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Viv Al­ber­tine, mu­si­cian and writer, 63

The Observer Magazine - - Up Front - Viv Al­ber­tine will be speak­ing at the Royal Academy Fes­ti­val of Ideas on 14 Septem­ber roy.ac/fes­ti­val­ofideas

I’ve al­ways felt a bit of a fraud look­ing like a nor­mal English per­son when in­side I’m a rag­ing mixed up sort of mon­grel from four dif­fer­ent coun­tries. I thought I had this hor­ri­ble for­eign sound­ing name when I was young be­cause there was so much hos­til­ity to­wards “for­eign­ers” after the war. The kids at school used to call me things like Al­bert or Al­ba­tross.

My mother taught me to be a rebel. She would al­ways point out in­equal­ity and did far more to make me a punk than those spotty boys I met af­ter­wards in bands. By the time I got my pe­riod I was a ball of fury be­cause I was a woman and knew life was go­ing to be harder for me. My mother gave me the bot­tle to pick up a gui­tar when not many other girls dared to.

Be­ing in a punk band was very, very hard work. It wasn’t like go­ing to fes­ti­vals and hang­ing out and hav­ing a lovely sunny time. You con­stantly felt the pres­sure of other peo­ple you re­spected watch­ing and crit­i­cis­ing what you did.

I could eas­ily be a her­mit. It’s an ef­fort to leave the house. I’m a nat­u­ral in­tro­vert; ev­ery­thing that’s of­fered me I want to say no to. It’s al­most eas­ier to deal with an anony­mous au­di­ence or read­er­ship than peo­ple I’m close to. When I write books it’s like rip­ping out my in­sides, but I want to tear apart any il­lu­sion of my­self so young women can read an hon­est life of fail­ure, dump­ing, sack­ing – and know they can be cre­ative, too.

Vivi­enne West­wood was my first role model. She was an ex­tremely rig­or­ous thinker and it mat­tered to us what she thought. I don’t think she is given enough credit for this, but she very much set the tone for what be­came known as punk.

Be­ing an older mother gave me a bit more wis­dom. If I had done it younger, I might have been more sti­fling. I think you have to stand back and let your child grow into who they are. My mother filled me with ad­ven­tur­ous­ness and anger and some­times I won­der if I re­ally was a rebel or whether she im­posed it upon me.

I feel hor­ror at the thought of an­other re­la­tion­ship. In the west we force peo­ple to be teenagers all their lives. It’s hor­ri­ble. My mind is be­gin­ning to clear of be­liev­ing in ro­mance and fairy-tale endings. When you un­chain your­self from your sex­ual drive and your drive to have an ideal part­ner, the space you’re left with doesn’t stay empty, it fills up with cre­ativ­ity.

It’s a weak­ness to want to be adored. Peo­ple who have re­dis­cov­ered the Slits come up to me and say, “Viv, you’re a leg­end!” and I think, “I’m not a fuck­ing leg­end, my God”. You can be a bet­ter per­son in your work than you are in real life. I’m prob­a­bly a petty lit­tle per­son in real life, but in my work I can fil­ter out the re­venges and gripes.


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