Ari Up: Punky Reggae Icon
On Oct. 20, the music world was stunned when John Lydon posted on his website that Ari Up, singer of the legendary punk/post-punk/dub powerhouse the Slits and daughter of his partner, Nora Forster, had died at 48 "after a serious illness."
Ari was a revered icon of L.A.'s thriving scene around clubs Punky Reggae Party, Dub Club and Part Time Punks, and had been received here with adoration since 2006, every time she had passed through town with the revived lineup of the Slits.
On Sunday, Dec. 19, Part Time Punks organizes a tribute to Ari Up and the Slits at the Echo, where members of Weave, Swahili Blonde and Rainbow Arabia will perform the band's seminal masterpiece (and this is no hyperbole), the 1979 album Cut. The Weekly here adds to the tribute by printing for the first time the entire interview contributor Daiana Feuer conducted with Ari in 2009, excerpts of which have appeared before in L.A. Record. —Gustavo Turner
L.A. WEEKLY: If you could go back in history and spend time with a woman from any era, who would you go hang out with for a day?ARI UP: Growing up, I was never really inspired by any women really, or any men! That was sort of the whole point of the Slits. We didn't have any heroes or people to look up to. I love Billie Holiday. Great blues singer but very self-destructive. I'm not really into drugs and alcohol. Who would it be? I wrote a song about Cleopatra once. I like the idea that she could have many guys with no problem. Not that I want many guys, but the idea is so taboo. Guys can have many women and it's nothing, and they can cheat all the time and it's OK, no big deal. A woman is a whore or a slut, but Cleopatra had men at her feet, poof poof poof, give me a hot milk bath and have her guys around her massaging her. I don't really want that, but I'm just thinking about the equality for men and women, equal rights. You know, Cleopatra was a murderer, too.
I think I'd like to talk to Patsy Cline. Those country-and-western girls went through so much shit of being the housewife in the '50s. For Patsy Cline to break out like she did — I would have liked to talk to her or do a song with her! But for men I would like to talk to Beethoven or Tchaikovsky.
Do you think men and women are different? Does that difference make the world work?Men and women are very, very, verrrry different. And that's by nature and so it is, and that's good. I think it's good differences.
If people could work together, then it's a really good balance. Right now the indifference between men and women is growing and relationships are crumbling because they can't meet eye to eye. Nobody seems to be able to relate anymore. It's one of the biggest tragedies in the world. People of all ages. It's heavy for me to see. I've got tons of kids around me all the time. They're all different ages and I can see in my niece and son, who are teenagers, how hopeless it seems. They seem to have no hope of getting a relationship. The generation now that's coming up has given up already on relationships.
We're so different, and instead of trying to unite in our differences and make something of it, we're separating and segregated. There's no tolerance. My niece is, like, "Oh, I'm going on a date with my boyfriend on Sunday." And she's all excited. I call the next week and I say, "How's it going?" And she's, like, "No, no, that's finished already. I can't be bothered." No patience. The minute one little thing goes wrong. Boys and girls, the minute somebody goes off — I'd like this to be more red than green. It can be a simple little thing, and there's just no tolerance anymore. Why do you think that is?It's the times. It's the generations we're in. It's the old world crumbling. We have to make a unity now between souls and spirits instead of being less tolerant with character and personality differences — which we have as women among women and guys among guys as well — but especially with guys and women when they get together, it's like they can't even understand language anymore.
