Songs to be played at my funeral: Interlude by Morrissey & Siouxsie, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face by Roberta Flack, You Are My Sister by Antony, Se me va by Bambino, Sea Of Love by Cat Power, Aquellas pequeñas cosas by Serrat, Where The Dreams Go To Die by John Grant… And, of course, Being Boring by Pet Shop Boys, a track that won’t only stay with me forever, but was already created to say goodbye to someone, a friend of Neil Tennant from his teenage years that died of AIDS. The British duo had already devoted two songs to him: It Couldn’t Happen Here, from the album Actually (1987), about the experience of being diagnosed as HIV positive; and Your Funny Uncle, a piano ballad describing his funeral, which was the B-side of It’s Alright (1989). But what they did here was much more ambitious and, in the end, turned the song into something unique: Being Boring is like an idealised version of Neil and his friend’s youth, described in verses that travel through the 20th century and stop at its two most fun and hedonistic decades: the 20s and the 70s. The election is not left to chance: both supposed a burst of freedom and sensuality that was abruptly thwarted, the 20s by the economic crack of 1929 and the 70s by the appearance of AIDS. The life of Tennant’s friend was also a party that ended too fast and abruptly.
Being Boring was the second single of Behaviour (1990), an album celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. It’s probably the best Pet Shop Boys album ever, produced by Harold Faltermeyer and with collaborators such as Johnny Marr, the Balanescu Quartet or the soundtrack composer Angelo Badalamenti. The music of the duo has often been described as cinematographic, and nowhere better than here can we understand that definition. Accompanying the pure, delicate and beautiful melody, Chris Lowe underlines the time jumps in the lyrics with the synthesised sound of a harp, a similar effect to the one used by movies in the 30s and 40s when a flashback started. Tennant, more than singing, is a sort of narrator, whispering his autobiographic story in the ear of the listener. The lyrics start with the memory of a party in Newcastle, the city where he and his friend were born, the invitation to which quoted Zelda Fitzgerald, writer and wife of the author of The Great Gatsby, both icons of the roaring 20s. And then the chorus comes, the perfect sublimation of youth, of an embellished, dream-like youth:
Oscar del Pozo
Cause we were never being boring
We had too much time to find for ourselves
And we were never being boring
We dressed up and fought, then thought: “Make amends”
And we were never holding back or worried that
Time would come to an end
From there, we jump on to the 70s, when Neil Tennant arrived in London in search of fame and fortune, but full of doubt and insecurities:
When I went I left from the station
With a haversack and some trepidation
Someone said: “If you’re not careful
You’ll have nothing left and nothing to care for”
A bit further on, he seems to be talking about his coming out of the closet:
My shoes were high and I had scored
I’d bolted through a closing door
I would never find myself feeling bored
And we end up in 1990, with Tennant missing his old friend, already dead:
I never dreamt that I would get to be
The creature that I always meant to be
But I thought in spite of dreams
You’d be sitting somewhere here with me
The photographs taken to illustrate the single’s three different covers were originally taken by The Douglas Brothers to be included on an article in Creem magazine (the same one that described Chris Lowe, with his inflatable jacket, like a “B-boy from Pluto”). The Pet Shop Boys loved them so much that they bought several of them.
I’ve listened to these verses a million times, and they never cease to move me. Neil Tennant says that, when he and his friend were teenagers, they dreamt about becoming someone special and not have ordinary lives. They were, thus, like all teenagers. The exceptional thing in their story is that one of them managed to make his dream come true and became a pop star, more or less at the same time than the other fell ill. A particularly tragic contrast that the singer doesn’t hide, and that doesn’t make him feel guilty: his is a sort of serene, phlegmatic sadness. As a writer, he seems to accept that life isn’t fair, that some do OK and others aren’t that lucky, as simple as that. A position that is so honest and wise, it makes it all the more touching. (By the way: at the beginning of the music video created by Bruce Weber to promote the song, the Pet Shop Boys sign a handwritten text in which they explain that the lyrics are about the ideals you have when you’re young and how they turn out when you grow up. Everything fits in).
This is the cast of the Being Boring music video. They WERE invited to the party we’d all like to remember attending.
The music video: the icing on the cake. Knowing they had written an exceptional song, Tennant and Lowe turned to the man who two years earlier had converted the decadence of Chet Baker into one of the most beautiful poems in the history of film: the documentary Let’s Get Lost (1988). They had already called him to direct the video for Domino Dancing (1988), but Bruce Weber had been too busy then. “You never know whether his images come from the present or the past”, Neil Tennant said about him. And that was perfect for the song. The director and photographer knows how to confer a dream-like and out of time quality to his black and white works. Weber set up a party full of models that lasted a day (among the party-goers was one of Robert de Niro’s daughters, Drena), during which the music video was filmed. The result is THE PARTY, in capital letters: the party all of us would like to have been invited to. It’s so perfect that it probably never existed; maybe we have simply improved it in our heads. But that’s exactly what we do with some of our youth memories, isn’t it? We just remember the beautiful bits. And that’s what Being Boring is about, after all: just remembering the beautiful memories.
Without the music, without the lyrics, without the adding of the music + the lyrics of the Tennat-Lowe song, these images by Bruce Weber would only be a stylised publicity image, or would have a kind of homoerotic appeal. But as the music video for Being Boring, these instances of youth happiness become sadder and acquire Proustian or Scott-Fitzgeraldian dimensions.