Friday, 27 June 2014

Book review: Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys

Years ago, when I still worked for other people, I was talking about the legendary grumpiness of a colleague and one of his admirers said 'You don't know what he's been through.'  As if that was an excuse.  And I thought: 'You don't know what I've been through either.' And then I thought: 'Show me someone who's got the the age of 40 who hasn't had bad things happen to them and I'll show you someone who hasn't lived.'

Shit happens. We're all survivors, one way or the other. And you could call Viv Albertine's memoir the story of a survivor. Except that would be a) very '80s and b) a cliche.

I picked this up expecting the best bits to be about the punk years and her time as guitarist with the Slits. They weren't. The best bit was following the life story of a woman who has been through a lot. As we all have, which makes this the story of  everywoman. But she's probably been through more than most, which makes this the story of someone extraordinary.

Extraordinarily honest. No spoilers, but she tells you everything. There are some experiences I hope I never have, and some that made me cry because they were so close to home. I'm not going to tell you what they are and that's why I'll never write a book like this.

And it's an extraordinarily full life. Considering this includes several years as a  'Hastings housewife', she's done a lot. And considering she describes herself as melancholic, that's an achievement.  Living life to the full is hard when you're 'prone to depression'. I know.

But she doesn't let anything stop her. My favourite quote: 'That should be written on my gravestone. She was scared. But she went anyway.' That's how I try to live, too.

You could call this a story about female survival, but more importantly it's a story about female creativity. Or what Viv calls 'self expression'.

That's where punk comes in. Or 'punk' as she puts it, which is fair enough because she was there. She doesn't romanticise the movement (for her, it died early on, when the London scene turned violent) but it's clear it was a turning point.

For a fan, it's a great read. Inside gossip on the Sex Pistols and their circle, and spot-on descriptions like this one of Johnny Thunders: 'He looks like he's walked straight out of a Shangri-Las' song: bad but good.'

But the music business is just part of her story. It's about a lot of other things, too. Things that happen to you, things you make happen, bad choices, good choices, learning to say yes.

Some of what the book is about is in the title (based on her teenage obsessions). I'm so glad she wrote it herself instead of, as her 'manager' wanted, getting it ghost-written. I like the voice that is true to herself. I like the bit at the end where she lists the clothes, music and boys for each time period in the book. I like the fact that the photo captions describe what she is wearing and where it came from.  These things matter.

And music, of course. Music matters. She describes her first musical epiphany, listening to the Beatles: 'Now everything's changed: I've found the meaning of life, hidden in the grooves of a flat black plastic disc. I promise myself I will get to that new world, but I don't know how to make it happen.'

And her second, on seeing the Sex Pistols for the first time: 'This is it. At last I see not only that other universe I've always wanted to be part of, but the bridge to it.'

In between, not knowing that music was something women could do. Finding out. Doing it. Doing it well.

And at the end of the book (not the end of the story), finding out that older women can do it too. Now that I've read the book, I just want to hear those songs.

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