Viv Albertine’s “Clothes, Music, Boys”

I’m reading “Clothes, Music, Boys,” by Slits’ guitarist Viv Albertine. Rock books are hard because very few of them are, you know, good, or at least lastingly good. This one is mostly good. It’s the only book I know with an opening chapter called “Masturbation” (Albertine says she has never masturbated) and there’s early directions to pages citing stories about sex and drugs (there are lots of these, including what John Lydon’s penis smelled like). Still, for its content, it’s not a lurid book. It’s a confessional of sorts and a capable evocation of a time– punk in London in the mid to late 70s– if a little shy on strength of colour. But these are quibbles, and, besides, with rock books, few of us come for the Don Delillo. The first section is centred around The Slits– one of music’s most fascinating bands, and among its first all-female– although we have to pass through Abertine’s relationship with Mick Jones to get there; a tepid 50 plus page tale in which Joe Strummer is mentioned only once or twice. Sid and Nancy give way to Ari Up– The Slit’s singer who was fifteen years old when the band toured supporting The Clash– and the recording of the group’s ground-carving first album, “Cut,” which gnashed reggae into punk into swamprock. Albertine’s voice is relatively plain throughout the narrative, but you trust her, especially in the compelling latter half of the book, where she writes about IVF and cervical cancer in greater detail than she does her trials playing in a band. The story is a journey across the life of a woman who wanted to play rock and roll but never knew how, partly because of massive gender bias and partly because there were few guitar playing role models. By the end of the work, you’re grateful that Albertine did what she did so that others could follow, but you’re also struck with the realization that it’s been a very slow acceptance for women in rock and roll, especially women who play hard, weird and challenging music. Perhaps this document is yet another push. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to be in a band, not only because of what it feels like while being in one, but what it feels like after (in Albertine’s case: very difficult and lonely) Girls can read this book and get better, but boys can read it and be better, too. And women will see themselves through the shared trials of the author’s life. “Clothes, Music, Boys” is probably better than mostly good. It’s very good and I’m glad I read it.

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One thought on “Viv Albertine’s “Clothes, Music, Boys”

  1. While the length seemed rather daunting at first, I found Albertine’s book really compelling. I happened to read Kim Gordon’s GIRL IN A BAND afterward, and it was interesting to compare the books’ narrative approaches–they both felt very honest to me, but in different ways. Albertine puts everything out there in such a matter-of-fact way that it’s really disarming. On the other hand, it’s really touching to feel the palpable tension in the moments where Gordon is trying to be diplomatic or self-protective. (In other words, CLOTHES, MUSIC, BOYS is more like CROSSING THE LINE, and GIRL IN A BAND is more ORR: MY STORY.)

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