1976, London, a handful of teenage girls decided to start a band. When I say “teenage”, I mean fourteen to sixteen. A couple had passed through short-lived early punk bands, but none of them really knew how to play their instruments. The only one with any massive natural talent was the lead singer, Ari Up, a German-born spitfire in possession of an amazing voice. The Slits exploded onto the scene, opening for the Clash a year after forming. They were riotous, chaotic and utterly bratty. Drummer Palmolive couldn’t keep a steady beat, so the din pulsed, speeding and slowing according to her irregular patterns. Original guitarist and bassist Kate Korus and Suzy Gutsy were soon replaced by Viv Albertine and Tessa Pollitt. Ari Up had a habit of lifting her dress to show audiences her panties.
There may have been all-girl rock bands before the Slits. The Shaggs were around, but they don’t really count because they were forced to be a band by their father, who had received a message from God or something, and they were never any good. Possibly, some record company scum had put together an all-female group for novelty’s sake, like the Monkees with boobs. Probably there were others that never made it out of the garage. The Slits were, to the best of my knowledge, the first self-starting, all-female band in rock. And they named themselves the Slits. That’s nailing the flag to the mast.
Some live recordings of the early Slits exist, but are hard to come by. They were in The Punk Rock Movie, toured with the Clash again and learned to play. Palmolive left, to be replaced by Budgie, later of Siouxsie and the Banshees, which tightened up the rhythm section. They embraced reggae, landed a record deal and released Cut, which featured the three female members wearing only loincloths and mud on the cover. Neneh Cherry, daughter of jazz great, Don Cherry, added vocals on the album. Budgie would eventually be replaced by Bruce Smith, drummer for the Pop Group, but publicity photos would almost always exclude the boys. (Budgie can be seen far off in the background in one of Cut’s inner photos.) The Slits were willing to have a guy pound skins, but they were female-led and girl-powered. They toured like mad, released a load of singles and another album, Return of the Giant Slits, and broke up in 1982.
Palmolive formed the Raincoats after leaving the Slits. Viv Albertine made films for the BBC and British Film Institute. Ari Up moved to some jungle in Indonesia to live with head-hunters, eventually returning to music with the New Age Steppers. A version of the Slits reappeared in ’05, featuring Ari Up, Tessa Pollitt and Hollie Cook, daughter of Sex Pistol guitarist Steve Cook. Ari Up died of cancer in 2010, aged 48. Her death was announced by John Lydon (aka JohnnyRotten), who was her stepfather, having married her mother back when the Sex Pistols were a going concern.
Everything about the Slits is fucking awesome. They were children when they started, girls, who came out of the gate raucous and defiant, kicking down barriers and not letting anything get in their way, not even their inability to play. They took the sausage-fest of rock by storm, transformed themselves almost overnight into a dancehall/punk assault unit, attacking gender stereotypes and flying in the face of what girls were supposed to be, naked and filthy. They had brass ovaries and when it was time to quit, they quit. They laid the foundation for chicks in punk, creating the look and attitude that would later become Riot Grrrl. Anyone who cares fuckall about feminism should be required to own Cut. Anybody trying to raise up a ferocious little girl should be slipping that one into the player as often as possible.
The Big Drum In The Sky Religion has mostly had male participants. The first performing incarnation featured a couple women, anarchists who were in it more for the opportunity to tell their friends they were in a crazy, noisy improve band than because they actually intended to actually do anything. Italian Ice, my adopted little sister and my daughter’s unofficial goddess-mother, got in pretty early and is still in whenever she’s around. She tends to spend a lot of time in third-world jungles. Puddle Creature played a few shows and was on a couple releases before disappearing into the blighted suburban wasteland that is Northern Virginia. JuJu “Dallas” Sweetlime tore some amazing, fucked up lounge jazz out of a Wurlitzer keyboard and threw down some random vocals until she moved to NYC to mooch cigarettes and blow off hipsters. I managed to coerce C.C. LaLucha into tickling some ivories and reading Revelations in Spanish before we parted ways. Other than those few, and that trannie who was around for a little while at the beginning, it’s been all male.
Guys tend to approach me and ask if they can sit in. Sometimes they stick around for a while. Women don’t seem to be into it. I don’t know why. I’ve tried to recruit females, offered to teach them to play an instrument, usually bass. I’ve pestered and cajoled, but the chicks just don’t wanna. It makes no sense to me. I have always wanted to play music and would have jumped at any chance to be part of a totally free-form, no-need-for-talent, all-improv entity at any point in my life. I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want to get in BDSR, but I’ve come to accept that some people don’t.
