Monday, February 23, 2009
Pete Doherty is still alive
It seems only right that after last week's revelation about Kate Moss this week's first post should be about pie-faced genius Pete Doherty. I never saw Pete Doherty play an acoustic set in a Camden bedsit, I never met him at a party in Shepherds Bush or a QPR game.*
Bascially I missed The Libertines because I was depressed OK?
Last year at Glastonbury I was at the front of the crowd after John Cale and thought I might as well see him him because I'd liked the Babyshambles single and, who knows, there's always a chance he'll collapse and die on stage. I was totally overwhelmed by the talent of the man.
So I've been working my way through his back catalogue since then, feeling this growing sense of melancholy at years spent in the assumption that my generation was a barren one destined to make do with music from other times and commercially-managed historical re-enactments, while all the while there was a real band out there that I'd just been too self-absorbed to notice until they'd imploded and Doherty himself had become tabloid joke.
The arrests, addiction and Kate Moss are, IMHO, just a distraction and a particularly cruel one because Doherty has a strange and parochial sensibility that is roughly a million miles from Heat Magazine. The KLF's very good joke, that they had actually invented Pete Doherty to test certain theories they have about culture and celebrity, ignores the fact of his song-writing which is all effortless poetry. I don't use the word genius lightly, but I think it has something to do with facility, the ability to move freely in your form, to do anything and make it interesting, make it look easy. It's why Joyce can write about coprophilia, Nabokov could write Lolita or Robert Crumb can draw himself having sex with carefully trussed up fat women with huge, perfectly round arses and tits you could stand a toddler on. The aberrant elements of their personalities don't make them geniuses but their talent allows them to articulate the most unacceptable part of themselves. That is its measure.
Incidentally I don't think that being a genius and being a bit of a cunt are mutually exclusive - quite the opposite. The old stories of Doherty pimping his groupies for smack-money are not endearing. In fact, I'd say that a terrible unfairness in its distribution is another of the strange qualities of talent - it's not that nice people are never talented, it's that it's very hard to remain nice if you are. No doubt shagging Kate Moss, being photographed every time you go out for fags, having Mick Jones whispering in your ear that you're one of the greats, even being persecuted by the establishment, will inflate your ego beyond what is manageable or consistent with living a happy life around other people.
Also, and I admit this only tentatively, watching him at Glastonbury I noticed a strange sensation within myself. I thought, I owe it to my people (whoever the fuck they are) to make something. In retrospect I can see that this is one of the effects of being close to someone talented - it makes you feel talented, whether or not you really are. You can see this at work in the reproduction on Doherty's notebooks, The Books of Albion. In fact they're nothing like Blake, they're just scrapbooks full of Rizlas, ironic NA keyrings, and backstage passes. They also contain an unusually large amount of doggerel and poor biro sketches of Doherty asleep drawn by groupies he's been fucking or who have otherwise come into his orbit. I find this material especially tragic and demeaning.
I felt like one of the oldest people in the crowd last night and was glad I had K. with me to represent Youth. The set was mainly new material, there was a cellist and Graham Coxon who looked nearly as bored as the teenage fans who spent most of the time filming him with their mobiles (screens visible as will 'o' the wisps in my photo) and shouting "boring", apart from Time for Heroes which was obviously the only reason Coxon had taken the gig in the first place.
Doherty must be thirty now - I wonder if he will have an interesting middle career, like Iggy Pop, and be doing insurance ads in his 60s.
The Union Jack in the set was draped so it formed a crucifix - I've never seen it like this. I couldn't tell if it was intentional, but it wouldn't surprise me a bit.
*I don't like football, but I did try going to QPR for a season to chant about west London being wonderful, which I must admit I enjoyed immensely.