|America Tour 2000|
Miam the Pet Shop Boys’ first American tour for eight years begins tomorrow. They have been preparing and rehearsing in London for months. Ten days ago – after a brisk detour in Germany to perform “New York City Boy” on television – they moved to West Palm Beach, on the Florida coas~ for final production rehearsals. Whilst they were there, Hurricane Irene hit, and both Neil and Chris had to be moved Out of their high but ocean-facing rooms which were flooded with three inches of water. (The hurricane did have one beneficial side-effect.
The lighting designer had been wondering what to project behind the Pet Shop Boys during one of the show’s more reflective songs, “Only The Wind”, and as the weather worsened his team simply went outside and filmed the texture and motion of raindrops in the puddles of the parking lot outside.)
Today Neil and Chris have their first day off for two weeks. “But not evening off,” Chris complains. This evening they will have a dress rehearsal and final ran-through, this time on the set in the Jackie Gleason Theatre Of The Performing Arts where tomorrow’s concert will take place. In the car on the way to the theatre – two blocks away – they discuss the film Love And Death In Long Island (which Chris has just watched and Neil has seen previously) and argue about whether Jason Priestley is good looking. “Of the Performing Arts!” whoops Chris, reading the sign as we drive past the auditorium and into the parking lot. “Not of Broadway tat.” “Quite right too,” says Neil. They walk inside, and stand where the audience will stand tomorrow, looking up at Zaha Hadid’s angular surreal stage on which they will perform. It’s easy when you’ve been busy putting together a show like this to set aside the thought that you will actually soon be performing it in front of thousands of people. Not any more. “You feel,” says Neil, “the deal is real. As someone once said.” Chris stares alongside him.
“I still can’t really believe we’re doing this tour,” he says. Then he abruptly announces, “Right – I’ve got to go and get my shorts taken in.” Backstage, he fiddles with his new baseball cap. On the hack it says Pam Star. On the front, Hellhent for Pleasure. He cups it in his hand, bending it so that when he releases it the peak will stay in a tighter arch. “For the desired redneck effect,” he explains. Dainton, who has been despatched to get Chris some Shore pizza (Chris’s favoured brand), rectums with bad news. The Sabre is shut, and on the door is a sign. “No electric,” it says. Dainton goes hack out to find some alliterative pizza, but while he is away, the backstage catering opens and Chris keenly helps himself. “Aren’t you having pizza?”
Neil reminds him. “You can’t Tums down pork,” Chris points Out. They discuss the first week chart position of Nightlife, which is disappointing in Britain but good elsewhere. “Did you hear about Gary Barlow’s album?” Chris asks Neil. Neil looks visibly alarmed, and only relaxes when Chris says that it only entered somewhere around number 30 in the British chart. “I thought you were going to say it was higher than us, says Neil. “I was going to retire…” They discuss the show. “The set relies very heavily on lighting, doesn’t it?” Chris says. “But, then again, they all do.” “We’ve finally got tap-dancing in one of our shows,” Neil says. “Keith has taped him self tap dancing, and he mimes to it.”
(Keith is one of the dancers.) After dinner, they sit by the monitor desk in the auditorium from where the films and projections will be intruded. Several of the films are still not ready. They survey a rough edit of footage to he used during “Young Offender” (taken from Crnshproof a film by Paul Tickle, who they know). A little of it is somewhat risqué and the Pet Shop Boys argue about how long the most explicit images should be allowed to linger, and whether the film will need to be re-edited on the nights when their parents come to the show. In the dressing room, Neil flicks through the theatre’s 1999-2000 season calendar. “Sarah Brightmlan was here two nights ago,” he notes. Chris is fitted with his new blond wig, which is longer and has teased dreadlocks shooting out from its scalp. He nods approvingly. “I feel closer to my self-image now,” he says.
Neil’s own new wig appears – it is also longer than previously versions, but the tufts of hair are more evenly distributed than Chris’s. “That’s not your long wig?” questions Chris. “Yes,” Neil says. “It doesn’t look very Edward Scissorhands.” “No,” Neil says. “We went back to Beethoven.” “We realised,” says Ian MacNeil, the theatre designer who has masterminded the show’s wigs and costumes, “it was going to look too Beetlejuice.” Neil nods. “I might as well have had a handbag.” Neil is slowly made up. “It’s good to do the dress rehearsal in the same place as the first show,” he says. “That’s how we do it in the theatre,” Ian MacNeil points out. “But then you don’t move to Tampa the next night,” Neil says. There is a slight pause.
“Do you think,” Neil wonders, “than the tampon was invented in Tampa?” He mentions that they’ve got to do some TV interviews before the show tomorrow night. Chris looks surmised .”I thought you’d like to relax you’re vocal chords and gargle and all that kind of thing…” Chris begins. “Gargle?” Neil exclaims, as though nothing more preposterous has ever been said. “I haven’t gargled in my life.” Chris shrugs. “Well, Concentrate on the show or something.” They discuss why Radio One isn’t playing their records enough in Britain. Chris notes that the most negative review on Nighthfe is on the Radio One website. “I think it’s all to do with Zoe Ball,” he says. “Or is that just being paranoid?” “I think it’s being paranoid,” Neil says, “because Zoe Ball’s actually quite nice. Now that it is in place, Chris re-inspects Neil’s wig. “That’s quite good, that,” he declares. “I know who looks like that – that woman in 101 Dolmotions. That’s what they’re going to say you look like.” “
1 have no problem with that,” Neil says. “I’ve always liked Cruella de Ville. She made a big impression on my childhood. I always preferred her to those dreary poppies.” But he’s not quite happy. The wig feelt a little tight. “The thing it,” he explains, asking for it to be loosened, “my face is very mobile, you know. I do a lot of eye movement, believe it or not. I’m like Roger Moore. And it feels weird.” He mentions to Chris that he has brought along two CDs as his suggestions for what they should play before and after the performance. For before they come on, he proposes a contemporary r’n’b record by a group called Bomegrown which he bought in the record section of Urbon Outfitters in London because he liked the look of the sleeve and wrongly imagined it was ambient techno; for afterwards, an old over-emotional version of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”.