What I really want, of course, is a woman like Ari Up. In the band and in my life. I’m single now and not really looking, but if I could find a single woman, around 40-45, optimally with a decent voice, who wanted to jump into BDSR, take on some of the managerial chores, do some art, make some noise and cuddle up on the sofa to watch The Holy Mountain once in a while, I’d be all over that like ugly on an ape. If she had four-foot dreads, that’d be fine too.
Unfortunately, such a woman is unlikely to show up any time soon. The Slits came out of a specific time, place and social situation. Punk rock blew the structure apart. The dark stars lined up perfectly to create the Slits. If there’s another woman like that anywhere in the universe, she sure as fuck ain’t in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The best I can hope for is to raise up the Spotted Opossum to be that awesome.
Speaking of the Spotted Opossum, she was running full-speed down a hall recently and discovered, the hard way, that her mouth is the exact same distance from the floor as a doorknob. There was some screaming and crying and blood on her jammies, followed by a trip to the E.R. We took her in for oral surgery t’other day, but the doctor was unable to save her big, right front tooth, which was a baby tooth and going to come out in a year or so anyway. So now the grrrl has a big gap in the front which looks pretty cute and tough. As designated Keeper of the Relics, I already have a jar for her teeth. Wasn’t expecting to need it quite this soon. I’m happy to say, she hasn’t slowed down. Knocking out one of her teeth hasn’t dampened her reckless joie de vivre one tiny bit. She continues to be the smart, funny, fearless, pink explosion of wild abandon she’s always been. I’m looking into fiddle lessons, so you can expect her to show up on even more BDSR releases, if she’ll let me record her.
I’m sure the Mommy will expose the girl to smarmy, gutless femmy music. Her friends will doubtlessly get her into whatever godawful boy bands and bubble-gum pop kids are into in a few years. It falls to me to provide my daughter with access to good music. That means Can, the Clash and Acid Mothers Temple, certainly, but she’s a girl and she needs to hear female voices. Elizibeth Cotton is one of her faves right now. She digs the Slits and As Mercenárias. I haven’t played Bikini Kill, Melt Banana, Crass, Babes In Toyland, 7 Year Bitch or AIDS Wolf for her yet – those bands are a little too sonically harsh for her, but I will. I’m looking for some Slant 6, Breeders and Team Dresch, if anybody has it.
I’m also looking for women in the experimental/improve/noise scene. The only band I can think of that was hellishly noisy that had a woman that BDSR has performed with was Blue Sabbath Black Fiji. Guitar As Spacecar had a female shrieker out front, but they played precious little before hanging it up. I’ve heard rumors that there are women in the scene someplace, but I ain’t seen many. If you know of any, please hook me up with contact info.
In the meantime, check out the Slits, support women in rock and under rocks and free Pussy Riot.
My early political education was 80’s punk and hardcore, which means I hated Reagan and identified as an anarchist. That’s the position I pretty much held through a dozen+ years of alcohol and drug abuse, untreated dysthemia and I dunno how many rounds of major depression. After I got straight, I tried to be a slightly-less-irresponsible citizen so I showed up to vote fairly regularly, always for the Democrat, but still tended toward anarchism.
The first incarnation of BDSR featured a gaggle of local self-proclaimed anarchists. They were mostly college kids with rich parents who were getting their kicks playing revolutionary, which meant wearing kitschy clothes, yammering about “actions” and “affinity groups” and drinking micro-brews. They were pretty annoying, but I was trying to get a band off the ground and I needed warm bodies. The anarchists were all hep about being in a band, but not so into taking on any kind of responsibility or showing up when they said they would. They sure as shit weren’t into making music that didn’t sound exactly like the music the other cool kids were into, so when they really realized that we were not going to somehow magically sound like Rage Against The Machine, they all wandered off.
Unfortunately, I got kinda caught up in some of their dumb shit and actually participated in a poorly thought out action which got several people arrested, including myself. I’m not going into it because the targets of the action issued some death-threats and the whole thing turned into a shit-storm. A show was organized to raise money for the defense, then cancelled due to threats directed at the venue. I had to deal with cops because I was charged and because I was threatened…..it was a mess. I don’t wanna stir the shit up. I ended up getting a different lawyer than the other activists, a lawyer who I knew personally. I actually knew quite a number of individuals in the local legal system personally, which may or may not have had anything to do with the fact that the felony charges were null-processed for everybody involved. That means the charges were made to just go away. Nobody was acquitted or convicted, the charges weren’t dropped. It was like it never happened.
