Modern Beat: Pete Doherty

Wills, D., ‘Modern Beat: Pete Doherty’ in Wills, D., Beatdom Vol. 1(City of Recovery Press: Dundee, 2007)

Modern Beat

Allen Ginsberg called the group most frequently considered Beats – himself, Kerouac, Burroughs, Cassady – ‘the libertine circle’. He wrote this after the murder of David Kammerer by Lucian Carr, the first major scandal to rock the Beats.

The Beats were frequently tied to scandal. They were famous literary types who indulged in hedonistic and alternative lifestyles, consuming drink and drugs, having sex and listening to dangerous music. They were the libertines of their time, in the public eye and painfully misunderstood by their contemporaries.

Pete Doherty needs no introduction on this side of the Atlantic. The poor bastard is notorious in a time when notoriety means front page pics for no damn reason at all. If he smokes a cigarette, it’s called a joint, and some oh-so-witty headline is plastered in red across the top of the page. Every time he’s with a girl, it’s a date; when he’s tired, he’s on crack; when he’s on holiday, it’s rehab; when he move house, he’s been kicked out. And very little attention is given to his obvious genius, save for the constant, over-the-top swooning coverage given to him by NME, desperate to cotton on to any new trend. Forget his music, forget his poetry… He’s taking crack! He’s painting with blood!

He is the new Jack Kerouac. History’s full of bright young men with too much talent. They see the world too clearly to live a normal life. They see the crap most people just don’t notice, and consequently they’re forced to live different lives to the rest of the rabble, and are ostracised and admired in a shocking concoction of media vulturism and general hysteria.

They’re self-destructive rebels with nothing to lose. No scandal will ever bring them down to the level of ignorance occupied by their fans and detractors, and only death will gain them the respect and understanding they may or may not desire.

They do what they want because they are smarter than those that make the rules in the first place, and because they can see through the crap that the rest are fed by those in charge. They take drugs to numb the pain caused by seeing reality too clearly; to experiment with mind expansion and to shun daft rules; on principals because it should be a basic and fundamental right; because they know fine well that all there is in life that’s worth doing is having fun; because they are addicted, being only human in spite of their intelligence; to feel a sense of longing in a society that cares not for their true talents…

They break the law because they know better than to take shit from fools in uniforms, upholding the nonsensical and outdated gibberish we call the law. No, if society must be a hierarchy, it should be one of intelligence, not of wealth and power and tradition…

They draw jealousy from society because they are talented and wild and hedonistic, doing things most can’t or won’t do, and then writing, painting or singing about it. So the world loves to read ‘Kate Dumps Potty Pete!’ in The Sun over their buttered toast and tea, and talk ignorantly about him to their retarded friends in broken English and hideous dialects, in scummy houses, before going to their crappy jobs…

And it wasn’t much different with Kerouac or Byron or Burns or any other the other talented misfits who have brightened the world even in death. There’s nothing that soothes the soul like taking some ill-founded moral high-ground and spitting down on your superiors…

But enough of the rebel side of our modern Beat. Enough ranting and madness and chastising ignorant fools. Who wants the respect of these greasy fuckers anyway?

Doherty is a learned man and an anti-academic. He knows literature, film and music. But his are the modern classics and the same sort of thing that drove the Beats wild. His poets are the Romantics, his music the rebellious sound of youth, and his films the dangerous tales of contemporary society.

Who cannot see in the punk, post-punk and Brit-pop eras a similarity in attitude to the jazz era that lifted the Beats? And the influence of Blake is obvious in both Ginsberg and Doherty. Were their earlier works not separated by almost half a century, surely the list would go on and on and on. But through literary chains we can see the influences upon influences upon influences that inspire generation after generation, resulting in what we have now, whether the focus of that is writing or music. And even if they don’t share the same influences exactly, they certainly share the same sort.

And apart from the general chastisement of the awful ignorant public, radical libertine wordsmiths have brought poetry to the disaffected youths of the world and inspired creativity. Remember, ‘three people do not a generation make.’ The Beats were heroes to mad young men and women searching for something outwith the norm. All through history we see dedicated fans seeking solace in their anguished idols. And Doherty has certainly brought poetry back to the sort of people to whom it has been lost for a long time. The delicious irony is that it’s the loathing and condemnation of society that drives their young into the hazy embrace of these mad rebels.

When Doherty was a 16 yr old fledgling poet, he read at places like the Foundry bar, and still posts his poems on his website, and does the occasional poetry festival between touring, binging and jail. He still reads alongside poets he started out with, often accompanied by music, and with whom he got drunk in Moscow on an earlier, council-sponsored, poetry reading… The comparisons with the café readings, friend circles and Six Gallery legends are obvious.

Pete Doherty is Beaten man, through and through.

David S. Wills

David S. Wills is the founder and editor of Beatdom literary journal and the author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the Weird Cult, World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller, and High White Notes: The Rise and Fall of Gonzo Journalism.

View Comments

  • I'm simply struck. I am currently in the process of writing my degree thesis about the beat generation and what of those madman libertines' philosophy is still left to grace the face of the Earth, and I have often found myself wondering about the similarities between those former libertines and Pete Doherty's new circle of them. Very well written article, anyway. Too bad I'm only reading it now.

  • Absolutely true. Makes me glad to know that there's people out there who understand. Also makes me glad that there's those, especially my family, who say I'm "wasted potential" and that I live wrong. Because without that drive to prove them wrong I would not be so utterly convinced I'm right. If only they could comprehend. My life will always be my own and nobody else's. On the fringe is where I reside, where I belong, and where I will make my mark on the world.

  • Are you really comparing Byron and Burns to Doherty??? In my opinion you're giving a simplistic view of what these poets produced. Their contribution was far beyond taking drugs and making scandals. I completely disagree about this.

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