A little over a month ago, Viv Albertine made the headlines: “Former Slits member defaces punk exhibition for erasing women’s involvement.” At a British Library exhibition celebrating the 40th anniversary of Punk, Viv struck out the names of The Sex Pistols, The Clash and Buzzcocks, substituting instead: The Slits, X-Ray Spex and Souxsie and the Banshees. “What about the women?” she asks. Damn right: what about the women?
What would punk have sounded like without Patti Smith and Chrissie Hynde? Without Joan Jett and Lydia Lunch? Without Exene Cervenka? What would punk have looked like without Vivienne Westwood? It’s a good thing we’ll never know.
Consider Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys a scathing reminder of the lives lead by women in punk. And a scathing reminder of the duality of being a woman in punk: there’s hanging out with boys in bands, shocking people with your dressing sense and sexuality, wearing the infamous tits tee from Vivienne Westwood’s London SEX boutique, baiting journalists, being a part of the covetable “inner circle.” Then there’s having your father tell you you’re not “chic enough” to be a singer, the inevitable fear that Sid Vicious is going to discover and wear your period-stained jeans. That you’re going to get crabs from squatting in Amsterdam. That men will come on to you on the street as you leave the bar, that the cops won’t help you because you were in a skirt. That you’re going to be routinely heckled by the skinheads on your way home. That you’re not going to be able to give Johnny Rotten a blow job. That you’re going to fall in love with Johnny Thunders and have to leave him. That you’re going to get pregnant with Mick Jones’ baby, that you’re not going to have any other choice but to get an abortion. That you’re ultimately going to regret your decision as you spend a decade of your lifetime not being able to conceive. That you’re going to realize you married the wrong man. That, despite your best efforts, you’re always going to be seeking validation.
Much like the rest of her career, Viv’s autobiography is audacious, honest and very much nonconformist. She begins her self-proclaimed “scrapbook of memories” by stating, “Anyone who writes an autobiography is either a twat or broke. I’m a bit of both.” The book, too, is divided into two parts: part one maps the unemotional, verging on cruel, beginning of her life, from the arrival of her family from Sydney to England, growing up with an abusive French father to Slits band-mate, Tessa’s overdose. Part two chronicles her loss of self, struggle with her married life and artistic resurgence.
Each chapter, laced with a literary pairing — from Emily Bronte to Captain Beefheart to Deepak Chopra--exposes a different, softer, side to Viv Albertine, Legendary Punk Icon, often reducing her to Viv Albertine, Woman. Her friendship with Sid Vicious is gentle, her relationship with Mick Jones, sincere and heartwarming — there’s even a moving moment when Viv, age 22, eurekas on the streets of London: “I want to play the electric guitar!” She is afraid that Mick might laugh at her, but instead he says, “Yeah! My girlfriend plays guitar!” and helps her pick out a Gibson Les Paul Jr. Who could’ve thought that punk was so…tender?
Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys is a young girls’ survival guide sleeved under the guise of memoir. It lifts you from a shared, idealistic potential of men (John and Paul circa “Can’t Buy Me Love”/ “You Can’t Do That” 7”), to jealousy (you will find yourself texting your best friend in the middle of the night: I wish Johnny Thunders and Mick Jones fought over me!) to realizing that boys are only one part of the equation and, despite what you think in the moment, the only person you need any form of validation from is you.
A lot of things have changed since the 70s — we have telephones in our apartments, there’s hardly any stigma attached to girls strapping on guitars. But there’s one thing that hasn’t changed very much at all: being woman. We all, invariably, wish we were girls again, half-savage and hardy, and free.
Go pick up your copy of Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys. It’ll be the field-guide to the rest of your world.