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

Grrrl power: life as a punk princess
  • @FionaSturges

"Anyone who writes an autobiography is either a twat or broke. I'm a bit of both," declares Viv Albertine in a no-nonsense memoir that documents her early musical discoveries, her career as guitarist in the punk band The Slits and subsequent incarnations as film-maker and solo artist.

Albertine's time in the limelight provided a brief but powerful jolt to a late-1970s music scene unaccustomed to gobby girls in plastic knickers and shredded tights mouthing off about art and feminism. The Slits' aesthetic was as important as their music, and Albertine led the charge with her "Pippi Longstocking meets Barbarella meets juvenile delinquent" look. "Men look at me and they are confused," she says. "They don't know whether they want to fuck me or kill me."

The obstacles facing a female musician trying to make it in a male domain have rarely been so bluntly documented. Albertine is ridiculed by studio techs and guitar salesmen, and faces outright hostility from journalists, managers and musicians. Violence and sexual assault simply come with the territory.

For a long time a career in music doesn't seem possible: "Every cell in my body is steeped in music, but it never occurs to me that I can be in a band, not in a million years... No girls played electric guitar."

Despite this, friendship, and sometimes romance, blossoms in the squats and clubs of west London where punk is born. The Clash's Mick Jones is loyal and sensitive, while Johnny Thunders is a talented junkie. Her recollections of Sid Vicious reveal a smart boy hamstrung by shyness, though his girlfriend Nancy Spungen is a pain.

Albertine rarely minces her words and blithely chats about masturbation, periods, getting crabs in Amsterdam and giving Johnny Rotten a blow job. Her book is both a bold chronicle of her personal ups and downs and a historical document that blows holes in the established punk narrative in which men are the major players and women merely window dressing.