Main | Monday, August 23, 2010

Twenty Years Of Being Boring

As the 20th anniversary of the release of Pet Shop Boys' immortal Being Boring approaches this fall, the Guardian UK's music blogger calls it the greatest pop single of all time.
In the panoramic lyrical sweep from the 1920s to the 70s and, finally, the 90s, Being Boring really is about everything: innocence and experience, ambition and self-realisation ("I never dreamt that I would get to be/The creature that I always hoped to be"), love and (AIDs-related) loss ("All the people I was kissing/Some are here, some are missing"), friendship, nostalgia, ennui and, of course, defiance ("We had too much time to find for ourselves"). Tennant's plaintive vocal style only adds to the pathos. And it's all infused with the glamour and spirit of writer Zelda Fitzgerald (whose 1922 essay, Eulogy on the Flapper, contained the song's ideological kernel: "She refused to be bored chiefly because she wasn't boring.")

Greatest single ever, you ask, really? Aren't we dealing with something intangible here? Yes, but if art exists, as the writer Annie Dillard argues, "to make the stone stony", what could be stonier? Being Boring has followed me through my own teenage parties, student days, fumbled relationships and drunken evenings. In the summer it feels nostalgic, rose-tinted; in the winter it's a sun-beam, a cause for celebration. "I remember dancing to this," says one of the hundreds of comments on YouTube, "and I'd get tears in my eyes thinking of all the friends and lovers I've lost, where my life has gone and where it ended up." In short, does another song evoke, so perfectly, the sigh of experience with the hope of living?
As I have said before on this here website thingy, I too consider Being Boring to be (at the least) the greatest Pet Shop Boys achievement in a decades-long career of almost uncountable triumphs. Many Pet Shop Boys songs reference AIDS, of course, but none of them stab my heart as Being Boring does with the line, "All the people I was kissing, some are here and some are missing." A late friend of mine once described the song as "gorgeous torture." Indeed.

At least part of Being Boring's success is due to its release coming at the height of the plague, when all seemed hopeless and lost, making the song a vivid landmark, a sonic signpost in the lives of gay men at its debut in 1990. But interestingly, Neil Tennant has revealed that the track's achingly melancholy melody was created in a attempt to copy 80's disco producers Stock Aitken Waterman (Dead Or Alive, Rick Astley, Donna Summer, Kylie Minogue.)
"We were always fascinated about the way Stock Aitken Waterman would change key for choruses. And so the verse of Being Boring was in A minor or D minor, maybe, after we went up a semi-tone into A flat for the chorus. Which we would never have done before. It wasn't an attempt to be mature; it was actually an attempt to be like Stock Aitken Waterman."
If you ever see Pet Shop Boys in concert, steel yourselves for when Neil Tennant indicates an empty chair during "some are here and some are missing." Even though you know it's coming, it still wrecks you. Being Boring and Bruce Weber's video (filmed on Long Island, by the way), both belong in an LGBT museum.

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