IT’S 9 PM AT the Boogaloo in north London and Gerry O’Boyle, the proprietor of this dingy pub, says Kate and Pete are on their way. He means Kate Moss and her boyfriend Pete Doherty. Kieran, otherwise known as Ronnie and one of Doherty’s inner circle of hangers-on and ne’er-do-wells, says he’s not so sure – someone’s tipped off the paparazzi, who have descended on the Boogaloo and could scare the lovers away.
In the bar, through a fog of cigarette smoke and beer fumes, Shane MacGowan, the perpetually inebriated singer, lurches toward a low stage with plans to serenade patrons with Bobby Darin’s ‘Beyond the Sea’. He sings it but no one can hear – the former Pogues singer accidently switched off his microphone. On the bar top is a copy of the News of the World, the British tabloid. The headline read: “Sorry Kate, just when you thought he couldn’t get any worse, Doherty confesses… I SOLD DRUGS AND SERVICED OLD QUEENS!”
Things being what they are, Moss, 31, and Doherty, five years her junior at 26, may or they may not show up. Either way, they are Britain’s most celebrated couple in love: she the world’s most beautiful and successful model; he the poetic rockstar with a terrible drug addiction living out Oscar Wilde’s famous dictum about “lying in the gutter, looking at the stars.” Apart, they were famous but together they’ve reached a kind of tabloid heaven in their native Britain. Doherty and Moss are delicious bohemians who make the red carpet look like a pedestrian crossing – or are they heading for a lot of trouble?
Doherty’s activities, fuelled by a powerful addiction to heroin and crack cocaine and amplified by her fame, are updated almost daily in the press. With an attendant ghoulishness of fake concern, he’s become an exemplar of a generalized worry for this island nation’s infatuation with intoxication. His friends want him to give up drugs; her friends want her to give him up but, as one friend confirms, she’s “completely and utterly smitten.” When, a few hours later, the couple finally appear like two skinny, glamorous black-clad insects, they duck through the pop of flash bulbs to the back entrance of the Boogaloo, past the bar and up the rickety staircase to the safety of MacGowan’s scruffy living room for a pint of Guinness and a sing-song. It may not be wise, it may not even be healthy, but Doherty and Moss look great together and know it, too. With so much going for them who could quibble over punctuality?
His first band, the short-lived Libertines, put excitement, sex and drugs, back into rock ‘n’ roll; his new outfit, the aptly-named Babyshambles, has put out one single, with an album is due out this summer. At this point the music is but a footnote to what has become the biggest rock ‘n’ roll news story since The Sex Pistols. Doherty is the middle-class former choirboy speaks in riddles and half-sentences, in dreamy wisps of thought and feeling. He’ll guilelessly tell reporters “crack’s gorgeous” and then quote at length from Siegfried Sassoon’s “Suicide in the Trenches”. He’s adept at treating reality as a bizarre visitation, and he’s a showman with a highly impressionable nature: he’ll bash his head into the wall for punctuation. In concert – if he turns up at all – he’ll probably get into a fight with a member of his band. He’s the beautiful loser with the heart of gold; the wandering minstrel; the street urchin; the delicate flower…
And today, to the horror of Moss and probably himself, too, he adds former rent boy to the list. According to a new biography, In The Riot: The Highs and Lows of The Libertines, and extracted by Rupert Murdoch’s premiere muck-raker, Doherty told author Pete Welsh that before the band were signed, ‘I was spanking off old queens for, like, 20 quid.” He continued: “I remember once being taken back to this mews house in Chelsea, a right old fucking badger he was. It was a bit daft, actually. As he slept I locked him in his room, tied a pair of trousers over his head and nicked all these American dollar bills out of his drawer.”
And, he added with a characteristic throw-away line: “He’s probably still there with a hard-on, listening to Classic FM.”
