Music features Viv Albertine Self Portrait edit web

Published on June 10th, 2014 | by Martin Aston


Viv Albertine “Self-Portrait”

Viv Albertine Self Portrait webIn 2012, I interviewed former Slits guitarist Viv Albertine for MOJO’s Self-Portrait slot. Two years later, also for MOJO, I reviewed her autobiography Clothes, Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys, a brilliant, searing memoir and the best music-related book I’ve read in years.

I describe myself as… Vivacious. Vindictive [laughs]. Vain. Vociferous. Someone attempting to be honest but probably failing miserably. Mostly because of all the conditioning that you have to fight through to reach the truth.

 Music changed me… by becoming my religion, when I was about nine. It was probably The Beatles’ You Can’t Do That, which was the first time I’d heard ordinary language in an ordinary voice. I’ve been chasing that ever since, which is why punk resonated so much for me.

When I’m not making music… I’m mostly in bed, thinking about all sorts of subjects, in minute detail. I’m not a hobby person, which is why I didn’t do music for so long, because I wasn’t totally into it. I’ve been sculpting for a couple of years but I’ve even booted that into touch since I’ve started music again. Sculpture was a way to re-discover myself, but it’s so slow, and I’m a fast person.

My biggest vice is… dark chocolate. I don’t smoke, drink or take any drugs or medicine. Because my body’s so pure, chocolate gives me the shakes really badly [laughs]. I ate it for breakfast this morning, with a smoothie. Hard, cold, dark chocolate; crunch, crunch, crunch. Then I buzz around all day.

 The last time I cried was… about two days ago. It was a frustration cry, because I couldn’t get the top off something [laughs]. What lay behind it was I really hoped it wasn’t the beginning of getting old. I managed it, though, so I’m still hanging on in there with a strong wrist. I haven’t cried over a boy for quite a while even though I’ve gone through hell in the last couple of years.

 LP, CD or mp3? Mp3. My CD player is some leftover from Woolies, but I have a decent iPod system. I still own vinyl but I don’t play it – or much media, actually. I don’t have a TV and I rarely listen to music because I don’t like too much influence. I like creativity to come from inside, to keep it different to others.

The last time I was embarrassed was…. coming on to a guy who wasn’t interested. One I proposed to by email and he didn’t get back to me for three months. There have been so many instances. But nothing ventured, nothing gained.

My most treasured possession is… my red Vivienne Westwood boots from her shop Sex. They’re the most bizarre shape from the side, like buckets, but from the front they make my legs look amazing. They’re quite S&M-y; they lace up the back, black and red. Because they’re kind of ugly, they’ve never dated.

The best book I’ve read is… Jean Cocteau’s Les Enfants Terribles. It’s about a brother and sister but it could be about any relationship that gets too close. It sums up the power struggles between two people, the way they tease each other and push buttons. We need to re-assess the situation with marriage and co-dependence. But I grew up on all these beautiful love songs, and totally bought into it, so it’s very difficult to renounce at this stage in my life. I think I choose partners that won’t work out because I actually want to be free.

Glass half empty or half full? I’m an Eeyore in many ways, because of my genes from my French father. I can dwell too long, on mistakes, life, romance, so it’s probably half empty. But I have boundless energy and am eternally hopeful and optimistic about people.

 My biggest regret is… Going with a guy who was with someone else at the time. No good comes of it whatsoever. That’s the only thing I’ve ever regretted in my life.

When we die… That’s it. Finito. We feed the plants.

 I would like to be remembered as… Having contributed to change, and to have inspired some girls along the way. With [Slits singer] Ari going quite recently, her mission in life was to get The Slits recognised, and it almost wasn’t until she went that such a big outpouring was made. Some girls have told me, “you made me feel I can do anything I want,” which is amazing. I’d like to have done things on a bigger scale, but small is still something.


Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys (Faber)

Albertine once described herself as, “vivacious, vindictive, vain, vociferous,” likewise her book; it’s explicit, traumatic and moving in equal measure. At school in ‘70s ‘broken’ London, she takes refuge in The Roxy in what’s surely the best document yet of punk, from its naïve roots to tattered denouement, told refreshingly from a woman’s perspective. Albertine is one conflicted figure, driven by feminist pride yet only truly secure with a boyfriend (Mick Jones features heavily). The Pistols/Clash/Banshees inner circle dominates, with an unexpected touching portrait of an insecure, sweet (pre-Nancy/heroin) Sid Vicious and memorable Johnny Rotten episode (receiving a blowjob, he criticises Viv for, “trying too hard”). Like Zelig in a dress and DMs, she falls under the influence of Slits singer Ari Up, for Johnny Thunders, Neneh Cherry, Gareth Sager and – in the book’s post-punk half, Vincent Gallo, as Albertine reinvents herself as aerobics instructor, filmmaker, wife, mother, cancer survivor and, finally, reborn musician.



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