I distanced myself from the campus anarchists after that. I’m still cordial when I see ‘em – I am a Southerner after all – but I don’t hang out. Most of ‘em drifted out of town. I assume they went to work for their parents’ corporations. I still identified as an anarchist.
The wee grrrl was born a year or so after all that. Becoming a parent changes everything. I started looking around at the things that I needed and/or wanted for my daughter and it was pretty obvious that I wasn’t going to be able to get her immunized at some anarchist commune/squat. Our little family unit was depending on WIC that first year. The grrrl’s Mommy applied for food stamps – I refused to apply, but didn’t try to stop her from doing so. Anarchists don’t build playgrounds or help you install child-safety-seats in your car correctly. I started to appreciate all the things the government was providing for us. Of course, half of the government would like to take all those appreciable services away, kick out all the brown people and continue to deny equal rights to LGBTQXP’s. I’ve encountered some delusional dopers who actually believe that the Republicans, or at least their are closer than the Democrats to Anarchism, but decriminalization of purp isn’t the only issue that matters. If we’re going to have government – and there’s no viable alternative at this juncture – a liberal one is the most compassionate option.
I voted for Obama. I always vote for the Democrat, but I liked Obama’s end-the-war policy, his no-more-spying-on-citizens policy and his health-care-for-all policy. Turns out, after getting elected, he reversed himself on two of those, but he is a politician so whaddaya expect? I voted for him the second time too. I’ll be perfectly honest here: I was hoping he’d tax the top 1% into the bowels of Hell and use the money to give free dental work and biopsies to me and all my dirt-poor friends. No shit. Does that mean I believe in class war? Damn right. Kill the rich. At this writing, the GOP’s in Congress have dug in like ticks and are holding the country hostage to avoid funding Obamacare. That’s how determined they are to maintain the USA’s position as the only developed Western nation that doesn’t ensure health care for all citizens. Fucking pigs. I wasn’t a Socialist a few years back, but I’ve been called one so many fucking times that I just adopted it. Gimme Northern European-style social-democracy anyday.
On the national level, that is. On the personal level, I’m every bit as opposed to any authority as I ever was. I have deeply-felt spiritual beliefs, obviously, and I adhere to a moral code, but my beliefs and morality are the results of my own experiences and convictions. They don’t come from any church or guru. I do what I believe to be right because it is right. The only punishment I will ever suffer for my sins is the knowledge that I failed to live up to my own standards. My primary deity will never judge or condemn me. My helper spirits will never chastise or abandon me.
I believe in God’s will. It’s the same thing as dharma or Tao. It is the natural order of things. Water will seek the lowest level. Plants and animals will bear offspring of their own kind. Stars will explode, hurling their various atoms into the vastness of space where they will clump together and form planets capable of supporting life. A person with a genetic predisposition for addiction will never be able to enjoy a chilled spirits glass of straight bourbon without succumbing to the phenomenon of craving and going on a bender that might result in death. Butterflies fly all crazy. That’s God’s will. It is what it is. And God’s will is gonna get done, so it makes the most sense to be in accord with God’s will. Fighting gravity is stupid. Embracing gravity, seeking to understand gravity, seeking to understand forces related to gravity like air currents, aerodynamics and such, means you figure out how birds fly and you can build an airplane. Airplanes don’t fight gravity. I don’t fight the desire to enjoy a chilled spirits glass of straight bourbon. I do the things that I do to grow spiritually and I don’t have that desire. You can describe it anyway you like, but I love and appreciate the language of spirituality, so I attribute my complete lack of desire for bourbon – pot, acid, beer, crank, vodka, opiate painkillers, tequila, benzos &c – to the actions of my primary deity and my spirit helpers. That works for me.
Of course, the unseen forces that support me do more than just keep me off the shit. I have developed resources over the years that I wouldn’t’ve thought possible. I have had experiences in my quest for spiritual growth that I can’t articulate and don’t fully comprehend. I have met divinity. I have become Enlightened. I have been to the yonder shore.
I’m trying to figure out how to explain shamanarchy. It’s a thing that has recently been found floating on the surface of my consciousness, an ideology that combines the tenets of The Big Drum In The Sky Religion with political action. This kinda thing happens. Some nuance of what this thing is about drifts into the corner of my mind’s eye and I have to roll it around for a while to get a grasp on what it is.
Shamanarchy, which autocorrect wants to change to “sham anarchy”, certainly has to do with rejecting any authority, with acting out of one’s own moral center on all social levels. A shamanarchist seeks the greatest good for those of his/her community, whether that community be the village or the nation. The ballot box is a tool, as are the monkey wrench and the rifle. Shamanarchy must needs mean being willing to throw oneself onto a grenade or into the cosmic water at the drop of a medicine hat.
The shamanarchist must have invisible means of support as well as human and animal community. Plants, too, if their language can be grasped – I haven’t yet learnt it meself. No one can make any positive difference acting alone. We are social creatures and must have society, of the human and non-human kinds. A shamanarchist forms alliances with other entities to work for the greatest good, defers to the judgment of those allies who are more knowledgeable, but does not blindly serve anyone. A shamanarchist must be a shaman, visionary, seeker. One can concentrate on any of the paths, but a shamanarchist must recognize that all lead to truth and have some knowledge of the various ways.
No shamanarchist may engage in oppression. I don’t see any way a shamanarchist could live above the poverty line, though there is no reason a shamanarchist shouldn’t charge a small fee for performing rituals, cures or exorcisms. The laborer is worthy of his hire, after all, and money represents energy – the person or group that hires a shaman gives her/him money as a way of demonstrating their faith in the shaman’s ability and of supporting his/her work on their behalf. Passionate and compassionate participation in the political system makes sense, as does passionate and compassionate action outside it. Don’t get caught.
The Earth is where we live. No amount of social justice matters if the Earth is uninhabitable. A shamanarchist must be an environmentalist.
As this thing comes together, I’ll flesh it out.
The Spotted Opossum and I were in the car t’other day, going from A to B. The Slits’ Cut was playing at low volume, just sort of there in the background. I’m always conscious of the music I have on when my daughter is around because I’m trying to raise up a smart, active, assertive and riotous grrrl with good taste. The Slits started off as a gang of thrashing, bashing teenage hellions with more attitude than aptitude and evolved into a punk/reggae, feminist assault unit who punched out some great grooves without losing their edge. They carved a place for themselves in the rock’n’roll sausage party, basically ensuring that punk, unlike all other forms, would have some menstrual blood on its tracks. Good goddamn job, says me.
S’anyway, during a lull in the conversation, the grrrl caught the refrain “Don’t take it serious” at the end of “So Tough” and asked me about that. I explained that they were saying not to take things so seriously, that some things are not worth getting bothered about. I was coming at it from that angle because little kids, including mine, have a tendency to get really upset over matters that are, in the grand scheme, pretty fucking trivial. Part of my Daddy job is teaching her that her emotions are fine and good, but that they need to be regulated in some ways. One simply cannot function well in society unless one can control one’s emotions. Understanding that some things can be ignored or brushed off is part of emotional maturity.
She acknowledged the validity of that interpretation and offered an alternative. Perhaps, she suggested, the Slits were addressing someone named “Serious” and they were telling Serious not to take something. Like, maybe they had some Halloween candy and Serious was trying to take it. “Don’t take it, Serious.”
I agreed that this was possible. She asked who was named Serious. I said I didn’t know of anyone by that name. We arrived at B, got out of the car and our talk drifted on to other things.
This morning, after a last-minute wardrobe change, some minor abuse of the roomie’s cat and a hurried search for something to take for show’n’tell, we managed to get down to the car where she suddenly announced that she remembered who Serious was. Serious, she informed me was a dog who belonged to Hunter O’Ryan. I was still struggling with consciousness and was distracted by trying to get her to school and me to work so I was slow to catch on. I thought she was talking about characters in a kids’ show or some something that she’d heard someplace and partially understood. It took me a moment to get it: Sirius is the Dog Star, associated with the constellation Orion, the hunter. We go to the planetarium at the local university occasionally. They have free shows every Saturday, the earlier one for kids. Last summer, we saw a cartoon about Orion, his legend and how he became a constellation. I had completely forgotten it. If you’d asked me, I would’ve assumed that she had too, that it had just sunk onto her brain as one of the fun things she and I have done together.
Nope. She obviously held onto far more information than I would’ve thought any four-year-old could. Of course, this is a four-year-old we’re talking about. She can remember the name of my roommate who has a cat, but not the other one and she sometimes needs help getting her underpants on right, but still. That she remembers from a cartoon six months ago that Sirius “belongs” to the hunter, Orion, is pretty amazing and cool.
