A few years ago, while listening to the radio, a strange song invaded my ears. I could not decide whether I loved the tune or hated it, whether it was a clever song or an insipid one. The vocalist made no effort to hide his heavy cockney accent, and sang these incredibly bizarre lyrics: "Hit me with your rhythm stick/Hit me slowly, hit me quick/Hit me, hit me, hit me!" Strangely intrigued, I scoured the Internet for further information on the song, "Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick," and the artist, which led me into the highly original world of Ian Dury.
One of the most unlikely rock stars ever, Dury overcame physical limitations due to childhood polio to achieve great success in the UK. Born in Essex in 1942, his love of art and music appeared quite early. After earning a solid reputation in art college, he was soon accepted into the Royal College of Art in 1964. Dury subsequently studied under prominent artist Peter Blake (best known for his psychedelic paintings and for designing the iconic Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover). After graduating in 1967, he began teaching at various colleges in the south of England. But his love for music never died, as he was a lifelong fan of Gene Vincent and jazz, and displayed a distinctly humorous streak.
After Vincent's death in 1971, Dury was inspired to pursue a music career. He formed a "pub rock" band, which enjoyed local popularity but little crossover success. After the band split in 1975, Dury began penning his own songs. At a music instrument store he ran into Chaz Jankel, former guitarist for the 1970s English rock band Byzantium. That chance meeting formed their long collaboration—Dury would submit his lyrics to Jankel, who then perfectly punctuated the biting words with elements of rock, jazz, and funk. Forming a small band, they recorded an album that featured one of Dury's best known tracks, "Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll." A winking take on the stereotypical rock and roll lifestyle, Dury flatly drawls that the life "is all my brain and body need" and "is very good indeed." A popping bass and funky beat add up to an irresistible slice of grungy rock. Besides, how many rock songs contain a reference to James Thurber's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty?