Chicago - Mar. 19, 2022
Music TV Politics Sports Books People Places & Things
Beachwood Books
Our monthly books archive.
Beachwood BookLinks
Book TV
NY Review of Books
London Review of Books
Arts & Letters Daily
American Reader Campaign
U of C Press Blog
Devil's Due
NYT Books
New Yorker Books
2nd Story
Chicago Zine Fest

The Slits' Viv Albertine Has A New (Her Second) Memoir Out That Brilliantly Chronicles Outsiderism, But Does She Really Have To Be Done With Men?

"Viv Albertine's new memoir is a chronicle of outsiderness that goes beyond her years in the Slits to explore class and gender, her parents and sibling rivalry," Sean O'Hagan writes for the Guardian.

Ooh, that sounds good.

"[A]nd why she's done with men."

Ugh. Ya know, sometimes Not All Men is the appropriate response.

Let's take a look.


"Her father's diary, which Albertine discovered after his death, is one of the few threads of connection she now has with the man who left her life soon afterwards. By turns poignant and self-pitying, his entries punctuate one part of her compelling new memoir, To Throw Away Unopened. They reveal among other things that, even at 11 years old, Albertine was possessed of the defiant attitude that would later help to define her both as a musician in the most subversive punk group of all, the Slits, and as a late-flowering memoir writer still fuelled by a sense of anger and outsiderness even in her 60s.

"Oh my God, I still have that attitude," she says, laughing, when I mention this, "I'm still angry at so much - class, gender, society, the way we are constantly mentally coerced into behaving a certain way without us even knowing it. I feel so oppressed by the weight of it all that I just want to blow a hole in it all." She pauses for a breath as if to still her emotions, and continues calmly. "Some people will say that I'm bitter and twisted, but so what? I'm 63 and I've been an outsider as far back as junior school. When you've fought and fought to keep positive and to keep creative even though there was not a space to be creative, well, you show me any human who is not angry after 60 years of that."

Damn straight!


"She tells me that she is done with making music. 'I'm just not interested in playing any more. I came to that decision the night my mum died. I don't worship musicians. I don't worship rock 'n' roll.'"

You just lost me, Viv.

"I don't miss it. I see music as a vehicle like writing or filmmaking, but I don't think it's a very relevant medium for me at the moment."

It's always relevant, Viv.


"Albertine's first book began with a chapter entitled Masturbation (Never did it. Never wanted to do it)."

Link added. Oh, and really?


"It was an insider's account of what it was like to be caught up in the white heat of the punk moment and, more revealingly, how difficult it was to live a so-called normal life in the wake of such a briefly liberating cultural upheaval. I tell her that I witnessed the Slits on stage several times back then, drawn to the anarchic otherness of their music and their utter disregard for the protocol of performance - Ari Up once famously had a pee on stage. It was the shock of the new writ large and it confused a lot of people - much more so than the recognizably rockist thrust of the Sex Pistols or the Clash.

"When Albertine first saw the Slits play, which was months before she joined them, she understood their implications immediately. 'Boys listen to music differently, they bone up. I didn't know how to listen to music so I wouldn't actually have known if they were out of tune or not playing in time. It really didn't matter to me. It wasn't the point.'"

Yeah, she may not have known "how" to listen to music, but speak for yourself, sister, plenty of women do know how - and plenty of men don't.


"Now, everyone has gone to music school and they all play brilliantly and you think, Why are they even playing live? It's all so bloody middle class now."

Just patently untrue. While there is more talent than ever out there, they haven't all gone to music school (not that there's anything wrong with it) and live shows outside of arena acts are as raucous as ever. (A punk expressing exceptionalist nostalgia is the worst.)


"In writing the first book, Albertine also found herself thinking about the emotional and psychological demons that drove many of punk's key figures as much as their shared cultural disaffection. 'There was a lot of passion and self-belief running through punk, of course,' she says now, 'but many of the people who were drawn to it were also struggling with personality disorders, with the fallout of things that had gone wrong at home. I now think everyone in punk was on some sort of spectrum, actually.'"

Maybe, but it's not like growing up in a healthy, functional home endows one with bad taste in music. You can grow up relatively happy and still be drawn to music communities, subcultures, and stuff that doesn't suck.


"To Throw Away Unopened could well have been called How to Be Alone. Albertine is done, she tells me, with boys as well as music. As both her books attest, she does seem to have had a run of bad luck on the boyfriend front. 'It's not a run,' she exclaims, 'it's a fucking lifetime. I've been dating since I was 13. All I can think to do now is to stop having relationships. I cannot go through that any more.'"

This piece doesn't explain her pattern of relationship problems, but one might wonder if it's her instead of them - say, her own (daddy, most likely) issues and poor choices in partners.


"I ask her finally what she has learned about herself through writing in such a self-revealing way. She pauses for a moment, then says: 'I know that I want to stay an outsider now. I hate the very thought that I would ever not be an outsider.'"

To that, I can say "Amen."


Excerpts from three BBC documentaries that included The Slits:


They played better than Viv lets on.

Cut,, 1979.


Bonus: "I Heard It Through The Grapevine."


Comments welcome.


Posted on April 3, 2018

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


Search The Beachwood Reporter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Follow BeachwoodReport on Twitter

Beachwood Radio!