Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys, By Viv Albertine (2014): Books

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Siouxsie Sioux, Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex and Gaye Advert of the Adverts, were among Britain’s first crop of female punk rockers, but the Slits were the scene’s only breakout all-female band. (Later versions of the band included a male drummer). Formed in London in 1976, the classic line-up of the band consisted of vocalist Ari-Up, bassist Tessa Politt, drummer Palmolive and guitarist Viv Albertine.

Vivacious singer Ari-Up’s reggae-influenced vocals and the band’s sparse and experimental sound set them apart from other fast and furious punk bands. The Slits’ music incorporated elements of soul, jazz, dub and reggae. Their eclectic sound and fearless attitude influenced Lady Gaga, Kurt Cobain and many other musicians over the years.

Viv Albertine recalls those wild days of London’s early punk scene in her autobiography, Clothes Clothes, Clothes, Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press). The book’s title comes from her Mum’s exclamation about what she saw as Viv’s misplaced priorities. And with Albertine’s tales, the boys, music and clothes were at the forefront of a cultural revolution in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Albertine escaped her dreary working class upbringing through music, discovering the Beatles (John Lennon singing “You Can’t Do That” was her first), and then becoming part of London’s punk rock scene. She joined Sid Vicious’ pre-Sex Pistols band Flowers of Romance and rubbed shoulders with Chrissie Hynde, Malcolm McLaren, the Clash, Siouxsie Sioux, Paul Weller and the aforementioned Sex Pistols, among others.

The adventures that lead up to her friendships with ‘77 punk’s inner circle are quite interesting on their own. Her Mum struggled to hold the family together after Viv’s Dad left, and was always there for her. (Viv Albertine wrote “Typical Girls” in her mum’s flat.) Viv’s taste for adventure started when she ran off to Amsterdam with a girlfriend, lost her virginity to a boy named Mark (who then cheated on her with one of her friends), got crabs at art school (not the seafood kind), and then became a barmaid at Dingwalls — where she encounters Lemmy, Mick Ronson and an assortment rockers. She eventually traded in her purple corduroy mini-skirts for leather jackets, rubber stockings and stiletto boots from Malcolm McLaren’s bondage clothing shop Sex.

Viv Albertine was there for it all. She was the guitar player for Flowers of Romance with Sid Vicious, and one of his best friends. She even includes photos of some of Sid’s letters to her in Clothes Clothes, Clothes, Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys. Their relationship gave Albertine a front-row seat for the fateful moment Nancy Spungen first ensnared Sid at the Roxy. “She does a sexy beckon with her index finger to someone across the room. I follow her eyeline and see that the person on the receiving end of this is Sid,” she writes.

Albertine had a rather comic attempted fling with John Lydon (Ari’s Mom Nora would later marry him), and had a long-term relationship with Mick Jones of the Clash. He toured with the Clash while Albertine toured with the Slits, which turned out to be death knell for the relationship. It also provided the Clash with a hit song, as Jones penned “Train in Vain” about the break-up.

Viv Albertine first saw the Slits play when ex-Flowers of Romance drummer Palmolive joined the band. Of the first time watching 14-year-old singer Ari onstage, Albertine writes, “She’s completely unselfconscious, like no boy or girl I’ve seen before.” The next day, she arranged a meeting with Ari and joined the Slits. The band played gigs in the UK and signs with Island Records. They released two albums, Cut and Attack of the Giant Slits, and toured the States.

Albertine also recalls a bunch of strange encounters with local characters when the band first visited L.A., including one with a hard-edged Vietnam vet who acted as their tour guide. She described Los Angeles as having a “tranquil surface with sinister undercurrents.” Shortly after visiting Hollywood, the Slits were dropped from Island. Albertine got the news from a radio show host during a live interview.

After the Slits disbanded, Viv Albertine dropped out of music and returned to civilian life. Her reinventions included aerobics instructor, art student, and middle-class housewife raising a daughter, while her younger husband was the family’s sole breadwinner. Shortly after giving birth to their daughter, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She was in recovery when Ari-Up called about the Slits’ 2005 reunion.

Her marriage lasted a little over a decade, until Albertine became stifled by being a housewife and dealing with her husband’s increasing jealousies and insecurities. After divorcing, she studied filmmaking, later working as a production assistant for the BBC. The book’s Side Two about her post-Slits life is just as bold and candid as the punk rock tales on Side One.

More than a punk-rock memoir, Clothes Clothes, Clothes, Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys tells the story of a woman who remained true to herself through many reinventions. And Viv Albertine offers some good advice for young girls. “I want them to see how often you have to fail to be anything in life. I think young men and boys are taught to fail. It’s nothing to them; they do sport, they fall over, they shout: ‘I’m all right,’ and carry on. But with girls, they’re so appallingly embarrassed to fail, it’s like it’s considered unfeminine.”

Jade Blackmore

Jade Blackmore

Jade Blackmore has written about classic rock, hard rock/metal and indie films for EarCandy Mag, Rock Confidential, Cinema Sentries, Perfect Sound Forever and Entertainment Today, among others. Her past day jobs in the entertainment industry included stints with Mix Magazine, Bourne Music and Boxoffice Magazine. She lives in Los Angeles. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Jade Blackmore
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