We learn about ourselves through other people's experiences
Welcome to my review of Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys, the 2014 memoir by my latest girl-crush, Brit musician, Viv Albertine.
My antennae are perpetually alert for good reads about inspiring women, and Albertine’s book certainly satisfies. CCC, MMM, BBB joins memoirs by musicians such as Kim Gordon, Chrissie Hynde and Carrie Brownstein (Sonic Youth, The Pretenders, Sleater-Kinney, respectively): not stories of girls who hung out with significant bands, but chicks, ladies and gentlemen, who were the bands. (Gordon, Hynde and Brownstein have all written their own memoirs.)
Albertine takes us along as she teaches herself how to play the guitar, squatting with friends who also aspire to make music onstage. Some of these friends were Mick Jones (The Clash), the surprisingly sensitive Sid Vicious (Sex Pistols), and Arianna Forster, the teenage prodigy known professionally as Ari Up.
This is not a story of, “Albertine was classically trained as a musician, then rebelled and went punk.” No, this girl knew she wanted to be in a band first, then figured out how to play guitar. What balls, girlfriend! What's not to admire?
I often seek books penned by or about women who can’t help but go their own ways. I like to think I have a tiny bit of that iconoclastic spirit in myself, on a good day. What surprised me in reading Albertine’s story was how it forced me to rethink my position on the nature of creative expression. For all my belief in listening to one’s inner voice, it turns out I have a pretty stolid belief system about the order of operations in service of fulfilling one’s dreams. Before reading the book, I thought one must first achieve mastery in a subject, then cut it up and reassemble it to reflect one’s own vision. This system provides a false sense of control and enables an elitist viewpoint, one in which a hierarchy of study confers greater legitimacy on some artists than others. Having read Albertine’s gutsy grab to teach herself, I see now how limiting my previous viewpoint was. At a time of great social upheaval in the US and around the world, this is a perfect time to shake off such an antiquated belief system.
Albertine’s quest to be “in a band” is one she fulfills in the book. This is no spoiler, really. Her all-girl band, The Slits, is considered one of the great seminal (no pun intended) bands in the punk scene, just like her friends’ bands, The Clash and the Sex Pistols. She pulls it off! And in the telling, she’s so real she hardly knows she’s doing it.
Remarkably, after recounting the sexy band portion of her life, Albertine successfully moves into the subsequent phases of her life without making them feel like an afterthought. Very few authors are able to segue from the public parts of their lives- ostensibly, the reason the reader picked up the book in the first place- into the more quotidian without devolving into a less-interesting read. Albertine makes this jump with ease. You hardly notice you’re past the wild music days until you’re well into her marriage and complicated road to motherhood. By the time you do notice, you don’t really mind. Her writing style, crisp and spare, kept me wanting to know “what happens next,” and keeps me admiring of her writing talents.
A good book in any genre is one that sticks with you, makes you reconsider how you view the world. Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys- at first intended by me as a quick guidebook into the early punk scene, turned out to be an unexpectedly gratifying read.