Sitting around in the Boogaloo for what seems like several weeks is simply by way of entering into the otherworldly dimension that Doherty habituates. When Pete Doherty finally shows up for an interview with Vanity Fair he’s as courteous and considerate as he could be. He unspools himself like a baby giraffe; gets tangled up again. It’s taken a lot of negotiation to get here and not of the customary kind. Doherty’s record company say no. His exasperated on-again, off-again manager James Mullord has already admitted Doherty’s situation is a self-perpetuating horror story: “He’s his own worst enemy when it comes to getting the wrong kind of attention.” Kate Moss is worried that she’ll get killed if it comes out badly. As his friend and former employer, Gerry O’Boyle would like to see an “iconic” story, something to really set Doherty off on a positive new direction.
If it hadn’t been for Up The Bracket, the Libertines’ first album, it is doubtful anyone would care much about Doherty now. In the estimation of much of the British music press and much of the country’s dedicated fans, the Libertines were the perfect antidote to a British music industry over-fed with manufactured Pop Idol acts, Coldplay and Radiohead copy-cats, and pious rockers like U2. Just as it was before punk music came along 25 years before, the Libertines offered something energetic and direct and they bought a rare degree of literacy to the project without diluting its power. The band took their cues from the Strokes, the New York purveyors of retro garage rock, and gave it a decadent twist. They lived lives of debauched rock mythology and suffused it with nostalgia for William Blake’s Albion and older ideas of Englishness, of Wilde, Dickens, Queen Boadicea.
“Albion is name of the ship we happened to be traveling. Arcadia was the destination, a realm of the senses, a rural idyll, a place to forget doubt,” Doherty explains before sailing into a thick fog: “It was a drawbridge coming down… for the one and all free to come up on the pirate ship. Unfortunately, it turned out be a battleship… it was never exactly a cruise-liner…” Above everything, he says abandoning this course, “above the cockiness, the clobber, the hair-dos, it was something true…”
What the Libertines lacked in skill they carried with attitude and they made themselves accessible. They played in pubs, they played in people’s front rooms, once they played in a brothel, they invited fans home for a sing-song and gave them their mobile phone numbers, they played surprise ‘guerrilla’ gigs. “Where the Strokes were rigid, tense and obsessed with being cool, the Libertines were the total opposite,” explains former Blender magazine editor Andy Pemberton. “They were shambolic, relaxed, and it all spilled out of them. They’d take their shirts off and sing pressed against each other. They had, Pemberton says, “that whole homoerotic thing going on.”
In concert, they were wild and unpredictable and they sought to break down the barriers between the performer and the audience. “All we’re striving for is a writhing mass of bodies in unity,” Doherty says, drifting gently in and out of touch. “Whether you’re on the stage or not, it’s a celebration, an exultation.”
The geographic center of the Libertines’ romantic dream was Filthie MacNasty’s Whiskey Bar in Kings Cross, an area best know for train stations and prostitutes, where Doherty worked behind the bar. It was in Filthie’s shadow that Doherty assembled the identity of a poetic street urchin. He resurrected the legend of Albion, the idea of a mythic England that inspired the great romantic poets Coleridge, Byron and Shelley and aspired to Arcadia, the mythic land where the senses roam free. At the geographic center of the fantasy lay Filthies. They say Merlin the Wizard lies buried beneath the pub, and that it sits where laylines – the paths of spiritual energy said to bi-sect Britain – cross. And they say that before he died, American psychic adventurer Ken Kesey came to pay homage.
The band wrote songs possessed of energy and spirit of an earlier London band, The Clash. Doherty the son of a Major in British Army, and Barat, the son of hippie parents, formed an intensely close competitive relationship. When they met in 1996, Doherty recalls, they bonded instantly, pledging to throw themselves from the roof of an East London tower block in celebration of the fact. The pair wrote songs imagining the success they would have, the girls that would be waiting for them. “She loves the roll of the limousine wheel,” Doherty sings in ‘Boys in the Band’. “They all get them out for the boys in the band.” And they wrote about their fractious relationship, of urban squalor, of drunken chaos and abandon. The Libertines didn’t hide behind the gloss of a record company PR machine and their poses were informed, not adopted from stylists. In their secondhand red officer’s uniforms, their vanity was all their own; their rebellion was anti-corporate, anti-American, anti-apathetic. Reviewers described them as “Britpop meets Baudelaire”, and compared Doherty and Barat to Morrissey and Johnny Marr of the Smiths.