Chris is slightly sceptical about the first choice. “I’ll listen to it with an open mind,” he promises, “but I don’t like anything at the moment…” “Unless you have anything…” defers Neil. “We could play some songs from Gary Barlow’s album,” Chris suggests. “Or how about some Stockhausen? Then they’ll be pleased to hear us come on playing a tune.” Neil pauses for a moment before replying. “No,” he says. There is a half an hour before the performance. “Am I done?” Neil asloi Clirissie, the wigs person. “Be’s overdone,” mutters Chris. Merck, their American manager, and James, the tour manager, come in to discuss their forthcoming Toronto connect terse welts from now. It toms out that the venue had been chosen before the revised special Dona for their stage set had been agreed, and that it now doesn’t fit, It’s too late to cancel, but if they play there it will be with a very compromised version of the show.
There’s no other venue available,” Merck emphasises. “How about a drive-in cinema?” offers Chris, somewhat flippantly. “A supermarket?” Neil slips into his culottes and discovers that they’re too short. “We’ll do them tomorrow,” promises Consuela, who looks after such matters. “The point of the dress rehearsal,” Neil notes forlomly, “is that everything’s perfect.” Another wardrobe problem materialises: during the show Neil has to wear a small box on his waist for the radio microphone which feeds the music into his earpiece for him to sing to, but the culottes have not been designed to allow for this. “Maybe they’ve had a lot to do today,” Neil sighs. “Adjusting my swimming trunks,” Chris whispers. Neil studies himself some more in the mirror, and begins to worry aloud that maybe hit wig doesn’t look so good after all. Eventually he sighs and says, “maybe I’m talking absolute bullshit as usual.” “You’re getting in a flap,” Chris diagnoses. “I’m getting in a flap,” he concedes.
“We’re on stage in nine minutes,” Chris observes. Neil looks around. “Where’s my wine and water?” he snaps. “The whole system’s falling apart!” “You have a glass of wine?” asks Chris, apparently surprised, though Neil has followed the same ritual for most Pet Shop Boys concerts in recent memory. “It’s approximately two-thirds water, one-third wine,” Neil says.
“I didn’t know that,” says Chris, then adds, “I thought it was just wine.” “No,” Neil explains, “that would dry your throat out.” Chris nods. “It’s a diuretic. If you drink a third, you’ll urinate out two-thirds.” James’ tells them its time to head to the stage. “Don’t some artists keep their fans waiting?” Chris asks him. “The ruder ones,” Jarnes replies. They take their positions at the back of the stage on time, but the dress rehearsal doesn’t start as planned. The show begins with a wash of green static and weaving lines projected against a screen covering the stage. Tonight this starts and stops for a while, and then the house lights come back on. There is a long wait while a technical problem is addressed, and then the show finally begins. During the first song, “For Your Own Good”, the Pet Shop Boys are not seen in the flesh. Instead, the artist Bruce Naumanri projects their rotating heads by a work they admire) as Neil sings the vocal, live, standing backstage. At the end of a song, a green line waves back and forth across the screen and a long orchestrated preastihle eventually turns into “West End Girls”. As the chorus bassline surges in, the screen Drops and the Pet Shop Boys can finally be seen, Neil standing directly above Chris on the stage’s elevated limb. Sylvia Mason-James appears midway through the song, and the four male singers (who have, inevitably, also been persuaded to dance) appear early in the third song, “Discoteca”.
That is followed by a radically reworked, much rougher-sounding “Being Boring”, in the middle of which the dancers and Neil collapse in unison to the floor and lie there. Neil only rises to one knee as he starts the final verse. After “Happiness Is An Option”, “Can You Forgive Her?” and “Only The Wind” Neil is standing exactly where be begun the show, and Tums to the tall diagonal white swoosh of stage which rises above him to his right, and which is used to project images and films on during the show. “Ladies and gentleman,” be says (though of course there are only a handful of people in the auditorium), “Miss Dusty Springfield…”
The idea is that, as Neil begins “What Have I Done To Deserve This?”, the screen is filled with pictures and film of Dusty from the Sixties while her disembodied voice booms Out her parts of the duet, and then that during the soaring “since you went away…” part of the song, Dusty will be seen singing the lines from the original video. But tonight it doesn’t work well at all. To begin with, Dusty’s voice can barely be heard. On the screen, the images of Dusty keep disappearing, and when it comes to the part where her voice and image are supposed to be in sync, they are clearly not. You can also, rather disconcertingly, see the 198? Neil in the comer of the screen, singing along with himself. The first half concludes with a riotous “New York City Boy”, in which the male singers flounce around joyously in sailor costumes, and finally “Left To My own Devices After a fifteen minute break, during which the computers are loaded with the second half of the show, they rectum, coming on stage to “Young Offender”. They are now wearing short wigs. Neil goes off towards the end of “Vampires”, during which the singers stand together and enjoy an extended soulfil extemporisation, and when be returns with an acoustic guitar to sing “Se A Vida F”, sitting on the slope at the right side of the stage, surrounded by the other singers, he is without his wig. Before the second acoustic song, “You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk”, Chris leaves the stage, and returns at the beginning of “I Don’t Know What You Want But I Can’t Give It Any More” without his wig, instead wearing his white baseball cap. During that song, a film which swoops the viewer through a fituristic architectural world plays behind them. The set finishes with four stoppers:
Always On My Mind” (with new, almost gospel backing vocals), “Shameless” (with a backdrop of tabloid newspaper headlines and photographs), ‘Opportunities” (during which the part of the stage Neil is standing on is pushed forward, nearly tripping him up) and “It’s A Sin” (which begins with some abstract, stately church organ nodding whilst stained glass effigies of the be wigged Neil and Chris are projected behind them, and which segues into “I Will Survive” towards the end).
