Saturday, July 18, 2020
Over the course of a long life, I've had occasion to witness great artists at work, some of whom have since been forgotten. One of those was British punk rocker Ian Dury.
Ian was the most unlikely of rock-stars and yet, in 1978, he was the hottest thing around. His band (Ian Dury and the Blockheads) had the number 1 record in England ("New Boots and Panties!!"). Everyone in Europe could quote its lyrics by heart. During the late-70s, Dury was the most interesting, vibrant performer in rock music. And you would never have expected that from his past.
Ian was born to a poor family in England during WWII. As a child, Ian caught polio from swallowing infected water in a public swimming pool. The disease paralyzed and withered his whole left side (shoulder, arm, leg). For the rest of his childhood, he was teased and bullied -- which had the ironic effect of making him immensely strong and confident. Later Ian toiled at a music career for years and suddenly hit stardom at an unusually old age for that time (31). If you don't know Ian's name, you probably recognize some of his global hits, like the huge "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll." Ian sang with a humorous Cockney accent and his songs rock with driving rhythm.
There's a connection between Ian's physical disability and later success. He didn't have a good voice but he can SELL a song. He wrote compelling lyrics that he performed with brio bordering on braggadocio. His songs grab you hard. I remember the first time I heard him, I had to hear more. I bought "New Boots and Panties!!" in 1978 and wore it out, listening to his voice over and over. I still own that record and other Ian albums.
Ian died in 2000 after several years of suffering with cancer. Despite much time passing, Ian continues to have an active website dedicated to his music and life. Ten years ago a film-biography was made about him, starring talented Andy Serkis, which is as wild as Ian was.