In May 1978, at noon on my seventeenth birthday, in the cafeteria of our small-town Wisconsin high school, my friends Cathy and Sharon presented me with an enormous carrot cake and a copy of 1988: The New Wave Punk Rock Explosion (1977), by British journalist Caroline Coon. Their tastes ran more towards Foreigner and Kansas, but they knew I’d been deep into punk rock since a formative experience seeing The Dead Boys open for Iggy Pop the previous October. It was hard enough finding straight-legged jeans let alone obscure 45s, so the book was an absolute treat, packed with photos of The Clash and The Sex Pistols, as well as groups I’d never heard of. I was thrilled to see that one of these, The Slits, was comprised entirely of young women, though I was naïve enough that the naughty connotation of their name went entirely over my head. I was riveted by a photo of founding member and drummer, PALMOLIVE (Paloma Romero, born 1955), dressed in black-and-white striped pants and knotted tank top, a lock of hair clasped in one hand and drumstick in the other. I was familiar with The Runaways, of course, but The Slits presented a kind of femininity that I was far more comfortable with, one that was less pin-up girl than sexy tomboy. With her Medusa hair and Silver Jubilee souvenir underpants, singer Ari Up seemed positively ferocious, but Palmolive looked like someone I might be able to emulate.
Indeed, one of Palmolive’s songs, “Adventures Close to Home,” perfectly encapsulated my tentative approach to teenage rebellion. By the time it appeared on the first Slits album (1979’s Cut) in a poppy reggae version that brimmed with optimism, Palmolive had already left the band. (She was allegedly sacked for, among other things, refusing to take part in the photo shoot for the LP’s cover, which featured her former band mates nude but for loincloths and smeared with mud.) The same year, the song also appeared on the self-titled first LP from Palmolive’s next band, The Raincoats, with a stripped-down, plaintive arrangement that made the poignancy of the lyrics all the more apparent. “Passion that shouts/and red with anger/I lost myself/Through alleys of mysteries/I went up and down/like a demented train.” I listened to it over and over.
On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: J.R.R. Tolkien.
READ MORE about members of the Original Generation X (1954–63).