They return in white hooded tops to play a stoked-up new arrangement of “It’s Airtight” and then, finally, “Go West”. Backstage, they talk over the show. “Dusty was a problem today,” Marc Brickman, the lighting designer, tells them. “She’s still difficult,” Neil sighs. “From beyond the grave,” adds Chris. They discuss the idea of playing something slower and more beautiful as one of the encores. They consider “Love Comes Quickly”. “I can’t remember the chords of ‘Love Comes Quickly’,” Neil says. “Isn’t it something to do with B?” says Chris. They wonder instead whether “Footsteps” wouldn’t work. It is also pointed Out to them that, in their dark clothes during the second half, they blend in too much with the singers, and the choreography becomes a muddled mishmash. Instead, they resolve to wear the white hooded tops earlier; after the interval. “That sends out the message,” Chris says, “it’s a in half, not the difficult theoretical stuff we’ve just had.”
The wig changes are also cognising and somewhat illogical, so a new scheme is worked Out. First they decided to change the order of “…Drunk” and “Se A Vida F” to avoid the awkward moment when Chris has a wig and Neil doesn’t, then they decide that it will make much better sense if they come on in the second half without wigs. They will wear the short wigs, in true encore fashion, as a hair reprise when they return for “It’s Alright”. And then, even though it’s no longer necessary to solve the wig problem, they decide that the new order of the acoustic songs is an improvement. It’s also pointed Out to them that one of the famous people in the “Shameless” montage is John F. Kennedy mr, and that in the light of his recent death in a plane crash American audiences might not appreciate his appearance here. They issue instructions for his removal.
To add variety, they wonder whether to give the male backing singers hats at some point in the second half of the show. Police bats are suggested. “I’m not having police hats,” says Chris firmly. Baseball hats are suggested. it’ll ruin it when you have it,” Ian MacNeil tells Chris. “It’s iconic.” You don’t mess with iconic,” Neil agrees. White hard hats are suggested. “Let’s do that,” Neil says. “It seems to fit the aesthetic.” “Architecture,” Chris agrees.
It says,” Neil declares, “‘hello everyone, architecture… “Good,” says Chris. “I think we’ve earned a drink.” In the car, Neil comments that “from a personal point of view, I enjoy doing this show. Particularly ‘Shameless’.” They go for dinner at the Delano hotel where they are staying. “All I fancy is some caviar,” says Chris. “It’s too expensive,” Neil points out. Chris agrees. “I can’t afford it,” he says. He scans the menu further. “Oh, charcuterie. I’ll have that. I’m only eating for the sake of it.” “Well,” sighs Neil. “The tour starts tomorrow.” Over dinner, Merck proposes that they appear on a popular MTV show called Loveline, on which a doctor, a comedian and a guest comment on callers’ sexual problems.
Chris shakes his head. “I’d he terrible on that,” he says. “Chris would say something so ghastly,” Neil says, “we’d never recover from it.” Neil doesn’t fancy it much either. “I simply wouldn’t feel comfortable,” he says. They have already turned down The Donny & Morie Show. “It’s an eternal tightrope,” Neil says, “somehow being sort of avant-garde and sort of middle -of-the-road, sort of simultaneously.” Sensibly, they both decide to have an early night. Wednesday, October 20. They meet for lunch at the Hotel and both order Virgin Marys – Bloody Marys without the alcohol. “It’s the drink of the tour,” Neil says. “We don’t even drink alcohol,” Chris claims, implausibly. There has already been some good news today -Disney may want to use some of their songs in a new animated movie about clubbing – but there is also more bad news about the financial woes of Harvey Goldsmith, who was promoting the British leg of their tour. It is becoming clear that the situation will end up personally costing them a great deal of money to ensure that the tour goes ahead, and there is a fair amount of anger in the air as they draft a public statement to explain what is going on. Once that is finished, Neil worries about what he is going to say in between the songs tonight. “You need Mandy on the phone,”
Chris suggests. “Mandy Mandelson.” “He doesn’t write his own speeches,” Neil says. “You need to say three things,” Chris offers. “Education, education, education,” says Neil. “It’s only the wind, only the wind, only the wind,” says Chris. “I think you should be a bit more personal,” he teases. “You’ve reached a tipe old age. You’ve got Tales to tell. Ups and downs…” They discuss for a while what the dignified version of “hello Miami!” would be. “I’d say ‘hello Miami’,” Chris eventually concludes. Neil suggests that he refers to the fact that Ricky Martin is also playing in Miami tonight – “I’m going to say, ‘thank you for choosing our show…”‘ – and works on a line to link “Happiness Is An Option” and “Can You Forgive Her?”: “this is a song about optimism…
unlike the next one, which is the normal business-as-usual bitter and twisted…which is where we go hack to being bitter and twisted…” Then he wonders what to say before “You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk”. “Can’t you say ‘here’s where I get emotional?”‘ Merck suggests. “Oh no,” chides Chris. “That’s not believable.” “He’ll start laughing,” Neil says, looking at Chris. “That’d be a write-off.” He thinks some more. “Can I say ‘here’s where we become the Von Trap Family singers’?” he wonders. And then they discuss whether they can introduce “Sc. A Vida F” as their “Liven’ La Vida Loco”.
Chris asks Neil who “Se A Vida F” is about. “Who isn’t it about?” Neil replies. They discuss the encores. “We can come back on,” Chris suggests, “and you can say, ‘Chris, what do you think of the show so far?’ and I’ll say, ‘it’s alright’.” “You suggested that,” Neil sighs, “in 1989.” Chris goes down to the venue at 3 o’clock so that he has time to have his haircut; Neil follows half an hour later. In the car park, two fans wait both men. “I bought my first record of yours when I was 16,” one tells Neil. “I’m now 32.” “I’d just like to let you know,” the other says, “I appertain your music very much. And I came out of the closet at the age of 40.” Inside, in Star Dressing Room A, Ian MacNeil tells them he’s worried about the male singers’ hard hats. (They’ve settled on yellow.) Re’s not sure about them, and would rather wait until Tampa tomorrow.
