The following phone interview conversation took place on June 24, 2018. It has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Carly Jordan: Thank you so much for talking to us for the show. I was really psyched that you wanted to talk about Dionne Warwick.
Viv Albertine: Oh, Dionne Warwick, yes! You don’t think that was a weird one?
CJ: No, I didn’t think that was weird at all.
Carrie Courogen: No.
CJ: We didn’t think that was weird.
CC: We thought it was really interesting.
CJ: Because in your first book, I remember reading about all of the different artists that influenced you when you were coming up in the ‘70s, and none of them were what I thought they were gonna be, and they were so varied and so interesting. So, I was not at all surprised that you chose Dionne Warwick.
VA: Oh, good! [laughs]
CJ: So, when did Dionne Warwick first come to your attention and what about her voice stuck out to you in particular?
VA: Well, I think I first probably heard Dionne Warwick in the ‘60s when I was just listening to chart music, because she had a couple of hits, but the reason I chose the album was because it was one of about four albums we had within the Slits, when we all sort of lived together and shared everything and had to go everywhere together because just the way we dressed enacted — we were being attacked all the time, so we spent so much time together and we just sort of pulled the few things we had. And, back in those days, you know you had a few albums ‘cause they cost so much. We got Dionne Warwick, I think, Golden Hits, Part One, which is her singing the Burt Bacharach – Hal David songs, from the record exchange shop, so, it was a used copy. And we absolutely sort of studied it, you know?
In those days, you played a record over and over and over again a million times a day, not even just a million times in ownership. So, we’d play it both sides over and over again, and Ari was only 15 at this time, but she had an incredible ear and she would sort of isolate the horns or the string sections and she would copy the toning, the sort of high, trilly notes that Dionne Warwick does. And we pulled apart, her and I, the structure of the songs, the middle eights. We’d write down exactly how long each bit was, where the middle eight came, and we very much tried, with our complete lack of knowledge — or, certainty, mine; Ari had a bit more than me — to sort of learn. It was like our university, really, that one record.
And, so, when you put that together with self-taught non-musicians, I think that’s partly why we came up with something so interesting. We couldn’t get anywhere near it, but in the attempt, something interesting and personal came from it.
CJ: Yeah, in trying to do one thing you sort of find a voice of your own.
CC: I think it’s like how a lot of people say if you want to learn how to do some sort of art, you kind of start by copying the masters and you find your own style through doing that.
VA: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. But, you know, I think it’s even better if you aren’t trained and you do that. Because I know of a lot of musicians who did go to music college and they’re absolutely crippled by their knowledge. They’re crippled by how good the people they’ve looked up to and learned from are. So, in a way, being self taught, it gives you a certain sort of anarchic approach to whatever you do, I think, and you can’t help make something different. Whereas, I think, often trained musicians, they tend to… well, they feel hampered by their knowledge and just copy in the end.
CJ: No, it’s true because then you’re just going along your own bravado. You don’t have any voice in your head telling you that you’re wrong or oh somebody else did this better.
VA: Yeah, and also, I think, in your head you kind of know you’re nowhere near it, so it does give you a bravado to say, “Oh, well, what the hell.” Whereas a properly trained young musician will think, “Oh, I’m never gonna be as good as that master or mistress,” and they kind of lose heart. Whereas we knew we were nowhere near it and yet, the attitude at the time, which was so good, was that attitude amongst a small group of people was, “What the hell, we’re gonna do it anyway,” and we all bolstered each other. And we were all listening to, apart from that, we were all listening to reggae, and I must say, the guitar playing on that album, you wouldn’t believe. It’s like reggae guitar playing. It’s on the off-beat, it’s very trebly and thin and very, very short, rhythmic stabs just like the reggae guitar playing we were listening to at the same time. And the other guitarist we copied, or I copied, who played like that was Steve Cropper from Booker T and the MGs. And you would never believe that that was on a Burt Bacharach and Hal David and Dionne Warwick album, that sort of off-the-beat playing.