Comparisons to The Clash were not lost on Mick Jones, the band’s guitarist, who identified them as the band that had “it”. “Once in a while a band comes along that’s like that, and they’re the ones, and everybody sort of knew it.” He volunteered to produce them and when their first album, Up the Bracket, came out in late 2002, the band was immediately lavished with attention. The music press said the Libertines were the most important British band since Oasis but mercifully without the thuggery of Oasis’ Gallagher brothers. In the potent way of successful rock ‘n’ roll bands, girls wanted to sleep with them and boys wanted to be them because then they’d get the girls.
Hedi Slimane, the menswear designer at Dior Homme who has photographed Doherty extensively, describes the singer as being in the “purest tradition of British rock. Total elegant nonchalance, a mixture of punk and mod heritage, with so much innate grace. He is like a fallen angel on stage…a future authentic icon. The real thing.” Doherty gave Slimane a taste of authentic London, taking him down the “front line” in Whitechapel where a friend had been shot in the groin the previous night. Slimane, then, didn’t want to stray far from the car. “He wouldn’t take his cameras out,” Doherty explains. “Then he had to get escorted back by my mates.” Rarely has there been a British rocker who didn’t like clothes and Doherty is no exception. Dressed head-to-foot in a grubby Dior suit and a black pork pie hat, he says his rapidly oscillating fortunes can be disconcerting: “It’s fucking weird, man… one minute you’re in a prison tracksuit queuing for chicken and rice and the next minute you’re clobbered out in Dior.”
Designer clothes, weekends at Moss’s house in the English countryside, doing crack in Claridges, and entrée to the decadent, wife-swapping Primrose Hill Babylon is the perfect counterpoint to the heroin-flavored dives of east London. But the transition has not all been smooth. At a party TKTK in London in April, Doherty was gamboling around the room knocking things over. Robert Hanson, the billionaire heir to industrial fortune of his late father Lord Hanson, told him to sit down and stop being such an asshole. As he turned away, Doherty smashed him in the head from behind. Hanson fell, hurt and bleeding from his ear. He considered calling them police but was dissuaded when Doherty rang him the next day to apologise.
Indeed, casual violence is one of the hallmarks of Doherty’s unsteady progress. On stage, his performance owes more to chaos than choreography. At one of the last Libertines concerts at London’s Brixton Academy in February last year, Doherty thought Barat gave him a funny look as they played ‘Can’t Stand me Now’, a song about their troubled relationship. Doherty kicked over Barat’s amplifier and smashed his guitar, cutting himself in the process. Earlier this year, at a concert in Brixton with his new band, Babyshambles, Doherty collided with the bass player, staggered backwards, threw a punch. The pair fell onto the stage scrapping before half a dozen roadies jumped in to break it up.
At least at the Boogaloo, there is a measure of calm Doherty seems grateful for. Gerry O’Boyle, who also managed Filthie’s, knows the habits of wild Irish singers. Shane MacGowan, the alcoholic singer with the Pogues who lives above the Boogaloo, is a walking – staggering – cautionary tale. With his extraordinary morbid countenance, MacGowan can be found holding court in the bar downstairs, often dressed as Victorian undertaker complete with a black collapsible top hat, a present from Moss (On St. Patrick’s Day, Doherty and MacGowan sang Sam Cooke’s ‘Cupid’ at the Boogaloo.)
Some in the circle would like to see Doherty get clean, but with MacGowan as a figurehead and role model it’s an unlikely proposition. Around both men are hangers-on, dealers and acolytes who bask in their celebrity and use them to mask their own addictions. As with all junkies, clues to Doherty’s condition are in his pupils; and his are – at five in the afternoon – clueless. With a pint of Guinness and two whiskey and cokes lined up, the backroom of the Boogaloo is a sanctuary, a place Gerry thinks of as the Vatican. “I feel like I’m coming down now,” Doherty says. “There’s been a lot…I’ve been through a lot. Prison, all these people trying to get in on me. It is settled here. It’s safe. An Arcadia.”
Gerry agrees: “It’s a mad life for Pete now,” O’Boyle says. “He’s got photographers and tabloids after him all day long. Pete’s whole life is as romantic rebel; it’s all about dreams. Reality can be harsh for him.”
