Harrowing. Not the bits about being chased by skinheads, or learning to play guitar, or even her abusive father… the most harrowing part of Viv Albertine’s Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys is her life after The Slits. More specifically, her life after having a career, when she opted to move to Hastings, live by the sea and be a housewife.
These progressions happen naturally, of course, and as they’re occurring, most of us don’t really realize how momentous our choices are, but it wasn’t until the dissolution of her marriage that Albertine realized how much of herself she had set aside in favour of her family life – a life that, despite having a kid that she adored (and fought to bring into the world), didn’t make her happy.
Clothes Music Boys tells the story of Viv Albertine’s life from a boy-crazy young woman who found herself smack in the middle of London’s punk scene in the 1970s. Dating Mick Jones of the Clash and best pals with Sid Vicious of The Sex Pistols, Albertine would have been a prime chronicler of the times even if she hadn’t been in one of the most influential bands of the era. (Albertine paints Sid as an intelligent, funny, thoughtful, talented guy who was totally misunderstood and under-appreciated – despite the joke that Sid only knew three chords, Albertine tells of how he taught himself bass guitar in just a couple of days.)
The Slits, one of only a couple of female bands or the punk era, were not only known as ground-breaking in terms of their sound – unique in part because most of the band members had no musical training – they were also rowdy girls who partied as hard as their male counterparts. Fronted by the now-deceased Ari Up, they were banned from posh hotels when they toured with The Clash, and were even banned from the tour bus at one point by the driver.
Never properly trained – Albertine didn’t know how to tune her own guitar, or music basics like what key she was playing in – after punk she was at loose ends, going on to become an aerobics instructor and then a filmmaker. After meeting and marrying her husband (who is left unnamed in the book), Albertine tried desperately to get pregnant, resorting to multiple rounds of invitro fertilization. Shortly after the birth of her daughter she was diagnosed with cervical cancer and spent a year recovering from chemo and radiation, then additional years recovering her health to pre-cancer levels.
It’s during this time that Albertine discovers her need for a creative outlet. She starts making ceramics, then feels the call of the music. Needing to completely relearn how to play the guitar, and with a desire to do it properly this time, she starts taking lessons then performing at open mike nights, embarrassed but determined to achieve her goals. She briefly join a Slits reunion tour but finds going backwards doesn’t serve her especially well.
There is a loneliness to Albertine’s writing about this period. The entire book is written in the present tense, so it reads very much like a journal, with a much more personal tone than the typical memoir. She cannot relate to her husband any longer, who thinks her musical goals are foolish, nor can she relate to the other moms she sees every day, as none of them are aware of her past as a punk rock pioneer.
Working with Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, Albertine released her first solo album in 2010 and proceeded to play gigs as a solo artist. She’s since returned to film (as an actress) and continues to make and sell her ceramic art. A follow-up to Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys is set for release in the summer of 2016 as Albertine continues to document her journey.
It’s seldom that celebrity memoirs come with a moral to the story but the lesson behind Albertine’s book is clearly to not let your creative spark burn out, or set aside the things you love to do, especially to keep another person happy. Having mentioned in interviews that she actually geared the book to teenage girls (as opposed to us old farts looking to relive the punk days of glory), Albertine’s story is a huge lesson in self-esteem.
This article originally appeared on Still Weird Zine.