CJ: Yeah, Bacharach was so influenced by jazz and improvisational techniques, so those weird chord structures that he used, it totally makes sense, now that you say it was like reggae. Like, “Do You Know The Way To San Jose?” — that guitar part is such a slinking beat.
VA: Yeah, so, it’s not the chord structures that were like reggae; it was the playing of the guitar and the sound of the guitar. But he did have very unusual chord progressions. Which, again, we didn’t realize they were unusual, and as we listened to that album so many, many times, when we wrote, we would accidentally sort of make unusual chord progressions. I mean, partly, we were very determined not to just make twelve bar blues-type chord progressions that all the lazy, old rock bands just kept doing to death. But, also, in our heads was this record that we knew back to front. And what a great teacher, Burt Bacharach, who did use unusual chord progressions.
So, the Slits were about really not knowing we were doing, every time we wrote a song, very time we wrote a song, me and Ari, we would naturally sort of gravitate towards unusual chord structures and progressions. So, without knowing it, it was just interesting. But, you know, we couldn’t bear anything that didn’t sound interesting and we didn’t want to write chord progressions that you could guess what the next chord was gonna be. We wanted to sort of wrong-foot a bit and were just writing melodies fit the sort of themes of the song. But, yeah, it was just — I didn’t even know I was doing all of this at the time. But looking back and thinking about that record and how much we studied it, it must have been one of the reasons that we did write unusual chord progressions.
CC: That’s really so interesting — something that I never would have guessed. When you found this album, how did you all decide that you wanted to study this one in particular? Having heard Dionne Warwick songs or Burt Bacharach songs just sporadically growing up, what made you gravitate towards having all of them on an album? What spoke to you about it — just discovering it?
VA: Well basically, I heard some of her songs growing up. Ari was seven years younger than me — 14, 15 when we started the Slits — so, I probably said to her, “She’s a good singer,” or, “These are good songs.” And we got the album from the record and tape exchange and it was just a matter of, you know, we had nothing to do! I mean, the ‘70s were dull! Dead! We had no money. We were working — well, I was working class. Ari was living with her mum and couldn’t speak English very well. It was just a matter of sitting around all day with nothing to do, playing the record over and over again.
I mean, if it hadn’t appealed to Ari, it wouldn’t have been played so much. We spent most of our time at her house. But it absolutely appealed to her. She was learning piano and the arrangements were just amazing. So, in between Dionne Warwick’s lyrics there would suddenly be just amazing little piano or orchestral fills and there’s just so much in there, but, at the same time it sounds so simple. Which is, again, something that happens in reggae and quite a lot of pop — which is why I like pop music. There’s a lot going on, but it’s also soft. It’s only there when it needs to be. There’s something kind of unpretentious about pop music, which I really like.
The other interesting thing is that, because Ari was only 14 when the Slits stared and about 14 or 15 when we were going to this record a million times a day, she was sort of learning English through it, as well. The amazing thing Dionne Warwick does is she doesn’t throw one word away when she sings. She’s singing fairly simple rhyming lyrics. They’ve got quite interesting meaning, but there’s nothing sort of complicated in the actual words. But you know she’d sing words like “you,” “too,” “could,” or whatever and she doesn’t ever throw a word away, just let it fall apart, cast it off because it’s a small word, a nothing word. Even those tiny, little words are absolutely full of emotion when she sings. And that’s something that I very strongly pointed out to Ari, and we sort of realized that when over and over listening to each song, how Dionne Warwick will never waste a word and will never think, even subconsciously, think, “I won’t even bother with that word. It’s just a linking word or a simple, two-letter word.” She gives it everything, not in a heavy-handed way, but in a subtle way. She’s extraordinary. That’s why Burt Bacharach absolutely, the first time he heard her sing, was like, you know, gotta have her.
CJ: No, she does. She knows that he chose each word and each lyric for a reason and she gives each one life in her own unique style.
