If you are a fan of 70s English punk, then you know all about the Slits. At the very least, you will remember their shocking album cover for CUT – three topless girls slathered in mud wearing only loincloths. Rather than being sex objects, the women on this album cover are warriors. CLOTHES CLOTHES CLOTHES MUSIC MUSIC MUSIC BOYS BOYS BOYS is the autobiography of Slits’ guitarist and de facto leader of the band, Viv Albertine.
Albertine writes about her past using the present tense. The older Viv makes the occasional comment in italics, but she does not intrude. The author is able to talk about a difficult childhood without self pity. She is able to tell stories about famous musicians without name-dropping. Most of all, she is able to give us the inside scoop without getting gossipy. She delves deeply into her love life, but she doesn’t cling to the past. She’s over it. She recounts the goings-on of late 70s London in a straightforward, factual way, like a reporter. Her memory is so good and her stories are so detailed, one suspects she must have kept a journal.
It would be difficult to find someone more suited to the task of memorializing the London punk scene. She was right at the center of it all as it burgeoned, starting a band with Sid Vicious, attending art school with Adam Ant, and dating Mick Jones from the Clash. It’s fascinating to see these famous musicians as normal, everyday teens, and to watch the nascent punk scene grow and flourish.
Slits fans will find a lot for them in this book, like the formation of the band and changes in the lineup, the inspiration for each of their songs, the hazards of touring, and how they ended up partially clothed in a mud pit.
In some ways this book reminds me of “Violence Girl” by Alice Bag. Both are stories of women becoming empowered and finding their voices through music while fighting for their rightful place in the punk rock boy’s club. CLOTHESMUSICBOYS is the story of a remarkable woman. The stories are funny and sad and familiar. Viv Albertine is so open and her voice is so intimate, you feel as though the two of you are chatting away while sharing the makeup mirror in a club.