Music Matters: (Not A) Typical Girl

Ari Up is dead.

That just seems wrong to type. She should’ve been too badass to die. She was, really.

I wrote about Riot Grrl earlier this week, and the Slits were one of the bands without which Riot Grrl never would’ve happened. I’m miles too young to have been around for them—the Slits’ first album was recorded the year before I was born—but I’ve always been a history-obsessed punk and I loved finding the women who’d been left out of the Ramones-vs.-Pistols history I’d heard. Oh, and they could play, too.

I found out that she was gone from Kieron’s Twitter, and the others he linked writing about her are men as well, and while their love for her is heartfelt and their study of the Slits and knowledge of the music is frankly miles deeper than mine, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t tell you what it meant to me to see a woman like her.

I remember trying to fill in the gaps in a friend’s musical history, linking her to all the women in punk pre-Riot Grrl, passing on the sleek spookiness of Siouxsie Sioux and the shrieking cheer of Poly Styrene and X-Ray Spex, but most of all the Slits. Punk was a place for me to get away from the other expectations life had piled on me—work, family, school, so when it all gets too much tear your stockings and jump around and yell. Go to a show and hit the pit with the boys. I was too young for shows when Riot Grrl happened, so when I started going it was mostly all-male bands and mostly-male crowds. Turning myself on to this stuff was a revelation that I gloried in passing on.

Ari Up was 14 when she started a band, and she was fearless. When I first heard the Slits it was in the age before YouTube, but you can hit the net and in a few clicks pull up clips like this, with crap sound maybe but all the fierceness still there.

There was no way she was going to be the object of anyone’s creepy teen girl fetish without a fight. No, she was going to spit everything right back in their faces—but she was always having such a great time. Anger wasn’t the right word for what she had. It was just a gleeful don’t-give-a-fuck vital energy that for my money was more punk rock than any of the boys that get all the credit for the movement thirtysomething years later.

And she never changed. Check this out, from 2009, charmingly titled “Ari Up shows her ass!”

48 was far too young for her to go. She had plenty of rock’n’roll left in her. Jon Savage wrote:

Punk has now become so familiar that people forget its primal, revolutionary drive. For a brief period, everything had to be new. If it hadn’t been done before, do it: why not? What’s to stop you? Ari Up enacted this impulse on stage, on record, and in person into the 21st century. In any language, this was heroic, and I salute her for that: I’m sorry she’s gone.

One more for you all; of course, “Typical Girls.”

by Sarah Jaffe
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3 Comments Have Been Posted


I also noticed that many of those writing about Ari's passing were guys--thanks for this beautiful tribute to what she meant to you as a girl and as a woman, and as a truly unique voice and presence in punk.

Thank you!

I knew of The Slits but I had never really sat down to listen to them before. "Punk Rock" has come to mean such superficial things that I love hearing their music just fall apart at the seams and think: that's REALLY punk rock! Not being a music-listening person usually I sometimes forget my love of the punk ladies... I remember seeing Tribe 8 live for the first time and how seeing these amazing, loud, talented, obnoxious & hilarious punk rockers on stage completely changed my life!

Side note: I'm pretty sure Andrew Lloyd Weber stole the chorus of "Jellicle Cats" in Cats from the chorus of Typical Girls. It's identical and The Slits were first by at least 2 years!

--M. Kitka

I can't believe that only two

I can't believe that only two people have remarked on Ari Up's unfortunate passing so far. I can't believe how little information there is on it, or her, out in the world. I absolutely refuse to believe that more people don't care about this extraordinary woman. As for me, I wish I could have sat down with her at some point and told her everything that the Slits (and <i>Cut</i> in particular) did for me. I hope she knew the incredible impact she had on people everywhere. Rest in peace.

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