VA: Yeah, in her own style. You know, she’s trained in gospel singing, so, I don’t know what kind of affect that would have, ‘cause I don’t know much about gospel singing, but that must have taught a lot to her. But it’s the clarity and the clearness and the respect she gives every tiny word, and the intentions. You just have to watch her sing. There’s no flirting. There’s no trying to make the audience like her. In her performances, as well, visually, as well as in her sound -— they’re the same, they’re absolutely coherent. She’s such an intelligent singer and you can see there’s a lot of attitude there. You look into her eyes; there’s no apology for who she is.
For instance, “Don’t Make Me Over.” I mean, I love to sing that at the top of my voice. It almost felt like a bit of a feminist anthem. You know, don’t make me over! And the way she sings it! And then, at the end, it builds and it gets very, very strong and quite militant! You know, the “don’t change what I am — I wouldn’t change you” kind of thing. She brings something very strong, and I think me and Ari absolutely recognized that in her when there weren’t a lot of women to be inspired by back then.
CC: Yeah, it’s actually so interesting that you brought up the feminist slant of “Don’t Make Me Over,” because one of the things that I think is most interesting about Dionne Warwick is that she was a muse for Bacharach and David and she’s singing these songs that are very much from a woman’s perspective. And, yes her voice has an influence on them, but it’s so interesting that they were written by men. I wanted to know what your thoughts on that are.
VA: Yeah, because “Don’t Make Me Over” was actually something she said in an argument with them.
VA: And she did get angry with them quite often — well, with Burt Bacharach. So, they took that saying of hers and made it into a lyrics. I mean, in an ideal world, she would have been the lyricist.
VA: But I think Burt Bacharach is an extraordinarily sensitive and intelligent man. I think he had an amazing gift and he did use it wisely. He didn’t use it to flaunt toxic masculinity. He was an incredible sensitive and intelligent man. Or, Hal David, I think as the lyricist, they just — I don’t think Dionne Warwick could have worked with them for so long with her temperament, being such a strong woman, if they hadn’t had been good men and good men in using their talent very, very wisely and sensitively.
Yeah, because, there weren’t a lot of females for us to follow back then. Every woman I was slightly interested in, whether it was Suzi Quatro, the Runaways, a little bit — they were all masterminded by men. I mean, Dionne Warwick wasn’t masterminded. She brought her voice, they brought their lyric writing and musical arrangement. They seemed like a very, very cool partnership to me.
CJ: Yeah, it was that sort of symbiotic relationship.
VA: Yeah, not like a manager, sort of building up and inventing a look for a girl, which, I felt you could get a bit with Suzi Quatro and the Runaways or whatever other few women were running around in the early-to-mid-70s. That I heard of, anyway.
CC: Yeah, definitely. I just think, listening to that today, it’s so interesting to me. I don’t know, I guess your perception of things kind of changes in the time when you listen to something.
CJ: True, and also it’s interesting, this composer and this lyricist in this early-60s time period. Because you do have, like how you brought up, those men that were sort of controlling the images of women. But then, at the same time, there were lyricists like Hal David and like Gerry Goffin, too, who wrote so sensitively about a woman. When he wrote the lyrics to “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” like… How did a man get inside a woman’s brain exactly the way it works and so simply?
VA: Yeah, but the worrying thing is, for me, is, okay, there were great male lyricists at the time. But, when I was young, sort of before the Joni Mitchells and the more auteur-ish female writers came along, I was inundated. I mean, everything I heard was written by a man, more or less. They did manage to get inside a teenage girl’s head and write things that stirred up teenage girls’ insecurities or sexualities and we had no idea, back then, how we were being sort of manipulated into basically buying, not only music, but trends in fashion and makeup, et cetera, et cetera, etc etc. It was just a commercial transaction. I, as a young girl from the age of about 10 when I completely fell for pop, believed what these young men were singing. I mean, I didn’t understand there was a lyricist or a manager behind this long haired sensitive boy with his eyebrows lifting up the air with looks that blow you away. [laughs] I didn’t realize that he wasn’t the person that he was pretending to be for the songs or to be in a band or to shag girls, you know what I mean? I completely believed the whole thing.
