"If you can't rely on music...that's it." -Pete Doherty / The Libertines
Music has a funny way of finding you when you’re out on the edge feeling hopeless and completely fucked up. Music tethers you to the shore, keeping you away from the rocks and the deep sea creatures too scary to look at. Music was always a constant for me, and when my entire life spiraled out of control in to something I could never plan, it kept me on the ground.
For massive music fans, there’s always one band that speaks directly to your soul. When you put on those headphones, your world is a little more stable, whole, perfect. Someone out there understands you. And for a while, Green Day was that direct link, but since their absence lately I rekindled my romance with the likely lads from England, The Libertines, an indie rock act that set the world on fire in the early 2000's.
Unlike a lot of music acts, they really include their audience. They were a direct link to everything we feel, and we never forgot that. They're not just a band, they're a community. There is no us and them. We are all Libertines.
The Libertines are a band that engulfs you. Once you get hooked on their brand of rock and roll, you'll never be the same. They were sensational, the songs, fantastic and they had something I couldn't put my finger on. It was a direct link to my mind.
I discovered a distinct sadness in The Libertines' music that I only thought native to my own head. Regret, laden with guilt and a sense of longing that can never be described without a melody, flooded my brain and for those few minutes when The Libs were plugged into me. I felt apart of something.
When the Libertines broke up in 2004 I was in 4th grade. The fact that they'd never make music again really hit me recently though, this past year when I was in the midst of graduating from college and leaving everything I knew. Their music took on a new meaning. It was the soundtrack to my doomed youth. I needed them. There was a hole. There wasn't enough music. There had to be more...
It’s been a long, hard road for fans of The Libertines. We’ve seen it all. The members all have their own distinct way of dealing with reality, much like us. Co-frontmen Pete Doherty Carl Barat had their differences. After the split Carl, drummer Gary Powell and bassist John Hassall formed new bands and got better as musicians. They distanced themselves from the chaotic reputation of The Libertines. They ensured that whatever former co-frontman Pete Doherty was getting into was as far away from them as possible.
Carl Barat and Pete Doherty went together perfectly, like Whiskey and Coke. They were best friends. They carried the band. They had an unbreakable bond, but something changed. Somewhere down the line it seemed like Carl couldn't deal with Pete's bad habits anymore. The band broke up.
I've been a musician my whole life, in and out of different bands and much like Pete, delving into the darkness for comfort. I pushed my bandmates too far and they kicked me out, forming another group behind my back. I was betrayed, no I was devastated.
I wrote the songs! I did the work! I gave it all...they didn't care. So I kept fucking up. I didn't care.
I felt like an asshole. The Libertines song "Can't Stand Me Now", an anthem dedicated to strained relationships and misunderstandings, was my unspoken anthem. I knew that I had kicked out at the world, and the world kicked back a lot fucking harder.
It was then that Pete became a like distant friend to me. It was weird, I found things in his lyrics that I had said out loud years before. It was like we shared a brain or something. I graduated from college and had a lot of reality to contend with. I sunk deep into a place of hatred, making myself out to be the villain in my own story, hell bent on destruction. Pete understood that. No matter what anyone told me, I hated myself. There was no reason for it. His persona, this crucified version of a renaissance man intrigued me. I saw myself in him.
Pete took on a generation of wasters, poets and thieves with his larger-than-life media presence. The tabloids picked him as their personal whipping-boy, and it broke my heart. Most fans cringed and hoped he would get better. I didn’t know if he could, because I had that connection. I didn’t know if I could get better either. During these tumultuous years where the band hated each other and themselves, the fans could feel it in their own lives.
I had my own issues with substances and partying. I fell down a rabbit hole of trying to live up to a reputation I couldn’t have without dying, and Pete became my soul-mate in destruction. It comforted me to know that out there in the ether, someone was going through the same things as me. In the early hours of the morning, before I’d have to go to school I’d sit up and play along with old Libs records, drunkenly singing and playing the guitar as if I was in the band myself, heading back to the good old days. Reverie quickly turned to self-loathing, and for once I felt like my art was getting bigger than me. Old habits die hard.
I took solace in the fact that Pete and I have a lot in common. We both got kicked out of our own bands, because of “differences” and control issues. We're writers. We’re both a bit off the rails, and we both screwed over a lot of people who tried to help us. We couldn't help it, we felt betrayed.
I didn't care about myself or my music. I just blabbered on and on about wanting nothing to do with change. I couldn't even write songs anymore. I couldn't find melody. I couldn't sing. I was useless. I was in the rut where escaping from it all became a self-defense mechanism. I had nobody. My friends didn't understand, or they encouraged me to be even more reckless. I kept secrets from people. I lied. I cheated. I sunk into my own world and told everyone else to fuck off. I nearly destroyed everything I had worked for. I hurt people. I realized that I had to fix it.
In 2015 it became known that Pete had successfully completed rehabilitation for his issues. That gave me hope, that no matter how far you fall, if you really put your mind to it, you can do anything. I kicked my bad behavior too, and am much better for it.
Pete and I were both colossal idiots, but eventually came out the other side, with a greater understanding of the world, and ourselves.
After I graduated college I couldn’t listen to anything else but The Libertines and the side projects that came after their split. Something in those records helped me rationalize all of the severe change I was experiencing. Something about their music embodied the chaos I had held so dear for so long. Something about their music helped me let it go too.
When I moved to New York to start my career I got a tattoo to commemorate my new journey. “Libertine” in my own handwriting on my wrist. I branded myself, a part of the fan base forever. But more than that, I gave myself permission to own my chaos, and through that permission I ultimately got better. Now, on the other side of the world, I can look down and remember who I really am.
I guess,The Libertines gave me the freedom to be screwed up...to be someone who can't fit, to be someone who can think independently and not regret it. They helped with all the change and the doubt.
It’s been 10 years since the Libertines’ last album. And today the band, and fans like me are entering a new era. Anthems For Doomed Youth will be our opus. It seems that all of this change I’ve been experience has lined up perfectly with their return. This year I started a new job, in a new place. I got sober.
Forever cosmically linked, the start of my life’s journey, and the continuing of theirs. I guess you could say we’re taking the plunge together.
Such is life: where bizarre coincidences link unrelated events forever. I’m glad I immortalized my love for this band, because just when I thought everything was going dark, they came back and brought the light.
The life of a Libertine, falling backwards into darkness, waiting for something to catch us…but never getting the satisfaction. There is no comfort, no security, but that’s the best part.
The Libertines taught me that life doesn’t always exist in extremes. No matter how much we want to change things, it won’t happen without hard work and dedication. Those things will not come easy, but once they do it’s a reward unlike any other.
The music will never leave me, and now that my mind is clearer, I can write again. I hear the music again.
I am now free knowing that Pete is better. I am better too. The boys are back. Pete, Carl, Gary and John. Forever Libertines. The sun shines down on a new record and rekindled faith that no matter what, music will be there to save us when the darkness closes in. I’ve got new songs to soundtrack my new life, and there is nothing better than waking up to that beautiful fact.
No matter what happens next, this record will help me embrace it. Thank whatever god you follow for music, change and hope.
And I'll thank mine for The Libertines.