“You’re not an artist, you’re a wanker,” or so Viv Albertine claims her husband said to her in her brutal and honest autobiography: Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys. Neither the former nor latter are true, actually. The latter is proved wrong in the book’s opening with Albertine claiming in a chapter dedicated to the subject that she has never masturbated; the former isn’t true as her story is one of struggling for self-expression against the many obstacles life has thrown at her.
Viv Albertine is most famous as the guitarist and co-songwriter in the all female punk / post-punk band The Slits. But Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys is about so much more than this brief period in her life. It obviously covers her growing up as punk emerged around her, and her friendship with some of the key characters, not least showing a fascinating insight into Sid Vicious’ character. But as the book moves on from her being a central character during the early punk years, it covers her struggle with her own creativity as a film maker, surviving cancer, being traumatised by IVF treatment, domestic boredom, to finally to her throwing away all of her comforts in exchange for feeling creatively fulfilled again. This is the story of an artists’ struggle to survive as a creative individual regardless of the worth of her output, as she readily accepts the flaws in her work, but champions the need for expression and taking her own path far beyond any desire to be deemed ‘good’ at what she does. As a result she demonstrates a real bravery and determination that should be a tonic for any aspiring artist.
The book is raw throughout, with Albertine being nothing but completely and refreshingly open. She never attempts to glamorise her experiences and keeps coming back to her lack of self-esteem throughout—the constant tension between lack of self-belief but determination to do her own thing provides a driving force to the narrative all the way through the book. Her matter-of-fact tone adds believability to an extraordinary life story that could otherwise be read as a movie script. Sex, drugs, blood and bodily functions are spoken about as easily as discussing record deals and famous associates. Her thoughts on domestic boredom in a stale marraige are laid bare alongside tales of battles against sexist attitudes that she has encountered in all areas of her life. Despite this, Albertine’s deep routed feminism never displays an anti-male agenda, but it does expose her experiences with individuals that left this male reader with a sense of disbelief that such attitudes still exist in the twenty-first century. But ultimately, her story is one of trying to be an individual—to be herself—and the fact that she is female has just thrown the added obstacles of sexism and misogyny into the mix.
I initially picked up Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys because I loved The Slits first album ‘Cut’. But the book gave me so much more than just a history of the group and the evolution of punk in mid-to-late 1970s Britain. I would go as far to say that this is an important story that even goes beyond Viv Albertine herself. See through the shock / marketing tactics of the publishers putting a chapter about masturbation at the very beginning and read a book that is focussed on the quest for individuality and artistic endeavour against the odds of a lack ‘natural’ talent and closed worlds. Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys, in my opinion, should be on the national curriculum as an honest account of individualism, determination and refusing to accept your lot.
Below, Confessions Of A Milf, from Albertine’s 2013 album The Vermilion Border