When I first met Ari Up, she had just begun her return to power. It was the turn of the century. My husband, Aram and I were at Wetlands backstage at a ska show, featuring my frenemies the Slackers. Surrounded by graffiti and stickers from every band who played there, including my own, Marq Lyn introduced us to Ari. We hit it off immediately. I can’t remember what we talked about but we didn’t stop talking. I probably told her about how listening to her music got me through many a painful night.
We finished that night with an exchange of phone numbers and a lift for Ari in our little car to the subway in downtown Brooklyn where we were living.
She was so cool. And a person I’d listened to and thought of as a kindred spirit. We found out that night that we were almost exactly ten years apart. I spoke ideas that she thought, she spoke ideas that I thought. But she was a rock star and my star had faded a bit and she would probably not have anything to do with me, so I left it alone.
Flash forward to her calling me to come out to a show of hers. She was opening for Fishbone at Wetlands and would I come up on the stage for a song. Sure.
The date was September 9, 2001. Poor Wetlands was getting the shaft and they were building a fancy new condo on top of our favorite spot to play. Our corner store, our hangout spot was to be destroyed and this was its last week alive. Had to go.
Ari was a hustler. She could work a room, a telephone, a television screen, all of it. She was hustling that night. We went backstage to hang out with Fishbone. The air was thick and fragrant. I sing better sober, so I tried hard not to inhale.
The band was fun. She was electric. She wanted everyone included on the stage. During this time she brought all kinds of people on the stage to do their thing. I got to do my piece, a bit of a song called “This One Goes Out“. She was creating her world village where everyone’s voice would be heard. She was making change.
Angelo Moore came on with a warning. “Get Out of the Citaaaaay!” he hissed, cane in hand, sweat pouring down his suspenders. He was serious.
Two days later, we did.
Ari’s family has a few homes in the L.A. area, so when we got there in 2002, we were anticipating the occasional hang. But we grew to be really close.
We suddenly became family away from family. When stuff got hairy, we were an easy escape. We were always welcome at Slits shows and we hung out a few times with her twin sons. We watched each other’s children.
In 2007, when we moved back to New York, to Brooklyn, and as Ari’s health started to degrade, we spent more and more time together. She was there for me in my second pregnancy and birth. We had an excellent Halloween together in Fort Greene. We stomped through the deepest snow any of us had ever seen. We made Ari our daughter’s godmother and gave the baby the middle name Ariane.
Ari never let on precisely how sick she was. We knew she’d been diagnosed and had some treatment in Jamaica, but when we asked about it she wouldn’t talk about it.
The last time I saw her, she was heading off to tour in June of 2010. Her last tour.
I heard from her via email from the hospital. I was not in a position to fly West to see her. She asked me to help her by meditating to help her be at peace. She wanted peace for her family and friends and her own heart and soul.
We cried for weeks. We did the thing that we knew how to do best. We put together a giant band to play as many of Ari’s songs as we could. (Thanks everyone!)
Today marks a year since she grew too large for her human body. Every time I think of her now I see her huge in the sky arms and locks outsretched, glad to finally be free.
Miss you, Ari.