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…