‘Where did all the anger come from?’ ponders former punk guitarist

11 May
Viv Albertine

Viv Albertine

“Where did all the anger come from?!” asks Viv Albertine, the former guitarist with punk group The Slits, who discussed her memoir To Throw Away Unopened at Swindon Festival of Literature.

Although a majority of the discussion was based around Viv’s bubbling anger, she carries a very calming presence with her, as she sat comfortably on stage resting one leg over the other, sharing her story.

To Throw Away Unopened was written primarily as a novel, about a middle-aged women who is so full of anger and resentment that she has murderous thoughts and ends up committing murder, interweaving this story and her made up character with her own non-fiction real life thoughts which created a very interesting structure.

As she worked on the book more and more, she found that both sides of the book – fiction and non-fiction – started to become very similar and intertwined, until it came to the point of realisation that the fictional character that she had created and her real life converged, and she thought “Oh no! I am actually that woman!”

As she came to this discovery, she said that she couldn’t hide it any longer and would have to come clean and commit to this story: “The book is the boss now” she confessed, quoting Stephen King.

Although she had absolutely no intention of writing another book, she revealed that this book was initially formed as detective story to really find out where all of her anger that she had felt had arisen from and where this inner murderous woman had come from.

“I missed something needing me, with my daughter getting older having spent the last 16 years bringing her up, as well as giving away our pet cat, I missed that feeling. I missed being self-employed and having that four hours a day to sit down and commit to writing the book, so I just started writing again, and as I wrote away I got more and more interested in the real life and it really made me want to help young people to not feel alone. That’s really what I set out to do.”

Growing up as a young women, she admitted that she had a raging anger that kept bursting out, which her mother figured was the only thing that would motivate her. But still the question remained, where did all her anger come from?

Her childhood become a very apparent answer, as Viv discussed her family life growing up as a young female in a very unhappy home.

“I was always told by my mother not to rely on a man, which was peculiar as we were always told ‘don’t talk to father’. He would come home, his slippers would be out, he would sit in the comfy chair, and if we ever had enough money for one piece of meat, then Father got that one piece of meat.

“Yet my mother brought me up to be completely against this idea. My father felt like excess, and I remember thinking why is he here, the big hairy deep voiced creature!

“But I also remember feeling very sorry for him, causing my mother to think of me as disloyal, and as their relationship fell apart I continued to feel very uncomfortable about how he was treated.

“At the time of these happenings, I was definitely experiencing a low level phycological trauma.”

She continued to explain that her relationship with her mother changed after she divorced her father, and she could understand that her anger had been passed on from her mother’s anger and resentment, that ultimately allowed her mother to go against what was the norm.

“We were a normal mother and daughter up until that point, but there was a point for a couple of years leading up to the divorce that she felt (and I didn’t know this at all at the time), that she could get my sister and I on board and manipulate us into taking her side against my father, and she became so wicked in doing so.

“It was only after my mother had died four years ago that I actually realised my anger had come from those two years before their divorce and the way that she had treated me, that was actually very abusive.

“Through writing about my anger, I actually went into discovering and understanding my mother’s anger. To compensate from the freedom that my mother missed out on, she did her best with very little means to make sure that my sister and I didn’t suffer the same fate and domestic drudgery and dependence on a man.

“She pointed it out at every opportunity, on TV, politics and education, she recounted to me all of the injustices that she had suffered and they lodged firmly in my brain making me doubly angry with the world. Some women can block patriarchy out, but I can’t and I was trained by my mother to seek it out and to fight it and she made me a little worrier!”

She went on acknowledge how she had a lack of female role models whilst growing up, there was never any women on TV that she aspired to be like, or she never read any books written by women, as females never really had the right to be heard.

Although it is apparent that her mother really constructed her thoughts differently to other women at the time, she points out that in the 60s, 70s and 80s, and to an extent today, girls still see their destiny to fall in love and meet the one, whereas her mother continuously drummed into her to never rely on a man.

The first women that she really admired were Yoko Ono and Vivienne Westwood, explaining that she thought she could really be someone like them.

“When I used to hang around with Vivienne, she would made t-shirts by cutting the arms off and plastering something on the front, but the thing that really sticks in my memory was that she was never worried if the seems were showing or if it was perfect or not.

“From that, I thought, well if I pick up a guitar and write music, it doesn’t matter if the production is not perfect, or if I sing slightly out of tune, because ultimately, I was burning up with something to say and that meant a lot in those days, even though I didn’t know girls could be in bands.”

What was interesting was how discarded art school was whilst she was growing up, with participants of art school being labelled as drop outs.

Although it was a cross-pollination place for artists, painters, musicians and other forms of creatives, it was also seen as a place to go if you didn’t want to work.

“My mother cried when I told her that I was going to art school, and when she told her friends that I was attending art school, they would reply ‘oh we are so sorry!”

There appeared to be a lot of reflection flowing out of Viv for the duration of the talk and poured into this book. But the part that stuck with me the most is how she bravely admitted that she feels like an outsider now more than she ever has, being a middle aged, single mother who is not married.

“Although I now feel comfortable to wear what I want, walk how I want, shape my eyebrows how I want forget about always wanting to look pretty and about the male gaze, there comes to a point where you’ve got to let go.”

This attitude came from years of ill health, which taught Viv to rebuild herself and her character. “After being unwell for years and going through various treatment processes, I completely lost who I was.

“I was totally mute for a long time and just didn’t know who I was anymore, and it came to the stage where I had to rebuild who I was. I would interview myself: what colours do I like, why don’t I like the look of that building? I had to nurture my personal voice.”

“A couple of days before my mother died, she told me ‘Vivvy, you have to fight until the day that you die, fight until the end’,” and this was really powerful.

After everything Viv has fought for, been angry about, envisioned and created, she tells her story in such a brave, resilient and effective way that is certainly rememberable and concludes she has had enough of trying to fit in with society and she is happy to stay an outsider, and she is really admirable for this.

Words by Mia Woloszczynska. Image © Fernando Bagué

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