If we could only be more tolerant and make compromises. The people who are together and making it, it's not because they have a smooth relationship. It's not all love and glossy. It's about hard work and compromise and understanding each other, making the most of each other. Most guys and women who are together accept each other's weird personalities and that you're just never going to totally get along. You just have to make up your mind about how much you love that person. You're not going to really get along with any man at this time. Every man for a woman right now is a problem. But, if you really love the guy, then you're going to make compromises and exceptions to the rule. Oh, yeah, I can overlook that he's really fucked up when it comes to such and such.So fuckups aren't the reason to stop loving them?That's an objective thing. If the things they do are so bad that it throws off the balance, if it's more bad than good, then you can't tolerate it no matter how much you love the person. You can love the person, but if they keep doing shit and you can't keep up with it, then you can still say, yeah, you love them but can't work with it objectively looking at it. It's like a science. The science of a relationship: Can you work with it or not? You know you love them because you're going with your feeling. You can't deny it unless you're in self-denial. But can you live with that you love the person or can you live with working on the relationship? If the person keeps doing shit all the time you know doesn't fit into your life, then it doesn't matter that you love the person anymore. Then you should just know that you love the person but you can't live with the person. I'm just saying generally that's how it is. I don't want to make the judgment for everyone, but that's how it is.You just give your judgment — that's all you can give. You don't have to speak for the whole world. I'm going by my experience and what I've seen people go through. But I think that's pretty much how it is nowadays, from what I've seen. What about the world crumbling?It's not we the people falling in 2012, it's not like that. I think there's this old system we're living in. Like the Slits was the Dark Ages. I can't even imagine how much the world has changed! It's changed a lot since then. It was really the Dark Ages back then. Now we're the leftover of the Dark Ages. We're still not in the New World. The Dark Ages are crumbling. Medicine, for instance, pharmaceuticals, that's the Dark Ages. Now there's a new world of medicine, space-age, you know? That hasn't come yet.
In the same way that medicine is old, that's how I see it with a lot of things. Education is old-fashioned, everything crumbling there with school systems. The music to me is more pushing the Dark Ages of total mainstream — nothing wrong with mainstream, I think it's good for the Slits to be mainstream — but I think that it shouldn't be just gimmick type of image making. The world of music right now is not so much about music as it is about image making. The old-world system of Babylon, I call it, is falling. We're seeing what's happening in every way — the wars, politics, the system, religion, all these organized religions, it's old Dark Ages.What will be the organizing principle of the New World? What will be its most important value?Probably a book I have to write! I believe it's a combination of ancient living and space age. It's Star Trek meets people 300 to 500 years ago. Not the civilized world but the ancient tribal ethnic groups, like the Celtic world or the African tribal times or the Native American tribal times. It will be a tribal way of living mixed with Star Trek! Knowing that the Earth is resilient and strong and people are strong, we'll probably survive, but the world is going to completely change. I don't think of it being all gone in 2012, I'm not one of those. What do you think of technology? That's a love-hate relationship. I hate it in one way and love it in another way. It's very practical and benefiting for people. In another way, it's dramatically horrific. From a radiation perspective, it's terrible. We're all very radiated. Laptops, cell phones, it's horrifying. Mentally as well because I have kids, there are terrible things on the computer. It's a mother's worst nightmare for computers to exist. You have no protection. Have you heard about "[Two Girls] One Cup"? All the kids know about it. Luckily my son is close to me and he showed me, and I've never been the same. I'm mentally disturbed by what he showed me. It's two women shitting and eating the shit and throwing up the shit and eating the vomit. It's fucking disgusting. Two women sharing a cup of shit. We're not protected!
The children find this, think it's hilarious, and then mothers think they're in touch with their kids. One mother I know thinks she's in touch with her kids, we talked about it, and she was shocked. Her children didn't want to tell her about this video on YouTube. The reason it got so famous is because everyone made video reactions, even Family Guy made one. You'll never be the same after seeing it. It wouldn't be that bad if it was just adults seeing it, but kids ... I really hate computers for this.
I don't have a computer, either. I can do without it. Maybe I will have one eventually to check some e-mail or emergency thing. But the kids are on it all day, watching Japanese anime, heavy pornographic animation. You can't monitor your children 24 hours a day. Their friends will show them.
There are good things about the Internet, but people go to extremes and let it control their minds. There are good things, too. Someone made a video matching our song "Ask Ma" to the Jungle Book cartoon, and it fit so well. You can do great stuff with computers. But I don't like the drug addiction to it.
Part Time Punks presents A Tribute to Ari Up & the Slits, featuring members of Weave, Swahili Blonde and Rainbow Arabia, plus DJs Roy Corduroy and Boss Harmony. The Echo, Sunday, Dec. 19, 10 p.m., $5, 18 and older.
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