"She Was A Force Of Nature": Zoe Street Howe's Tribute To Ari Up Of The Slits
, October 22nd, 2010 07:29
Zoe Street Howe, author of Typical Girls? The Story Of The Slits, explains why the fantastic Ari Up packed more living into 48 years than most people would do in a 100
The punky reggae queen has moved up to the next level after just 48 years of committed, thrilling and often quite mad service. There is no heir to this throne.
Ari was a force of nature. Free-thinking, creative, lovable, difficult, hilarious, brave and wary, soft and hard, ferocious and sweet; nothing was hidden, nothing was fake and she was Ari Up ALL THE TIME from the tips of her locks to the intriguing je ne sais quoi of her accent ("Ger-maican", as Dennis Bovell called it). Being Ari Up wasn't a gimmick or a career decision. The Slits were still individually The Slits after the world moved into more plastic territory in the early 80s.
Very few of us around the Slits camp - the extended 'Slits Family' as Ari would say - were privy to the knowledge that she was ill, but even then she still seemed to be using sheer energy to power through it. Those gigs The Slits played during 2009, the anniversary year of their album Cut... on stage she was as vital, funny, wild, dedicated and sexy as ever, shouting about her "pum pum". (I still think one of Ari's many valuable legacies to the world is encouraging wider use of the word 'pum pum'.)
If you'd ever seen Ari Up, never mind known her, you'd know she was one of the most vibrant, exciting and alive people you could wish to meet. You'd walk away beaming, maybe juddering slightly from the excess billows of powerful energy transmitting from her. She shone. It's hard to take in that someone who was once more alive than anyone had previously thought it was possible to be is now no longer here. It's a strange reality, like a bad dream. When I was working with The Slits on the book, I never thought in a million years I would soon have to write one of their obituaries. Heartbreaking. She represents an incredibly intense, magical time that a lot of energy and heart was poured into from all angles, and it did feel as if a bit of me fell off yesterday. But the music, the spirit, the memories and the attitude; those things aren't going anywhere.
Ari flew through life at an incredible speed, a punk star in The Slits at 14, a mother by her early 20s, an intrepid world traveller soon after and now her time here is sadly over. Just 48 years. But what a 48 years. I think she must have packed more into those years than most people would or could in 100 years. Ups and downs, good times and unimaginable times, whatever was happening Ari was living in full and often glaring technicolour, turned up to 11, and knowing that, I think, will continue to inspire us to live every moment fully, with heart. That's quite a gift she has left us with.
It wasn't always an easy ride with Ari, but it was real, and any earthly strife, lack of closure, regret... that all can fall away now. It doesn't help anyone. It's just earth stuff. And some might argue that Ari came from another dimension anyway.
Not only female artists, but anyone who is brave, free in their thinking and creativity without caring what other people are going to say… well, I believe we owe her, and the rest of the Slits, our thanks. They were like punk's Suffragettes, and they were important not just because the kicked down the doors for women in so many ways, but they coloured in the black and white late 70s and reminded us that music and art was fun. It was fun to experiment with different sounds, fun to go to a gig where you literally didn't know what was going to happen - was the frontwoman going to piss onstage? Was there going to be a fight? Are they going to hand the instruments to members of the audience and let them play while they, the band, clamber off the stage and start dancing with the rest of the crowd? And are they going to sneak off with some of the gear afterwards?
Ari broke all the rules - or showed us that there weren't really any rules other than the ones in your head or the ones other people tried to impose on you. She helped us to see how meaningless that was. The power of The Slits, and the power of Ari, should never be underestimated. And that power hasn't disappeared, it's still there. Beaming away, pulsing, very much available for those who choose to find it.
When I think of Ari, I always think of this Jack Kerouac quote which I included in the book because I thought it encapsulated Ari and the Slits' spirit very well. Here 'tis:
"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes 'Awww!'"
Know what I mean?
When I first met Ari after one of her solo True Warriors gigs in London to talk to her about the book, she became very excited and soon I was being commanded to organise a "Slits Convention! Like a Star Trek Convention!" As I left that night I heard her shouting up the street "Slits Convention! Slits Convention!"
Well, I think we should have a Slits Convention of sorts now - everyone who loves the Slits, respected Ari, believes in creativity, freedom, experimentation and living life with purpose and every sense cell engaged, light a candle for Ari tonight, and listen to Cut.