One popular strain of voyeuristic interest is to wonder whether Doherty has the stamina and constitution to be a latter-day Keith Richards; the general consensus is that he’s too a delicate. Others think he’s a rock ‘n’ roll version of Jordan, a topless model with giant bosoms, who turns up just about anywhere in Britain there’s publicity to be had. “I believe he is now living up to an archetype that has figures like Coleridge and Baudelaire at the time-hallowed end of the self-destructive visionary artist spectrum, and Sid Vicious at the other; Kurt Cobain, I guess, is somewhere in the middle,” says rock legend Mat Snow. Friends of Moss and Doherty say they’re more concerned for him than for her. “She’s incredibly strong but he’s in the difficult position of because people expect him to be like that,” says one. “It’s become part of his performance.”
One British newspaper recently pointed out that in a world dominated by dentally perfect glamour, the androgynous, pasty-faced Doherty ought to be a reject but he’s a hero in as much as he (and Moss) are kicking against the tyranny of faked red carpet fame. Those who know him best insist that Doherty has always been pretty much this way with or without drugs. He’s was bought up an army brat – his father, austere by all accounts, is a Major with an MBE – and he grew up on different military bases. After achieving high grades at school he didn’t go to university but settled in London and followed his twin passions, football and music, and contributing poetry to various underground publications, including Full Moon Empty Sports Bag and Rising Poets.
Lucy Barat, sister of the Libertines’ guitarist, remembers sharing an apartment with the two of them. Doherty didn’t take drugs but he was always really quirky. “I thought he was trying to be eccentric but all he was doing was looking for some kind of alternate reality to live in. He’d put Noel Coward record on to get to sleep. We’d go to buy milk in the morning and he’d put a bowler hat on and buy Le Monde even though he doesn’t speak French. It quite irritated me but he’s always been like that. He doesn’t care. It’s not for anyone else. He’s just finding things to make life better. He’s aware of reality, he just chooses to add to it.”
With Doherty destination so uncertain, the passage is often comedic. For Vanity Fair, his entourage develop a scheme to produce a suitably iconic picture for publication. The plan involved driving to Wales (where he and Babyshambles were recording) to take a picture of the singer hoisted aloft on a makeshift cross. This, it was felt, would be suitably iconic and suitably symbolic of Doherty’s resurrection, of new life. When it’s pointed out that the crucifixion does not, um, symbolize the resurrection – to do that Doherty would have to be pushing a boulder away from a tomb (a less satisfactory image) – the plan is dropped. Moreover, it was felt, the death of Pope John Paul placed the whole plan in danger of being in bad taste.
Like dozens of musicians before him, from Sly Stone to his hero Arthur Lee of Love, Doherty aptitude for disappearing is central to his mythology. In 2003 he failed to show up for the entire Libertines European tour, prompting the first of many times he was expelled from the band. Andrew Male, executive editor of MOJO magazine, draws a comparison between the singer and Bartleby the Scrivener, the character in Herman Melville’s short story. The more Bartleby withdraws from the world, the more attention he receives. “Doherty is like all the great characters in literature who disappear from the text, he’s the absence at the heart of the story. As he disappears, he becomes everyone’s main preoccupation.”
But while Doherty’s absent, others appear: Peter “Wolfman” Wolfe, a published poet and veteran junkie, co-wrote ‘For Lovers’, a ballad that became a hit in Britain last spring. The song is up for an Ivor Novello award – roughly equivalent to a Grammy – but Wolfman has not been invited to the ceremony and it’s caused bad feeling among friends of shared habits. Not only does Wolfman, whose music tends toward an apocalyptic kind of funk dirge, claims he should be given more credit for ‘For Lovers’ and wants his friend to publicly announce he loves him. “He doesn’t want to be with Kate Moss. He wants to be with me. He loves me.” In fact Doherty did say he loved Wolfman – “but he only said it once.”
In April, Doherty and Babyshambles were sequestered at a recording studio in the mountains of Wales to make what will be their first album. There’s much riding on the outcome, not least whether, amid the chaos, he has much of an album in him. With his girlfriend on backing vocals, Doherty says he pleased with the results so far: “I will say that (the Babyshambles anthem) ‘Fuck Forever’ is as good a song as I ever heard.” Not that the recording has been without upset. In theory, at least, it’s quite difficult to get into trouble in the Welsh mountains.
