When I first heard them as a teenager, the Slits changed my life. They sounded like no other band — like some wild girl gang obsessed with reggae who'd concocted their very own, wiry guitar sound. It all sounded like it could come crashing down at any moment, which was part of the fun. I knew they were the first all-women English punk band, but more than once I wondered who they were and what was their story. They were so revolutionary they seemed to be reinventing music outright. Yet they are rarely more than a footnote in any larger punk histories.*
Slits guitarist Viv Albertine has written a book about her life in punk and beyond entitled
Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys: A Memoir. It's honest, hilarious, heartbreaking, and inspiring. She's always had her own approach to everything she does, from fashion to her guitar style to later adventures in film direction and motherhood. It's a punk book in every sense of the word — not just in her recollections from the epicenter of the punk scene, but in the honesty and fearlessness with which she approaches life.
Albertine grew up obsessed with music but didn't aspire to play herself, as she had no women or ordinary people playing in bands to look up to. Things changed when she went to art school, heard Patti Smith for the first time, and then saw one of the first shows by the Sex Pistols. She went out and bought an electric guitar. Albertine set out to sound like a "buzzsaw or mosquito." Thankfully, she succeeded, and before long, she joined the Slits and found her tribe.
After the Slits' breakup, she went on to film school and had a successful career as a music video director before long health battles put an end to that and the start to a life as a countryside housewife. Then, in her 50s, she left all that behind to begin her first solo music career. She wrote the book as a series of snapshots, saying that she took the same approach as she did to writing a punk song. It works. It's great to hear about the Slits firsthand, but equally great to read about her whole life.
*Zoe Street Howe wrote the excellent book Typical Girls: The Story of the Slits, but it didn't come out until 2009.