What I’m taking from this incident is that my kid is really fucking smart. I already knew that and I’m certainly aware that few people who aren’t immediately involved in our lives give a shit. Parental anecdotes about amazing kids are a dime a dozen. It does tie in with a theory I’ve had for a while about the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism and manifestation of the bodhisattva of Divine Compassion, Avalokiteśvara. See, I’ve always treated my daughter like an intelligent person. I’ve always talked to her as if she was an equal, obviously taking into account her ability to understand words and concepts, and answered her questions as completely as possible. I encourage her constantly and I’ve provided her with many opportunities to learn, i.e. visits to the planetarium, art galleries, farms, as well as classes in dance, music and simple construction. She loves classes. She’s taking swimming lessons right now – her Mommy signed her up for those, so she gets the credit there. We have the girl in a Montessori school, which she loves, and we read to her daily. Certainly, she was born healthy and with some inherent capacity for intelligence, but we’ve done what we can to facilitate her growth.
The Dalai Lama, a compassionate and kind man by any standard, was raised to be compassionate and kind. He was found/selected as a toddler and grew up in a Tibetan monastery where his education was specifically directed toward his position as Dalai Lama, so it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that he grew up to be somewhat kind and compassionate. How else could he have turned out? Sure, he’s a reincarnation of Avalokiteśvara, so he had a predisposition toward compassion and kindness, but all sentient beings contain Buddha-nature, so we’re all capable of awakening to Divine Compassion, reincarnation of a bodhisattva or not. Why don’t we? Because we’re taught not to. We’re taught that we are individuals, entirely separate from other individuals. We are, of course, individuals and thank the gods for that, but we are also aspects of a greater, eternal and infinite, whole. Realization of that fact is essentially Nirvana.
Any individual raised to believe s/he is intelligent, kind, compassionate and essentially at one with all that is must necessarily believe it to be so, at least as much as her/his capacities allow. Her Mommy and I have taught the Spotted Opossum that she’s a smart kid and she has proven she is, so much so that it sometimes surprises her Mommy and I, who were raised with different thought-forms. All of this is fine for raising kids to be smarter and more compassionate than their parents, but it goes further. I was not raised to excel at much. My parents did not set high standards or go out of their way to put me into situations that would enhance my natural capabilities. The under-funded public schools I was forced to attend certainly didn’t encourage me to pursue my interests. I had to find ways to learn about and engage in the activities that mattered to me, not all of which were positive or constructive. Eventually though, my diligence in finding and following my own course paid off. By the time I got sober and started getting effective treatment for my depressive disorder, I was quite experienced with alternative forms of self-education. I had learned to wrap my head around apparently incomprehensible concepts, accept paradoxes and embrace mutually exclusive ideas. As I delved into the world’s vast treasure trove of myth, I found that I could easily understand what was being said.
The sound of one hand clapping? Clap with one hand. That’s it. That’s all there is. Enlightenment is nothing more than that. Love your neighbor as yourself? No problem when you realize that your neighbor is of the same essence as yourself, though individuated on a different time-table and manifesting another aspect of the One. It really is that easy, if you set high standards for yourself and put yourself in situations that will facilitate the growth of the self you want to be.
Suppose you want to attain to Nirvana. You simply tell yourself that you, like all sentient beings, already possess Buddha-nature and then put yourself in situations that will help you realize that fact. You might think that I mean go join a Buddhist monastery. Nope. Buddhist monasteries are filled with people who are absolutely convinced they cannot attain to Nirvana. They’re working and working and struggling and mediating because they believe they can’t be Enlightened. It seems like a paradox, but it’s really just a logical error. It’s the same as the Bill of Rights granting everyone the right to “the pursuit of happiness”. Friend, if you’re pursuing happiness, you’re not happy and you never will be until you stop pursuing.
Anyone, at any age, can change how they think. When you change how you think, you change how you live. As Funkadelic said, “Free your mind and your ass will follow”. It is not difficult. It does take a certain amount of effort and it doesn’t happen instantly. Well, some things do happen instantly. I have experienced moments of satori, when dots are connected and realizations occur, but mostly it’s just a matter of deciding to be something and then acting like you are that something until you are. That’s how I became a shaman, how I conquered death, how I became one with the One.
Of course, I do still get upset over trivial things from time to time, until I remember not to take things so serious. I’m playing a game called life in the zone of middle dimensions and sometimes I get caught up in the game. That’s just part of the fun of playing. It really is just a game, though.
Anybody can change. Anybody can conquer fear, keep their head when those about are losing theirs, enjoy the luxuries of poverty, walk through the valley of the shadow of death fearing no evil. It’s all about what you tell yourself.
So. What do you want to be?
Brown Hat the Espresso Shaman
The pun is always intended.