Looking back on 2004, one can’t help but wonder where all the rock and roll debauchery has gone. Yellowcard seem like good kids — after all, they sing songs about their high school sweethearts and their dear old dads. Good Charlotte’s Joel Madden likes spending his time with a certain wholesome pop princess. The members of Green Day, who are about a decade older than the other groups on today’s chart, continue to get ill … when they’re not reading their kids bedtime stories, that is.
Sure, there are a few artists who still feel it’s their duty to party on all days that end in “y.” Sum 41 and Avril Lavigne are two of them, though their Canadian citizenship doesn’t bode well for the hell-raising quotient in the States. But as American rock threatens with all of the untamed fury of a Clay Aiken concert, British quartet the Libertines have dutifully picked up the slack. The band’s exploits over the past year, which include onstage fallouts, myriad stints in rehab, no-shows and riots, make even Courtney Love’s antics seem tame by comparison.
What’s even more remarkable is that the Libertines managed to create one of the better albums that came out this year, their self-titled second LP, while getting in as much trouble as a Scott Weiland/ DMX/ Bobby Brown supergroup. For a band whose principal members, Pete Doherty and Carl Barat, were compared to great songsmith teams such as Lennon-McCartney and Jagger-Richards, their breakthrough single, “What a Waster,” unfortunately became the apt descriptor for Doherty.
Doherty’s miserable plight started in August 2002, when the band, which also includes bassist John Hassal and drummer Gary Powell, was forced to perform a show as a trio because Doherty went AWOL after an in-studio scuffle with co-singer/guitarist Barat. He reappeared two days later, beginning a streak of delinquency that would continue through the end of 2004.
Doherty’s drug use became problematic the following year, when strings of shows had to be canceled and he started what would become almost comical attempts at cleaning up. With Doherty in rehab, the band soldiered on to Japan without him, so after fleeing the facility, he did what any estranged bandmember would do under similar circumstances: He broke into Barat’s house and stole some equipment and a laptop computer for drug money.
The term “good behavior” and Pete Doherty go together like oil and water, but amazingly, the six-month prison sentence he received for the crime was shortened to only a month. In October 2003, he rejoined his band and things were relatively calm for a while.
The subsequent storm hit in March of 2004, when the Libertines’ wheels truly fell off. A triumphant three-night stand in London ended with Doherty smashing his guitar and storming offstage halfway through the final set. He returned a few songs later with a mysterious gash across his chest. Needless to say, there was no encore.
A rambling message posted on his Web site, www.babyshambles.com, a few days later announcing his side project, Babyshambles, fueled speculation that the Libertines’ days were numbered. The new group’s early gigs only hinted at the disasters that lay ahead.
A riot broke out at the band’s release party for its first single when the crowd spilled into the parking lot, where an impromptu sing-along set caused street traffic to come to a halt. Remarkably, despite the damage to the club, which included a collapsed wall, a second gig was booked just days later. That show went off without a hitch, and a few weeks later Doherty entered rehab again. His periodic postings on his Web site, which were often incoherent run-ons, declared his physical improvement but did little to restore confidence in his mental state. Following entries such as “Yes, children, the deliriums and caterwaulings are giving in to, well, Peter Doherty, whoever the f— that may be,” he unsurprisingly was placed on suicide watch, a serious condition that lasted just long enough for him to escape the facility.
Just days after becoming a free man, Doherty quit the band in late May. While slamming his former bandmates in the press every chance he got, he took off for yet another unsuccessful trip to rehab, this time in France.
Doherty rejoined the Libertines for a show in early June, and to the uninformed, things looked to be OK. Especially since, after the show, he declared that he would be leaving for an unorthodox rehab program based at the Thamkrabok Monastery in Thailand. His bandmates, manager and family were very optimistic — until he fled to Bangkok.
He returned to the U.K. in mid-June, and was arrested within hours upon touching down. Police stopped him for a driving offense and found a switchblade. As he professed his innocence, the Libertines vowed to continue without him.
Doherty, meanwhile, went solo. Without bandmates to keep him in check, he was driven solely by his dependency. He blew off two shows in early August, and a court appearance to answer the weapons charge the following week. At the rescheduled hearing, he pleaded guilty, and later got off easy with a four-month suspended sentence.
A few days after the hearing, Doherty claimed to have been attacked in the street by a thug who called him a crackhead. Having hit rock bottom, or at least seemingly so, the troubled rock star moved back in with his parents in September. But unable to let sleeping dogs lie, he lashed out at his former band with the first song by Babyshambles.
In October, the Libertines toured the U.S., while Doherty blew off a few more commitments. The one show he did manage to make was regrettable. Performing with Babyshambles at a trendy club, he wrecked a piece of modern art estimated to be worth £100,000 ($191,000). He was subsequently permanently banned from the club. Still, that didn’t stop Babyshambles, which became a true spectator sport as the year wound down. At XFM’s radio festival in December, after showing up two hours late the group got the boot from the multi-band lineup after playing just two songs.
Despite the obvious trainwreck his career was becoming, Doherty somehow thought he could hold it together long enough to tour the U.K. The first show on December 11 went off well enough, until fans started throwing things at him. He retaliated with a verbal assault that lost its potency upon turning into an unintelligible rant about napping on tour buses. A few shows later, he had to be pulled offstage by his manager. Concertgoers recounted scenes of his forgetting lines and actually nodding off at the mic. Doherty’s bandmates got so fed up, they left him alone onstage to perform solo acoustic. After 30 minutes, he was forcibly removed from the stage in a headlock.
As the Libertines played what was likely their last show ever on December 18, making good on Barat’s earlier statements that he didn’t want to play in the band without Doherty, Babyshambles didn’t play at all. They were scheduled to go on at midnight, but by 2 a.m. they were nowhere to be found. Deprived of their headliners, the fans stormed the stage and the police were called.
Leave it to Pete Doherty to end the year with a bang. And the best/worst might be yet to come. Despite his inability to perform on cue for one gig, the singer/guitarist has scheduled four shows for New Year’s Eve. As if one catastrophe per night weren’t enough.