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Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Dos: Day 261
Sunday, Sept 30, 2012

“Sheela-Na-Gig”
Polly Jean Harvey

1992

“♫ He said/
Sheela-na-
gig/ Sheela-
na-gig/ you
exhibitionist
♫”

I remember the moment I first fell for Polly Jean Harvey’s voice. Coincidentally, it was the first time I ever heard PJ Harvey circa 1992. I was a UK music mag hound and my favorite at the time was Vox. I kept reading about this band making waves across the pond, PJ Harvey. It was back then when I worked at mall record shop in San Antonio. I was alphabetizing the cassette wall and every time I passed PJ Harvey’s Dry, the cover intrigued me. It must have been the third or fourth time when I just grabbed the tape, brought it up to the counter and had my co-worker ring it up for me. I wasted no time popping Dry into our in-store tape player. From the opening strands of “Oh My Lover,” Polly Jean had me instantly. It was the way she crooned “Oh My Lover” was how I wanted my paramour to yearn for me. There was something raw and sexy about Polly Jean’s voice. It was as if she was raging, take me as I am. And I said, hell yeah, baby and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Polly Jean herself was surprised with all the accolades and followers her band received after “Sheela-Na-Gig” as she explained, “I couldn’t believe it. It didn’t make sense to me at all to start off with. I thought, ‘Why do people want to buy this nasty, bendy sounding music?’ It’s touching some nerve somewhere. I like the rawness of it, and I think maybe that is what people are looking for now. They want a bit of rough around the edges.” How did Polly Jean know that’s how I like my female rockers—rough around the edges? Seriously, the thing that makes Polly Jean stand out is that she sings from the heart and makes you use both of your heads. She makes you think, feel and lusty as she kicks your ass with her electric riffs. When PJ sings it’s like her songs saying, “take me as I am; I want you to love me and my music.” This is why men like me love Polly Jean Harvey is because she brazen and naturally sexy.

Polly Jean literally rocked my world and I wasn’t the only one. Dry became Polly Jean Harvey’s confessional rock underground opus like John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band. Polly Jean talked about the rationale behind her first album the successful Dry, when she said, “Dry is the first chance I ever had to make a record and I thought it would be my last. So, I put everything I had into it. It was a very extreme record. It was a great joy for me to be able to make it. I never thought I’d have that opportunity, so I felt like I had to get everything on it as well as I possibly could, because it was probably my only chance. It felt very extreme for that reason.”

The fact that Harvey appeared au-natural on the cover of Dry and her confrontational lyrical styled made many critics like Gillian G. Gaar quoted in his book She’s a Rebel called songs like Polly Jean’s “Sheela-Na-Gig” a “feminist statement.” Harvey responded by saying, “I don’t think of myself as a feminist and I don’t like that word. I’m not doing anything as a woman, it’s just me, it’s not because I’m female. The things I’m singing—I can’t think of any man singing equivalent.”

And this is why I adore Polly Jean and why PJ Harvey is one of the most respected artists making music today. Polly Jean is brave and uncompromising. Harvey creates music that she truly believes in. You can hear it in songs like “Sheela-Na-Gig.” In that now classic song, PJ’s vocal is perfectly echoing the voice of a neglected wife. Harvey explained, the idea behind “Sheela-Na-Gig” in James R. Blandford’s book: PJ Harvey: Siren Rising, when she said, “A Sheela-Na-Gig is a Celtic stone carving, originally from Ireland, of a female crouching down, pulling her vagina open and laughing insanely. What I like about it is that she’s laughing and ripping herself apart. Humor and horrificness.” Think about how daring Polly Jean was writing and releasing a song about a woman self-sacrificing her identity and her body parts; and remember this was in 1992. According to Blandford’s book, the lyric “♫ put money in your idle hole ♫” makes reference to the original Basque term that “Sheela-Na-Gig” is derived from and that phrase is Chilo-nagi which translates into “The Idle Hole.”

“Sheela-Na-Gig” was the song from Polly Jean Harvey that won me over, not just physically but emotionally— PJ captured my imagination. PJ Harvey, personally inspired me to fall for women who not could rock me physically but move me with their minds. My wife took me to see Polly Jean Harvey in concert almost twenty years after Dry and specifically “Sheela-Na-Gig” was released. What a show, it was just Polly Jean courageous as ever, alone on stage. Polly Jean Harvey is as fearless as she sounds on her records. Those few opening chords always takes me back to the moment I fell for discovering the music of Polly Jean Harvey. I can still see myself there in that now defunct record shop; my memory will spin on—within the power and beauty of “Sheela-Na-Gig.”

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