‘That’s it? It’s over? I was 30. What a brutal business’: pop stars on life after the spotlight moves on

Musicians from Bob Geldof to Robbie Williams and Lisa Maffia reveal what they did – and how they felt – after the hits dried up and the crowds vanished

In her classic memoir, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys, Viv Albertine recounts not only the time she spent as a punk during the 1970s in her pioneering band the Slits, but also documents her life after the band had ended. This is unusual. Most music books don’t venture into this territory, tending to stop when the hits stop, thereby drawing a veil over what happens next. The unspoken suggestion seems to be that, were it to continue, the story would descend helplessly into misery memoir.

“The pain I feel from the Slits ending is worse than splitting up with a boyfriend,” Albertine wrote, “This feels like the death of a huge part of myself, two whole thirds gone … I’ve got nowhere to go, nothing to do; I’m cast back into the world like a sycamore seed spinning into the wind.”

I loved Albertine’s book, and it was this one paragraph in particular, I think, that propelled me into writing my own book on this very subject: the curious afterlife of pop stars. I wanted to know what it’s like when that awkward next chapter begins, where anonymity replaces infamy, and the ordinary reasserts itself over the extraordinary. The life Albertine forged for herself after punk was complicated, as life tends to be. She returned to education, studying film; underwent IVF; and endured both illness and divorce. But she never fully let the music go, because musicians mostly don’t; they can’t. I finished her book convinced she was a hero.