There was something that connected Pete Doherty and Amy Winehouse that was greater than tabloid headlines and videos of pet mice on YouTube. Beneath the carnival of chaos that pursued them (and, for one of them, still does), there was something pure and heartfelt in their work. There was a singularity of spirit, a shared ability to write honest and soulful music, words that felt sharp as a knife-gash and as tender as night. Which is what makes this tribute to Amy all the more touching. Because when you get artists who are timeless, just as the scale of human emotion, and its expanse of hope and hopelessness, is timeless, it’s profoundly sad to remember that – in some bitter and ironic twist of fate – they passed away before their own time.
‘Flags Of The Old Regime’ has been circulating in various formats on the internet since 2011. Pete wrote it in the immediate aftermath of his friend Amy’s death, and it now forms his first release post-rehab. Produced by Stephen Street and featuring Babyshambles’ Drew McConnell on bass, it’s the first of 10 songs the Libertines frontman has recorded for his second solo album.
Be sure that out there, there are some who have been worried about Pete getting clean, fearing that he’d lose his connection with whatever it was that drove him to produce touching and exciting music. But this song dispels the myth that an artist can only write truly beautiful, tragic songs if he lives within a world of tragedy himself. In fact the opposite is true. There’s a certain grace of mind, and a desire to express the deepest of one’s malaise, that disappears with excess. But strip the rose of the winds, and the world – devoid of all it’s noise and hidden murmur – makes more sense.
Lyrics such as “You made your fortune but you’re broke inside” and “You have to stand up there in front of the whole world and you don’t feel those songs no more” are a message – to Amy, to us, and to Pete himself, that says: there’s only so close to the edge you can stand until you fall off. There’s only so much you can conceal with a fag, shrug and a cough. Pete’s half rhymes and trademark raw guitar strums, paired with a string arrangement by John Metcalfe (Durutti Column) and keyboards by Stephen Large, make that message seem almost epiphanic.
What Pete Doherty continues to do is to create a world where anything is possible, as long as you dare to dream. But he knows the dream is at risk of collapsing beneath the hysteria that surrounds it. “There’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out,” Charles Bukowski once said, “but I pour whiskey on him and inhale cigarette smoke, and all the whores and the bartenders and the grocery clerks never know that he’s in there.” It might not help with book sales in Paris, but sometimes, just sometimes, we have to take the bluebird out of its cage and care for it, in order for it to be able to sing again – and this time a little louder.
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All proceeds from ‘Flags Of The Old Regime’ go to the Amy Winehouse Foundation.