Leeds International Festival review: Viv Albertine in conversation at The Wardrobe, Leeds
Every rebel has their limit.
Punk provocateur and proto riot grrrl Viv Albertine caused outrage with her style of dress as guitarist in 70s punk band The Slits, and once told a busy body that her name was Mrs B******s, to the approval of her ageing mother.
Body hair, however, is a strict no-no. During this ‘in conversation’ with Chris Madden, in support of second memoir To Throw Away Unopened, she reveals how she has dreams of leg hair as ‘long and thick as liquorice’. It’s a startling moment of body shaming given that she otherwise flies in the face of social conformity, railing against the role it plays in upholding the twin evils of capitalism and consumerism.
It’s a position that’s seen her cast as an outsider; her anger making her an ‘unfeminine, ugly woman’. She traces the origins of this rage, which she thinks would have landed her in jail if she was a man and didn’t have a creative outlet, through her family history. More specifically, she examines the relationship with her mother, who repeatedly lectured her about the subjugation of women and who pitted her against her now estranged sister.
Writing the memoir wasn’t cathartic - she bristles at the suggestion from Madden – but she does think it’s given her an ‘understanding that’s taken the sting out of’ her domestic relationships. This, in turn, gives the audience an intimate insight into what helped to forge her uncompromising world view.
With humour and an eye for absurdity, she reads extracts from the book that reveal courage, achievement against the odds, the necessity of having ‘some anger in this world’, and the sometimes brutal consequences of living with her choices (‘it’s hard not to be liked’). The recurring theme is of honesty, including with herself: she set out to write a novel about a woman with murderous thoughts, only to realise she was talking about herself.
The choices she’s made haven’t led to an easy life but, as she jokes, being honest means that ‘there’s nothing anyone can say about me that I haven’t already said.’ It might not be a manual for how everyone should live but, unlike many of us, she concludes that if she had her time again she wouldn’t do it any differently.