Viv Albertine’s brilliant memoir of creative frustration
“Every day the task seems hopeless and I feel like giving up.”
Welcome to the latest issue of Subtle Maneuvers, a fortnightly newsletter on wriggling through a creative life from the author of the Daily Rituals books. If you enjoy the newsletter, please consider becoming a paid subscriber for $5/month or $30/year.
Viv Albertine (b. 1954)
While putting together last month’s three-part series on creative blocks—if you missed it, here are parts one, two, and three—I wondered several times if the whole thing was too writer-centric. Because so many of the examples I gathered involved novelists and playwrights (and a poet who didn’t write a single poem for seven years!), I even started to think, well, maybe blocks are actually a writing problem in particular, rather than something that all creative artists might face.
As I worried over this, I happened to read Viv Albertine’s wonderful 2014 memoir Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. Albertine was the guitarist of the Slits, the beloved punk band that formed in London in 1976—Albertine joined the following year—recorded two albums, and toured Europe and the U.S. before fizzling out in early 1982. (Its debut album, Cut, sounds better every time I listen to it.) In her memoir, Albertine recounts in vivid detail the band’s rise and fall, as well as her own long, post-Slits search for personal and creative fulfillment—conditions that elude her for a painfully long time.
It’s a fascinating read, and it contains some of the best writing I’ve found about the struggle to make one’s chosen medium bend to one’s taste and vision. Here, for instance, is the 22-year-old Albertine trying to teach herself to play guitar: