The Libertines - Rock And Roll Circus.
Libertine (noun): licentious person (OED).
Licentious (adjective): sexually promiscuous (OED).
We are all prostitutes.
The first time I heard the name The Libertines my immediate reaction was: of course - the perfect name for a rock n roll group - why didnt anyone think of it sooner? It totally encapsulates the true spirit of rock n roll so succinctly. Its perfect.
Dont try to bullshit me
The next piece of evidence I required was a picture they absolutely had to look at least half as good as the images their name conjured up. My curiosity was sated by a live review & photograph that set my pulse racing: the group appeared to be wearing what could only be described as Hussars jackets, not in conservative blue or serge khaki a la Buffs, but in celebratory, lurid, & above all, extremely positive red. The Libertines looked like a rock n roll group. Outcasts conceived during Mick n Keefs celebration of the big top blown away by The Who.
Lets face it - London has failed pretty miserably over the last decade or so when it comes to giving birth to rock n roll. Maybe it has something to do with our Capitals perceived place at the centre of the cultural maelstrom maybe London is so cutting edge that people are too busy pushing the boundaries on their particular sonic envelopes to bother forming rock n roll groups maybe its because Im a Londoner. Whatever. The Libertines are London - & London has a rock n roll heartbeat again.
If Queen Bodecia is long dead & gone then the spirit in her childrens childrenss children will live on
The Libertines debut 45, What A Waster, duly arrived on Rough Trade Records in June of 2002. A swear word ridden ditty guaranteed to garner little mainstream airplay, What A Waster was a perfect example of The Libertines intent. No quarter. No worries. No compromise. It didnt even seem to matter that it had been produced by Bernie The Bolt Butler. B-side, I Get Along, got spun on the radio regardless - the horses were on the track. The Libertines debut had everything: rusty guitars, attitude, tunes & integrity - & the words two bob cunt. Know something special when you stumble across it even if it is staring up at you from the gutter.
The Libertines had to be seen-to-be-believed. Live, the group was a riotous celebration of everything required by the terms rock n roll. Ragged, insistent, modest - but fired up on maximum self-belief. The Libertines tore a hole in my soul where my rock n roll heart used to be they dragged it screaming into the emergency room & began attaching wires they brought me back from the brink of death & I will always be eternally grateful. Another tick in another box, the formbook was writing itself.
The secret was out by now - all over the land the young, the pretty & the damned began to hold The Libertines tightly to their chests. Theyd smelt it too recognised the pungent aroma of raw talent made a mental note to follow this fucker home. Tales of Albion & myth began to emerge from The Libertines camp across ash-strewn tables & into the mics of tape recorders. The mainstream press painted a muddled picture of this group of wayward, working class minstrels. The Libertines just enjoyed the wind-up like you do.
If youve lost your faith in love & music then the end wont be long
The Libertines 2nd 45, Up The Bracket, was another instantly loveable classic. On its arrival the group began to move up the tMx Whappen, Star? Chart faster than you could say my old mans a digital dustman. Sales of cor blimey trousers & apples & pears wallpaper began to rise accordingly. Havent you heard? London has its own rock n roll group again. News soon emerged that Mick Jones of The Clash was to produce The Libertines debut LP. To men of a certain age, the words poetic & justice were hard to banish from the mind.
The Libertines debut LP, Up The Bracket, landed at the fag end of 2002 the ashtray already rammed with the half extinguished embers of far lesser records. A work of flawed genius - feted to grow rounder, warmer & deeper with age its 12 tracks destined to stand for eternity as testament to the spirit of being a Libertine. The Pete & Carl Show - in full effect as happy being complimentary as they were to be in competition or at each others throats. Up The Bracket reeks of tension almost as much as it drowns in fragile beauty. Its a thin line between love & mate edges can often fray especially on a hot wash! Up The Bracket was by far & away my favourite LP of 2002. My friends all got a copy for Christmas.
The new-year saw cracks begin to appear in the veneer of The Libertines. Stories were circulating to match the song titles & subjects. Hushed tones talked of heroin, crack & the great divide. People said it would end in tears that the fragility would win over in the end here was a group that was too good to last.
Time For Heroes became the 3rd Libertines 45 in January of 2003. Culled from Side 1 of the LP, Time For Heroes was their best single shout yet & led the line with one of the finest put downs of modern society yet captured in a rock n roll song:
Did you see the stylish kids in the riot?
Says it all. But just in case youre a bit slow on the uptake:
There are fewer more distressing sights than an Englishman in a baseball cap.
Humour, observation & social commentary what more can you ask for from rock n roll?
As 2003 grew, The Libertines fan-base & reputation blossomed. Sell out shows, healthy LP sales & the kind of credibility usually reserved for visiting American dignitaries or rock n roll corpses. The USA was catching on in a big way they hadnt for so many for so long four young men at the crossroads chatting casually with Robert Johnson. Surely The Libertines couldnt fuck it up now could they?
In summer 2003 The Libertines set off on European Tour without Pete Doherty. According to Carl, or a spokesperson for the group, hed failed to turn up for the bus - which had consequently left without him. According to Pete, the bus never came anywhere near him.
Pete began appearing alone, or with one or two accomplices, playing word of mouth acoustic shows to packed squats around London Town. The estranged Libertine was not coping well without the boys in the band.
What a waster, what a fucking waster, you pissed it all up the wall, round the corner where you chased her
The Libertines continued to emit official statements implying that Pete was ill & that he was welcome to return to the fold once hed recovered.
Pete was then arrested for breaking & entering Carls flat & stealing certain items of his property. A shaven headed Pete looked bemused & not a little frightened outside the court as he was bailed pending medical & psychological reports.
Pete then emerged with a new ad hoc group, at first also called The Libertines, later christened Baby Shambles. This new combo also included original Libertine vocalist, Scarborough Steve Bedlam. Reported songs titles included, Campaign Of Hate, What Kate Did & Music With The Lights Out (Pete had been carrying some of them around with him for years).
An interview with Doherty in the London Evening Standard appeared to suggest that Pete was suffering from addiction to both Heroin & Crack Cocaine a statement he later claimed was taken out of context but one that friends & fans alike were not surprised to hear.
These recent shenanigans only highlight the fundamental flaw of that old warhorse of a triumvirate: Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. Can we ever have one without the other? Is there ever any pleasure without the pain?
Can Pete Doherty face up to the pain & confusion of addiction & emerge the other side of detox to reclaim his rightful place in The Libertines? Only time will tell. He has a family & a child to consider as well as the future of one of Londons greatest ever rock n roll bands. Its as much a pity hes been sentenced to 6 months jail-time as it is ironic that as The Libertines face up to their toughest battle yet, Up The Bracket is set to go Gold in the UK & latest 45, Dont Look Back Into The Sun, even troubled the BMRB topper most poppermost reaches of chartland. Lets hope the appeal works out (Stop Press: Petes appeal worked he should be out early October world domination awaits)!
It would be a crime to lose The Libertines now weve learnt to love them so. Let them know how important they are to you. Let them know how much they mean to you. Let them know you care.
Johnny Forgotten tMx 11 Aug 03