Thursday, 28 January 2010

The needle and the damage done and done again

In 2002, a band from North London called The Libertines released their debut album, Up the Bracket. The LP was appreciatively received by young music fans, who no longer had to put the with the out dated, luddite lager-rock of Oasis and by critics, who finally had something interesting to write about after desperately clinging to The Strokes for inspiration, a band for all their twangy riffs and ultra studied sub-CBGB cool, still came across with the collective charisma of Bill and Ted in a collerless leather jacket.

Eight years later, Robyn Whitehead, a promising film maker and photographer was found dead amongst drug paraphernalia in a flat owned by Pete Wolfe, co writer of number one hit 'For Lovers' , in Hackney, East London. The cause of death is a suspected drug overdose. She was 27 years old.

The story between the two events you probably know. A sordid tale of drugs and super models, of men being thrown to their death off balconies. A book of broken dreams, broken bones, break ups, and break ins. We followed the story from hoping he would turn to gigs, to hoping he would write good songs again to hoping people would stop dying. It should have been so different.

Initially, The Libertines, and in particular Pete Doherty, caused something of a renaissance amongst British youth. For all the critics of Doherty's music (and there are plenty, Ive seen many a level headed music fan turn apoplectic with rage when the sobriquet 'genius' has been used to describe him and his songs), for all the people fed up to the high teeth of the 'Potty Pete' stories, what is undeniable is the effect he had over his admirers. He made music romantic again.
He inspired people. I have met people who have started bands, set up record labels, write poetry, put on nights, promoted live music, because of the ethic of The Libertines. Ive met people who have became writers, musicians, fashion designers, artists, reviewers, blogers, travellers, thinkers, because the saw a twinkle in Pete Dohertys eyes and thought 'i can DO something. I can be different'. Hearts are won, the arrow ascends.

Then, of course, with broken hearts, the arrow falls. The pied piper effect reveals its down side. When the piper himself sinks into a seedy world of drug dens and addiction, there are people who will follow him into his rank lifestyle.

Manchester has a reputation for being a drug city. Mancs will trip over themselves to tell you how many pills they have popped, they will gaily drag you into a toilet cubicle for a cheeky line, they will stink out the top decks of their buses with the acrid fug of skunk smoke. But with heroin and crack cocaine comes a sense of shame. They are drugs that are frowned upon, because they are killers, and they know it. In London, in a certain scene, smack and crack share a sense of almost idle bohemia. People nod out in dens thinking they are the reincarnation of absinthe swigging french poets in the 1800's. This of course, is bollocks.

You can wave the Bill Hicks argument that all great music is created by people on drugs. Or that Keith Richards made 'Exile on Main Street' as a smack head. But like Neil Young, who slowly watched his band die one by one through overdoses, i would argue that addiction kills not the heroes, like Keef, Nick Cave or Shaun Ryder, but the hangers on, the people who get sucked into the scene. All three will tell you that, when it comes to heroin and crack, you either clean up or die.

There's lots of thing i find disgusting about the tragic death of Robyn Whitehead, a bright funny young woman who posted on the same message boards as me, and attended the same gigs i went to. I'm disgusted by the tragic waste of a young life. I'm disgusted that Doherty, a man who is happy to lead people into his fucking horrible crack den world, can merrily skip away when people are killed through it. I'm disgusted that a man who obviously has no intention of getting clean can be found in a UK court with thirteen wraps of heroin and be released back into his little day dream world. I'm disgusted for myself, for falling for his spell, for defending him and his 'artistic nature' in the face of common sense, and the fact it took a young girls death to finally, finally wake me up to that fact. I'm disgusted that the poor girls death has been dragged into the perverse world of tabloid journalism. I'm most disgusted that her death wont be the last. Something has to change.


  1. I agree with most of what you say here, I used to be drawn in by the apparent vunerability/missunderstood poet/hard done to ex libertine.

    When you strip away the bullshit you are left with a manboy of limited talent (I now believe his main assets were a photographic memory and a mastery of stealing/adapting prose).

    He can't even be bothered to try and write or collaborate with a decent musician to preserve his rapidly failing career.

    I am also sick of the excuse that he surrounds himself with scumbags - were they scumbags before they met him? or are they simply naive individuals who have been attracted by the hedonistic lifestyle?

    Its all about the drugs now and has been for the last 8 or so years, we were just too blind to see it.

    The albion = drugs
    Arcadia = drugs oblivion


  2. One final point - would Peter share a pipe with his son Astile when he is a bit older? If he is such a libertine I feel that he wouldn't find this offensive.

    I still love UTB by the way