They talk it over for a while and decide that they should only use the hats during “Go west” anyway. Neil looks darkly towards the corner, where a percolating tureen of coffee sits, filling the air with the dense, sickly, stale aroma. Two of the battles the Pet Shop Boys always face on tour are to avoid plates of cold meat, and to avoid tubs of hot coffee, both of which make the dressing room smell. “Dairston!” summons Neil, and when Dainton arrives Neil simply points at the offending ire. “Nyet,” he says. Everyone traipses to the make-up room downstairs. Ian MacNeil reflects on his experience of working with the Pet Shop Boys: “When I first met them,” he says, “I said, ‘I’m from theatre – I’m going to be asking why a lot’. And they said, ‘darling – it’s pep music – it’s not About why, it’s about wow’.” Meanwhile Chris re-examines his new wig.
“It’s very natty dread,” he giggles. “It’s not too SigueSigue Sputnik is it?” He laughs. “I’m a rock God.” Neil worries about the dreads hanging over Chris’s forehead. “It would be more PSB without i~” he suggests. Chris overrules him, for now. “He looks a bit like the guy from the Offspring, Dexter;” says Merck. “It’s a triumph,” Neil declares. “The Pet Shop Boys have got rock’n’roll.” They go up onto the stage to do an interview for a Florida TV show about style, Deco Drive. Before they begin, the hyperactive hostess tells them, with inordinate bubbly pride, “I’m going to close with ‘you don’t have to he a “West End Girl” or a “New York City Boy” to love these guys’. So that will he nice.” She almost seems to be expecting congratulation1. For her first question she asks them “what’s the 411?”; they don’t know what this means, so it has to be explained. (411 is the code you dial on American telephones for local directory assistance; “what’s the 411?” consequently means, “what’s the latest information?”) She asks them what it is people love about their shows. “
The nudity,” says Chris, deadpan. Neil gives a long, serious answer about how the spatial liberation offered by producing music live on computers led logically in the past to a theatrical presentation of their songs. “It’s almost like an art installation, this one,” he says. “If you free the stage of musicians you can do all that.” “What arc you hopes for the CD?” she asks. “Hopes?” scoffs Chris. “We don’t have any hopes.” “Do you want it to be the biggest seller of your career?”
she persists. “We don’t think like that,” Chris replies. “We’re more interested in the creative side.” She asks about the way they look in their current photos. “The dresses,” she prompts. “Dresses?” says Chris, and – all theatrical presentation – Tums to Neil abruptly. “I knew they’d think they were dresses.” “They’re actually culottes,” says Neil calmly. As they change the camera angle, she tells them “I’m going to ask you what a West End Girl and a New York City Boy is.” “I don’t know what either is,” Chris insists, and looks towards Neil. “What’s a ‘New York City Boy’?” “It’s a boy from New York City,” says Neil, patiently. “
Apart from the obvious,” Chris leaps in. “Isn’t their any depth to it?” Neil laughs. “A West End Girl,” Neil tells the interviewer, “is a girl going out in the West End on a Friday.” “Not on Saturday?” she asks. “Olin on Thursday,” Neil says. “Now, Thursday is the new Friday in London,” Chris explains. “This” says Neil, “is the 411 on London.” On the way hack to the dressing room, they do another, shorter, more useless TV interview. They are asked what exactly a Pet Shop Boy is. Chris simply stares ahead, but Neil methodically tells the story about the Ealing pet shop and the early hip hop groups with “Boys” at the end of their nannies. “It’s as simple as that,” he says. It’s time for the sound check. They begin with “Discoteca”. During “Happiness Is An Option” Chris sits in the audience seats for a while to listen to the overall sounds. When Neil sings the line “…I don’t think I Suit my face”,
Chris says, “He should say, ‘I don’t think I suit this wig.”‘ They are supposed to see the finished, improved, fixed Dusty Springfield films, hut at 6.05 it still isn’t ready. “You know Dusty,” Chris says. “She’s still a problem. She’s still tuning up late.” As the intro to “What Have I done to deserve this?” begins, Chris laughs and says, “it’s ‘Father Figure’.” A pause. “Not on purpose,” he adds. They try to run the film, but it is a disaster. “Not quite ready for viewing,” Chris says. He sighs. “You know, its a lot harder doing a show that’s not theatrical. It’s much more hard work.” Over dinner in the backstage catering area, they discuss the dusty problem, and decide to run very slowly merging photographs of her tonight instead of the film. Isis explained to them that the film people have been plagued with a catalogue of disasters, culminating in a film transfer this afternoon, which was the wrong format. “Maybe Dusty doesn’t want it to happen,” Neil reflects. “Do you think she doesn’t?” Chris worries, then looks alarmed at him self. “Oh, what am I talking about? I don’t believe in the afterlife.” “I think she’d like it,” Neil says. As late-comers arrive at catering, Neil tells them “
The roast beef was delicious.” “Well,” says Chris, not to be outdone, “the chicken was supreme.” In the dressing room, Neil does Yoga on the floor while Chris lies on the sofa eating M&Ms. Neil’s new radio mic holder is brought in, a little sachet made from the same striped material as the culottes and now quite possibly the campest thing on earth. Merck comes in and reports that none of the merchandise apart from some skinny S-shirts are here, and that the Pet Shop Boys are being offered the feeble excuse that because of last week’s hurricane it was all diverted to Chicago. Fury brews. They go down to the make-up room. Chris tries to escape from wearing the thick, blackened eyebrows Which are required, arguing – not entirely accurately -that because of his glasses it will be possible to tell the difference.
