Clothes Music Boys – Viv Albertine
For a large portion of last year I became used to people telling me how good Viv Albertins’s memoir was. Hardly a week went by without a comment either face to face, via social media, print media or radio or TV about what a great book it was. Well, over the last few weeks, I finally managed to spend some time with the book and guess what? Everyone was right.
It’s a truly inspirational book, charting Viv’s difficult early years as a schoolgirl, through her time in the epicentre of the London punk scene in the late 70’s. Then the period following her time out of the musical spotlight as she explores her endless quest to express her individuality which is both fascinating and heartbreaking. At all times the book is startlingly honest about herself and the people that she came into contact with.
Time and again Albertine’s steely determination to live her life and be creative on her own terms leads her on a very difficult path. It’s goes without saying that the life charted in this book is the polar opposite of that followed by so many aspiring would be pop stars in the become famous by any means necessary world of reality TV, that we have today. Viv’s time in The Slits was often fractious and riddled with poverty but her and the rest of the band refused to compromise. Their self-professed musical naivety leading them into experimental and bold musical directions, the living embodiment of what the punk spirit was all about.
If like me, you are of an age to cherish the deeds and actions of many of the figures that railed against the social, musical and cultural norms of the late 1970’s the book can make uncomfortable reading on occasions. Sadly many of those that Viv Albertine came into contact with were less enlightened in the way they treated her, than we would hope. Then again it is a book about growing up and trying to firstly find, then hold onto, the people that you want to be your friends, partners and inspirations. It is fascinating to be reminded that these people who were shaking the establishment were ridiculously young and doing their growing up in the public eye.
As the title implies, Clothes were also very important to Viv and it’s interesting to read her joyful recounting of the impact that owning the perfect item can have. As with music, the punk fashion world had it’s high profile stars and the link between the prices of the items that they produced and the financial clout of those that look to buy the items means that for people like Albertine, tough decisions had to be made. Again though the creative process was and is, so important. Creating the way that you look is the clearest form of self-expression that there is, and one that Viv Albertine took very seriously.
Never less than fascinating, this book charts the journey of a person who is determined to use her creativity, despite the often-terrifying path that puts her on. Be that confrontations because of the way that she dressed, poverty because of her determination to do things on her terms or emotional hardships due to the way those around her treated her, she retains her spirit and individuality. This book is testament to her bravery and fortitude. Here we are, almost 40 years on from birth of the punk movement that first brought her to the attention of most of us and she still has the ability to shock, surprise and inspire. Bravo Viv Albertine.