Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys
Viv Albertine is a pioneer. As lead guitarist and songwriter for the seminal band The Slits, she influenced a future generation of artists including Kurt Cobain and Carrie Brownstein. She formed a band with Sid Vicious and was there the night he met Nancy Spungeon. She tempted Johnny Thunders…toured America with the Clash…dated Mick Jones…and inspired the classic Clash anthem “Train in Vain.” But Albertine was no mere muse. In Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys., Albertine delivers a unique and unfiltered look at a traditionally male-dominated scene.
Her story is so much more than a music memoir. Albertine’s narrative is nothing less than a fierce correspondence from a life on the fringes of culture. The author recalls rebelling from conformity and patriarchal society ever since her days as an adolescent girl in the same London suburb of Muswell Hill where the Kinks formed. With brash honesty—and an unforgiving memory—Albertine writes of immersing herself into punk culture among the likes of the Sex Pistols and the Buzzcocks. Of her devastation when the Slits broke up and her reinvention as a director and screenwriter. Or abortion, marriage, motherhood, and surviving cancer. Navigating infidelity and negotiating divorce. And launching her recent comeback as a solo artist with her debut album, The Vermilion Border.
I kept thinking I’d already written this review because the book has so completely seeped into my consciousness. This is a warts and all memoir that tests you at the start to see if you’re strong enough to make the journey, throwing the messy chaos of her early life at the reader with both hands. I doubt the teen Albertine and I would ever have bonded as friends — she’s just too much of a girly girl for me, I never dealt well with the ‘boy crazy’ types — but I so admire this woman, I cannot tell you how much. She had a lot more chutzpah pursuing the things I only dreamed of like swanning her way into the music scene and picking up a guitar and keeping at it. Her life is tough from the get go but she persists through it all. She was there at so many of the pivotal moments in punk and beyond. Our culture does not idolize women except for beauty (which she has plenty of but never mind) or she would be mentioned in the same breath as Mick and Joe and Johnny and Sid, but they Slits don’t even get more than a grudging mention as one of the ‘girl bands’ of the era. The obsessiveness any art requires (the title comes from her mother’s lament about the young Viv’s preoccupations) is scorned in women as ‘narcissistic’ which seems to be what all women who create are disparaged as being. How dare they spend time on themselves?!
Like the Raincoats the Slits stretched so far beyond the simple punk chords so fast that in part their identity didn’t really sit with that particular genre. An amazing bunch from the singular Ari Up and fabulous Palmolive on drums with a vengeance. They moved onto more experimental stuff, changed, changed innovated added the amazing Neneh Cherry for a time and like most bands, broke up, moved on and found new things. Albertine pursues everything with the same zeal, throwing herself headlong into filmmaking, pottery, marriage, and a desperate fight to give birth, which is almost immediately followed by an agonizing battle against cancer.
And one day she wakes up to find herself a ghost of what she was, living in the country, which had once been an escape and had become an exile. And she resurrects her love of music and starts to battle back to it one pub gig at a time. She’s still a work in progress (thankfully!) at times frustratingly abject (there were times I just shouted at her through the pages, “What are you thinking, woman?!”), at times so amazingly strong that you have to cheer. It’s a remarkable journey that will leave you feeling exhausted but thrilled, just like a great gig.
I don’t know if this qualifies as a FFB as it’s not been released in the US I guess (?), but you can check out other overlooked treasures at Patti’s blog. Click the picture above to buy the book.
Albertine live at Rough Trade