We didn’t have the culture, back then, of deconstructing what was behind anything we were sold, anything that was put across to us — politically, commercially — in a way. So, I feel it did me a lot of harm, actually, that I completely believe all these male-constructed lyrics and images from pop culture at the time. I completely fell for the whole romantic love thing and that boys were sensitive and they cared what you felt, only to find, like 40 years later of trying extremely hard to find hard, that it was all just a construct. And, as I said in my second book, that, not only that, but when I started to meet the musicians and the lyricists and the managers and the record companies behind all these bands that I’d completely fallen for hook, line, and sinker, they didn’t believe it either. They completely knew what they were doing was just trying to hook young girls into buying. And young girls had no idea!
CJ: Yeah, it’s all business. It’s all sales. It’s all transactions. And it’s so interesting to hear your perspective because you did grow up in this time where there was definitely that wall in between what’s being produced and where the sausage is made and what the public is getting versus now, growing up in our time, where we — there’s behind the scenes articles, videos, reports published all the time…
CC: I don’t know. I think that’s still kind of an issue. You know, there are bands still like *Nsync and Backstreet Boys when we were kids, or like, One Direction. Young girls really do buy that fantasy. At least, ‘til the internet.
VA: Yeah, it’s a waste of a life if they spend too long like I did, trying to think of that as the pinnacle of girls’ or young women’s achievements in life. I really did believe that to find romantic love and that kind of partnership was the main thing that I should search for and pine for as a young woman. Above being in a band, above education, above everything. I was born in the mid-50s and I still think, like you said, it’s still out there, but I hope there’s a chance now that there are different narratives being talked about, even by young women. Maybe Taylor Swift might have a slightly different take on it or Ariana Grande or something. There is a certain, at least within pop culture, there is a different perspective now. But, yeah, it’s still something we’ve got to be vigilant about, I think, really.
CJ: Absolutely, and always sort of be on the lookout for where the transparency is and your choice of what you consume.
VA: Yeah, what’s so great about — I know it’s had bad points — but, about the internet. There is a chance that you will hear the other side of the story. A young woman will be able to give her account of what happened or, you know, at least there’s chances now. We were silent. We had no voice back then at all. And, we had no access to the people making the laws, making the rules, making the songs, making the art, making anything. It was just delivered to us and we just believed it. Didn’t even realize there was any agenda behind anything. It’s ridiculous when you think of it now. Even adults then never, ever questioned politicians, never questioned your doctor, your dentist, you know. You just took everything a man said as the truth.
CJ: Was there a particular album that came along at any point in your career or your life in general that sort of was the one that lifted the veil from your eyes and made you realize, “Oh, there are women who are saying these things that are on my mind that doesn’t feel inauthentic. This is what music could be.”
VA: Patti Smith’s Horses was huge for me. And, again, you’ve got to see that in context of the time. I think it was ’75, ’76 when it game out, when I was still living in a society where it was considered disgusting for a girl to make noise during sex. You kept quiet. You mustn’t look like you enjoyed it. This is still left over from the ’50s Mad Men era or whatever, and I still believed that. And then to hear someone — to hear Patti Smith — gulping and shrieking and breathing and sounding so, so very sexual but on her own terms, in control, not in a dominant way, but in control, just felt she had the right to feel those things. That was someone I looked up to and thought was gorgeous and attractive in her own completely unique way, sounding like she was enjoying sex on some of the tracks. On other tracks it was something different, but that really stood out for me. I don’t know if other women or girls heard her album as sexual, but it was pretty sexual, wasn’t is? I think it was.
CC: Yeah, I think so.
CJ: Inherently so.
VA: Yeah, but I don’t know if you can imagine being back there, that age, 21 or something, and never having dared gasp out loud during sex or even get to that point because there wasn’t even that feeling, “I ought to respond in a very equal way.” It’s dull to think of now. That album… it was utterly liberating, basically.
CJ: I can only imagine.
