Art Doc of the Week | Anita Sarko

“You don’t know what history is going to embrace and discard until you have sometimes twenty years [go by], which is the next generation, to sit there and decide that’s what was important and that’s what  wasn’t important, and a lot of time history is wrong because there is such a thing as revisionism… I’ve always found the most interesting people of any decade to be the ones that get lost.” ~ Anita Sarko

Since her death last month by suicide, the Anita Sarko interview clip below has been widely circulated across social media, frequently accompanied by the words “end of an era,” or the equivalent. Sarko, the legendary Detroit-born New York DJ who cut her artistic teeth during New York’s best-of-times-worst-of-times 1980s, was a DJ whose far-flung tastes (and her wielding of them while at the turntable) helped score one of New York’s most creatively fertile periods ever. It’s when hip-hop and punk and disco’s assorted bastard children (hip-hop being one of those bastards) co-mingled, sharing more influences and common ground than is often now acknowledged. Armed with a unique divining rod, she heard connections across genre and played set-lists that were eccentric and sometimes demanding of the listener/dancer. Worth noting is the fact that she was a woman at a time that the professional DJ field was otherwise all-male.

Sarko’s words in this interview resonate with a heartbreaking poignancy now that she has taken her own life. That’s especially true of the very first statements she makes at the start of the clip. Walking down the street, long hair flowing, exuding old-school New York cool, she smiles into the camera and dispenses the following:

 “There’s an old saying: life is what happens when you’re making plans. In other words, you can sit there and plan all you like, it doesn’t matter. Either things are gonna happen or [they’re] not gonna happen. And if things don’t happen, a lot of time you think your entire life is over. And it turns out later on that you realize that if that hadn’t happened and you hadn’t taken a different path, you would’ve never taken the one that’s really yours. So there’s some advice from an old lady.”

Words of wisdom and advice that artists share are not only lessons learned, but are sometimes lessons they’re still trying to embrace for themselves. That’s something we rarely consider. The confidence with which they speak may not be an accurate representation of what is happening in their heart and spirit. They’re trying to school themselves, maybe reassure themselves. That puts a different spin on what she says, and raises the question of how, if at all, her words apply to older artists like herself who are persona non grata in our youth obsessed culture, who have been dismissed.

In the clip she briskly dismantles lazy nostalgia, the ways older generations can be dismissive of what’s happening in the now because they don’t even fully know what’s happening in various cultural boroughs. But she also gives a succinct critique of how information overload is as much a curse as it is a fount of possibility; she’s not the elder so desperate to be hip and cool that she co-signs the now without giving it a historical framework and real analysis. The whole interview is fantastic, and its ten minute running time means there’s no fat, it’s all muscle.

Some really wonderful eulogies were written in tribute to Sarko, with iconic nightlife/gossip columnist Michael Musto’s being the most intimate and moving.

Check them out:

New York TimesDaily Beast

And here’s an excerpt from Michael Musto‘s:

“Five years ago, Anita was diagnosed with both ovarian and uterine cancers, but she was operated on and not only survived, she was declared in the clear earlier this year. But she suffered some lingering pains and also complained of the results of the hormone depletion caused by her hysterectomy. More of an issue, though, was the fact that she couldn’t find creatively satisfying work and worried about her career, feeling that various projects had reached an absolute dead end for her. I helped her with her resume and job possibilities, but she found that nothing clicked, since employers were looking for recent college grads, not old-timers with history and personality. Rejection turned to despair and, though Anita was doing work and paying her bills, she feared for her future and felt discarded and unappreciated. The last time I talked to her, I made a point of telling her she was “legit”. She was so much more than that. A brilliant woman, and I loved her more than I can say.”

Photo: Svetlana Samoshina

Previously on Art Doc of the Week: