Thank You, Ari

I know I shouldn’t rely on the NY Times to be up to date or relevant, but I still look at the paper online – a reflex, maybe. Just like I perk up when I’m anywhere out there in the world and can pick up a copy. Maybe it’s the familiarity factor – the font, the bylines I recognize from days of yore – my onetime hometown paper.

But I felt really disappointed, mad even, that they let a whole 2 days go by without mentioning the death of Ari Up. That is – Ari died on Oct. 20, on the 21st the British papers, every friend on Facebook, tweets and retweets of the news and – by late in the day of the 21st still nothing in the Times. How can a paper that tries to appear current, always with the articles about CMJ, even working rap artists into the crossword puzzles, have let that happen?

Maybe they didn’t have an obituary ready to go for her, because punk never meant that much to the New York Times, or America in general, when it was happening. So they got a guy to do some patchy research and almost redeemed themselves by ending the piece with a quote from Vivien Goldman: “You cannot be a female artist on the wild side, very passionate and self-expressive, without being formed at least in part by Ari,” Ms. Goldman said. “In her feral 14-year-old way, she did represent a new archetype of womanhood.”

I had to be mad at somebody – it’s a shock and it’s not fair Ari Up dying so young, and they should have noticed sooner. If you don’t know who she was, try this post by John Robb – not that I agree with everything he says (I saw what had been advertised as a Slits show a few years back and while I loved Ari’s energy, it was a male pickup band and musically a let down…but still worth it to stand next to my daughter Hazel, a little younger than I was when I saw the Slits at Tier 3 back in 1979, completely enraptured, in love, as much with the idea of what was possible if you just got up there to express something, not looking like anyone’s idea of what a girl should look like, not sounding like anyone’s idea of what a girl should sound like. Made almost more powerful by the fact that Ari was now a woman in her 40s, cavorting around with crazy dreads and short shorts). But what he really captures is the effect The Slits had – visually and musically. I saw pictures of them for two years before hearing a note and was captivated – their messy hair, dark eye makeup, Ari with Jubilee underpants OVER leather trousers. There was no coyness. But it wasn’t androgyny, the way Patti Smith could have been a girl or a guy – it was very female. Their album Cut came out sounding so accomplished and together but live at Tier 3 they still made enough of an ungodly racket to give us all hope.

So along with Ari Up’s obituary in the Times yesterday, there was the most popular article – a woman of 55 declaring that it’s okay to have long grey hair. She talked about the musical role models for women her age – Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell – and I thought “wow, here is a woman only FOUR years older than me and she missed it all.” Did things really change that much from being 17 in 1973 to being 17 in 1977?

Yes, if you were lucky enough to hear about it.

Hilary Jaeger booked the Slits (and The Raincoats. And Y Pants. And Ut. And a lot of other groups all female, all male and in-between) into Tier 3 back when. She and her sister Angela brought Ari to see daughter Hazel play at a NYC bar last summer. The bartender wouldn’t let Ari and Angela and Hilary in to the show – she carded them, demanding to see their IDs for proof they were old to be in a bar. After all, the drinking age in the US is 21.

I look at this picture and see these not-typical girls looking so cute and cool and Ari glowing and I’m glad I was one of the lucky ones and I laugh and cry…

Angela Jaeger, Hilary Jaeger, Karen McBurnie, Hazel Rigby, Ari Up

21 thoughts on “Thank You, Ari

  1. Marina

    Thank you, Amy, for writing this. I'm so glad you were there at that Slits show in 1979. (That sounds magical to me.) Sad she died so young, but glad she LIVED while she was here.

  2. amy

    I do love this photo Cynthia and the fact that they wouldn't let the ladies into the show – I forgot to mention that Hazel was "under age" at the time but luckily didn't get carded…And Hazel looking so haughty in the photo, when we all knew how thrilled she was.Thank you Steven – and I just looked at your blog and feel envious at all the great shows you're going to these days. Merci Peter! Sadly (though the bartenders can be awful) I just heard from Michael that the backroom at Otto's was destroyed by fire early Sunday morning. I know there's lots more to do than remember or remark on people, places and things past but sometimes it seems to occupy a good part of my time.It was way easier back when Fly, keeping track of what was new and good. Thank you for being interested enough to look her up.Marina I do feel lucky to have been at so many memorable shows – the wood-carving man is included in there somewhere. And just like when DJ died (who I knew so well) I feel awkward writing something, but would feel sad not saying what they meant, even if I have to say it in a clumsy, incomplete way. If I fill up space with tales of unpleasant cashiers and car thieves, for sure the people who've contributed something wonderful to life deserve space too!

  3. Anonymous

    I'm so sorry to hear this news. "Typical Girls" and the whole "CUT" album were some of the best music ever made. Unstudied and ephemeral, her music guided me to understand that everything is possible, it's all permitted (apps to WSB and JimC).I also did get to see the Slits perform on their night with the Clash at Bonds. Great show.JoneeSpaz

  4. wes

    Nice post, Amy, and leave it to you to point out the great differences in cultural viewpoints that a few crucial years can separate. Although you had to be able to be receptive to the new offerings, too — I'm glad I was in my teens in the late '70s as well, but out of 500 people in my high school graduating class I doubt there were more than a handful that listened to the Ramones and the Buzzcocks, much less the Slits, Raincoats and Lydia Lunch. For the most part they were happy with MOR pop and classic rock. I guess it had to do with an ability to assimilate alienation and turn it into art, transforming rejection into affirmation, and ultimately into the desire to do that, too, in your own way. And there's nothing wrong with looking back and thanking the people who pointed you down the path.

  5. amy

    Jonee, I always regret not getting a chance to see one of those shows at Bonds…Wes, you're such a good writer – I was wondering what it was we were doing back then, you put it just right. ("transforming rejection into affirmation") I also just read your post about American expats and found it really interesting, I'll have to talk to you about that sometime! Though I imagine France breeds or attracts its own particular type of expat just as Eastern Europe would.

  6. amy

    Thanks for that link Caryn, I was thinking about the other Slits and wondering…I found that very touching, what she wrote.Noticed Sham 69 playing France recently osmucon – the rather lengthy article in the newspaper didn't even mention that Jimmy Pursey was no longer in the band.

  7. amy

    I've been thinking of you all week Ang. That meant a lot, you guys coming down to see Hazel (even though you couldn't get in).We need to see those Punk Diaries of yours, now more than ever!

  8. Mike

    The Slits and their album Cut knocked the world nicely sideways for a time there. They mattered and made a difference to the way life felt and was lived.

  9. amy

    That is something to have accomplished Mike – and it goes on.Yes, cool girls, Trip. it is nice to see you here, it's been too long.Thanks Mark. Glad you listened to the Slits and that The Deal made you laugh…

  10. Scott C

    Amy, Thanks for the post about Ari Up. I never got to meet her or see The Slits, but I sure remember the first time I heard their music. No one sounds quite like The Slits! If you haven't seen this, here's a Punk panel discussion from the Howl Festival in NY two years ago. A good bunch of panelists to talk to, a goofy, ill-advised topic, but mostly there is Ari Up, delightful and funny and irrepressible throughout.

  11. amy

    Irrepressible – what a perfect word, Scott. thanks for that clip, thank you, it sounds like a dry topic but I love hearing the entire cast of characters talk about the days of yore – that era will be eternally interesting to me.

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