CC: No, just the power of listening to it as a young woman today is a lot. But at that time when it came out…
VA: She turned a lot of things on their heads for me.
CJ: Yeah, I can only imagine hearing that and having your mind completely blown at that time. So, to go back to Dionne Warwick. I was really interested in what you were saying about the chord structures and how Ari would isolate those and you would come up with guitar parts kind of inspired by that sort of improvisational feel. I was wondering if there was a particular song that stuck out to you, structurally?
VA: I think “Walk On By”. It’s one of my favorites. Again, it’s incredibly understated. Again, it’s got that off-the-beat guitar. I can’t really say much more about it, but I know that was probably our favorite and the one we studied most, so that would have been brilliant to us. I would have gone home to my council flat, which is what you’d call projects in America, where I lived with my mother in a tiny — I had a tiny little room, just barely fit a bed, damp coming in the windows — and I remember going home and writing “Typical Girls”. Which, when you listen to it, won’t sound anything like “Walk On By”! [laughs]
But, still, to prove my point, living in London, no musical training, beginning to become very aware of inequality, feeling sort of empowered by the people around me all feeling like we don’t have to stay silent anymore ‘cause we’re working class, ‘cause we’re girls, or whatever. You wouldn’t make that leap, probably, from “Walk On By” to “Typical Girls,” but there is a direct link between listening to that track a million times and then going home to my mum’s flat and writing that. The beginnings of an awakening kind of thing.
And the time signature of “Typical Girls” — I don’t even know what it is, but it’s a very complicated timing, quite by accident. I remember Mick Mones, who I was dating at the time, saying to me, “If you turn the ‘Typical Girls’ time signature into a 4-4, you’ll have a hit with it.” And we wouldn’t do it. So, it’s got this strange, lilting, sort of skippy rhythm. We made decisions like that all the time as the Sits. “Oh, make your cover of ‘Heard It Through The Grapevine’ your first single and you’ll have a hit.” No, we wouldn’t do it. We wouldn’t compromise anywhere in any way along the way. We stopped ourselves being commercially successful, but, at the same time, I don’t know. I think we’ve lasted in a different way maybe because of it.
CC: Oh, I certainly think that.
CJ: Yeah, the reason why you hit play on that song or you reach for a Slits album is because you’re not gonna hear it in 4-4 and because the decisions that you guys made as a group were so authentically you, and your commitment to your voice is palpable and audible on all the records.
VA: I went to a gig about three or four years ago where this band was playing and they did a cover of “Typical Girls.” And when it got to the absolutely bizarre guitar solo that they played like I played it, the whole of the audience, which was mostly girls, sang the guitar solo. And I sang along with it. To me, that was the best, best moment, one of the best moments in my life, to hear a whole room full of girls singing my guitar solo ‘cause they knew it so well. And it was so catchy, but odd, but they remembered it. Because when I was growing up, guitar solos were long, complicated, incredibly fast, showy-offy, wanks, basically, by blokes. So, whenever I wrote a break on my guitar, it was very, very compact and short and it had to be there for a reason and it had to do work, not just show off or be fast — well, I couldn’t play fast like they could, anyway.
Yes, but for it to be so memorable for them, that solo. I don’t know, there was just something… singing a female guitarist’s guitar solo, the whole hall of people. It was an amazing, amazing moment. That’s, like, in the movie in my head, that moment.
CC: No, it gives us — I have chills right now.
CJ: We both have goosebumps. That’s so cool!
VA: [laughs] It’s a very strange, very strange solo. It’s very nodal.
CJ: Yeah, but that’s, like, a moment of divine connection that you can’t really express. it’s just that music.
VA: Yeah! And, the thing is, to trace it back to Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick and “Walk On By,” no one would have the faintest clue. You see, every instrumental break in Burt Bacharach’s songs with Dionne Warwick, they were like that. They were kind of catchy. They were intelligent. They were offbeat. They were unusual. They took you a bit by surprise. But, at the same time, they had the flavor of the emotion of the song in them.
