Joe Pop

Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be...

In 1979, or thereabouts, I saw a TV program that had a profound affect on me. What I saw was a mini series that dramatised the true story of “Sybil”, a woman who had multiple personalities. Sybil’s twenty something different personalities manifested themselves as distinctly different persona's with different histories,genders, behaviour and ways of speaking. It was very dramatic! In the film, we were shown how Sybil's traumatic childhood had resulted in her situation and how with the help of her therapist, she unravelled her past and found peace.  I was totally enthralled by it all.

I watched this show with my equally impressionable friend, Gabes, and both of us became totally convinced that we too had multiple personalities.We would effect going into a slight trance state, saying something totally out of character, and then “waking’ up and then saying “Hey, did you notice that I said that in a different voice? That's one of my other personalities coming through”. I invented names and persona's for all the different personalities I “had”. Having multiple personalities seemed very attractive at the time. It made us feel special and different.

I now realise having a personality disorder is probably not that desirable, but to me then, it seemed like such a glamorous thing. Basically, at the time I was just so desperate to be someone else, someone more interesting and  exotic from the dumpy and shy teen that I was.

My teenage years were spent trying on all sorts of different identities and persona's. I had a different hair style and a different name every week; Steven, Mark, Felix, Tiger. I combed local charity shops for new looks and fashions.Anything that spoke of reinvention appealed to me. I was fascinated by David Bowie, who I was convinced was an hermaphrodite alien, unearthly and unreal. My favourite Xmas pantomime was always Cinderella, for the transformation scene, sometimes even with real ponies if the budget stretched that far. I was drawn to the occult, transsexuals, plastic surgery, even the reincarnation scenes in “On a clear day you can see for ever” - anything that was about the ability to change and escape your every day life. This is something that still thrills me today. I now wait with baited breath to see what Marilyn Manson’s new look will be.

I wonder what it is that made me so interested in reinvention - both in myself and in others. Looking back at my youth, I do see that it was about both escape and protection. Growing up gay, attending a large violent school and generally going through all the trails and tribulations of adolescence gave me lots of reasons to want to imagine myself someone or somewhere else. It was easy for me, a I was an imaginative child who was encouraged to make believe all I wanted by my parents. I would make drift off into a private world all the time, and my best friend was an imaginary dinosaur.

I still love to see transformation. On TV I enjoy watching fashion make over's on “This Morning” and even home make over's on “Changing Rooms”. I spend long hours thinking who would I do if I went on celebrity impersonation show ‘Stars In Their Eyes”. I’d like to think that as I came through those dry ice clouds, I would emerge as a flawless Scott Walker, an authentic Bowie, or truth be known, a Cher, perfect to the last rhinestone. I wonder if the contestants on this show ever recover from the excitement of appearing as say, Jon Bon Jovi. Real life must be an awful come down after wards.

Once I watched an episode of the Vanessa show, and the title of that days show was “Its Elvis or me!” The topic was Elvis impersonators and how their obsession affected their relationships with their wives.  Some of these impersonators were really committed to being Elvis. Some had even had plastic surgery to look more like their idol.The impersonators wives talked of how their husbands existed in a dream world and how they wanted them to be more realistic. One woman said to her husband, who was in full cat suited Las Vegas drag, “Why do you speak in that fake American accent? You come from bloody Norwich!” Now, having a relationship with an Elvis impersonator is something I have yet to experience, but I couldn't help but admire these guys with their mirror shades and rhinestones for their commitment to a vision and ultimately an escape from the mundanaties of every day life. It must be like being on Stars In Their Eyes 24 hours a day.

Although I can sympathise with the Elvis's wives, I too know of the liberation you can achieve by living your life through your favourite idol. I spent most of the late 70’s and early 80’s living as one of London's most dedicated but least convincing male Siouxsie Sioux look a likes. I was a mega fan of the black eyed ones suburban vampire drama drag, and using her as an example, a spring board and starting point, found a way out of my otherwise boring hum drum life. Siouxsie is sort of the patron saint of all of us teenage dreamers. From interviews she has never come over as being especially bright or visionary. Just another teenager from the suburbs who ingested too much Bowie at an impressionable age. But armed only with a large make up bag and a creative flair with second hand clothes turned her self into a other worldly and powerful icon. Siouxsie was the first to show me the power of re-creation was with in my grasp just by the application of hair gel and clever use of Dylon black clothes dye.

Other stars showed other people the way too. In my time I have known many other Siouxsie's, Peter Murphy’s, David Sylvian’s, Toyah’s, Nick Cave’s, Bowie’s, Pete Burns’s and Gary Numan's. Even though most of my generation have stopped this emulation, I hope we all remember these times fondly and how it was a way it was a way to get to being the people we are today. I still see that this process is still functioning. On the streets and in the clubs I see Courtney Love’s, Ritchey Manic's and Marilyn Manson’s. The role models change but the process remains the same.

I see todays star inspired kids constantly on the day time chat shows I’m addicted to. On Ricki Lake or Trisha it’s “My child is a freak!” or “You think you're all that, but you're just plain weird”. Plump giggling Goth girls in greasy face paint, and effete 15 year old boys in plastic clothes and platform shoes are confronted by parents who want the children they gave birth to back. Invariably the kids, a mix of school outcasts and proto queers, talk of their happiness, their creativity and their desire to go to New York City to become fashion designers, rock stars and artists. The new trend on these shows is to give these kids a make over, remove the make up and dress them “normally”. As these kids come back on dressed in tasteful shades of toast, ecru and taupe, hair glossy and make up natural, I’m bewildered by how the audience whoop their approval. Saddened by the mothers tears of joy. And cheered as the made over kids squirm in their tasteful clothes, complaining of feeling “weird”. I want to shout through the TV screen to tell these kids that its O.K, dress like a satanic transvestite, go to New York City and become a star, its O.K!

And my own lifetime of reinvention has ended up here, with my latest incarnation, Joe Pop!, popular culture critic and commentator. Joe is quite a lot like me, but he is a bit younger, a lot hipper and better dressed. He also has the confidence to actually write this sort of stuff and  expect others to take it seriously.

I've never seen the idea of reinvention as a negative act. Far from being about escaping your reality, to me it is about taking control of your life, about becoming the person you feel you really are, the person you are meant to be. It is about opening the doors to every possibility and every part of your personality. Ultimately, it is about  freedom.

I still have a blunt old Miss Selfridge's eye pencil gathering fluff at the back of my bathroom cabinet, should I ever need it...

(This is dedicated to anyone who had to change their clothes in a bus shelter. Any one who got chased down an alley for wearing a clip on earing and a beret. To the 14 year old girls getting their belly buttons pierced despite parental objections. To the 14 year old boys nervously experimenting with their mum’s make up in a locked bathroom. To the wierd and the wonderfull, to all the young dudes, pretty things, beautiful people and crazy diamonds-don't dream it, be it. I love you all.)