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How the suburbs inspired the rage in Siouxsie Sioux

The suburbs inspire rage in everyone wishing to escape the humdrum rhythm of suburban life. Everyone from Raymond Carver to J.D. Salinger and even Arcade Fire have discussed the knot of feelings, and internal strife that such an inoffensive place underpinned by inertia can stoke in someone with a tendency to look outwards. 

In fact, Britain in the 1970s, not just its peripheries, was characterised by a sense of complacency, and it was the reaction to this that fuelled those who went on to become the adherents of and the main figures driving the punk movement. One of punk’s leading figures was driven by a burning rage that would culminate in her becoming one of the most iconic musicians of all time, Siouxsie Sioux.

Born Susan Ballion in 1957, Sioux grew up in the quiet London suburb of Chislehurst alongside her parents and siblings. Her mother was a bilingual secretary and her father a scientist. Given that her parents were not from the area and that her father was Belgian, right from her earliest years, she remembers the feelings of isolation that Chislehurst created within her.

It wasn’t just this, though. She was ten years younger than her siblings, and her isolation was exacerbated by the fact that her father had crippling issues with alcoholism. This would lead to him becoming unemployed, and she has often spoken about the trauma of not being able to invite friends to her house because of his illness. 

Her father would sporadically have moments of sobriety, and during them, they would bond over a love of books. As she grew older, she accepted the fact that despite everything, he was an intelligent and well-read individual and sympathised with his inability to fit into the “rigid, middle-class society” that they both found themselves in. 

She told the Guardian in 2005: “I think that just because of the kind of family we were, there was definitely a sense of not feeling a part of the community, or of being neighbourly. I was very aware of us being very different. My father had a drink problem, which also sensitised that feeling.”

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Siouxsie even managed to translate the isolation into the aesthetic of her parent’s house, showing just how deep-rooted it was. She explained: “Where we lived was very residential, and our house seemed different. It wasn’t red brick, to begin with — it was white stucco with a flat roof and with trees. Everyone else had gardens with patios and neatly cut lawns, and we had these massive copper beech trees at the front and a huge privet hedge. You couldn’t look into our house. All the others were almost inviting you to look in – life in all its normality was being paraded. Which probably wasn’t the case behind closed doors, but that was the perception.”

She said the suburbs “inspired intense hatred. I think the lure of London was always there. I remember my sister taking me to Biba on Kensington High Street; I bought a coat and used to gravitate towards going there on my own later. But the suburbs were also a yardstick for measuring how much we didn’t fit in.”

At the age of nine, her rage was compounded by the most heinous and tragic event. She and a friend were sexually assaulted by a stranger, and it was ignored by the police and brushed under the carpet by the family. This would play a key role in her distrust of adults and general confusion growing up.

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.”

These experiences would give rise to some of Siouxsie and the Banshees most enduring but dark tracks, including ‘Happy House’, ‘Playground Twist’ and ‘Christine’, which all discuss themes such as disturbed childhoods, paranoia and personality disorders. She said: “I would definitely say that our early material, for at least the first two albums, was suburbia — where I grew up, and the circumstances.”

For Siouxsie, although her upbringing and formative years were incredibly tough, she channelled the rage and created something beautiful. She went on to become an icon, a strong female lead showing the men how to do it. Her tale is one of many lessons that others can learn. If you’re out in the suburbs feeling frustrated, remember there’s always a way out.

Listen to Siouxsie and the Banshees ‘Christine’ below.