As be surely expects, everyone tells him otherwise, and someone begins to say that if you’re going to do something, you should… “…Do it half-heartedly, that’s what I say,” Chris chips in. “That’s always been my mono.” And, with that, he readily submits to the eyebrow blackening. A few minutes later, he yawns. “You’re not tired, are you, Chris?” Merck asks. “Of course I’m tired,” Chris replies. “I’m always tired. It’s what I do.” His wig goes on, and he now offers a new interpretation of it. “It’s meant to be a bit King’s Road, 1977,” he says. He decides that the dreadlocks tentacles hanging over his forehead are too long, and that an inch should be snipped off each. After the deed has been done, he beams. “That’s better. That’s made all the difference. My wig just got better.” “Your favourite wig just got better;” Neil says. “Why don’t we use that as a slogan?” Chris wonders. “‘Your favourite group just got better’.” Now Neil looks at himself in the mirror. “
I love my wig,” he declares. “Mine,” says Chris, still happy, “is a bit like Fido Dido.” The wigs and make-up are on, and me show doesn’t start until 8.1 5pm. “It’s only 25 past flaming 7,” Neil complains. “Right,” Chris announces, “we started too early, everyone.” “I think we could do the whole thing in one hour,” Neil decides. They sit silently. “I’m at the point of thinking ‘why oh why are we doing this?”‘ says Neil. This is probably meant as rhetorical, but typically Claris doesn’t take it as such and considers the answer. “It’s not for financial reasons,” be says. More silence. “I love this wig,” Chris says. “I don’t need to do anything. it does all the work.” He panses for a moment and then ads, “I’ve actually taught it to play the keyboards.” They now decide that they want to take these wigs off again, to that they can get used to putting them on just before going on stage, and so that Claris can lie down. Only once this has been reluctantly agreed by Clsriaaie do they decide not to do it. “I’m going to prude my lines,” Neil say.
“‘Good evening, we’re the Pet Shop Boys…”‘ Claris lightly pokes him at some along introductions from previous tours. “Claris,” says Neil, “you are welcome to do the introductions yourself…” “No,” Chris declines, “I’m quite looking forward to them. ‘That was an old song,
now we’re going to do a new song…”‘ “Chris!” Neil beseeches. “Don’t do this before I go on, or I won’t be able to do it.” He practises some lines, then sighs. “That’s one of the problems with being English. It’s much easier to do this stuff in an American accent. Then you can call them ‘you guy…”‘ “‘Do you want the 411 on our new album,”‘ Chris mock-announces, “‘or have you all been 86-ed?”‘ Neil chats about the time they went to see Elton John and he stopped in the middle of the song and said “oh silly me!” because he had forgotten to do “Bennie And The Jets”, and simply went back and did it there and then, and how crazy the crowd went, and they discuss how much people seem to like those kind of mistakes. Consuela asks Chris, “do you want to change your trousers now?” Chris lies there. “I could think about it,” he says. Rafael from EMI Latino comes in to say hello. He tells them they look older than when he last saw them. “Well, you don’t look younger either,” Chris says. Rafael nods in acknowledgement. “Less hair,” he concedes. “Well,” says Chris, “we’ve got more now.” They arc called to the stage. “I’m looking good, feeling great,” Neil says. “Well, feeling great,” says Chris. They stand behind the stage. The green interference Starts up and the Miami crowd roar. It’s 8.15. ‘1 thought the interference came before 8.15,” Chris says.
“It’s part of the show” Neil says. “I though,” says Claris, “it was a transitional period.” Neil looks at Claris. “Oh, shut up,” he says. His next words, into the microphone,
still standing here next to Claris, are the opening line of “For Your Own Good”. In the Nineties America has in many ways been one of the Pet Shop Boys’ weakest markets – though their albums have sold consistently they haven’t had a hit single for over ten years – but if there was any doubt whether there was an audience here keen to see the Pet Shop Boys it disappears the moment the curtain drops near the beginning of “West End Girls”. At the first clear sight of Claris and Neil, pandemonium breaks out and never really subsides. Most of the introductions are simple, though before “Can You Forgive Her?”, Neil gives a version of the lines he was working on at lunchtime: “That’s a song from our new album. It’s an optimistic song…this next song is more of a typical bitter and twisted kind of thing.” At the end of “What Have I Done To Deserve this?” Neil turns to the image of Dusty and blows her a kiss. As “Left To My Own
Devices”, the final song of the first half, famished, Neil, standing at the front of the stage, melodramatically lifts off his wig Chris does the tarne but only as he is walking off. ruing the half-time interval, they retire to the dressing room. “So,” asks Chris, “‘luke’ and ‘warm’ aren’t in the building?” Re smiles at Neil. “It’s great when you take your wig off.” “I held my hand above it for a little while,” Neil laughs. “Mainly because I was trying to work out how to do it.” Chris teases Neil about the Dusty kiss. “Oh, you are a tart,” he says. “You’re not going to do it every night, are you?” “I might,” Neil says. “It says so many things. Sort of ‘thank you’, and ‘goodbye’ as well.” The second half is received as the first at. During the middle-eight of “You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk”, Neil begins singing “all of my fiends…” then realises he’s not pitching right, so he simply stops, laughs, says “I’ll do that again”, and goes “
…two, three, four…all of my friends…” and is back in the song. It is something of an Elton John “oh silly me” moment and the Miami audience simply love it. During “Se A Vida E” he simply stops playing guitar in the end because he thinks he’s out of tune with it, but it sounds fine anyhow. “Shameless” still features JFK JR – and, previously unnoticed, Princess Diana, who may also be an unfortunate choice – but no one seems to notice or react badly. After “It’s A Sin” finishes and they wave farewell, they sit on chairs behind the stage quickly changing and having the short blond wigs glued on. “It’s gonna be alright,” says Neil after the first encore, and then says “I’d like to thank you for Coming to see us instead of Ricky Martin…”, at which point he is around by the roar of the crowd. Neil introduces everyone; when Chris is introduced he sticks his tongue out. “I’d sincerely like to thank you for being such a fabulous audience on the first night of the tour,” Neil announces, touchingly. “It makes it wonderful for us -thank you so much.”
They are followed backstage, as agreed earlier, by the crew from MTV Latino. “Chris is in the toilette,” Dainton explains, in front of them, in the dressing room.
