‘Anyone who writes an autobiography is either a twat or broke’

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Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys

by Viv Albertine

I don’t read many biographies to be truthful. I don’t know why really. In the book club, biographies are frowned upon as a lesser form of writing, quite why I don’t know, it’s on of our many weird rules: no biographies. On the QT, I like a bit of historical bio action and in the past I’ve voraciously consumed weighty tomes on Churchill, Hitler, Julian Cope and Humphrey Bogart to name a few randoms. In truth I don’t remember much about them and perhaps that’s the curse of the biography: ephemeral in many ways.

So when I was handed a copy of Viv Albertine’s memoir Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys I thought I’d slip it in between ‘serious’ book club books for a little light relief. The title comes from what her mum accurately surmised as her primary interests when she was younger, and sets the tone for a bright and honest journey from seventies London, being in a punk band and to be honest, an ordinary woman’s life with no holds barred. The opening chapter coverers in detail her lack of interest in masturbation this honesty sets the tone for the rest of the book.

The first half of the book is a solidly engaging and innocent romp through London seen through a teenager’s eyes: the beginning of punk, it’s magnesium-bright pinnacle and its inevitable fizzling out. As someone who was too young to catch the first wave of punk, this is a breathlessly enjoyable sequence that shines alight on the surprisingly random and quite frankly coincidental series of events that led to the watershed in music that was punk. Just after punk in the early eighties, we all imagined it was some kind of co-ordniated movement to dethrone the establishment, but it was just a bunch of disaffected kids who were in the right place at the right time—with wrong kind of attitude.

Viv’s voice is clear and distinctive. She confesses to the reader all manner of surprising feelings centred on inadequacy and fear which is refreshing when punk was all about conveying an attitude with a look. For her the veneer and sneer of sexualised punk was just that, a front but it gave her the permission to be different. But we’re in good hands with Viv throughout and she never fails to convince even when she makes some quite frankly crazy decisions. I can completely identify with the attitude that lead to her embrace punk is such a passionate way: we were post war kids and we were part of a new generation that felt the old ways had had it and it was in with the new. I even felt the reverberations of that in post punk—new wave took a sanitised version of punk and ran with it, leather keks and all.

The second half of the book is where it gets really interesting for me. After she leaves The Slits her life opens up in front of her and she realises that she has to do something with it. Her story then becomes one of education, families, relationships ending, illness and some successes. In short, the normal life of any woman. Viv is always true to herself though and the bravery (and innocence) that led her as a 14 year old to travel to Amsterdam and live in a squat manifests itself in all kinds of situations in her life. But she is always true to herself—eventually—whether it is music or relationships.

So this is no light relief biographical sideshow, it’s a moving and engaging story of an extraordinary life and an ordinary life, meshed together.

Anselm Kiefer

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Seeing the Anselm Kiefer exhibition at the Royal Academy just after reading Martin Amis’ The Zone of Interest was quite an experience. The Second World War informs every pice of artwork on show, not just casting a shadow but engulfing everything in its blackness. This exhaustive (and exhausting) collection of the celebrated German artist’s work is an intense experience for the casual gallery goer looking for a mild diversion from Christmas shopping in London.

The show delivers room after room of powerful art, all on a big scale. Big in size and big in emotion, Kiefer is all about emotional impact, which is by and large dark and foreboding with the odd respite here and there. We see exquisite books packed with pencil drawing and watercolour, huge canvases with layer upon layer of paint, mud and god knows what. We have spectacular sculpture too thrown in for good measure.

Across all media there is a consistency of thought and spectacular execution from star-like diamonds embedded in dense back canvases to lead books whose pages turn and crumple like paper — the lead itself reclaimed from the roof of Frankfurt cathedral. The craft of the work is spellbinding too, often more convincing than the work itself at times. I was taken with his idea of using the original zinc baths that the Third Reich gave to every family to make submarine sculptures, depicting the loss of life underwater. Idea and craft working seamlessly together.

Time after time the holocaust surfaces in his work, burned into the artists’s consciousness, a palpable driving force behind much if his work if not all in some way. It got me thinking about how art deals with horrors on the magnitude seen in Germany and how the artist must feel responsible in some way to try to interpret what’s happened, not make sense of it, but to process it in some way to ensure it must never happen again.

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