Book Review – Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys

 

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Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys
Viv Albertine

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.)

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Book Review – Girl In a Band

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Girl In a Band
Kim Gordon

The most refreshing part of Girl In a Band is that Kim Gordon is a really great writer. Not that I’m surprised by that – she’s written pieces for a variety of publications over the years – but so many rock star autobiographies are stilted, repetitive and trashy. Gordon approaches the story of her life as a grand piece of art, with different elements, mediums and characters, that are all explored, and related to the audience, with sensitivity and care. (Okay, there’s a bit of trash talk about Courtney Love that seems as if Gordon gave in to an editor insisting that she share the dirt, but for the most part, that’s the only point where there’s mud flying.)

As a California girl from the late 60s, Gordon is no stranger to gender stereotypes and misogyny. While the title comes from the oft-asked question from media “what’s it like being… a girl in a band”, the bassist seems to not have experienced much sexism from bandmates and peers (or at least none that she’s related), although her experiences growing up with a schizophrenic brother often left her feeling that she had to take on the traditional female roles of being docile and supportive within her family. Add to that the spectre of Charles Manson, who Gordon references on multiple occasions throughout the book, and you can see how she entered adulthood with lots of questions about her identity and her role in the world.

While people will know Gordon first and foremost as a member of Sonic Youth, and the (ex)wife of bandmate Thurston Moore, music is just one of her talents – she admits it wasn’t on her radar as a career until she met Moore. Gordon is also an artist, fashion designer, writer and actress. Much of Girl In a Band explores Gordon’s other projects, touching on relationships forged in the art, fashion, and music worlds. In any other book, this would seem like name-dropping but in Gordon’s case, it’s just factual, and allows her to give props to the creative talents around her.

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Chauffeurs, Hairdressers and Tambourine Shakers – Girl in a Band: Tales From the Rock’n’Roll Front Line

I have a great tattoo on my right wrist – a bracelet of cartoon cameos of old Hollywood movie stars, all women. I’ve always wanted to add another bracelet tat just above it – the same concept, only with cameos of the great women of rock (or at least the ones I admire enough to put permanently on my skin), except that there just aren’t that many to choose from. This is mostly because rock music, even today, is still all about the guys.

Sure, there have been fantastic female musicians, solo acts like Adele, and bands like the Go-Gos. But the number of women working side by side with men, who are considered equal to their band mates (and not just a sexy tambourine shaker) are actually pretty few.

Kate Mossman, the pop culture writer for the New Statesman thought the same thing, and recently completed a documentary on the subject. Girl in a Band: Tales From the Rock’n’Roll Front Line (inspired by the autobiography of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, released earlier this year) ran on BBC on October 30th (UK residents can view it on the iPlayer, the rest of you need to find yourself some VPN access).

In it, Mossman explores the ongoing struggle that so many female musicians encounter. She starts with session guitarist/bassist Carole Kaye who worked with everyone from Richie Valens to Phil Spector to Sinatra and the Beach Boys. Kaye’s extensive catalogue should have set a bar for both respect and equality for female musicians – she did well for herself because of both her talent and her refusal to take any shit. Unfortunately, Kaye was a rarity and women in bands, even when they were as (or more) talented than their male counterparts, often found themselves not just playing music but, as Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads recounts, playing chauffeur and hairdresser as well.

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