For many, Pete Doherty was the last of a dying breed of enigmatic frontmen who had smattered the landscape of British music since the heady days of the 1960s. Like many of his Camden Town contemporaries, Doherty seemed to bask in the gloom of London’s murky underworld as though it were Venice Beach.
Mystery and excess: these have always been the rules of the game, and Doherty could outplay the best; adopting a character somewhere between a 20th-century European intellectual and archetypal enfant terrible. With The Libertines, and their reincarnation, Babyshambles, Doherty managed to create a uniquely British sound that kept the spark of Britpop alight despite the fact that, everywhere you looked, it was clear this was nation coming down from one hell of a trip. Here, we take a look at the classic song by The Smiths that started it all.
In a 2009 interview, Doherty was asked to name some songs that have made an impact on him throughout his life. As a child of the 1980s, many of the tracks on Doherty’s list stem from a unique period of pop music that belonged solely to that decade. Apart from a few tracks from the likes of Billie Holiday, The Beatles, and Marcus Garvey, all of Doherty’s selections are from 1981-1989. One such number is The Smith’s 1987 song ‘I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish’. Recalling, in vivid detail, the moment he stumbled across the single, Doherty said: “Somewhere between the pillows and the skies, amidst the stark satanic thrills of adolescent whimsy, there’s a second-hand record shop. Let’s say it’s in Nuneaton,” setting the scene expertly.
“Let’s imagine a wonky-fringed 15-year-old striding purposefully towards it with his paper round money in his hand,” he continued. “The week before he’d seen a strange apparition, a call to arms even: some right bramah had paraded out of the same shop, wearing a T-shirt saying ‘Shoplifters of the world unite’. Later that day I sat in a room bedecked with QPR memorabilia and stolen library books, a chewed-up Derek B tape and a periscope from an Iraqi tank the old man had brought back from the Gulf… and my life changed forever.”
“‘I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish’ cranked into life and something divine occurred to me, ” Doherty added. “Within six months I had officially taken up residence inside Smiths songs ‘Well I Wonder’, ‘Jeanne’, ‘Real Around the Fountain’, ‘Nowhere Fast’. I think ‘The boy with the thorn in his side’ made me want to pick up the guitar. ‘This Charming Man’ quickly made me put it down again and then ‘Rubber Ring’ left me in two minds”.