I’ve recently been reading Viv Albertine’s autobiography ‘Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys’. I’ve always been a heavy reader, getting through two or three books a week when I was a kid, but for the first 6 months of my daughter’s life, reading anything at all seemed an impossibility. In fact, the Ali Smith novel I took out of the library last April, a couple of weeks before my daughter was born, remained unfinished until this February. Slowly, however I have been getting back into a reading routine, getting through a few pages on my commute, my lunch break or occasionally of an evening.
I love a good music autobiography especially, and as Viv Albertine was a member of punk era group The Slits, whose album ‘Cut’ is one of my favourites, I was keen to read this as soon as I knew of its’ release last year. It took me a little while to get used her writing style, but as soon as I did I was enthralled. Albertine is a superbly honest, intimate writer, to the extent that reading her book you feel as if you know her, which has rarely been the case with other autobiographies I have read. She writes wonderfully on The Slits, being a female musician in a male dominated industry, and her friendships and relationships with other figures in the punk scene.
What surprised me however, was the best parts of the book all came after The Slits split up in the early eighties. I had little idea of what she had been up to in the years since, other than that she had a fairly ace single ‘I Want More’ out a year or so ago which cropped up on 6music from time to time. It turns out she had spent much of the intervening time as essentially a housewife and mother in Hastings (not so far from my former home in Brighton), and she is fascinating on how she ended up in that situation, and how she grew to loath it.
Two parts of the book particularly resonated with me. The first was the section where Albertine and her husband are trying to have a baby. A horrific litany of miscarriages, operations, and feelings of hopelessness, but with (spoiler alert) an ultimately happy ending, it is deeply moving whether or not you have been through any of the experiences she describes. When my wife and I were trying to conceive (and I won’t go into too much detail as I know I will have family and friends reading this), it took longer than we hoped, and longer than average, at almost a year. Of course, waiting a year is nothing compared to Albertine’s experiences or the difficulties many couples have. I still, remember vividly though, the feelings of disappointment each month, the worrying about how life might be if we could not have the child we had our hearts set on. Reading the book, I found it hard to imagine how we would have coped if we had been through what she did.
The second part which affected me most, was Albertine describing her husband’s attitude to her music career, which started out as lack of support, ultimately leading to derision and even sabotage. My wife is also a musician (singer/guitarist), her former band The Winter Club unfortunately splitting shortly before we met, but her current recordings can be found at her Soundcloud page.
My wife’s previous husband was similarly unsupportive and obstructive of her musical talents, albeit for different reasons to Albertine’s husband, and in both cases it took splitting from their husband before they were able to satisfy their need to create. Because of this, I am almost paranoid about ensuring I don’t hold my wife back, musically speaking. Her creativity is one of the many things I love about her, and she needs to be playing and music to be truly happy. Finding the time whilst bringing up a baby can be difficult, indeed nigh on impossible at times, but to stop is not an option, so we will, as Albertine did, find a way.