Forget Katniss And Tris -- Viv Albertine Is Your New Hero

This punk-rock pioneer doesn't slay dragons but she takes on plenty of monsters in her new autobiography.

Katniss and Tris and Hermione and the rest are heroines, sure. They battle evil. They protect the weak. They "find themselves" -- whatever that means. But if you're looking for a heroine a little closer to home -- one that fights more mundane, but no-less-crushing, demons -- look no further than Viv Albertine.

Her new adventure book "Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys tells the tale of how Albertine and The Slits -- arguably one of the most influential punk bands -- came about. Before Albertine first got into music in the '70s -- when the Sex Pistols were in their earliest incarnation and punk was still incubating -- women did not play electric guitar. They did not play in bands with men. They did not shock and awe.

Despite having no one to emulate, however, the British teen did pick up a guitar -- along with a trio of other urchins and outcasts known as The Slits. And while Albertine's punk-rock autobiography doesn't have any dragons, there are plenty of monsters -- and advice on how to slay them. But it also appeals to those who don't know or care about punk rock. It tells the tale of a girl who wrestled -- throughout her lifetime -- with how society (and even her abusive dad) saw her. You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll finally say, "Ah, f--k it, I'm starting a band -- no matter what anyone else says."

Viv Albertine

In the wake of the book's release and ensuing acclaim, MTV News spoke with Albertine about being a woman in music -- and being a woman. This is just an introduction.

MTV: Your book is extremely inspiring -- to women of all ages. You don't pretend like you always knew you could be a musician -- you muscled into it, almost. It's very honest.

Viv Albertine: Exactly! I really wanted to tell the truth, so there’s no point glamorizing what it was like -- otherwise any young girl who picks up a guitar or is in a band or has sex and it goes wrong is going to feel alienated and that’s not what I wanted to do.

I wanted to show these girls the many, many years of the failure and mistakes and going down the wrong road it took just to do those small things that I have done in my life. I think that’s more inspiring than making out that you’re sort of terribly gifted or born to be something special.

MTV: What do you see as the biggest difference between when you were breaking out and now? How women have been accepted into music -- how has it changed?

Albertine: Well, before we broke into music it wasn’t that different really, you know? Now, to break into the charts you have to be a good singer, you have to be beautiful, you have to be able to dance, you have to have a good business head and that’s how it was before punk happened in the ‘70s. It’s sort of gone back there -- except there’s sort of more of it in a way.

The thing The Slits did was hopefully be ourselves and not dress to please society or men and not make songs that would be great at a festival. We didn’t calculate, ‘Oh, I see a place for us here,’ or get a great manager so we could break in America.

It’s all sort of career-ish now and I think it’s just another genre. I love pop and R&B. I think there are some great songs and writing there. But it is still in the realm of entertainment for me -- whereas we were kind of in the realm of making people think and making them feel uncomfortable.

MTV: What about you guys made people so uncomfortable?

Albertine: It was really the whole thing about the shift of power. I mean that’s what the world runs on: sex and power. In the ‘70s -- people don’t realize looking back -- but the morals of the ‘70s were like the 1950s. It was very patriarchal. It was very straight. There was no movement between classes or genres.

If you dressed in a way to express yourself, you were a complete outsider and there was no tolerance for outsiders back then. We would take things like fetish wear and men’s work boots and black eye makeup and rubber stockings and a girl’s tutu from my school days and put them all together. They’re all signifiers of being a girl, but all jumbled up together. And we would push that back into male society’s face. We were taking the piss out of it and exposing it for all of the clichés and forced behavior that it was.

It was incredibly threatening to guys our age -- let alone DJs didn’t want to play us. And then you get further out in society -- the men who worked in banks wanted to spit on us or kill us and on it went. It was as if we thrust into their faces their worst nightmare. Young girls who should have been sexual and available for their pleasure had taken the power back for themselves. It was like, 'You’re changing the balance of power.'

MTV: So what do you think it’s going to take for bands like The Slits to exist again? To rise to the top?

Albertine: I think people have got to realize the difference between entertainment and radical creativity. People think that if a guy takes his shirt off and cuts himself, he’s a radical singer. He’s not though. He’s copying people who have done the same thing for the past 35 years.

You can’t keep repackaging the wheel and pretending that it’s something new. That’s just a lie. That’s peddling a lie. It is up to the audiences and the consumers to make their choices so much more carefully.

Latest News