Heroes and villains, one and the same

Then: Pete Doherty as I prefer to remember him, a poet
Then: Pete Doherty as I prefer to remember him, a poet
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NEVER have heroes, said Lester Bangs, the American journalist who first inspired me to sit behind a typewriter.

And never put your faith in anyone. They’ll only let you down in the end.

Now Pete Doherty these days, a clich�, outside another court house

Now Pete Doherty these days, a clich�, outside another court house

I was 19, drunk and wasted by boredom the night I met the only hero I ever had.

Pete Doherty was a few years older, a good deal drunker, and wasted by what seemed like a yearning for night and life.

He reminded me of a character from a Kerouac book, all eyes and hair and cheekbone. All youth and mischief. All possibility.

We shared a brief beer and talked a brief while. Mainly about Tony Hancock, I think. It was good.

But that was another time and another place. When he was a Libertine, when he claimed to be a libertine.

Before jail and junk, prison and pipes, band break-ups and flat break-ins.

Last week his crack addiction got him caged for a third time – and the pictures in the press proved (once again) what only an idiot would pretend they didn’t believe: Pete Doherty is a washed-up cliché, a tabloid caricature, an embarrassment to his generation.

For sure, it was not always so.

He existed, it is hard to remember now, before he was Kate Moss’s squeeze; before he was a regular at Bow Street Magistrates; before he was implicated in the deaths of two people.

There was, ultimately, a time when people – aye, me – fell head over heels in love with him, not because of his Byronic excesses, but because of his Byronic wordplay; not because of his Dickensian outfits but because of his Dickensian artistry.

The Libertines’ debut album still sounds stunning even now – because back then Pete Doherty was a poet, a performer, a musician and a genius whose way with words was unrivalled.

It made my spine tingle. It still does.

Doherty and band mate Carl Barat – the man whose flat he later smashed his way in to burgle – refused to deal with stale pop staples like love and relationships because such subjects had been undermined by decades of overuse.

Instead they went for the jugular with songs about class, friendship, nihilism, boredom, confusion, urban paranoia and the Americanisation of British culture,

They quoted everyone from Oscar Wilde to William Blake, Arthur Rimbaud to Johnny Marr, but back then it seemed to me he would eclipse even all those names one day. Special? Yeah, he was.

Which is why it’s so hard to see this old grey-haired, black fingernailed man – has it really not even been 10 years? – constantly being caught, constantly in the dock, constantly still referred to as Kate Moss’s ex.

I turn the page and don’t read any more. It doesn’t make me sad like once it did. It just bores me.

He should have done the decent thing and died years ago. Left us with memories, not with a soiled reputation.

I never told him that night how much his music meant to me, which I regretted for a while.

But now I’m glad I didn’t.

Never have heroes, said Lester Bangs, because they only let you down.

And now, of course, it’s obvious he was right.