Last night I finished Viv Albertine’s memoir Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.: A Memoir. I hadn’t planned on finishing it just yet. When I have a book that I find completely engrossing I typically leave the last thirty pages and read one a day. I like to give myself a month to live with a great character but I couldn’t exercise that much self control with this particular book. It was that compelling.
I know Viv Albertine the way a host of other 40 something women know Viv Albertine. We know her from The Slits, particularly Typical Girls – which made everyone I know want to be them. We wanted their hair, their clothes, their talent – but most of all we wanted their nerve and their friendship. They were a group of women negotiating the world together and I remember hearing their music and somehow knowing that if I listened enough they’d take me on this journey.
No such luck, but teens are prone to magical thinking and I certainly enjoyed the fantasy.
Clothes Music Boys is the perfect memoir for the first lady of Punk Rock. It’s accessible, it’s readable, it’s myopic – telling only Viv’s story – which is a complicated story to tell. No need to ruin it by trying to weave a bunch of other stories into it. Half a page for Nancy Spungeon? That works for me. Sid Vicious peed on her? That tells me everything I need to know. She married a guy with a motorcycle and a work ethic, who cares what his name is? The focus is on Viv. Albertine does a wonderful job of sharing herself with the readers with the same raw edges that she shared with us all those years ago.
If you’re looking for a studio produced album The Slits and later a solo Viviane Albertine will only disappoint you. If you’re looking for a book that’s free from slang and grammatical errors this is the wrong book for you. Just as Viv used “me” instead of “I” for what seemed like the millionth time she inserted a tiny little vignette of the publisher asking her to use a ghostwriter. A child, if you will, of 23 who had written articles but never a book. I forgive you Viv for all your “me’s”. If you’re a woman who craves closeness with other women, if you’re a mother who has ever felt trapped or a wife who fell fantastically in love only to find the reality of marriage jarringly ordinary this is a book you must read. You’ll probably want to pass it along to a girlfriend. That’s what Typical Girls do after all, don’t they?
You’ll find yourself in the pages of Clothes Music Boys even if you weren’t looking.