Pete Doherty's poetry beyond Pat Kenny


THERE IS a great refrain in Bob Dylan’s 1968 song, Ballad of a Thin Man.In it, Dylan is merciless as he takes apart a hapless journalist, a scribe completely out of his depth and uncomprehending of the scene about which he is trying to write.

The putdown refrain in the song goes: “Because something is happening here/But you don’t know what it is/Do you, mister Jones?”

It was like that on Friday night watching our own Mr Jones flailing and failing to interview Pete Doherty on the Late Late Showto any illuminating effect. There sat Doherty, scruffy strolling minstrel with a foppish fedora-style hat (cigarette stuck in its ribbon), drainpipe jeans, anorexic-like physique, all dirty finger-nails and doe-eyed expression. His face exuded a mixture of wide-eyed innocence and a rabbit caught in headlights.

And there was Pat, looking like the head of HR, all stiff, formal attire, interviewing the bad boy – or someone he was told was a bad boy, ’cos sure as hell, Pat didn’t really know anything about the bloke he was talking to. Eight, nine (or was it 10 or 12?) questions about drugs and Kate Moss. Nothing about Doherty’s music, his poetry, his lyrics, what motivates him as an artist, what he’s trying to express and why; the influences on his life, his huge influence on the pop scene through his two bands, the Libertines and Babyshambles. None of that; only accusatory drug questions.

It was relentless, unyielding, toe-curling. At one point – Kenny’s breaking a butterfly on a wheel moment – Doherty pulled his hat down over his eyes and made as though to curl up in a foetal position. Trying to make himself small. Trying to get away from it all. And ne’er a question about his music.

I bet you don’t even know the name of any of my songs, do you?, Doherty quipped at one point. Er . . . no, I don’t, Kenny seemed to reply.

But Doherty picked up his battered acoustic guitar and sang one, The Last of the English Roses, so maybe he does now. It’s a lovely lyrical song and it’s getting lots of play on YouTube. I wonder if Pat caught the irony of the line “You charmed the bees’ knees off me . . .” Probably not. (You can watch it on YouTube – search under Peter Doherty on Ireland’s Late Late Show.)

On Saturday and yesterday, the web was humming as debate flared on the tube and on and other blog sites. Bloggers tend not to mince their words – embarrassing, painful, uncomfortable, car crash TV, lazy and arrogant – they didn’t like what they saw and they weren’t, for the most part, referring to Doherty.

My son Patrick bounded into the bedroom some time after midnight on Friday, all energy and excitement. He’s still at secondary school but had borrowed a Trinity ID and bluffed his way into the Philosophical Society after queuing for hours to see his hero, Pete Doherty, perform in a more intimate setting before whizzing out to RTÉ. Many queued – hundreds perhaps – but few got in.

Amazing, incredible, sooooo interesting, said Patrick. He was, like, only about 20 ft from me and he sang loads of his songs.

What did he talk about? I asked bleary-eyed.

“Yeats and Oscar Wilde,” said Patrick (19). “Oh and Dad, I’ve borrowed your book of Yeats poems. They’re really good. And did you see Pat Kenny? (Yes) What an arse; what a complete arse!”

Had Patrick read any Wilde? I asked him. No but I’d like to, he said. I’ll get you some, I said. And we chatted a while about The Ballad of Reading Gaoland other stuff about Wilde and Yeats.

Excited, enthused (and, yes, fully aware of the self-destructive Doherty stuff that is a part, but only a part, of his life) Patrick went to bed thinking of music, and words and poems.

Thank you, Pete Doherty. Thank you for making poetry exciting for a 19-year-old boy learning how to express himself. And lay off the other stuff, eh?

What a complete arse that Mr Jones was. Dylan was so right.