Misbehavior trumps music

You know Pete Doherty's rap sheet, but try naming one of his songs

April 09, 2006|By RAFER GUZMAN | RAFER GUZMAN,NEWSDAY

Quick: Hum a tune from Pete Doherty's band Babyshambles.

Can't do it? How about one from his better-known band, the Libertines?

Can't do that either? Then answer this question: Why do so many people know who Pete Doherty is?

For those who don't read the gossip pages, Doherty is a British rock guitarist and singer whose rowdy band the Libertines injected a little life into the music world a few years ago. "Injected" may be a poor choice of words, given Doherty's history with heroin. In England, where rock fans love bad behavior, Doherty's habit made him semilegendary: He got thrown out of his band and burgled a band mate's apartment. His life since has been a tale of jails, bails and rehab.

Drug habits aren't funny, but here's something that is: According to SoundScan, the Libertines' two albums have sold a less-than-grand total of 140,000 copies, and Babyshambles' sales are barely worth counting. Yet American newspapers have tracked Doherty's every move and mishap, especially after he began dating supermodel Kate Moss, who's had some issues of her own. A quick search of U.S. news sources shows that Doherty was mentioned hundreds of times in the past year alone. At this rate, his press clippings may outpace his record sales. (He recently made the news again for kicking a reporter on his way out of court.)

Why? The answer is simple: People love rock stars, but there aren't any left - at least, not the fast-living, brightly burning kind that once populated the firmament. The backstage stories of sex and drugs handed down to us by Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith and Motley Crue seem distant and strange, like ancient Greek poems - it's romantic to think people once lived that way, but times are different now. Heck, even Courtney Love is cleaning up her act.

These days, a rock star is a business-savvy sort who has climbed the major-label ladder, secured corporate sponsors and gotten maximum exposure on MTV. Acts such as Simple Plan and Fall Out Boy and Armor for Sleep seem less like rock bands and more like market researchers, targeting their young demographic with calculated songs about breakups and parents. It's almost impossible to imagine them whooping it up in the wings. If they are, they're doing it far away from the public eye.

On the one hand, all this wholesomeness is a good thing: No one wants to see talent go to waste. But it sure would be nice to see a real rock star dive whole hog into the lifestyle again. Until then, we'll have to make do with Doherty.

Rafer Guzman writes for Newsday.

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