Presented with this idea, Doherty’s supply-side sidekick Ronnie retorts, “Wanna bet?”
What’s he doing? Chasing sheep? Throwing rocks around?
“You’re getting warm,” Ronnie says.
Eventually, another member of the entourage, left-handed guitarist Alan Wass, spills the beans. Doherty smashed up the cottage the band was staying in. And that was after they had been caught smuggling meat pies (the studio is strictly vegan, part-owned by acid casualty Julian Cope) and other “supplies” onto the premise. The final straw came when the security company hired to stop Doherty breaking a court-mandated curfew refused to let him leave. “So I tried to drive the security fellas car back to London. I tried to reverse it down the mountain, but the road was so narrow and I got caught in a ditch,” he says nonchalantly. “So we got chucked out of Wales. Miranda (the wife of Mick Jones) was furious.”
Tracing the story back, there wasn’t much time between the Libertines first success in 2002 and their destruction, barely enough time in fact to establish a reputation based for music and not behavior. The money they got for signing to Rough Trade records was an opportunity for extensive celebration. Doherty took the precaution of withdrawing it from the bank in fifties and putting it in the fridge – so much handier for spending on drugs. Barat and Doherty did what rock stars are meant to do: they got high, slept around extensively and played loud music. But where Barat had brakes, Doherty had an accelerator. He stole a drug dealer’s car (some say associated with the IRA) that happened to have two grand in the trunk. The dealers put protection on him till he paid it back. “They hung me upside down off a balcony and shook me,” Doherty recalls. “One foot each.” If anyone was in any doubt, it gets worse: One former drug buddy in London recalls getting fed up with Doherty when he twice had the bad manners to overdose and turn blue in his apartment and need to be taken to emergency.
In July 2003 Doherty was sacked from the band because of his cocaine and heroin (white and brown) habit and the Libertines went off on tour to Japan without him. While they were away Doherty broke into Barat’s apartment and stole an antique guitar, video recorder, a laptop, mouth organ and CD player. He was turned into the police by his Barat’s sister, Lucy, and singer Lisa Morrish, mother his child. Doherty pled guilty to the charges, and looked astonished when he was sentenced him to six months in jail (it was reduced to two month with time-off for good behavior on appeal). On October 8th he strolled out of Wandsworth prison with his things – mostly fanmail – stuffed in a bag stamped with Her Majesty’s Prison Service slung over his shoulder to a tearful re-union with Barat. This was, notes writer Pat Gilbert, “the beginning of his descent into the heaven/hell of being the most beautiful, doomed and talented fuck-up of his generation.”
On any descent there are staging points: Last summer Pete and Carl made up and the Libertines went back into the studio to make their self-titled second album – recorded with security guards in the studio to keep the pair from coming to blows and to keep the dealers and hangers-on out. By the time the Libertines second record was released in August last year Doherty was out of the band for good, his exit preceded by an escapade extraordinary even to his own standard of unmanageability. After another abortive spell in rehab, he was flown to Thailand to complete his detox at the Thamkrabok monastery 100 miles north of Bangkok in Thailand.
Considering Thailand is a heroin addict’s dream destination, it was unlikely Doherty would stay put. After three days of being attended to by monks bearing emetic remedies he duly fled. “I had no choice,” he says. “When I said I needed to make a call, the phone lines were down; when I wanted my passport, they’d lost the number to the safe. It turned into a horror film. I was having monks coming up to me with photocopies of stories about me in The Sun.” Between good spirits and bad curses, the story is hard to follow but Doherty somehow made it back to Bangkok, checked into a hotel, and ordered heroin from the bellboy on credit. When the credit ran out, it was time to make a getaway. “This girl who works for the Bangkok Post smuggled me out in laundry basket,” he explains. “Then we drove round Bangkok listening to a tape of the Buzzcocks.”
