What Became of the Likely Lads ?
published: 24 /
The Libertines have gained much press of late for singer Pete Doherty's ongoing battles with both drugs and authority. Jonjo McNeill examines the band's deconstruction and says that both fans and the media alike have to share responsibility
In 1996 two young musician types from the East End of London decide to form together a band. They want to fulfil dreams of adulation, being on the radio and living on the road. Over the subsequent five years they chop and change members until they settle on the ideal line-up. The boys find themselves a manager, and by the end of the year sign a record deal with a legendary indie label. Their name spreads like wildfire around the national music scene. All the major publications know their name, and then a guitar hero from one of the biggest bands of the 90's offers to produce their debut single. The single gatecrashes the Top 40, leading to an even bigger guitar hero, this time from the 70's, to come forward to produce their album. The album is an instant classic, and comes near the top of every writer’s poll in Britain at the end of 2002. Nationwide tours, TV appearances, festivals and huge acclaim follow, until it looks very much like our heroes are on the verge of world domination.
It’s at this point in our story that the exceptional rise of the most exceptional British band of the last 15 years begins its inexplicably sickening descent. The Libertines did indeed seem to have it all on a plate, but singer/songwriter Peter Doherty wasn’t hungry enough for that. He wanted something else.
So much has been written of Doherty’s battle with Crack and Heroin that you all know about it. It was all over the tabloid press the minute he was arrested for breaking into fellow Libertine and best friend Carl Barat’s flat and pinching his guitar. Sentenced to six months but out in two, Pete and Carl shared a romantic reunion outside HMP Wandsworth and it looked as though they had a second chance. So off they went to record the difficult second album.
All the words emanating from the Libertines camp suggested the follow-up was ready to piss all over the first. But before it was even mixed, Pete was kicked out of the band, Carl telling us he’d be back when he’d beaten his "demons". So off Doherty fled to a rehabilitation program in a Thai monastery. After a couple of days there he was bored, so off he went to Bangkok.
Back in the UK he was again arrested, this time for possession of a knife. Meanwhile, the second album ‘The Libertines’ was released to a lukewarm reception, an album not even half as affecting or as important as the debut ‘Up The Bracket’. But by this point, the news was bigger than the music, and the album went straight in at number one. Why was Pete Doherty not there to share in the glory, after years dreaming and fighting for it? Did he really waste it all at the critical moment?
The answer is yes and no. Nobody told him to stop. At least not until it was already too late.
Of course, he got addicted in the first place. But where were his friends in these early stages? Having a good old laugh at Pete the pisshead?
The Libertines fans, of which there are many, idolise Peter. Indeed, he often talks to them via the forum at a fansite. Once he actually asked if any of them could "lend him a thousand quid" for smack. The fans are fiercely loyal and defensive of him, and it took the extreme of his incarceration and sacking for them to finally say "Actually, maybe you should get some help for this."
The music press, in all it’s infinite wisdom, hyped this band up so much that every week Pete would open the NME and see his wasted face staring back at him, followed by a mountain of praise. If they love him for what he does, why should he stop doing it? And they did love him for what he does, his music AND his lifestyle. Here we have a proper rock star again, living it fast, heading for an early grave. Here’s someone to sell our papers. Let’s encourage him.
The tabloids got in on the act, again encouraging the young man, selling ‘Britain’s newest rock and roll star’. Build him up, knock him down, but Pete played into their hands.
To their credit, the Libertines themselves probably made the best decision for Pete by kicking him out. If he loves the band and the music the way he says he does, the way we all hope he does, he’ll ignore this ‘fame’ and notoriety and truly try and help himself off it all. But is it too late? We’ve already seen the collapse of rock’s greatest partnership and their second album is such a pale imitation of the first that maybe their time has already passed.
It was time for heroes, and the Libertines were our great hope, showing us that Britain was still as good, if not better, than the US or any other country at making music and providing us with something to drool over. They were a genuinely exciting band. ‘Up The Bracket’ was everything you could want from a debut album. But the press and fans wanted a legend too soon, and an almost helpless drug addict was their idea of one.
Everyone loves a good rock and roll story. The best ones, however, are the ones where the hero gets through to the other side of the problem, and lives to pass on the experience. It saddens and angers so many people to see this incredible talent wasting away. It is tragic and there is genuine concern for him. It’s too young for Pete Doherty to die, too young for the Libertines to be over. He means a lot to a lot of people – but it’s not only his dreams he’ll be throwing away. It's the band's dreams. It’s every person who bought their records’ dreams. By robbing himself of the chance to make his music, he’s robbing the world of a truly great band, a truly great partnership with Carl. Don’t be a waster all your life.
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