That’s slightly more than you all needed to know,” says Neil. During the interview Neil says, “we did this whole Latin thing three years ago with ‘Se A Vida E”‘. When they ask what Nightlife is about, Chris simply says over to you, Neil.” Neil nods. “This is one of my questions,” he tells them, then answers It. They are asked about the way they look. “It’s just what we wear normally,” Chris bluffs. “It’s how we feel comfortable,” Neil says. Chris is asked whether he feels as though they are underrated because they make electronic dance music. “Well, I just believe you should make the music that you like,” he says. “We called an album Disco when it was S dirty word…I don’t feel vindicated, particularly, but it’s obviously the best musical form, there’s no doubt about that.” They ask where the tour will be visiting and Neil lists some Countries. Chris feigns horror. “You didn’t tell me that!” he says to Neil. “Kept me in the dark…” They briefly mingle at the meet’n’greet then sign autographs out the back. “How’s Nightlife coming along?” one fan asks. “What?” says Neil, puzzled.
The musical?” “It’s not called Nightlife,” Neil points Out. “What’s it called?” “Not telling you,” Neil snaps. “It’s a secret.” There is an open-Sir party thrown by their record company on top of the Sony building, with a panoramic view over the streets of Miami’s South Beach. After that, Neil retires to his hotel room where he lies on the couch, listening to Bach, eating olives and cashew nuts. Chris goes on to another party at a new club run by Ingrid Caesars for a few quiet drinks and a small dance. “Do you know,” he says, late into the evening,”there’s something nice about Americans..
Thursday, October 21.
The bus leaves for Tampa, on Florida’s West Coast, at 11am. The Pet Shop Boys sit at the lounge in the back. Chris complains about the supposedly jolly little computerised drawings on the day sheet: the piece of paper put under the hotel doors of everyone on the tour at night, telling what they will he doing the next day, and at what time they will be doing it. “Girls always like things like that,” he buffs. “What I really hate is when they have a bottle of champagne cracked open.” The bus slowly makes its way through the Miami suburbs. “Why Can’t we just dos season here?” Chris asks. “I like it,” Neil declares. “We’ll just do two months at the Jackie Gleason Theatre.” The bus moves on towards Tampa, regardless, and they talk about the fans they met last night from all over the world. “It’s not often you meet someone from Lima,” Neil notes. “This is quite a nice bus,” Chris says. “It’s not too woody.” “It’s not too sleazy,” Neil agrees. “It’s not too fun. A lot of these buses are very furry.
They realise that it’s time to choose their sleeping place for the tour (though, truth to tell, the Pet Shop Boys plan to spend very few nights on the bus). “It’s bagging hunks!” says Neil with gusto. “I think I want to be in the middle,” Chris decides. And they discuss what it is, and isn’t, possible to do whilst lying in such bunks. Chris flicks through a magazine. “Guess what Bush’s album is called’ he scoffs. “The Science of Things.” Be says the last word – “things” – in such a way as to leave absolutely no doubt how feeble he finds it. James comes back to consult with Neil and Chris about on-the-road sustenance. “Are we happy with a truck-stop lunch?” he inquires. “Yes,” says Chris. “Or something in the Egon Ronoy guide.” “Or Denny S’,”
James suggests. “I’d rather not have Denny S’,” Neil says, “because we know the menu and, to be honest, it’s a bit on the gruesome side.” “So, just stop,” James concludes. “One that looks authentic,” Neil nods. Neil reads a positive review of Nightlife in Rolling Stone magazine. “It’s got a great description,” he relates. “‘Eurotrash disco’s answer to the Grateful Dead’.” One comment does, however, puzzle him – the review says that “Closer to Heaven” has a guitar hook borrowed from U2. This is doubly perplexing: “Closer To Heaven” doesn’t have a guitar hook, and no one here can think of any similarity the song has to anything by U2. Neil declares that we will have to listen to the CD, and begins rummaging around, looking for his copy of it. Chris, who thinks it is funny that Neil has brought a copy of nightlife on tour, says, teasing, “Oh, you’ve got our CD”. “Chris,” Neil retorts, “I’ve got the album because you told me I was doing the inflection of ‘Happiness Is an Option’ wrong.” Even when “Closer To Heaven” is played, it takes a while to work out what the reviewer is talking about, but it is eventually decided that the keyboard at the beginning could be seen to sound a little like the beginning of U2’s “New Year’s Day”.
At around 2.OOpm the bus pulls into a truck stop. “We’re trailer trash,” says Neil, slightly thrilled. “Always have been. We’re having lunch in a trailer park. I’m so excited.” At a diner called Grandma’s Kitchen, they both order pork chops. Ten minutes later the waitress retums to tell them that they’re all out of pork chops. They re-order, and discuss an acquaintance who has had sex with one of the cast of Friends.
Neil wanders off to the part of the diner devoted to shopping and returns with a video of the Ian MacKellen film Apt Pupil to watch on the bus. After lunch, Neil has to do an interview on the phone from the hack of the bus with a Denver radio station: “Hello Jerny…it was fantastic – one of the best concerts we’ve ever done…’Varnpires’ is kind of about how drugs destroy relationships, and communication between people….
