Disc jockey: “What do you think about President Reagan.”
“I can’t deal with that.”
“He’s full of shit.”
The Slits had driven to college radio station WORT-FM in Madison, Wisconsin directly after a gig in Chicago and were exhausted and obviously rather testy when they arrived. They immediately set about destroying the show and hilariously insulting most of the male listeners. They were slightly nicer to the female callers, even offering to put one of them on the guest list.
Resembling some sort of mythical, technologically-mediated encounter between a coven of witches and a mob of townspeople (most of them men), this “interview” is hilarious, profound, and scary all at the same time.
Okay it’s been nearly 40 years since I heard The Ramones debut album for the first time and that means I’m fucking old. But I ain’t dead. In fact, I’m feeling pretty damned good. And part of the reason I feel so damned good is I’ve been on a steady diet of rock and roll since I was a itty bitty boy. Rock and roll has been the one constant in my life that has given me something that others might call a religion. From the moment I first heard “Alley Oop” by The Hollywood Argyles when I was nine years old (sitting in a tree with a radio in my lap), I was hooked.
I’ve always been a seeker, looking for meaning in life, searching for answers to the essential questions of what are we doing here and where are we going? I’ve read everything from Jung to Chogyam Trungpa to Kerouac and Crowley in my yearning for clarity and spiritual fulfillment. Aside from a few reveries and insights fueled by psychotropics or the momentary flash of cosmic consciousness you get in those special moments when something suddenly opens up your brain - maybe it’s the way a shard of prismatic light bounces off your rear view mirror or a fleet of perfectly white clouds rolling above New Mexico - my “religious” experiences have been seldom and unpredictable. But one thing, other than fucking, that consistently pulls me into the moment where bliss and contentment co-mingle is listening to rock and roll music. It’s the closest thing I have to an artistic calling or spiritual practice and when the music hits me in the right place at the right time it can be divine. And it seems that loud, fast, and hook-filled works best. The music doesn’t need to be about anything spiritual, lofty or significant. It just needs to grab me by the balls and heart, rattle my cage, and move me.
There was a barren period in my rock and roll life in the early ‘70s. Not much I wanted to listen to. I mostly bought blues and jazz albums and later reggae. Then in 1976 I heard The Damned’s “New Rose” and shortly after that I got my hands on The Ramones’ self-titled first album. These were momentous events in my life that drove me back into arms of rock and roll. Talking Heads, Blondie, Mink DeVille, Pere Ubu, Patti Smith, The Clash and Television were the second wave of musical salvation to land on my turntable that changed my life. Punk, or whatever you want to call it, defibrillated my rock and roll heart and inspired me to start my own band. And I wasn’t alone.
In this fine documentary directed by Don Letts (who knows a thing or two about punk rock) a bunch of aging punkers talk about the roots of the punk scene and their love of the music they make. There’s not much new here but it’s good to see Steve Jones, Pete Shelley, Howard Devoto, Siouxsie Sioux, Captain Sensible, Mick Jones Jones,David Johansen, Jello Biafra, Wayne Kramer, Thurston Moore, Legs McNeil and Tommy Ramone, among many others, wax poetic about the music explosion that was detonated in the mid-70s. It’s amazing how many survived. And deeply saddening that since this film was made in 2005 we’re down to zero original Ramones.
“Punk is not mohawks and safety pins. It’s an attitude and a spirit, with a lineage and tradition.” Don Letts.
Ari Up and friend sing a little ABBA, with ABBAesque choreography, no less! I love ABBA, and I love The Slits, so watching Ari Up do a little “Knowing Me, Knowing You” here is the height of comfort. Nothing like a little reassurance that the incredibly uncool music I love was also loved by the incredibly cool Slits!
Ari’s admitted ABBA fandom wasn’t even compromised by a chilly introduction at a record party. ABBA have a reputation for basically being crazy rich eccentrics who rarely descend from whatever Nordic palaces or islands they own to mingle with plebs. Rumors like these are not refuted by Ari calling Björn Ulvaeus a “twat.”
Ari Up of The Slits was a punk pioneer, self-described “child star,” reggae and dub-world artist (known as Baby Ari and Madussa), and a mother. She became pregnant with her twin sons, Pedro and Pablo, around the time of the Slits’ break-up when she was barely in her twenties. She and her boyfriend Glenmore “Junior” Williams moved to Belize and Indonesia before more or less settling in Kingston, Jamaica and Brooklyn, New York. She had another son, Wilton, in Jamaica in 1994. Wilton’s father was tragically shot and killed before his birth.
I interviewed Ari in Brooklyn in August 2004 after she had decided to reform The Slits with Tessa, Sex Pistol drummer Paul Cook’s daughter Hollie on keyboards, drummer Anna Schulze and guitarist Adele Wilson. Our conversation drifted to Ariel Gore’s Hip Mama magazine and motherhood. She was packing to go back to Jamaica the next morning. I told her that Hip Mama’s readers would love to hear about her experiences.
That’s a whole fucking book! A natural lifestyle. Natural birth. Empowering women. Breastfeeding and being out there [outside] naked wherever you can.
Below, Ari Up with her son Wilton on ‘Checkerboard Kids’ (2003)
Filmmaker and musician, Don Letts was working as a DJ at the Roxy club in London in 1977 when he filmed most of the punk bands that appeared there with his Super 8 camera. Letts captured a glorious moment of musical history and its ensuing social, political and cultural revolution.
