I came home last night in an amorous fog, having just gotten back from my amazing boyfriend's house, to hear the news: Ari Up from the Slits passed away yesterday, at the age of 48, from a serious but yet unnamed illness.
Also yesterday, weirdly, I was on the train, running late to go to this show and I randomly decided to listen to the Slits bootleg album. Not, strictly speaking, my favorite of theirs. But for some reason I really felt it. I don't know why, maybe it was the Universe. I was on the train, listening to Ari talk in between songs, thinking about how unique and amazing her voice is. How singular. AND ALSO about the fact that she was a teenager when she started the band. You can get some info on Ari's biography in this interview.
Last night I ran into my long-lost buddy, the genius artist Isabelle. I was introducing her to my BF and I said that she and I had gone to school together, which is true, but really we know each other because we moved to NYC together, in the summer of 2005. I was living in the living room of my current apartment, and Isabelle had a place in the East Village. And we were both underage. The only bar that we went to with any regularity was Opaline, for their Panty Party night, since they'd let you in if you were over 18 but you just couldn't drink. This means we'd have to get someone with an ID to buy us booze before we went out for the night, or we'd steal drinks form the bar. I remember the first or second time we went to this nightclub, feeling very collegiate and shy, and dressed in some incredibly stupid outfit involving leggings and underpants over them. Isabelle and I were trying to make this NYC thing happen and feeling very green. But then Michael T. played the Slits' cover of "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" and Isabelle and I would run the dance floor and FREAK OUT. We LOVED that song. The Slits were, for me, a Universal Language, home turf.
In my demented fantasy, everybody knows all the words to all of the songs from Cut. The Slits are probably my favorite punk band ever (maybe the Raincoats but it's really different and weird). They're the only really punk band I ever got into. Everything else, Black Flag, the Misfits, the Germs, all came afterward. That was hardcore. The Slits were pioneers. Their legacy is absolutely a feminist one (like Sonic Youth's?) and I guess I take it for granted that everyone loves them. Last year, I got a chance to meet Viv Albertine, which was literally a life-changing event for me. She was very sweet and hilarious and super duper smart and really cool about the fact that the last 40 years of culture have been steadily ripping off what she and the Slits did in the 70s.
The Slits were not just a band who made a few good records. They were a watershed for a lot of us, even generations removed. The message was not that you should (or even ever could) try to look or sound like them. Nobody sounds like Ari Up, nobody plays guitar (before or since) like Viv Albertine. The message was that they were finding their own vitally new vocabulary, and it was a scintillating reminder that that was still possible, even in a society and culture which devalues you. That it was completely necessary to find new ways of expressing something. And Ari Up, for me (and many others) was the voice of that idea in a lot of ways. And I am so sad she's gone. I hope that everyone uses this moment to get really into the Slits, and if anyone wants to talk about them with me, please let's do.