And people stay up all night and sleep all day…in England we don’t say electronic; electronics makes it sound like it’s a completely brand-new form. Krafiwerk released Autobahn in 1973 and then Madonna does Ray Of Light in 1998 and suddenly she’s doing techno…we did ‘DJ Culture’ years ago, in 1991. That was more about the rave scene in away; thai was when the superstar DJs were just about to emerge…I particularly like the Chemical Brothers when they sound electronic. I find it a bit boring when they do the rock stuff like with Noel Gallsgher…it’s not 5 case of ‘intellectualise pop’, it’s mores case of pop music that has some kind of integrity to it, that has an opinion or a point of view – that doesn’t exist in pop music at the moment. It’s not an industrial process where you know they have a certain shelf-life and it’s how to maximise it…
There have been times when pop music was about something, like the Eighties with the Human League, Culture Club and ABC – it was a very ambitious period…Fatboy Slim has the same audience as the Human League would have had fifteen years ago…l like to write songs which have wit and humour in them – I’d quite like to write more of them but we don’t think of them that often. Most of our songs are sincere…the musical is basically about sex, drugs and fame. Ambition, really…. [Laughs] I like ‘sex, drugs and trains’! That’s a great combination. I might remember that…I absolutely hated Rent. When I saw it on Broadway,
the audience gave it a standing ovation. Apart from me. It sounded like early Seventies rock. And I doubted its sincerity – it presented having IIIV or AIDS as a cutting edge lifestyle. Also, more to the point, I hated the characters and the music. It hijacked the emotion of sympathy towards people with HIV or AIDS, and not to a particularly good purpose…I don’t consider myself represented ass gay person by anyone else and I don’t want to represent anyone else…I think we’re ignoring the fact that we’re getting old. Some people are really old when they’re 20.1 think we’ve always been really immature…We really like making records; that’s what it really boils down to. We also like making shows. We like doing new things…in the show you see us real and unreal. You don’t just have to look like you. One doesn’t have to just be oneself all the time. One has the opportunity to be someone completely different…” As he clicks off the call, Neil looks at the display and says, “
That was 21 minutes 52 seconds”. Merck asks whether they will give “Always On My Mind” to a compilation. Neil, inspecting the relevant fax, is annoyed that the people asking don’t even know what the song is called – “it’s not ‘You’re Always On My Mind’,” he points out – and says he’d rather give a song which the Pet Shop Boys wrote. “The one I like putting on at the moment” he says, “is ‘Se A Vida E’, to remind everyone we invented Latin music.” There is another request, so strange that they can’t even really take it seriously: that the Pet Shop Boys should perform the American national anthem in Atlanta before one of the games of baseball’s World Series. “I’d be in the audience, tittering,” Chris says. “No you wouldn’t,” says Neil steamily. “Would you be doing it in a yellow wig?” Chris wonders. “Of course,” Neil says.
“They’d think we were taking the mickey,” Chris worries. One other potential problem: neither of them knows the American national anthem. Merck tells them they should do it. The TV audience will be one hundred million people. “I think we should be able to do ‘Go West’ as well,” Chris suggests. Re smiles. “It’s finny, because you definitely wouldn’t be able to get us to sing the English national anthem.” They arrive in Tampa. Outside the venue, a serious man asks them to sign a copy of Actually. “Can you use the blue pen?” he asks. “Why?” Chris asks. “Because the black yellows over time,” the man says. Inside, in the corridor, Neil asks Peter Schwartz to reduce the gap he leaves between “New York City Boy” and “Left To My Own Devices”, during which Neil and the four male singers freeze in position at the centre of the stage. “You can milk it,” Neil says, “but don’t let us stay there all night. Because I start to cramp…” Chris walks into the dressing room and its. It’s the water. “It’s Perrier, not Evian,” he points out. He lies down on the sofa. “Chris travels with his own pillow,” Neil notes, accurately. (It is taken by the wardrobe department from venue to venue.) After sound check the singers try on some maroon capes they are now going to wear during “It’s A Sin”. There is some debate about how low they should hang. “When I was an altar boy,” Neil chips in, “mine came to about here…”, and he holds his hand level with the middle of his calf. By now, the doors are open and the crowd is filtering in.
Tonight’s show is not yet sold-out, but they are hoping for a healthy walk-up (the term for people who turn up and buy tickets on the night). Chris is still on the sofa. “You lie down,” Neil tells him, “during the walk-up.” In the make-up room, various claims to fame are exchanged. Alibi, their make-up artist, says that she has a pair of golf clubs, which John F Kennedy gave to Her father. Ian MacNeil says that his father was one of the press in Kennedy’s Dallas motorcade when he was shot, and, on his way into a nearby book depository to find a phone, bumped into a man leaving in a hurry. “My father shook Jimmy Carter’s hand,
” Neil says. “What was the first town Jimmy Carter went to outside the United States after he became President? Newcastle. My father stood in the crowd outside Newcastle City Centre – Carter walked past with James Callaghan and they shook his hand.” Wigs are applied. Neil looks at the back of his, worried. “Oh hello,” he says. “What’s happened here?” He needs to monitor that things don’t get out of hand: “Just watching the Nik Kershaw effect,” he explains. “I feel a hit like Side-show Bob,” Chris says. Neil chooses this moment to gargle some water. Chris is understandably outraged. “Did you see that?” he demands. “‘I’ve never gargled in my life’!” Neil puts on his striped outfit. “This dress is only held up by a button,” he notes; it seems only polite to point out, as he always does, that this is not a dress hot, rather, culottes. Compared with last nigh the audience is fairly subdued. They don’t stand until “New York City Boy”, though that get a standing ovation and they stay dancing for “Left To My Own Devices.” “It’s a family audience,” says Neil, backstage, during the interval. “Is the lighting brighter tonight?” Chris worries. “I feel very exposed.” Merck comes backstage and tells them:
For a secondary market we’ve done really well.” Once they’ve changed, they wait just behind the stage set. “Ooh,” says Chris, “it’s ‘For Your Own Good’ now, isn’t it?” No, it’s not. They’ve already done that. “Oh,” he nods. “It’s ‘Young Offender’. I wonder how that goes down.” The second half goes well, though Neil loses his place in “Opportunities” and mixes up the verse and the chorus. Before the encores they slip into their short wigs. “More! More! More ‘….” shout the crowd. “Less! Less! Less!” says Chris. During “It’s Alright” Neil loses his place again, and then Sylvia loses hers. “I think we just about got away with it” Neil says after. “Just about,” says Chris. He reports that some people were standing at the front with their arms crossed.
