Punk Was Never the Same After the Slits Came on the Scene

There’s a lot of blood on the pages of Albertine's memoir. And she mixes it into the ink generously for an unflinching look at life in a punk and post-punk world.

Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys

Publisher: St. Martins Press
Length: 432 pages
Author: Viv Albertine
Price: $27.99
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2014-11

The majority of musician memoirs are akin to high-calorie junk food: substantial in the moment, but rarely fulfilling. When musicians take up the pen to write their story, for the most part, these musicians are a few decades away from the height of their career and positioned on the backend of relevancy and/or coinciding with some sort of deluxe repackaging/remastering of their seminal album(s). Most the stories they have to offer are passable in terms of enjoyment, but often consist of much of the same elements: band in-fighting, hectic recording sessions, record label woes, memorable live performances, injection of too many substances both legal and illegal, etc.

In that respect, Viv Albertine’s memoir, Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys (the title is taken from a quip her mother told her is all she ever talks about), doesn’t stray too far from this perfunctory formula. Albertine even adds a variation of this stock disclaimer in the Introduction: “Anyone who writes an autobiography is either a twat or broke. I’m a bit of both.” But what is different, and therefore elevates Albertine’s memoir levels above the pack, is her presence. Or, to put a fine point on it, it’s about damn time we heard from some more women who suffered through the male-dominated rock and punk scenes of the '70s.

Albertine is one of the most prominent members of the all-girl English punk band, the Slits. Though not necessarily a “founding” member, she nonetheless (in her retelling) was responsible for much of the direction of the band, and acted as the main organizer to the chaotic revelry of the Slits. And when I use the term “suffered”, as above, I mean it in the literal sense. Albertine suffered through plenty of misfortunes, personal and professional.

Yet her tone isn’t one of victimization; rather, it’s a plaintive retelling of events with a lot more humanity than most musicians can muster in their music. And she adds a technique to the text that enmeshes the narrative of the past with the immediacy of the present. Albertine frankly discusses her abortion—the child of the Clash member Mick Jones, with whom Albertine held an on/off romance for many years—with lucid detail, leaving out the sensational parts: “I can’t sleep. I think about the terrifying power that women and mothers have. We don’t need to fight in wars. We have nothing to prove. We have the power to kill and lots of us have used it." Then, as if jerking us forward into present day, Albertine drops this addendum:

I didn’t regret the abortion for twenty years. But eventually I did and I still regret it now. I wish I’d kept the baby whatever the cost… But I still defend a woman’s right to choose. To have control over her own body and life. That cannot and must not ever be taken away from us.

Her recollection is terrifyingly real and holds even more weight once you’ve made it to the second half of Albertine’s story. (Side Two, as she calls it.) The second half of Albertine’s story, post-Slits, is concerned with the strictures of marital strife and Albertine’s years-long struggle to conceive a child. Not to mention her intense battle with cervical cancer. There’s a litany of abuse stories, hospital visits, failed attempts at conception, and ultimately, something that resembles a conclusion, if not a happy ending. Albertine’s personal life holds more strife that the whole combination of English rock groups combined, but Clothes Clothes Clothes is unflinchingly honest and brave, making no apologies for the grotesqueness of the situations she confronts.

It seems that Albertine can see herself clearly in the rearview mirror of her own life now. She was headstrong and determined from an early age, and her intense desire to be creative, and push her creativity through music, knocks down barriers that otherwise would have kept other (male) counterparts at bay. Of course, Clothes Clothes Clothes is propelled along by Albertine’s troupe of then-famous friends: Mick Jones, Sid Vicious, Jon Cherry, Johnny Thunders.

Wherever Albertine and her bandmates go, they are constantly surrounded by some of the key icons of the late '70s English punk/rasta/jazz scene. They barge into Island Records and ask for a record deal (because that was their favorite record label), they cut a John Peel session for the BBC, all while sneering back at the male engineers who turn their noses up at their inability to play (or even tune) their instruments, and they recruit free jazz and reggae artists to go on tour with them, using their record label advance, because they want to see their favorite musicians play. The Slits’ attitude was very “damn the torpedoes”, and manages to give them success on several key levels—all while blazing a trail for female musicians the world over.

Albertine is frank and unblinking about her sexuality, her bodily discharges (including STDs), her infrequent drug use, various sexual assaults, and her general lack of concern for having to be a proper musician. There’s a lot of blood on the pages; Albertine mixes it into the ink generously. Her all-consuming concern with how the Slits’ are portrayed onstage and in the press, as well as on record, eventually takes a toll on her health.

But again, Albertine isn’t a victim in her story; in the first half of her memoir, she’s a women in her mid-20s living the dream she always thought possible. And where much of Clothes Clothes Clothes is devoted to the subjects in her book’s title (there are a few nearly dull chapters on her favorite clothes shop and the look she strives for in her personal style), there are subjects in her memoir that haven’t, and can’t be, as deftly explained by a male musician as Albertine does.

Clothes Clothes Clothes is a slow beast to start up and a brutal slog to get through at times, but once you travel into the thick of it with Albertine as your guide, you’ll read an entirely new perspective of a seemingly familiar scene.





Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.


Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.


JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.


All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.


Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.


Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.


Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.


'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.


Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.


Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.