Book Review: 'CLOTHES, CLOTHES, CLOTHES, MUSIC, MUSIC, MUSIC, BOYS, BOYS, BOYS', by Viv Albertine. 11/11/2014
This is perhaps the most apt title of a book released this year. It was what I expected. To quote the author's own words, people write autobiographies because "they are either a tw*t, or are broke". So the goal is to make money from it, right? And how best to do draw attention to your book out of a hundred others out there? Be controversial, be contentious, name-drop, elaborate, heck, exaggerate even!! Better that than boring monologues converted into text form. Right?
The author does just that, not afraid to hold back. The insistent refusal of a 'ghost writer' enables her story to be told completely in her own words. However, the writing is not fabricated with absolute precision, probably as a result. What we get instead is a sort of scrapbook of memories, the text structure jerking back and forth via snapshots of the author's life.
'Side One' (the first half of the book) chronicles her struggles to break into music, simultaneously providing a vivid portrayal of the British punk scene in the late seventies. Her abusive father, who eventually walks out on her family, states she's not "chic" enough to make it as a star. Her experiences reveal a distinct lack of females in bands - girls just do not play electrical guitar. However, she refuses to shed her dreams - she perseveres, gets knocked down, rises back up, forms "The Flowers Of Romance" with Sid Vicious, finally makes it in a band, gets dumped, rises back up again, forms the "The Slits", goes on tour, gets dumped again, finally puts out a record .... and on and on, her life following this pattern, her fortunes rising up only to soon find herself back down again.
Despite the hurdles she has to overcome, it's difficult to be sympathetic with many of the author's life choices. Shooting up heroin, drinking urine, squatting in dank, infested abandoned flats. Sleeping with one boy after another, which lead to several bouts of venereal disease (how one could get live crabs hatching from their body and not change their ways, I don't know). Eventually unwanted pregnancy and abortion (the denial of a human life's chance in the world due to irresponsible adults who can't keep their pants on). Her promiscuity is also a possible factor behind the contracting of cervical cancer many years later (risk factors of cervical cancer include smoking, starting sex at a young age and having many sexual partners).
This latter occurrence is narrated in the second half of the book ('Side Two'). The author is now married, and longs for a child. After several miscarriages, IVF treatment pave the way for the birth of her daughter. But within months, complications lead to a return to hospital, where cancer is diagnosed.
It is the recount of this stage in the author's life that is the most engrossing, and near heart-breaking, section of the book. The chapters focusing around these events wholly encapsulate Albertine's refusal to give up in the face of her life struggles.
In conclusion, an insightful look into the life of a pioneer of punk. One who re-invents herself as she moves with the times. But who remains an artist throughout, true to her calling. Frank, self-effacing, no-holds-barred.