Actually, another person who does that really well is George Harrison. He’s sort of one of the great guitarists, I think, but his solos are completely unpretentious. I wouldn’t even call them solos. Little guitar breaks. They’re unusual, but they are very emotive and they very much fit the emotion of the song. Again, because, you know, he you know, he’s always had a sort of musically curious sound and stuff you studied in music. But, again, they’re not just lazy, twelve bar chord progressions. He’s another one who, obviously, I grew up listening to without even realizing. But, I could sing every George Harrison guitar break, whereas you couldn’t sing an Eric Clapton one or a Jeff Beck one, necessarily. Do you know what i mean?
VA: Yeah, or, you could sing a Marc Bolan guitar break. I really wanted to stay within that realm of guitar playing, not to get pretentious as I got better and not to get faster and not to use guitar breaks to show off. It absolutely, strictly had to be necessary, had to be part of the song, had to have the evolution of the song within it.
CJ: I love that you’re saying that because it makes me think about how these kinds of guitar breaks, the ones you’re talking about, are very much within the song and they’re expressing the song. It’s not like, “Okay, we have song, song, scene, story, now it’s about the guitar player for a hot minute before we go back to the song.” And I love how you talk about how this is all an expression that’s moving through the artist and not about the artist.
VA: And another thing about Dionne Warwick, her signing, her phrasing, Bacharach and David… what they all did, which was a very sort of punk ethos — and reggae had it, as well — was to underplay, to be subtle in it. You would never call her subtle, but, at the same time, nothing was superfluous. The Ramones could be an exact example of that. Nothing was superfluous about that. Or reggae, everything they ever played, they took things out. Bacharach and David and Dionne Warwick — she never oversang. She never, sort of, showed off her voice. No instrument was there unless it needed to be there to underscore the emotion.
All that was training for the Slits, and, at first, it fit within our ethos of what we considered the punk cause to be that was sort being made up as we went along. You know, we’d all talk together, bands, and we’d say amongst each other, you know, “Long, wanky guitar solos are indulgent,” or, “Don’t write lyrics about things you don’t know about or grandiosity about America or singing about places you’ve never been.” You know, there were all these little rules within the bands and, to me, that album, Dionne Warwick Golden Hits, completely fits within that.
CC: Absolutely. I remember reading old criticism about her, about her voice especially, and somebody said that her voice is so pleasurable to the listener because it’s experienced without being condescending.
VA: Was it in Time? think it was in Time. There was a Time review that said something quite interesting. I think they said that, yeah, back in the ‘60s.
CC: Yeah, I think that’s what it was.
VA: And another quote from there, which I thought was brilliant, was her voice was “pleasurable, but complex.”
VA: And I’ve been aiming for that all my life. I aim for it in my writing now, in the books, as well. I really try and hit that line, certainly in songwriting for the Slits, between something being attractive to listen to but, at the same time, that it will make you think or there’s a complexity to it which is not in any way off-putting,where maybe some jazz or experimental music might go too far one way and pop might be too crass and go the other way. I would love to hit the sweet spot in the middle, in terms of writing books or music. It’s a quest which I don’t think I’ve ever quite got. The Slits were definitely aiming for that pleasurable and complex sort of tightrope.
CJ: It’s a fine line to walk, but I think you’ve sort of nailed it along the way
VA: Nailed it, maybe?
CJ: Yeah. There are a couple of recorded moments where you have.
VA: I mean, trouble is, in the Slits’ days, because of how we looked, how we acted, and because most people — all people — who came to see us live or whatever, had never seen girls play instruments before, had never seen girls act like that before, or dress like that before, we didn’t get our music listened to. Do you know what I mean? They were absolutely blinded by all their prejudices or the newness of it all.
CJ: Because they thought you were novelties?
