And canons at dawn
Coffee wallahs and pith helmets
and an English song
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Isn't Albion one of the most relaxing, gentle lullabies you've ever heard? It's serene and pastoral, painting a poetic picture of a mythical name for a real place, and doing it with intricate style and affection. It seems that it could only come from, oh, say, a choirboy.
Pete Doherty, lead singer and songwriter for the British band Babyshambles, is anything but a choirboy. Oh, he looks cherubic enough. But the British tabloids have a field day every time he sticks his head outside. He's been in and out of rehab and jail for various driving offenses including vehicle theft, and for possession of crack cocaine, heroin, cannabis and ketamine.
Sure, we've all known somebody who got busted for one or two drugs. It's easy to believe that one person would do all four kinds of drugs. But to actually have all four drugs on your criminal record at the same time, by the age of 30? The cast of the movie Trainspotting
couldn't pull that one off. Mind you, an actual photograph exists of him showing his certificate of having passed a drug test, as a condition of his release, on his way out of jail. Even Bradley Nowell didn't get humiliated like that.
Anyway, Albion is Great Britain, but it's an old name for the island of Great Britain itself. It comes from the ancient Roman word for "white" ("albus"), referring to the White Cliffs of Dover. These cliffs, composed of chalk and flint, present the striking façade which faces the whole of Continental Europe across the narrowest part of the English Channel. If anybody in history (say, Napoleon) was going to invade Albion from France, scaling those cliffs would be their first job. The fortress-like cliffs have massive symbolism and history for Britain; as a natural feature they play as significant a role for Britain as the Statue of Liberty does for the United States.
So it is this symbolic, mythical Britain that "Albion" is about. Indeed, merely invoking Albion makes you think of knights in armor, castles, King Arthur, wizards, and all manner of heraldic symbols. Even Shakespeare invoked the name this way, in King Lear
right after a scene in which the White Cliffs of Dover were mentioned.
As for the song itself, the lyrics are claimed to be the very first poem ever written by Doherty, at the age of 16, when he certainly was a lot more innocent. They have a hint of love, and reverently name off areas within England. The song apparently comes together as a request to elope - there's hint of escaping to a station and then going from there to "anywhere in Albion."
"Albion" reached #8 on the UK Singles Chart, and its album, Down in Albion
, reached #10 on the UK Albums Chart, also scoring decently in other countries in and around Europe. It is not the first time that a performer of such professional talent has had such a sharp contrast with the troubles of their personal life, but this case is unique for having such a spread.Cen Fox
March 20, 2010
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