Stories Behind the Songs : The Slits - A Boring Life


All the Slits really left behind is an object screaming with muteness. A nameless lp in a blank bootleg sleeve. I want to believe the album is called "Once upon a time in a living room", but there's no way to be sure of that. With phrases written randomly on the label instead of titles, you have to decide the song names from the choices offered. "A Boring Life".

Therefore, once the music starts I never try to understand a single word.

One Slit giggles. A second asks "Are you ready?", another replies "Ready?" as if she never could be, then the fourth returns the giggle like Alice diving down the rabbit hole. "Ah, ah, OH NOOOOOO," is the last sound you hear at the crest of a roller coaster, and in the dead pause that follows you have time to recall Elvis at Sam Phillips' Sun Studios in 1955, preparing "Milkcow Blues Boogie" with a bit of rehearsed dialogue ("Hold it, fellas! That don't move me! Let's get real, real gone for a change!"). Except that the Slits’ dialogue is too trivial to have been rehearsed, let alone lead anywhere. And then the silence is collapsed by an unyielding noise. This compressed drama - the awkwardness in anticipation, the hesitation in panic, the silence in sound - is what punk was all about.

The Slits were Ari Up, vocalist, Palmolive, drums, Viv Albertine, guitar, Tessa, bass. The Rolling Stone Rock Almanac entry for March 11, 1977 states: "The Slits make their stage debut, opening for the Clash at the Roxy in London... They will have to bear the double curse of their gender and their style, which takes the concept of enlightened amateurism to extremes... The Slits will answer accusations of incompetence by inviting members of the audience on stage to play, while the four women take to the dance floor to dance."

Shouting and screaming, through the guitar strums the group finds a pulse, builds a rhythm, begins to shape it. The rhythm gets away and everyone chases it, passes it by and keeps going. Screams, shrieks, grunts and whimpers - unmediated female noises never before heard as pop music - course through the air as the Slits march hand in hand through a storm of their own making. It's a show of joy and revenge, an armed chant of childlike joy. Every musical risk is exploited, and for these women, playing the simplest chord was a risk. Their amateurism was far from enlightened.

"No more rock 'n' roll for you / No more rock 'n' roll for me," says a drunken moan elsewhere on the record, echoing the Sex Pistols' chorus for no-future (some unidentified man can be heard singing, perhaps someone operating the tape recorder, but it was Slits' confirmation that whatever they were doing, they wouldn't call it rock 'n' roll). This was music that denied its own name, which meant it also denied its history. From that moment on, nobody knew what rock 'n' roll was, and therefore almost everything was made possible, or impossible, as rock 'n' roll. Random noise was rock 'n' roll and the Beatles were not. Apart from the buried productions of a few cult prophets - such as American avatars like Captain Beefheart, mid-1960s garage groups like the Count Five or Shadows of Knight, the Velvet Underground and the Stooges in the late 1960s, the New York Dolls and Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers in the early 1970s, and the reggae voice of gnostic exile - punk immediately disparaged the music that preceded it. Punk denied the legitimacy of anyone who had ever had a hit or played like they knew how to play. By destroying one tradition, punk revealed a new one.

Looking back, it remains possible to take this version of rock 'n' roll history as the truth, as the whole story - not because the music that disparaged punk was worthless, but because the little that remains of Slits' music allows you to imagine that the sound they made communicated more fully and more mysteriously than the more carefully crafted work of anyone before or after them. "A Boring Life" heard as it was in 1977 or heard a decade later, rewrites rock 'n' roll history.

Madalena Ici

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