Clothes, Clothes, Clothes,
Music, Music, Music,
Boys, Boys, Boys
Author, Viv Albertine
by Roy Peak
Reading Viv Albertine's biography took me to another time and place more so than any other biography I've ever read.
I've read multiple books on the London punk scene, (England's Dreaming by Jon Savage was informative but a little dry, John Lydon's Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs was great, but a little self-centered.) but Albertine's was the first one that really made me feel as if I had been dropped right into the midst of what was truly an ever-evolving and rather incestuous happening. Albertine gives true insight into those who populated the music scene without sounding like a name dropper. She was friends with (or went to school with, or dated, or worked for, or played in bands with) some of the most important and influential characters in England at the time, and her memories of these people come off honestly, with no sense of malice. A for instance: Most tales of infamous Sid Vicious of the band the Sex Pistols make him seem like a cartoon character or a doom-laden extra in someone else's story. Albertine manages to turn him back into a real person—no small feat. They were friends, played in a band together, and Albertine paints a rather sympathetic portrait of the iconic rock star, painting a portrait of a person much different than you would think.
A lover of rock music from an early age Albertine yearned to play guitar in a band but, nonetheless, girls weren't asked to be in bands very much in the late sixties and early seventies. It wasn't until the London punk rock explosion that she saw the chance to make her own rules, ignore the naysayers and just go for it. In the meantime she worked as a barmaid at Dingwall's, a famous rock club; as a shop girl in SEX, Malcolm McLaren's and Vivienne Westwood's infamous clothing store on King's Road; dated Mick Jones of the Clash for many years (their song "Train in Vain" was written as a response to a song she wrote about him), and eventually became the guitarist for the trailblazing punk band the Slits before she even knew how to properly play the instrument. (The other members didn't really know how to play their instruments either, so it kind of worked out. Hey, it was true punk rock. When folks talk about punk rock bands nowadays, they think of bands like Green Day and Blink 182, yet those bands are plain vanilla compared to the fearless force of nature that was the Slits. Rhythm heavy, atonal, in shocking states of undress with untamed hair, and a complete lack of couth, the band hit the stages of Europe like a bevy of hurricanes, leaving no one unchanged after witnessing their musical, cultural, and fashion onslaught. Later acts such as Bikini Kill, Courtney Love, and Cardi B all owe much to bands like the Slits for forging them a pathway onto the scene.)
After her band broke up she decided to take a break from music for a while and enrolled in film school. After she graduated she worked as a freelancer, producing music videos for bands, television shows for BBC, and documentaries for well over a decade.
A two decade long marriage and the fight for a child of her own—involving in vitro fertilization and many years of pain and heartache—is detailed in the middle section of the book with honesty, and no filter. She writes of the doctors who failed her, and the ones who helped, the long months in hospitals, the years of suffering before she was finally gifted with a healthy daughter.
A Slits reunion tour led to her reinvigoration into music, while it also sadly helped fuel the dissolution of her marriage. After the tour, she began playing open mic nights in seedy bars, without anyone recognizing her, as she attempted to get her guitar chops back while learning how to sing newly written original songs. A few years later she recorded her first solo album at 58 years of age.
She ends this book knowing she still doesn't have all the answers, but in a better mindset. She's since released a second book, this one focusing more on the relationship she had with her mother. I'm looking forward to digging into that one soon.
Roy Peak is Sacred Chickens' Music Editor. He has played electric bass in more bands than he cares to remember for more years than he can remember. He wrote the theme song for the Utica, New York radio show "Hey You Kids, Get Off My Lawn" on WPNR-FM. His solo debut album, All Is Well, has been called "Loud, cacophonous, and beautiful by a truly unique artist." His short fiction has been published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and he writes music reviews for the King Tut Vintage Album Museum of Jacksonville. Roy writes music reviews for the Rocking Magpie among others. Check out his brand new album A Wolf at the Door.