You’re in a tent. To your left is Rasputin’s doppelganger, tattooed arms crossed, eyes roving, somehow suspicious of chin. To your right a harem of supermodels, powdering their nose, swapping clothes, excited schoolgirls readying themselves for prom. In front of you stands a swaying figure. Trilby, obviously. Swaying, more obviously. He’s taller than you’d expected, but frail, a weather-beaten totem. His face is pallid and wan, his hair wild. How you’d imagine Heathcliff to look if he’d have grown up in tawdry Camden squats instead of the Moors. The literary figure, not the animated cat. Sweat drips ceaselessly from his furrowed brow, creating a pool of perspiration that, if ingested, would probably contain enough contaminants to finish a giant squid. One of the poisonous ones. The really poisonous ones. We don’t sup.
A battered acoustic guitar hangs heavy around his neck. His eyes are deeply dilated pupils dancing on ping-pong white eyeballs like two marbles rolling on ice. They are chaos and fear. Excitement and danger. Imprudence and confusion. These are the eyes of a man that has squeezed more living (and almost dying) into his first 27 years than is fit. Or unfit, to be more precise.
The man, of course, is Pete Doherty. ‘Peter’ to his friends. ‘God’ to his fans. Revered and idolised by one generation, abhorred and scapegoated by another, he polarises. Like Marmite or mental illness.
How do you interview a man like this? A man who, despite his best efforts, is struggling to stand. A man who looks like he’s just coming out of a coma. Or going into one. Christ, he’s sweaty. You haven’t seen him consuming any illegal substances, but who actually has?
So what do you do? Do you ask him the same questions countless other journalists have interrogated him with over the years…about Kate, about drugs, about prison, about whether The Libertines will ever reform, blah blah blah. On a normal day, maybe. But on a day when this mercurial ball of volatility has already stormed off once after a scuffle with a journalist from an unNaMEd music magazine who attempted to pose said questions, you decide to go at it from a different tack. By asking him real questions, about real stuff. Like scars. And swearing. And Lester Piggott…
So Peter. Pleasure to meet you. Have you got any scars?
Yeah, I’m covered in ‘em. [Pete lifts his shirt up to reveal numerous scars. There are various blemishes and defacements, from scratches to what looks like a small stab wound.]
What’s your favourite swearword?
I’ve got to choose one have I? Twat. [You get the impression that this is a jibe rather than an answer to the question.]
What’s the relationship between music and hats?
Music can change your life, like fashion. It’s not just a hat or a jacket. It’s anything that fills in the gaps where words just fail. It’s like ‘I can’t quite put it into words, so fuck it, here’s this hat.’ [Pete tilts his trilby, as if to toast the plethora of followers who have him to thank for their hatophilia.]
"Revered and idolised by one generation, abhorred and scapegoated by another, he polarises. Like Marmite or mental illness."
What is ‘fashion’?
For 99.9% of people it’s about seeing what someone else is doing and wearing that. It’s that 0.1% that are setting trends.
Are you in that 0.1%?
I don’t know really. I’ve never been that arsed about what other people think or wear.
Who’s the most stylish historical figure of all time?
[Pete slurs something about Napoleon before answering.] Lestor Piggot. [Lester Piggot is a retired jockey with nine derby wins. He is not considered a ‘style icon’ by mass media.]
Where did you wake up this morning?
[With pride]) I didn’t actually.
Where did you not go to bed then?
In my hammock.
If you were Prime Minister for a day, what would you change about England?
[Perhaps still addressing the previous question.] My hammock.
Do you still believe in an Albion with all the crap in the world today?
That’s the time we need poetry most. A time of trouble and a time of conflict.
Is that escapism or is it an achievable dream?
Escapism itself is an achievable dream.
Are you still a Libertine? Is that nihilistic morality socially responsible?
Yeah, unfortunately in this society at the moment I don’t think there’s another way.
[At this point Pete trails off in a slur as two Eastern European ballet dancers appear. Pete asks them if they’d like to dance for him. They nod, and Pete breaks into Babyshambles number La Belle et la Bête on acoustic guitar. The two girls start to dance around the room. They dance well, in unison, like they’ve danced to this song many times before. The lyrics of Pete’s song are, quite aptly:]
‘I'll tell you a story but you won’t listen,
It's about a nightmare steeped in tradition.
It's the story of a coked-up pansy,
Who spent his nights in flights of fancy
Met two fellas over gin and mixers,
They talked for a while he soon got the picture,
One was a souped up Soho mincer,
The other was a pikey with a knowledge for scriptures.
Then the conversation turned evil,
Talked, talked and talked about people,
Why did you do it to so many people?’
[At this point Pete trails off. The ballet dancers curtsey. Rasputin and the models applaud loudly. Someone passes round a pipe.]
So what are you most proud of?
The wedding present I’ve got for Peaches.
A scooter. A pink scooter.
"If you were Prime Minister for a day, what would you change?'My hammock.'"
What are you most ashamed of?
[Rubbing his eyes bashfully] I don’t think I can even begin to answer that.
So what wrongs would you right then?
Such as? Who would you apologise to?
[Pete starts to mumble something incomprehensible, then sings the opening lines of The Beatles’ ‘A Little Help From My Friends’. You try to squeeze in another question about regrets and having a few, but it is clear that you’ve got all you’re going to get. Pete’s agent tells you that the interview is over. He breaks into What Katie Did and the ballet dancers reappear.]
So what have you learned from all this tomfoolery? That Pete is a scarred and sweaty style-icon who models himself on a jockey nicknamed ‘The Long Fellow’. And that he sleeps in a hammock. Or doesn’t sleep rather. You’ve learned that where Pete goes, women follow. Lots of women. And not just any old women. Exotic Lithuanian ballet dancers and models with the cheekbones sharp like hungry goats.
When you look at this sweaty, sweaty man (words really fail to touch upon just how much he perspires), you cannot help but wonder why this man attracts admirers, nay, worshippers in such abundance. And then, two hours later, all of your questions are answered. Playing an intimate acoustic gig in a tiny pub in Kentish Town, North London, Pete is joined on stage by his erstwhile bandmate/soulmate/housemate/best mate, Carl Barat. They play Libertines songs. They share a microphone. They flirt. Their sweats knit together to form a sweater. And in that moment, as they gaze into each other’s eyes, wailing out the chorus of Don’t Look Back Into The Sun, the penny drops. As you look around, you realise that everyone in the room is thinking the same thing. That for all his faults (and of those there are aplenty), there is something there. Something special. And that in a strange way, Pete is a national treasure. We need him, just like we need Cliff Richard singing at Wimbledon. Because without him, England would be just a little bit more bland. Like Cliff Richard singing at Wimbledon. God bless you Pete Doherty. If there is a God. Not that he’d let you in.
Pete Doherty played for Gio Goi at their new pub, The Prince of Wales, in Kentish Town. More information about Gio Goi can be found at www.gio-goi.com
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