Letts decided he was going to make a film with his footage, and had sold his belongings to ensure he had enough film stock to record the bands that appeared night-after-night over a 3 month period. Eventually, he collated all of the footage into The Punk Rock Movie, which contained performances by the Sex Pistols, The Clash, Wayne County & the Electric Chairs, Generation X, Slaughter and the Dogs, The Slits, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Eater, Subway Sect, X-Ray Spex, Alternative TV and Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers. There was also backstage footage of certain bands, and Sid Vicious’ first appearance with the Sex Pistols, at The Screen On The Green cinema, April 3rd, 1977.
England: Thirty-five years on from Punk, and what the fuck has changed? The Queen is still on her throne. Celebrations are underway for another jubilee. The police continue to be a law unto themselves. The tabloid press peddles more smut and fear. The Westminster government is still centered on rewarding self-interest. And Johnny Rotten is a popular entertainer.
The promise of revolution and change was little more than adman’s wet-dream. All that remains is the music - the passion, the energy, the belief in something better - and that at least touched enough to inculcate the possibility for change.
Raw Energy - Punk the Early Years is a documentary made in 1978, which details many of the players who have tended to be overlooked by the usual focus on The Sex Pistols and The Clash. Here you’ll find Jordan (the original not the silicon pin-up and author) telling us, “it’s good females can get up on stage and have as much admiration as the male contingent”; the record execs explaining their dealings with The Pistols, The Clash, The Hot Rods and looking for the “next trend”; a young Danny Baker, who wrote for original punk magazine Sniffin Glue, summing up his frustration with “all you’re trained for is to be in a factory at the end of 20 years, and that’s the biggest insult…”; the comparisons between Punk and Monterey; the politics; the violence against young punks; and what Punk bands were really like - performances from The Slits, The Adverts, Eddie and The Hot Rods, X-Ray Spex, and even Billy Idol and Generation X.
One of the few 45s I still own, The Slit’s wonderful cover of “Man Next Door,” a reggae classic associated with both John Holt (who wrote it) and the “Crown Prince of Reggae,” Dennis Brown (who covered it. So Did Massive Attack). This non-album, 1980 production was mixed by Adrian Sherwood, Adam Kidron and the Slits themselves.
The B-side is a tripped out dub version. Once I was able to get my hands on some “real” (Jamaican) dub, I was disappointed that it seldom lived up to the psychedelic standards set here.
In this live clip, The Slits perform an epic, nearly 9-minute-long romp all over “Man Next Door” augmented by Steve Beresford on sound effects, Bruce Smith (The Pop Group, PiL) on drums and a young Neneh Cherry on backing vocals (and great dance moves!) at the Tempodrom in Berlin on June 19,1981. Turn this up LOUD and wish you had been there…
This short interview with Ari Up, conducted by Jonathan Ross for the BBC, captured some of the singer’s vitality, exuberance, and sheer joy, especially when she told Ross “to follow the poom-poom.” R.I.P. Ari Up
This weekend I read Zoe Street Howe’s newly published biography of The Slits, Typical Girls? (Omnibus Press) and quite enjoyed it. My main criticism of the book is that 95% of it is taken up with the formation of the band and the recording of their debut album, Cut and there is precious little about the recording of their equally amazing second LP, Return of the Giant Slits. Still, if you are a Slits fan, Typical Girls? is a credible history and the author interviewed all of the Slits and key members of their circle including one-time Slit, Budgie (better known as the drummer in Siouxsie and the Banshees), PiL guitarist Keith Levene, journalist/professor Vivien Goldman and producers Dennis Bovell and Adrian Sherwood.
I pulled both Slits albums out this weekend and played each all the way through twice. I’ve owned Cut since came out and its punky reggae sound was very, very appealing to me straight off the bat. I’d read about the Slits, in books like Caroline Coon’s 1988, but they were the last of the formative punk bands to put a record out. When I did finally hear them, Cut was a bolt from the blue to my 14 year-old brain. Reading Typical Girls? brought me back to that time when it seemed like there would be no end to the parade of innovation that was the post punk era. There was so much good music coming out every week that it seemed inexhaustible. It was a terribly exciting time, musically speaking, to come of age. (Simon Reynold’s book Rip It Up and Start Again captures the feeling of the era well, I think).
The Slits were, to my ears, amongst the most sonically “far out” and experimental of the post-punk groups, in the same category as Public Image Ltd. in terms of the astonishing originality of their music. The Slits sound was like no other, a perfectly melded hybrid of punk, dub-drenched reggae and Afro-pop with the riotous, white Rastafarian cum St Trinian’s girl run amok front woman of Ari Up (who was all of 14 when she joined the group) . Truly the unruly, inspired, nearly uncategorizable sound of the Slits deserves a better place in the history of punk than it’s been accorded thus far. Hopefully Zoe Street Howe’s Typical Girls? will go some distance in redressing this grievous oversight.
Here’s the Don Lett’s directed promo for Typical Girls:
This extended clip from the German movie Girls Bite Back includes performances of Animal Space, I Heard It Through the Grapevine and a dubbed out cover of Dennis Brown’s Man Next Door. How I wish there was more of this!
I have loved The Slits, the original female punk band, since I first heard their debut album Cut. I’ve owned it on vinyl, cassette and on two different CD versions. It’s an album I have played—and played often—for over two decades. I used to have a life-sized record store stand-up of the Slits in my bedroom in London that I bought at the Portobello Market and lugged all the way back to Brixton. That’s dedicated fandom as far as I am concerned.
And when I first met my lovely wife, she gifted me with a Japanese issue CD of Return of the Giant Slits, so I knew she was “the one” for me!