John Peel Sessions

Okay, so I don’t actually hate music. As a teenager, I played the oboe for two hours a day, and if that spit-riddled, physically painful effort isn’t evidence of some ritualistic devotion adjacent to love, I don’t know what is. I love music to an extreme that is perhaps ill-advised (don’t take up the oboe; it cannot be done casually). What I don’t love is what comes with it—the dry inaccessibility of classical, everything about Coachella, and punk’s hypermasculine posturing under a patina of socially progressive politics. To paraphrase Chumbawamba, a band I adored without irony in sixth grade, I thought the MUSIC mattered.

So when Music Editor Ciara Dolan asked me to write about British punk band the Slits for the maiden voyage of this column, I was delighted. Despite having loved all things remotely feminist and proto-Riot Grrrl since my dad gave me my first copy of Bitch when I was in middle school, I had never actually listened to the Slits. When I did, I was transported to a time when my greatest concern was obtaining two things: at least a B+ on my Chaucer final, and a text from a Clash-loving boy with a godawful bicep tattoo of (I am not joking) HAMLET TALKING TO A SKULL.

The Slits sound like college, in the best way—the sly, misshapen romance of being 21, malleable and excited by that malleability. Their bass lines are lumpy, their lyrics are half-shouted, and some of their music is straight-up not very good. I love it. I started with their cover of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” It’s nearly perfect—a classic torch song enlivened by self-aware humor. And that’s the thing about the Slits. I wouldn’t describe most of the angry girl music I love as cheerful—I almost never listen to Sleater-Kinney when I’m happy—but the Slits are fun! They’re energetic and weird and fully committed to their bad choices. They encourage shoplifting! They run around in muddy loincloths! Theirs is an ebullient, half-finished sound, a booming-bassline alternative to the too-crisp aural edges of most music released in the post-EDM era. The Slits sound like trespassing to jump off a dock at midnight in your underwear, no lifeguard in sight. They sound like covering up your dorm room’s smoke alarm and shoving a towel under the door to smoke a poor-quality joint of dubious origin. They sound like gin-drunk dancing to the early hits of Britney Spears. It’s music to be petulant to!

Of course, you can’t get away with that shit forever. You get older and more responsible and can’t always be loud when you’re angry. Women in particular are conditioned to cool it on the emotional weirdo stuff or risk embarrassment. Socially acceptable messiness—like the freaked-out face of a lady executive who’s also a mother of three—may be okay, but other kinds of female sloppiness—to say nothing of female grossness—are rarely encouraged. Showing the frayed seams of your personality is a privilege women often don’t have. But if you can’t be pissed-off and covered in mud in your life, you can be in your earbuds.

In the days before proudly fucking up became something relegated to my record collection, I aced that Chaucer final. I broke up with the guy who loved the Clash, just like I’d ditched the oboe sophomore year (I had SO MUCH MORE FREE TIME). I said goodbye to my friends as they scattered across the country. I was slowly learning that you can love something without needing to keep it forever. And I was messily—sometimes painfully—discovering who I would become. I still had plenty of poor decisions ahead of me. I would’ve loved the Slits.