VA: Well, shocking. It was absolutely shocking and strange and otherworldly, in a bad way. Not feminine, almost not human — that’s how we were thought of everywhere we went, on the streets or in record companies or gigs or wherever. So, in our time, our music didn’t really get a proper looking because they couldn’t hear. They couldn’t hear past what they were seeing. It was too shocking. So it’s taken 30, 40 years for young people via the internet to discover the Slits and say, “They were great! And they influenced this and this and this and, in fact, The Slits were more inventive than most so-called punk bands, probably all.” I think all the female bands were more inventive. But, yeah. We never had it in the day. We never had it in the time because of the shock that no one had seen girls be like this before. The music just didn’t even get a chance.
CJ: It seems like it was sort of out of necessity, too, that girls would have had to have been more inventive and more creative because it wasn’t like you guys had everything neatly packaged for you and that you guys were gonna be immediately accepted. Like, “Okay, well, if we’re not gonna get the status quo, we’re gonna do something completely different.”
CC: And almost like you have to be shocking because how else are you going to get attention? Women were so ignored to begin with.
VA: But we were just being ourselves, and that was shocking, you see. We weren’t out to shock. We were just like, “Hang on a minute, mate. We’re gonna be ourselves,” and that on its own… “No, we’re not gonna wear those clothes that you’ve all said girls should wear. No, we’re not gonna talk like you say girls should talk.”
Don’t forget that early-to-mid-70s was a very, very backwards time, morally. People think of it, “oh, it’s cool and the designs were cool then and the fashions were a bit cool and cute,” looking back. But, the actual moral temperature of the time was kind of like the 1940s in Britain. We still hadn’t really recovered from the war. There were bomb fights everywhere. There was poverty. There was no real youth culture. I mean, the ‘60s had happened and begun to pave the way, but something was quite middle class about that. The working classes weren’t really involved in the whole hippie ‘60s thing.
So, just to start being a sort of self-invented woman at that age was absolutely shocking to normal people. There were no women, really. To write about normal, everyday things that we were going through were shocking. No one had ever heard it. So, there was no way — even though, actually, when we hear it now, it is quite acceptable — there was no way that anyone at that time would play it on the radio. Because we were just shocking women in their eyes. They just couldn’t hear it. It’s a bit of a shame that it’s taken 40 years, but, I think that’s the same with a lot of work in all the artistic genres. You can’t really make it for the time. You just have to make it and time will find you anyway.
CC: Absolutely, and I think it’s really interesting now. I’ve noticed, within the past year or maybe two, that there’s this big resurgence on the internet of a lot of, especially in music, women writing about other women and shining light on artists from the past and saying, you know, “40 years later, we should be listening to the Slits” or “we should be paying dues to whoever — women who didn’t get their dues paid in their day.” It’s this very cool moment.
VA: And the statues — fighting for the statues to go up and everything. Because if we don’t do it, the women of today don’t do it, no one else is gonna do it for us if we don’t fight for that. And if we don’t fight for it, then younger women coming up don’t see statues of women anywhere, don’t see a female face on the currency. And it is subliminal when you don’t see your demographic reflected back to you in any sort of way that is positive, like it’s made a difference to the world. It just sinks in and undermines you. Whatever your demographic is, it undermines you. You lack confidence and it’s not good for the world.
CC: No, totally.
VA: To have one demographic being the culture maker and lawmaker, it’s unhealthy. Look at the world because of it.
CJ: Yeah. That’s why representation matters so much and that’s why it’s so important for us and we’re doing with this podcast is making sure that it’s women along with the men who are being talked about.
CC: It would be so easy for us to be another podcast that talks about, you know, the old white guys.
CJ: But there are already so many people who are doing that and there are plenty of podcasts by men that you can go listen to if that’s what you want. But we’re trying to tell wide breadths of stories because it’s like what you’re saying. There can’t just be one demographic. And that’s boring.
CC: That’s boring!
VA: It’s absolutely boring. But it takes years. If we hadn’t, if the Slits hadn’t shouted our mouths off so much and existed on sort of having complete artistic control on our albums, etc., no one would be talking about us now, 30 or 40 years later. So, those stories have to be heard, really, to inspire other young people, young women coming up.
