Monday, May 13, 2019

Untypical girl

"I wanted a Jane Austen-esque first line", laughs Viv Albertine, talking about the opening of her 2014 memoir Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys during a recent episode of Loud And Quiet's Midnight Chats podcast. The line in question? "Anyone who writes an autobiography is either a twat or broke. I'm a bit of both."

Shamefully, I've still not read the book, but listening to her conversation with Stuart Stubbs certainly whetted my appetite even more. The autobiography was extremely well received - but, as she discovered to her chagrin, whatever you put into a memoir will then determine what you're asked to talk and think about for weeks, months and even years after publication.

On the podcast Albertine speaks about the enormous influence that her mother had on her - a post-war woman straitjacketed by society and history but determined to live vicariously through her daughter. It's little wonder that someone who was raised to be acutely aware of the injustices of life, particularly for women, grew up to become a punk.

Not that her career (if you can call it that) was a happy or easy one. Stubbs expresses his astonishment at the number of times the book records her being bluntly put down (mainly by men), which prompts her to talk about the exhausting cost of engaging in creative endeavour and the damaging personal effects of having to put your art first. She also rubbishes the romanticised view of the punk era, which ignores the fact that being a rebel is very often a lonely business, and points out that choosing to present yourself in that way in the late 1970s made you a very visible target for abuse.

To Albertine, The Slits felt revolutionary at the time and yet she readily admits that by 1982 it seemed as though times had moved on and nothing had changed. Interestingly, it's only with the advent of the internet that the band have been rediscovered and recognised as a significant cultural force. Even then, she remains justifiably frustrated that focus so often falls upon The Slits' message and image, with little acknowledgement that their approach to form was equally radical.

Were she a young woman today, Albertine says she wouldn't pick up a guitar - she would instead choose to be an activist or a lawyer, someone making a material difference to people's lives. But in the 1970s, she had little choice - however tough the life was, being a punk gave her agency and identity.

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