Thursday, October 21, 2010

Oh, Ari.

By now you've likely heard that Ari Up of the Slits passed away, allegedly from untreated cancer, yesterday. I was actually sitting at a Hugh Cornwell show when I heard the news - quite appropriate to be watching a fellow Brit active from the '70s forward, I s'pose. And it was perhaps the first time I've been shocked and saddened by a famous death since Lhasa after the new year, the only ones prior to that being Lux Interior and perhaps Elliott Smith.

There's probably not a female punk fan out there who could claim to not like the Slits - I'm not going to throw out a long spiel about how they were role models for women in music, blah blah, because I wasn't around in the '70s to see them open for the Clash and I'd feel like a phony if I did go on with that argument. But I did discover them as an old teenager/young adult, probably like most did several decades ago, and even knowing that the music was over 20 years old by then, and that women had become punk rockers and musicians since, the female thing being nothing special by the turn of the millenium, I still found myself wowed, because really, no one sounds like them, even to this day. Cut sounds more like a jungle soundtrack than anything else I've ever heard (well, that side of an Animal Collective show I caught sometime six years ago, anyway). And their live recordings are sloppy and rude, as they should be.

But then, Ari Up. I feel lucky to live in a time when so many bands from my parents' record collections have reunited and toured as middle-aged groups celebrating their classic efforts. The Slits are one of these - I had the chance to see them at the Troubadour in Los Angeles in late 2006, and though my initial impression was that all the kids and new members made the reunion sort of a forced gathering, with Hollie Cook's attention-whorism not yet earned given who we were there to see (no, I don't care who your father is), my impression by show's end was that, fuck, the band had sort of become a family, this combination of teenagers and middle aged mums. And Ari Up was like an outgoing, happy mom, pulling the whole thing together and providing balance to Tessa Pollitt's solemn face, throwing her helicopter dreads about the air and dancing in a neon swimsuit-type thing, and showing off her L.A. pride, because years prior, her kid had been born in "Cuuul-vah Cityyyy!" She made music fun. A lot of musicians take themselves seriously because music is art, or whatever. And the chance to see a woman sing with spirit, rather than prettily, like someone's watching, and dance, and swear, and have fun on instinct, is so badly lacking at present. The privilege to watch her sing was a onetime thing, but I'm thrilled to have had it.

Purchase Live at the Gibus Club, recorded in Paris in 1978.

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