And, in the book, I’ve just written, all the way through, there’s a whole thread of me quoting and giving credit to women who I’ve read or women who have led me to books that I’ve read. And, in some ways, it’s not easy to do. And I’ll be honest, because you kind of want to look like you’ve discovered these things on your own ‘cause you’re such a good reader and you’re so intelligent, but I sort of made a pact with myself that every time I quoted something or wrote an idea down that I hadn’t thought of, I would give credit to that person, no matter how obscure they were. Sometimes it was a great writer. Sometimes it was an auntie or a friend. Because a lot of female culture is passed on orally.
That thread, I don’t know, I think it’s a really important feminist thread in the book. As I say, it was quite hard to do at first. But, I think it’s very important we all do that in whatever our walks of life and make it a kind of everyday second nature thing that you always give credit to the women who’ve come before you and who’ve influenced you. Even if they just led you to something that influenced you. Because the more we do it, the easier it becomes and the more those other women’s names will be out there.
CC: Absolutely and I love that thread in the book.
CJ: We both love that you did that because when you wonder who someone’s name is, you can go look it up and be like, “Oh, I want to see what else they’ve said.” So you sort of, to my mind, you’ve sort of actually, become with your writing, sort of a hub for female minds, I think. Because we’ve shared your writing and talked about your writing with women of older generations and even women who are our peers and talked about it and talked about the ideas that you share in them and the experiences that you share in them and how we all connect to them. It’s so interesting how, no matter what the age of the woman is, there’s something that they connect to. I think it’s very cool that your writing does that.
VA: Oh, good. Because yes, so much of the first book, my ideal reader, I think, was young women. I thought, “What would I have loved to have heard said honestly when I was young, embarking on the beginning of my life as an adult?” I thought, “It’s not inspiring to hear what an interesting great sort of bohemian family you came from or how good you were at guitar playing or writing. What’s interesting, what’s inspiring, is hearing how you overcame. The fact that you had none of those things, all the mistakes you made, all the times you got rejected, all the times you’ve felt an absolute fool and then did it again.” I was a fool again and again. But the thing is, for that reason, that book has become an inspirational tool for a lot of people. Whereas I thought I was just writing about what a complete twat I was. It had the opposite effect.
CJ: That’s how all we all are, so it’s so cool to see somebody who has done so many wonderful things with her life talk about, “Oh, well, this is a time I screwed up,” and we’re like “Oh, wait I do that, too! I screw up, too!”
VA: Yeah, exactly, and so many, many more young women are coming up to me and saying that it’s gotten them through really hard times and feelings of failure, especially with work and relationships. I had to say, “Well, if I can’t say that now, if I feel at my age, thinking I’m too embarrassed to say that, too embarrassed to write that down, what? To keep my image nice and cool? Then what?” Who does that if older generations don’t make that generous gesture.
CC: No, it’s very appreciated. I think that there’s something extremely empowering about being in your 20s like we are now, like you said, young women coming into adulthood and learning from other women and hearing stories about women who aren’t perfect. Because none of us are, but we’ve been force fed this idea that we need to be —
CJ: Like you were talking about when you were growing up — this idea of what we’re supposed to have and what we’re supposed to want.
CC: But hearing stories of women being really real, it’s good to hear.
VA: Because you know wherever you go now, you’ve got to write your CV. And of course you’ve got all the highlights in it and when I get introduced, I get introduced having done this that and the other and I always say, “Actually, there’s a completely alternative CV, which is much ,much longer, which is actually all of the moments that led up to that one little bit of success and then that one little bit of success six years later. They were six years of absolute failure and disappointment and lack of confidence. I just feel like we should all have an alternative CV that we submit along with our I’m So Great CV. Do they call them CVs over there?
CJ: Resumes. We call them resumes here.
VA: Resumes, that’s it. Yeah. Oh god, put that on the internet. You know, we’re always showing our best sides on Instagram and that kind of thing. Gotta keep it real, basically.
CJ: Yeah, and you’ve been doing that with your whole life and career and the fact that you still want to share your voice and you’re out here doing your thing and just being you representing for all of us is an incredible thing.