Monday, August 21, 2006
Homoerotica and its discontents
Beyond their penchant for horrorshow tabloid headlines, the Libertines move me because they find a lyrical and vocal correlative for the motormouthed preemptory insistence of their guitars. The dialogue -- between singers Carl Barat and the hapless, hopeless Pete Doherty -- is jagged and demotic, exactly what one would expect from old friends/combatants. Or lovers. The ease with which Barat and Doherty allow for this possibility opens their music; it positions them fully in the canon. Consider Mick Jagger and Keith Richards' yelped harmonies in "Dead Flowers," animated by a mutual delight in tweaking the song's country-blues tropes yet buoyed by the tacit admission that, snarky or not, having a laugh at these tropes' expense keeps the needle and the spoon at arms' length for another four minutes.

The Libertines' 2004 single "Can't Stand Me Now" is a soiled transcript of what happens when two men realize that their jokes no longer amuse, that irony isn't enough anymore, that there yet remains an appetite neither music, friendship, nor even the needle and the spoon can sate. The song itself teeters over chaos: in its opening salvo one guitar keeps a nervous rhythm while another picks high, yearning notes, before trading places -- all this before Barat and Doherty dramatize their revolting melodrama. Barat is matter-of-fact and inexorable: "An ending fitting for the start/you twist and tore our love apart"; Doherty, at first a live embodiment of why the bromides of Narcotis Anonymous are as injurious as the drugs ("you shut me out and blamed it on the brown"), kicks back with a chorus admission so strangled and free of irony that it can make you gasp. By shouting "You can't stand me NOW!" he's inverting a myriad love songs in which the lover can't grasp why the beloved finds him undesirable; and when Barat confirms his partner's conclusion with an improvised "No," it's as chilling a moment as any I've heard in recent years. Where else can Doherty go beyond self-abasement? He'll take his partner anywhere he wants to go, he'll try because there's no worse they can do -- he'll burgle his own room if necessary. It's not a stretch to imagine that the love-which-dare-not-speak-its-name nibbles at the frayed edges of Doherty's heart; it's not hard to postulate that Doherty found the Fisher-Price homoerotica of the Who, the Stones, the Kinks, the Buzzcocks, the Smiths, and Suede a disgusting sham unequal to the dilemma of what to do when the person you want most in the world is your male best friend. There he is sharing your microphone: the only awareness that your improvised lyrics might have parallels beyond the fictive is in the frightened wet in his eyes.

All this serves as a preface to the Dirty Pretty Things' Waterloo to Anywhere. I've only heard it once; it sounds a lot like the Libertines, without Doherty's guitar, harmonies, and subtext. Perhaps Doherty hopes that Barat's perfectly honorable impulse to carry on will suceed -- surely one of the many reasons why he continues to destroy himself is his inability to cope with this news anyway.

Posted by Alfred Soto on Monday, August 21, 2006 at 6:02 PM |

I saw doherty on jonathan ross and before he gave ross this gift that he brought he had to mention something like, "i dont know if carl has done this for you first but...'

their relationship is indeed something of rock legend and while i dont think that either of their records is beyond reproach i do hope for a day that they could get back together and put out the amazing record that lies within them. has a group done that yet? the whole breakup, get together and be a better band than before? there might be a glaring answer to that, which just isnt coming to mind.

i loved this post, tho.

New Order?

I kid, I kid. Alfred, this was fantastic; I still only like about half of Up the Bracket, and pretty much nothing else from the Barat/Doherty axis, but you've nailed that queasy fascination perfectly. Good to have you here.

To answer heightsy's question: the Go-Betweens did it in 2000.

"Fisher-Price homoerotica"

I love it. Welcome aboard, dear.

And NO never did anything other than soldier on - their first 4-song demo was recorded in early July, less than two months after that fateful May 18th.

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