Back in England, Barat issued Doherty another ultimatum: he could rejoin the band if he gave up crack and heroin. Doherty retorted with an ultimatum of his own: he’d give up drugs if they let him back in the band. Predictably nothing came of it. “They left me on the side of the road, with a plastic bag, and all kinds of bitterness,” he complained. Pete and Carl stopped speaking. Carl explained that they couldn’t carry on. “Peter was going to die or someone was going to get killed.” Even their manager, Alan McGee, a man with long experience of self-destructive musicians, threw in the towel: “They’re the most extreme band I’ve ever worked with,” he said. “It’s sort of rock ‘n’ roll. I don’t what it is. Mental illness, probably.”
In any case, Doherty already had a new band of his own, the aptly-titled Babyshambles. That, too, soon became a pantomime of canceled shows, backstage overdoses, fights with hecklers and fan riots (a Babyshambles concert in London in December was cancelled only after the audience waited several hours; they rioted, invaded the stage, and smashed up Pounds 25,000 worth of equipment.) Accolades and trouble kept rolling in, hand-in-hand. Doherty was named Cool Icon of The Year 2004 by the New Musical Express, and the Libertines voted the Greatest Band in Britain by The Guardian. In another scrape, Doherty was given a four-month suspended sentence for possessing a flick knife. Rarely short of a comic flourish, Doherty turned up at the hearing playing songs with his with his head poking out of a car sunroof. He said he was “innocent’: the court was told he was a ‘placid and gentle man.”
His condition, it could hardly be disguised, was dependent on the constituency of the chemicals in his system. An iconic picture was needed, and one was forthcoming: a terrible, humiliating shot of Doherty standing on stage with his eyes open but his pupils rolled up into the back of his head. It was duly published by practically evey paper on Fleet Street. Then, in December, the respected current affairs show Newsnight invited Doherty on the show to explain himself. He smoked a cigarette, played guitar and recited one of the poems that won him a place on a cultural exchange trip to Russia aged 16. Obviously enamored with her subject, political correspondent Kristy Wark pressed the obviously woozy singer on the whether he made drugs look glamourous and attractive to young fans. Unfazed, Doherty pointed out, “I’ve yet to have someone come and ask me for my drug dealer’s number.”
But it was not until February that the drama reached crescendo with the entry of Moss. The pair met at her 31st birthday party in January and it was, friends say, coupe de foudre …love at first sight. Doherty made no secret of his infatuation, telling his friends he’d marry her as soon as they are able (later this summer according to The Sun.) Doherty already had a Libertines song for her, ‘What Katie Did’.
Shoop shoop, shoop de-lang-a-lang
(repeat eight times).
Oh whatcha gonna do, Katie?
You’re a sweet, sweet girl
But it’s a cruel, cruel world
A cruel, cruel world.
On the forthcoming Babyshambles record there’ll be a reprise: ‘What Katie Did Next.’ Moss, too, told friends she madly in love. “He’s like Byron,” she says. Moss, no stranger to rock’n’roll excess herself, has had her share of boyfriends of a certain type: Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream, Jesse Wood (son of Ronnie), Lemonhead singer Evan Dando, Jefferson Hack, father of her child and founder-editor of Dazed and Confused. “She sure knows how to pick ’em,” says one friend simply. But true love didn’t mean Doherty would be house-trained. A few days after they met, on a night when they were supposed to be going on a romantic candlelight-and-a-goodnight-kiss date, Doherty and Wass beat up a documentary maker who’d sold pictures of Doherty smoking heroin to a tabloid newspaper.
Doherty’s camp, in particular Doherty’s junkie sidekick Peter “Wolfman” Wolff are known to sell stories to the tabloids for chump change but filmmaker Max Carlish, himself a former crack cocaine addict, did not clear the deal before sold the pictures for £25,000. Doherty and Wass tracked him down to a north London hotel and beat him up. The incident didn’t seem to dull Carlish’s affection for the singer; in The Guardian, Carlish commiserated with his assailant, explaining he’d first realized how smart Docherty was when “he rhymed green with spleen and even understood the medieval meaning of the word spleen” and expressed concern that Doherty thinks he’s Thomas De Quincey, author of Confessions of an Opium Eater. “Heroin was a fashion accessory, like a supermodel girlfriend,” Carlish told the paper. “He thinks he’s stronger than his habit, and that his hits will outlive his habit, but I’m not so sure.”
