“Libertines Alley,” i.e. the alleyway in the Up The Bracket video, is right above Cambridge Heath Station in Hackney, near the crossing of Hackney Road and Cambridge Heath Road. For the future reference of Libs fans reblogging this (since it wasn’t the information I got): the best way to get there is to take Bus 26 to Hackney Wick. Not only does it drop you off literally 50m away, the 26 passes through the touristy parts of the City, so you can hop on from Waterloo Bridge or St. Paul’s Cathedral and sit on the top deck and feel like you are on a legit tour. Also, the alley isn’t called Hare Row, it’s called Grove Passage, accessible via Hare Row. It’s a quarter of a millennium old and invisible on Google Maps, though it rates a teeny dashed line in the A-Z. If you squint. Not quite sunk into London Under, then; but on its way. And it draws just enough power to manifest for some indeterminate time, in the sunlight of London Above, the Arcadian reality of the place (the best example of this odd local phenomenon is, of course, 221b Baker Street).
The alley is narrow, industrial brick, broken by metal shutters that don’t seem to open often. Barbed wire against blue winter sky (redundantly poignant, that). Locals use it as a shortcut, and a place to pre-drink and leave the beer cans. A passive-aggressive struggle clearly goes on between city council and the international Libertines fandom armed with pocket knives and permanent markers, not to mention the more prosaic sort of spray paint graffiti taggers, but the patchwork effect is visually dynamic, surprisingly so; it gives good photography.
People leave doodles, fan messages, snatches of lyrics. Some get ambitious and write out entire paragraphs of Baudelaire. The notes that touch me, though, are the ones that say simply, “Thank you.”
For saving my life — that part doesn’t need spelling out. Art is only good for one thing.
Does it matter what else the band has done?
Peter Doherty’s mother believes that he operates, ultimately, according to God’s will. That there is a Purpose to the story. The alley leads Elsewhere, and perhaps one was only ever meant to see his coattails ducking around the corner.
In 2010, The Libertines were paid a hefty sum — not shocking, but considerable — to get together and play the Reading and Leeds festivals. There had already been a certain rapprochement by this point; Peter and Carl caused some hysteria by playing a show together in 2007, and would occasionally hang out and do regular stuff, if “regular” meant that paparazzi took photos and fans breathlessly analyzed the contents of their plastic supermarket bag. They were both putting out solo work. It had become gradually clear that the major roadblock to the all-out band reunion was (and is) Carl’s attachment to his own hard-won emotional stability, which is difficult to fault him for. But against all historical odds on band dissolutions, the bad break had healed over in affection and not simmering acrimony. At one, priceless point in Roger Sargent’s documentary, There Are No Innocent Bystanders, Carl mentions that much of the volatility in his and Peter’s relationship during The Libertines’ peak years had turned out to be sleep deprivation psychosis. This in a wondering tone, as if the insight had come as a revelation.
With Reading and Leeds, sufficient money flowed that there was a back-end operation to structure the project and keep it rolling, and Peter wanted it enough to show up (mostly). The shows seemed to succeed from a different universe, one in which The Libertines never broke up, though it transpired that they also never made another album as beloved as their first.
As soon as the band were side by side and the cameras were rolling, the old comedy timing resurfaced (I’ve elided this aspect of The Libertines, mostly, but their most endearing trait is that they are simply very funny). Even quiet, sad-eyed John Hassall slotted in seamlessly, as the dude in the back who always, finally, gets up the courage to add to the repartee, only to be roundly ignored as the punchline. This is part of the stage act, though: Roger Sargent captures on film for once what one always suspected, namely that John talks quite a lot when it’s just the band by themselves. He’s been friends with Peter and Carl since the first inception of The Libertines, in their teens. But he mostly still comes across as melancholic, always did and probably always will. Only Peter ever seems to make him laugh.
As part of the documentary, Roger Sargent takes Carl on a tour of their old, iconic digs, camera in tow. Carl is in high spirits, too much so for Peter to have been a no-show; the outing was probably planned without him. They shoot the exterior of Sasha’s old place, which Carl still insists was a house of ill repute, and the Albion Rooms. Then they go to Libertines Alley, where Carl hadn’t been since they’d shot “Up The Bracket.” It seems possible he didn’t know it existed in its current form.
He’s moved, plays it off like anyone might; reads the messages, smiles, shrugs, deflates the moment with a joke. At one point he comes across the full text of Siegfried Sassoon’s “Suicide In The Trenches,” which Peter uses as a reproach to the masses, and as a protective mantra against the reality it describes; and which he and Carl accordingly had recited together at the NME Awards in 2004, sending English Lit majors into ecstasies worldwide just as the band was breaking up.
Interested, Carl reads it out loud again:
I knew a simple soldier boy…..
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.
In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
And no one spoke of him again.
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.
As he recites, unconsciously, his usual slur disappears: the words fall, perfectly clear.
This is my last post, so I’d like to thank a few people by pseud: subdee, who was unlucky enough to crash at my place at the beginning of the week, heard out my wailing and gnashing of teeth, participated in my ritual rereading of Phonogram, and suggested a considerable number of Libs details I’d completely forgotten about; my sister, whose chatlogs were an invaluable resource; stopmoving, who lent me encouragement and her A-Z; the gentlewomen of A Livejournal Community That Shall Not Be Named, for creating the space where I first set down most of these ideas; narie, for being the one friend I properly made through this.
And then there’s You! Tumblr Libs fandom! Whom I hadn’t realized existed (but really, really should have). You are Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, because I really, really did not have copies of all those Books of Albion scans. And yes, I was totally skulking and reading your reblog comments. This OWOB would literally not have been what it is without you; hope it’s been as #FEELS for you as it has been for me. A special note goes out to the person who said “Pornography” reminded them of Treviso airport, and the Manics fan who flamed back on a letter some teenager wrote to the NME 15 years ago — you two made my week.