Viv Albertine’s Book is Yet Another Stealth Memoir About Rock ‘N Roll Motherhood

Maybe it’s a literary version of wishful thinking, but lately the only thing I really want to read as a new mama are rock biographies and memoirs. Parenting books make me feel anxious and overloaded, I don’t have the attention span for serious novels these days and anything truly new in terms of non/fiction feels very “in one ear, out the other” if it’s something I don’t have much prior knowledge about. (My new information absorption abilities have been seriously challenged since early-onset parental insomnia, as I call it.) 

But rock books are easy: I usually know a bit about the music, band or person thanks to years of reading music mags, books and blogs. And books about musicians are usually FUN. Fun is easy to get through and makes the nights of baby tending and sleeplessness much easier to deal with. Fun is very doable.

Luckily, we’re in kind of a golden age when it comes to rock bios and memoirs, especially if you’re a lady of the punky/feminist persuasion. I already read Kim Gordon’s Girl in a Band in the early throes of parenthood, and found it surprisingly insightful and inspiring about motherhood, creativity and identity. A few weeks ago I finished the Slits’ guitarist Viv Albertine’s book Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. and was also surprised by how deeply it affected and resonated with me. I liked the Slits, though I wasn’t a huge superfan. Still, I had nothing but mad respect for them and liked quite a few of their songs, and so I was curious to read about the early history of punk from ground zero — and from a feminist and feminine perspective.

On that tip, Viv’s book is excellent, both on the gossip front — she dated Mick from the Clash and knew Sid Vicious very early on and even went to art school with my early 80s crush Adam Ant! — and on the musicology front as well. And it’s inspiring on the feminism and creativity bit: sometimes I think the best bits about any biography are HOW artists find their voices and inspiration and guts and bravado, and Viv goes into great detail here about the experiences and people who made an impact on her.

But surprisingly, there’s very intimate, vulnerable detail about Viv’s experiences with infertility, parenthood, marriage and divorce — and it’s this second half of the book that proves to be most riveting and arresting. It’s partly because it is so very vulnerable, open and honest, and also because it’s always a pleasure to read about a creative being trying to be actualized while also raising a child and balancing a marriage. 

In some ways, though, Viv’s story is a cautionary tale — I don’t want to judge, but it reads as if Viv withdrew from creative life to focus on her marriage and child. It’s very understandable in some ways — she went through such trauma and hell to become a mother. And damn, after all that — IVF treatment after treatment — I don’t blame her for just wanting to focus on her personal life. It was so hard-won. 

But she paid a price in terms of identity and livelihood, and suddenly she had one of those moments where she looked at herself and her life and wondered what the hell happened? She found herself in a bit of that Talking Heads “beautiful life” feeling, where you look around and you’re like “How the hell is this my life? And who am I now anyway?” As someone who, at this moment, often wonders just how I’m going to achieve anything creatively anymore and worries about being devoured by motherhood, this is my biggest fear and reading about someone who went through this is so raw and resonant. It’s a scary experience.

Viv did manage to claw her way back to herself, playing music again and performing, though it seemed to have cost her her marriage — which makes me sad, especially after reading about Kim Gordon’s divorce. (Please someone tell me a rock mother memoir of someone who had a happy marriage and had a child and was creatively inspired and isn’t a trust fund kid so I don’t get discouraged.) 

All this makes me — well, not exactly think, but perhaps ruminate in between feeding the baby and going for long walks and working and writing. I always hated the whole concept of “having it all,” because sometimes I just don’t think it’s humanly possible to be all things to all people all at once. 
And yet here I am, trying to “have it all.” Of course, it all depends on how you define “all,” I suppose. I haven’t even attempted frivolous things like being well-dressed or “get back in shape.” (I do dream about clothes, though.) I don’t even aspire to cooking or a splendid home or public recognition or whatever. 

But creative, intellectual and emotional progress is important to me, as are my child, relationships and my family, not to mention just trying to feel somewhat healthy and thriving again. Oh, and financial serenity and prosperity, because it’s not just about me anymore, but what I can create for my family. And already this feels overwhelming to me! The journey back to the things that made me feel like me seems very slow and halting now. I still go back to that feeling of being adrift at sea and seeing the shore of the island that used to be me…and the tides and winds sometimes push me back closer but sometimes they just suck me back away.
(Ugh, I tried so hard not to write about parenthood, and yet here I am, blah blah blah.)

The important thing is to have hope, and you do come away from these middle-aged lady punk memoirs with a sense of it, however fragile it may be. Humans have a vast capacity for venality and cruelty, but they have an equally resilient ability to find meaning and happiness in whatever life throws at them. And so I read Clothes, Music, Boys with a beginning intention of diversion and fun, but found some real hope, a little fear and a rare feeling of comradeship in a fellow creative person trying in her way to fulfill the possibilities of her life for love, growth and family, especially in unconventional ways. I don’t know exactly what my own path will be, and I worry if I’ll find my way, but I only hope to come out of it with something beautiful, surprising and magical. I hope.

  • In other news, I had the pleasure of guest-editing an issue of Storychord! It was a true pleasure to do. I had the privilege of featuring a heartbreaking story by Lisa Ko, as well as the stylish sounds of Folding Legs and a stunning photo by Cari Ann Wayman. Please do check it out, share with your friends via social media, etc…all the work deserves the biggest possible audience!

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