Being an avid music lover is full of a lot of firsts: The first time a song moves you to tears, the first time you meet your favorite band and many more. On October 20th, with the announcement of the passing of Arianna Forster aka Ari Up—lead singer and founding member of The Slits—I experienced another, more unfortunate first: The first time that a musician that I really loved passed away.
I was lucky enough to see Ari and the new incarnation of The Slits in 2006 at CMJ. I had never heard any of their records, but I had heard the name back when I was first getting into punk, and I knew that I couldn’t pass up this chance to see the legendary Ari Up. The showcase they were headlining was at the old Knitting Factory in Manhattan. I arrived at early to guarantee myself a place inside. While waiting for The Slits to come on, I was taken by how many musicians were in the audience. The crowd was full of members of bands that had played earlier in the night who had stuck around to see The Slits. I was standing next to one of the members of Green Milk From The Planet Orange, a progressive/psychadelic rock band from Tokyo. It was amazing to think that a band that had once been almost forgotten by the mainstream had influenced that reached as far as Japan.
When the Slits did take the stage, it was more like a rehearsal than a concert. The band stopped songs in the middle to restart sections, and the setlist seemed to be whatever Ari felt like singing at the time. Even so, they were unpredictable and wild and it was impossible to look away from them. My first impression of Ari was that she was completely insane. She was totally in the moment, in the music, and doing whatever she felt without a second thought as to whether or not it made sense or was “appropriate.” It was invigorating and inspiring to see someone be so uninhibited onstage.
After the performance, I bought a copy of Cut. I was—and still am—shocked that this record was released in 1979. Even now, songs like “Shoplifting” and “New Town” still sound dangerous, revolutionary and totally unlike anything else. The Slits are the very definition of “ahead of their time.”
After listening to Cut, I was dying to see The Slits on stage again. The possibility of a Slits tour seemed even more likely after the 2009 release of Trapped Animal, their first full length release in 25 years. Sadly, I won’t get another chance to see Ari onstage and neither will future generations of young women. But we can keep Ari alive through her music. Don’t let The Slits be forgotten again. Keep passing around the albums, CDs and tapes to your friends, sisters, daughters—everyone. Let them know that typical girls aren’t that typical after all.
R.I.P. Ari Up