Saturday, April 9, 2016

Hong Kong Garden - Souixsie and the Banshees (AM10)

A favorite of mine growing up was a book I stole (borrowed long term) from a friend's mother. They were rich, I had nothing, I wanted it. It was the picture book Dear Dead Days by Charles Addams, a compendium of oddities and geeks - tattooed ladies and Siamese Twins; it was the coffee table equivalent of Tod Browning's Freaks ("One of us, one of us"). Years passed and a haunting graphic appeared suddenly before me at Vinyl Fetish on Melrose in the form of Siouxsie and the Banshee's "Hong Kong Garden" 12" inch single; it's cover, an uncredited photograph from the book (below). I bought the import based on the cover alone, not realizing at the time the single's significance. 

From Dear Dead Days
Suzanne Vega ate at Tom's Diner. Arlo Guthrie dined in Alice's Restaurant and Tom Waits, The Sad Cafe. Siouxsie and the Banshees' inspirational eaterie was a Chislehurst takeout (takeaway), the Hong Kong Garden. "I used to go along with my friend and just be really upset by the local skinheads that hung out there," said Siouxsie after witnessing racist taunts against the staff. She turned her anger into song. The Banshees' guitarist, John McKay, provided an intro, which his bandmates first heard on a tour bus during 1977. McKay had recorded an early version, complete with overdubbed guitars and vocals, in his bedroom. "It started life as a song called 'People Phobia'," he said. At rehearsals, McKay played the opening bars on an electronic xylophone and Siouxsie added her serrated vocals. The punk-lite "Hong Kong Garden" was first aired on the Peel Sessions, prompting Polydor to sign the band in 1978.

Ironically, Siouxsie Sioux was fond of sporting swastikas, making the premise of "Hong Kong Garden" questionable and ironic. Siouxsie went on to disavow any approval of the Nazis, stating, "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;" the Nazi badge proving mere youthful ignorance.

Musically "Hong Kong Garden" has a spare, shimmeringly brutal feel that anticipates the post-punk developments typified by bands that would follow a year later (Gang Of Four, The Cure, even Adam and the Ants). Lyrically Siouxsie and the Banshees hinted at social alienation, a theme shot through the The Scream, one of 1978's best albums and a sublime debut. Siouxsie Sioux inspired a generation to dress in black, from shiny shoes to hair roots; we’ve never looked back.