Clothes, Clothes, Clothes... Music, Music, Music... Boys, Boys, Boys... by Viv Albertine; book review

 

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Viv Albertine was the guitarist in the punk band The Slits from 1977 to their demise in December 1981. In this funny, well-written and poignant memoir, she relates what it was like to be in the first wave of women who were able to join bands despite lacking formal training in music. But this book isn’t just about the punk era. It follows Viv’s life from childhood through to the present, taking in her youthful passion for music, wild teenage years, discovery of boys and sex, the punk years, the break-up of The Slits, the wilderness years, the reprieve afforded by film school and her new career as a director, desperate attempts to have a baby, illness, survival, and resurrection as a singer.

Albertine’s parents broke up when she was 11. Her father had always been a difficult man, given to doling out harsh corporal punishment and then sobbing with remorse and begging forgiveness. Always a bit of a wild child, after he left, Albertine became even more feral. At the age of 16, she went to Amsterdam with a female friend, returning without the friend (who had been coerced by the junkies they met there into doing a drug run from Istanbul), but with crabs, which she shared with her boyfriend.

By 19, she and a friend were breaking into an empty flat which they squatted for years, driving the neighbours mad with their constant music and mayhem. A foundation year at art school followed, where she met Mick Jones of The Clash, with whom she had a long relationship. She frequented Sex, Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s clothes shop in the King’s Road, and became friends with John Lydon and Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols.

Her first outing in a band was with Vicious in The Flowers of Romance (a name thought up by Lydon, and later the title of the third album by Public Image Ltd.) When Vicious threw Albertine out of the band, she was so upset that she allowed Johnny Thunders of the Heartbreakers to give her heroin for the first (and thankfully, last) time. She joined The Slits. After they broke up, she was devastated, but eventually recovered enough to study film.

In the Eighties, she had a successful career as a film-maker, but gave that up to concentrate on IVF. After 14 attempts, she had a baby, but was then struck with cervical cancer. Her recovery and the revival of her singing career are inspiring.

Pithy, hilarious and smart, this is a  wonderfully observant account of the life of a woman who made her dreams come true.

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