happy House’ saw the band take their art in a different direction from their first two albums, The Scream and Join Hands. New drummer Budgie was heavily interested in African polyrhythms and utilised a reggae style on the song, whilst these were juxtaposed to the edgy guitar of guitar wizard John McGeoch. Siouxsie herself said they invented their new sound off the back of the piece, dubbing it “Banshees – phase two”.

Lyrically, it is clearly Siouxsie venting about her upbringing in Chislehurst and the facade of middle-class society. When asked if the song was “cynical”, she responded: “It is sarcastic. In a way, like television, all the media, it is like adverts, the perfect family whereas it is more common that husbands beat their wives. There are mental families really but the projection is everyone smiling, blond hair, sunshine, eating butter without being fat and everyone perfect”.

‘Spellbound’ – Juju (1981)

“And don’t forget when your elders forget / To say their prayers / Take them by the legs / And throw them down the stairs”.

The first single from the band’s fourth album Juju, ‘Spellbound’ saw the band get truly goth, with John McGeoch’s busy and atmospheric guitar work giving the band a sound that nobody had ever heard before. It was psychedelic, mysterious and enchanting, and Siouxsie’s otherworldly vocals on the song remain astounding to this day. 

Heightening this edge-of-the-seat type of excitement that the music creates is Siouxsie’s lyrics, which read like the script of any classic possession-based horror film such as The Excorcist. However, she manages to imbue them with her genuine hatred of her parent’s generation, noting their hypocrisy. Imploring the listener to throw their elders down the stairs, this confirmed that the Siouxsie of the early days had not gone anywhere; she’d just repackaged herself.

‘Candyman’ – Tinderbox (1986)

“Sickly sweet, his poison seeks / For the young ones who don’t understand / The danger in his hands / With a jaundiced wink, see his cunning slink / Oh, trust in me, my pretty one / Come walk with me, my helpless one”.

A personal favourite of Siouxsie and the band’s, her vocal performance on this entry is unmatched. She sounds so otherworldly, and as she sings the chorus “Candyman”, the power is so palpable that the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention. New guitarist John Valentine Carruthers does his best impression of McGeoch’s work, and does it fantastically. Added to this power is the rhythm section of Budgie and Steven Severin providing a dynamic and locomoting basis for Sioux to shine.

Nevertheless, the most notable part of the song is the lyrics. The song is about child abuse and is presumably about the crime committed toward Siouxsie when she was only a child. It details the experience of child abuse, and how paedophiles treat their shell-shocked victims. You have to say fair play to Siouxsie as she lays it all bear in such a lucid manner.

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