Oh, I totally thought of something to write about! Scratch that last feeble post. That wasn’t my one-a-day. This totally is.
I’ve been thinking about those bands or songs that, when you hear them, just make you completely lose yourself in the complete magic of their sound, and what it does to you, for whatever reason. So, this evening, I’m going to talk to you about The Libertines.
I can think of several people who’d scream at me for admitting that they’re probably the most important band of my entire life.
There aren’t really any specific tracks for the Libs, either. It’s just all of it, and how it formed together. And anyway, I suspect The Libertines were one of those bands that was more about what they were to me rather than what they were, as such.
So, it’s like 2004 or something. Around the time I was just old enough to get into pubs and such, anyway. I was in a band called Mr. Charming. (Blast from the past on Myspace. Still can’t believe people took us remotely seriously when we had a song about a fucking magical goat. I suspect the wonderful few years of being in Mr. Charming will be worthy of a blog post in itself. In short: we were obviously shit, but a few people fucking lived it with us, y’know? And…) …that’s kinda what the Libs thing was all about.
It was about belonging to something. It didn’t have the political fury of punk in the 70s, which was probably the last truly important musical movement. But it did have that special something that brought people together in the way only music ever seems to do. There was the Mr. Charming lot: me, Dan, Joe and Aimee. Then there was Liam, and Ruth, and Erin, and Jo. And the Old House lot, and a couple of The Cribs, before they were suddenly A Big Famous Band. We used to wander up to Josephs Well, the pub with the missing apostrophe, now depressingly renamed just The Well and given a lick of paint to not be shit, which is a shame, as the place had real character. We’d go to Josephs Well and watch so many bands trying to be The Libertines, and dance around to so many bands trying to be The Libertines, safe in the knowledge that they never could be The Libertines but that we were all sharing in this mutual love for this impossible musical chaos. We wore hats and scarves and badges. We jumped into each other on stage when doing gigs, emerging with all sorts of cuts and bruises. We were the scene.
Carl and Pete’s relationship is fascinating, and beautiful, and tragic, but I suspect we’d be lying if we said that’s totally what drew us to the band. There was just something fresh to us about this absolute carnage that they represented, this complete freedom of intelligent people to just lose themselves and invest one hundred per cent in a sort of musical and social manifesto. I guess we saw a little bit of our teenage selves in The Libertines, y’know? We were kids who always felt they were being pushed a bit too hard, and in the wrong directions. We wanted to get drunk and party like the artists did. In other words: we wanted to be clever, respected and fucking wasters. What fucking wasters.
We didn’t really, of course. We probably thought we did. But it was about having something cathartic to believe in. In the most impossibly stupid move of their lives, Jo and Erin got Libertine tattoos. Only, it probably wasn’t stupid. To an outsider, sure – it was a complete copycat move, a total teenage fangirl thing to do. But sometimes, being in a relatively mainstream fan group is the most brilliant thing that can happen to you. Especially at, like, 16 years old when you’re just starting to build up a sense of identity.
(Compare to how many people wear their team’s football strip well into middle age, for example. Fewer people would frown at that. But it’s totally no different.)
Ruth wrote Carl/Pete fanfic. Dan shouted at singers of similar bands for them to take their shirts off. Joe and Aimee quietly followed – they were a couple of years older, so I guess it might have been a little alien to them. I dunno. Point is, we were quintessential fans. And that fandom led to some of the most fabulous times of our lives.
Carl and Pete’s relationship was relevant, though. It’s one of the things that, now, I can look back to and pinpoint as a concrete reason why the Libertines had the effect they did. Because, mainly, their relationship was their music. It’s the reason why Babyshambles and Dirty Pretty Things were never any good. Their music is the love between them, the hatred between them, the chaos their habits and personalities brought to their and others’ lives. In a very real way, without those two existing there, at that point in their lives, The Libertines would lost all its purpose. It is the most intensely personal and character-driven music you will ever hear.
These days, the only way for me to listen to The Libertines is both their records, back to back. It’s the most brilliant, inspiring and tragic narrative that music has ever dealt. There’s something genuinely haunting about all the dreams and promise of Up The Bracket coming crashing down as soon as Can’t Stand Me Now kicks in on The Libertines. Taken in a linear sequence, you’ve got Carl Barat going from “I get along, just singing my song. People tell me I’m wrong – fuck ’em,” to “An ending fitting for the start – you twisted and tore our love apart,” and then Pete basically turning round and telling him to fuck the hell off… it’s just this astonishing crash of their relationship: from two guys saying “fuck you” to the world, to two guys saying, seething, “fuck you” to each other.
In other words: Up The Bracket is The Libertines finding themselves and getting ready to live the dream. Its follow-up is those dreams coming crashing down, and the horrible inevitibility that it would always have ended up that way.
By the time we hit Likely Lads, the passage is complete. We know what became of them now: two sub-par indie bands, one with a lot of ideas and not much musicianship, the other without much of either. But that’s them individually. The Libs were never about the individuals (and Christ, you do feel a bit sorry for John and Gary, right? They never got a look in, even afterwards, and were probably the most musically talented of the lot). The Libs was them, together, in that moment, that horrible downhill progression, that inexorable pit of shit. And what became of that?
I guess, in some ways, we’ll never know.