Daiana Feuer." /> L.A. Record


December 13th, 2009 | Interviews

carolyn pennypacker riggs

Download: The Slits “Ask Ma”


(from Trapped Animal out now on Narnack)

The Slits came up in a man’s world, overshadowed by their sloppy, destructive guy peers—but nevertheless they’ve left an imprint on the minds of many since the 1970s. We tried to break down reality with Ari Up & Tessa Pollitt. We went for full-on girl talk about boys, love, technology, the future, knitting, and girls pooping into each other’s mouths on the internet. This interview by Daiana Feuer.

Who initiated getting the Slits back together?
Tessa Pollitt (bass): It was very strange because I went to see Ari with her solo group, Ari Up & the True Warriors. And we had both been thinking that we would like to get the Slits back together at the same time. It was kind of quite spooky really. I saw her and I got really itchy to get back on stage again. We were both really thinking of the same thing at the same time.
What is the tie that binds you?
Tessa Pollitt: We grew up like sisters. I lived with her when she was 15. I left home when I was 16. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to have a roof over my head! We’ve lived quite parallel lives. Similar things have happened to us, even though we were apart for twenty years. We both lost the fathers of our children. We’re quite seriously linked. We both like the same music instinctively. There’s very few people I get on with. Me and Ari have a conflict sometimes and we’re quite opposite people in character but opposites attract, right? We both grew up with a strong Jamaican culture in England. In the ’70s, there was a lot of Jamaican culture in England because many Jamaicans came here in the ’50s to do all the jobs that English people were too lazy to do. We both admire the talent that comes from this one little island. And it’s not even the music, I swear, it’s the poetry, the dancing—it’s totally unique, Jamaica. There’s something about Jamaica that makes it like no other Caribbean island.
Me and a million girls learned to be non-‘typical girls’ from the Slits and all the lady punk groups. Do you feel that impact? Do you feel like a good example?
Tessa Pollitt: I would hope so. I have a daughter who is 25 now, and I think people from her generation are really inspired by us. Obviously they didn’t live through the time that we went through, and I think things have changed quite dramatically in a lot of ways—not just for women, but things have moved on. I do think we did change things slowly. Things have changed—not enough—but things have changed.
What has changed or what has not changed?
Tessa Pollitt: Good and bad things have changed for women. In England we’ve had this ladder culture where young girls feel like they’re in competition with men and that they have to act like men and that annoys me because that wasn’t really what it was about. We’re not in competition with men. I think we need to look back to—this sounds silly—but to old wives’ tales, all these things that are getting lost. Women need to embrace good things about the old ways; even when women were held back there were good things. Old-fashioned things. Women shouldn’t lose these skills. It sounds silly, but knitting and cooking are great. On an artistic level it’s been very tough. I think maybe it’s different in England from America but there’s a lot of work left to be done. Men and women, we’re just so different. We’re different creatures. It makes it work. The whole world is based on opposites. Hopefully the two things can meet somewhere. A bit of conflict is good.
Ari Up (vocals): 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. It can be a simple little thing, and there’s just no tolerance anymore.
Why do you think that is?
Ari Up: 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 fuck-ups aren’t the reason to stop loving them?
Ari Up: 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. 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.
What about the world crumbling?
Ari Up: 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.
In America, if a man kills a woman in a moment of anger, he is tried more leniently than if a woman waits until he falls asleep or goes to the kitchen for a knife.
Tessa Pollitt: Wow. That is different! Oh, wow. We don’t have the death penalty here. That’s really shocking. But at the same time I have compassion for men because men don’t have as much rights for children. If there’s a split-up in a family, then the rights immediately go to the women. So a lot of men are suffering because they don’t get to see their children legally. I don’t think that’s right. The children suffer and it’s a real mix-up and so many entanglements need to be sorted out. The Slits got labeled as feminists or lesbians but we weren’t that. It’s very hard to pinpoint what we were trying to do or what we’re still trying to do, but we are not man-haters or lesbians or feminists. I appreciate the struggle of the suffragettes and when women didn’t have the right to vote, but this is a different age we’re living in. Men and women need to have compassion for each other.
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.
Tessa Pollitt: There’s a woman artist I really admire called Leonora Carrington who was I think a lover of Max Ernst. She was never really recognized as a female artist until she was a senior. I’d like to hang out with her. We’re still suffering the same problem as her. We’ve been written out of the history books as far as the punk story goes. It’s all about the male groups. And it’s gone on throughout history. You’re just swept under the carpet and you’re invisible. I don’t think we’ll be recognized until we’re dead. In England it’s problematic. They don’t get it. We constantly get bad press. We do a lot better in America. We’re far more suited for America to be quite frank.
What do you think of technology? Would you touch a digitizer?
Tessa Pollitt: I really do not like it. I think Ari’s a bit more open to it than me, but this is what slightly annoys me about our album. I’m much more organic, I much prefer the live feeling of music. I’ve noticed with our record, I didn’t number the tracks to be like that. On the A-side it’s the more programmed stuff and on the B-side it’s the more organic stuff. I would have preferred to mix up the numbering of the tracks, personally. I don’t use a computer, I don’t use a mobile phone. I’m a very down-to-earth person. I’ve chosen not to get involved with the future. I do not like the computer world at all.
Ari Up: That’s a love-hate relationship. I hate it in one way and love it in another way. It’s very practical and benefitting 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 ‘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 the computer. But I don’t like the drug addiction to it.
Do you think there’s a chance this kind of world can explode and we can restart?
Tessa Pollitt: I hope so. I hope it all crashes and everyone loses all their information. I’m very old-fashioned like that. I like to hold a book. I like paper and string and earth. I’m a bit peculiar. I suppose you can call me a Luddite, I’m a bit anti-technology. I do have a TV.
What will be the organizing principle of the New World? What will be its main value?
Ari Up: 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.
When you’re an old lady, what do you want to do all day?
Tessa Pollitt: I would like to have a lot of animals and do some gardening. I’d like to touch the earth. I’d like to play music and draw and paint and travel. I love to draw and paint. I like the feel, I like to touch things with my hands. I’m tactile. I did knit in the past. I’d like to get back to it in the future.