Docherty was arrested on robbery and blackmail charges and held in London’s notoriously grim Pentonville prison until pounds 150,000 was found to secure his release on bail. His record company offered the court security against future earnings – which the judge pointed out was no security at all and refused – and the singer languished in the clink for six days. When the money was finally found Doherty informed the press that he thought he ”was going to die” in prison and, winningly, how his love for Moss convinced him ”to sort my life out.” “Thinking of Kate got me through this,” the singer said of his supermodel.
As his family and friends urged him to give up drugs, others were urging Moss to give up Doherty. The court ordered him back into treatment and placed him under a 10pm to 7am curfew. Doherty, with new responsibilities in mind, volunteered to have a Naltraxone implant inserted in his abdomen to null the effect of opiates and make heroin, the medical theory goes, not worth taking. But precedents are hardly encouraging. Without heroin’s cocoon, addicts tend to make up the shortfall with chaos-inducing drugs they can feel … like crack cocaine and alcohol.
With clarity and what may be the best will in the world, Doherty says he’s determined to straighten out. Back in February, he says, “I was fixing up, shooting white, shooting brown, and then entering into a relationship… I mean, God knows, she saved my live and, really, I had to chose. She’s got a young kid, I have a young kid, and there’s no way it could happen with, um…” Drugs, he says, are a “very selfish thing. They go against the central tenets of the things I believe in … the freedom of the senses.”
When Doherty’s love affair with Kate Moss hit the headlines, the tabloid press, even with its penchant for fantasy, was handed a perfect situation. “The fight with Max Carlish blasted it into being a crime story, a rehab story, a love story, a rock ‘n’ roll story. Then the Kate Moss thing blasted it into orbit,” says Nick Buckley, news editor of the Sunday Mirror. “This is a great, great rock ‘n’ roll couple. Here is the world’s most beautiful woman who likes to party. You see her getting out of a cab at five a.m. and yet she always manages to look like Snow White the next morning.” The subtext is hardly buried: “There is a wonderful analogy with Sid and Nancy,” says Buckley frankly. “Are they reliving the last days of the Sex Pistols? Is this going to end in a sordid hotel room? (He says no.) The broadsheet press, too, had it could want: a tabloid story of sex and drugs it could report from the safety of one remove and apply remedial doses of concerned self-righteousness.
Tony Blair’s Britain, or at least the press that informs it, is fixated with decadence. Middle England, the land where model gnomes still populate gardens, is obsessed with cocaine. Presaging proposals for tougher sentences on drug dealers, the leader of the Conservative Party Michael Howard wondered aloud why “a man who takes drugs and gets locked up, yet ends up on the front pages.” Doherty retorted: “Crack and heroin are an epidemic. It’s not like I’m the one person taking drugs and changing lives.” From top to bottom, the British classes are grinding their teeth; Sir Ian Blair, the new Metropolitan Police commissioner, recently launched a campaign against rampant middle-class cocaine use; provincial police forces are engaged in a battle to curb gangs of binge-drinking teenagers who make town centers no-go areas at weekends. In Britain, drugs are cheap, alcohol is cheaper and everybody is out to get smashed.
Who knows where the story leads next. His band Babyshambles recently lost its drummer Gemma Clarke who left saying she no longer wanted to be “part of a machine that I feel is destroying you.” At the same time, Doherty is in demand, receiving invitations to read poetry at the annual Meltdown festival this month (June) in London curated by Patti Smith, and Babyshambles have been invited to play at Trinity College ball in Dublin. Doherty and Barat have spoken again for the first time in nearly a year and there’s the Babyshambles record to finish. What happens next is an open question: will the public get tired of the drama and moves on to something new?
Already, Doherty is like a performing bear. On stage, he receives bigger cheers when he smashes a bottle on his head than for singing. Asked if he’s received any wisdom in all this, Doherty gently quotes from ‘Can’t Stand me Now’:
“Cornered, the boy kicked out at the world/The world kicked back, a lot fucking harder.”
© Edward Helmore, Vanity Fair, July 2005