I was introduced to Viv Albertine’s autobiography by a friend of mine who raved about it. Viv Albertine is, of course, the guitarist for The Slits, the seminal all-girl punk band. I confess that I wasn’t hugely familiar with The Slits when I started reading Viv’s book. I knew of them, but had heard very little of their music. The Slits were right on the front lines, formed in 1976 and supporting The Clash on their White Riot tour in 1977.
Viv Albertine were there for it all, right there on the ground floor. Names that are now household names among music geeks everywhere are dropped casually into conversation throughout her book because to her, they were just her mates. Her fellow art school attendees. The people she ran into at the pub and parties. The people she snogged and shagged and fell in love with. I’m tempted to list them all, but I’d rather you stumble upon them as you read your way through the book, like I did. Marvelling at just what a tight-knit community of musicians and provocateurs and artists she came from.
Viv’s story is divided into two distinct parts – her childhood and youth, up to the demise of The Slits, and then her life post-Slits, as she forges a life for herself outside of music and works to discover who she is now that she’s no longer in a band. That may sound odd, but back then, everyone she knew was in a band. Music was the force that drove everyone and she captures with stark honesty how it felt to be cut loose from that world and then struggle to find her footing again.
Her voice is entirely her own. There’s a hilarious section near the end of the book where her manager tries to talk her into a using a ghost writer and she tells him to fuck off, resulting in her being asked to leave a public cafe due to her unladylike profanity. She writes with unflinching honesty about being in an all-female band and facing open hostility and abuse, about facing infertility, cancer and the end of her marriage. My own life story is in a distinct rocky patch as I write this, and I need heroes and inspirations more than ever. I need strong women who have striven and overcome to tell me to keep fighting. I need women like Viv Albertine.