Revisiting the 2014 classic autobiography from Viv Albertine, published by Faber.
The Slits didn’t just tear punk a new arsehole, they recalibrated what women in the male-dominated music industry could be. Viv Albertine’s astonishing autobiography, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music , Boys, Boys, Boys is so titled as this is the chant her mother would goad her with. “That’s all you care about, Viviane”.
Viv photographed by Michael Putland.
It’s a book that is as raw as a skinned knee. Viv’s prose is brutal; passionate, candid to the point of discomfort, but full of insights and wit. Indeed, from the outset, Albertine marks out where to locate the more prurient aspects of the book- from sexually transmitted diseases to drugs- to sate the need for scandal.
Once such issues are dispensed with, though, a beautiful, thoughtful story of creativity and tenacity is allowed to breathe. Albertine is a cervical cancer survivor, a superb songwriter and loving mother who still makes fascinating work in music and film today.
The Slits were formed in the mid-seventies due to a paucity of authentic female voices in music. Viv, Tessa Pollit, Ari Up and Palmolive (Paloma) were tired of the attendant clichés: rock chick, groupie, dewy-eyed singer songwriter in flowing gowns.
They sounded like a girl gang, and acted like one. Often things could get violent, off and onstage. It wasn’t uncommon for the band to be attacked- just dressing as they did (PVC, ripped nighties, macs, big boots, striped tights) was enough to threaten passersby. Ari even got stabbed twice in the high street.
Albertine wrote Typical Girls because she was sick of fashion magazines dictating their capitalist agenda of consume, spend,”worry about spots, fat, unnatural smells… Fake smells”.
“Don’t create, don’t rebel”, Ari sneers in the opening line. Live the fairytale lie, as perpetuated by the mainstream media. Be the smiling housewife, the domestic slave, trapped in suburban hell. Typist or housewife were the limited options in the pre- Thatcher era. The Slits demanded revolution, long before the Riot Grrrl movement.
Of course it wasn’t easy. Albertine was from a working class environment, and her father left when she was a kid. There were money problems, and often tensions within the band. Ari could be a pain, according to Albertine, as she would act like a spoilt brat and had no filter. Albertine’s common sense approach meant this could create conflict at times. Yet they weathered the storm and created a new form of punky music with reggae rhythms, weaving new narratives about London life.
Some of the book then, isn’t easy to read. The accounts of violence, survival from illness and relationship problems are heartbreaking. Yet Albertine, with her no- bullshit attitude and sly humour, has created one of the best music autobiographies of the last twenty years.