“One girl was asleep,” he says, accurately. “Fast asleep.” “How could you sleep with that racket?” Neil wonders. Their American booking agent comes in, fill of enthusiasm about “New York City Boy”. “That’s got a Real shot to be a hit,” he says. “The first time you hear it it’s familiar-sounding.” “Yeah,” says Neil. “It sounds like the Village People.” “The last show was more shocking,” the agent says, meaning the 1991 Performance tour. “I was shocked when I saw it on video,” Neil agrees. “It was all happening behind me. My parents said it was pomographic and I said ‘oh, no…’ but then I looked at the video…” They pile onto the bus fairly quickly, as they must drive to Orlando, in the middle of Florida, tonight. A bottle of wine is opened as the bus moves off. “Only paper cups,” Dainton apologises. “It’s an absolute disaster,” Neil commentates. “We could have stolen glasses from the venue.” “That,” Chris interjects, “would be stealing.” The agent,
Peter, and his associate, Keith, are on the bus with them. “We’re in Rolling Stone as ‘the Grateful Dead of Eurodisco,” Neil tells them. “That’s a T-shirt in the making,” Keith says. “I have, by the way,” Neil says, “managed to get through forty-five years on this planet without actually hearing The Gratelul Dead.” “The music wasn’t really the point?” Peter says. “Well,” says Neil, “what was the point?” We leave the outskirts of Tampa, not before deciding that a fine Smash Hits feature would he Tempura with the Tampered in Tampa. “It’s almost worth doing,” Neil says. “And then you go out and buy tampons with them.” Most of the journey is taken up with an in-depth discussion of a large live-music project, which the Pet Shop Boys have invented. They arrive at the Orlando Peabody Hotel, where they last stayed while making the “Se A Vida F” video, in the early hours of the morning, but still stay on the bus for a while, continuing the discussion. When they eventually try to get off the bus, they discover that the door is locked. After a while they escape and go to bed.
“Yet!” Neil snaps, in his imperious voice. “Let’s shut the bloody door!” “Can we have some privacy?” Chris continues. “For once in our bloody lives,” Neil says. “We’re trapped in a goldfish bowl,” Chris sighs. “It’s like a media circus,” Neil says. They leave quickly to catch a performance of the Cirque De Soleil, reputedly the most expensive show in the world: prime seats are being saved for them.
“‘It’s Alright’ went down fantastically tonight,” Merck tells them in the limo. “Did it?” says Neil. “Oh, ‘It’s all right” it’s fantastic,” Chris says. “It’s the highlight of the show, musically. When it Sums into New Order.” They are whisked into their seats at the Cirque De Soleil and told they have missed the best bit, but they’re in time for the final half hour: lots of incredible diving and leaping from great heights into a pool, parts of which keep changing back and form into a dry stage. It’s impressive, but possibly a bit pointless.
There’s lots of hooky fake Easter folk music as accompaniment. “The one. thing I can’t bear about Cirque Dc Soleil,” says Neil on the way out, “is the music. It’s always awful. I actually don’t like the aesthetic of it, but it is brilliant.” “It was very exciting when they flew off the swing way into the sky,” Chris says. “Incredibly well timed and everything,” Neil agrees.
“I must say, I don’t find the comedy amusing,” Chris says. “The attempt at comedy.” Neil nods. “It’s that Marcel Marcesu whimsical style.” “It’s a very impressive spectacle,” Chris concludes. “It’s all about scale.” They walk back into the hotel foyer past two Elvis impersonators. Neil goes to bed, and Chris goes to the party being thrown downstairs in the hotel’s night-club where people are variously dressed as aliens, televisions and Michael Jackson. He never finds out whether the desert rave even existed.
Monday, November 1
“You know,” says Nell, on the bus in the morning, heading back to Los Angeles, one night in Las Vegas is long enough.” Chris has decided to sleep in and fly back later. Neil ties to call Elton John, who is apparently annoyed that he couldn’t find Neil at the Los Angeles hotel, but now Neil can’t find Elton. He leaves a message with the housekeeper. “Tennant,” he says. “T-E-N-N-A-N-T.” A pause. “N-EA-L….Thank you…Goodbye.” Neil’s annoyed about the scab on his lip: “The reason I shave in the morning and not before the gig,” he says, “is precisely because of things like this.” The bus brakes suddenly. Neil’s coffee goes all over Tom Stephan, their DJ and musician friend who flew into Las Vegas yesterday. “Wow,” says Neil. “1 thought we were going to have a crash there.” He looks out of the window. “It’s the desert,” he comments, now somewhat blaze about it. “They’ve got C5cti.” He sees a sign. “It’s 28 miles to gas. I wonder if that means lunch.” He goes to the front and suggests to James that it should. 28 miles later, we pull into the Bun Boy restaurant. “The Original Bun Boy, Established 1926, Gateway To Death Valley” – in Baker; next to the world’s tallest thermometer.
On the restaurant tables is an annoying game, rather like solo draughts, where you have to jump pegs over other pegs and leave only one peg left. To our frustration, none of us are very good at it. On his second try Neil leaves three pint, and checks the scorecard. “I’m ‘about average intelligence’,” he recites. “That’s just great, isn’t it?” His next two goes he only leaves two pins. “I’m ‘of above average intelligence’ – I can deal with that,” he declares, and tucks into his fried zucchini. “Last night,” he says, “during ‘Opportunities’ I was getting so excited I was going to spit on the audience. I was really feeling punky, and I thought, ‘I’m going to gob on them’. But then I thought, ‘oh my God, we’ll get lawsuits or something’.” he sighs. “I had a lot of saliva in my mouth,” he explains. On the final leg of the journey he does his interview with Q magazine. As the bus pulls into the suburbs of Los Angeles he is explaining how Catatonia asked the Pet Shop Boys to do a remix, and how they were quite keen but they didn’t particularly like “Karsoke Queen”, the song which had been suggested. The bus goes directly to the Universal Amphitheatre. They played here in 1991.
“Over there,” he points, “is where I met Ax Rose.” He goes through the promotional schedule for the rest of the North American tour with Merck. It’s unrelenting. “We’re working too hard,” Neil tells him. “Even I’m starting to think that. My voice is croaking, I’m warding off a cold, I’m warding off conjunctivitis…” Merck tries to persuade them to fit in an extra flight so they have time for an important breakfast radio show in Chicago. “Flying is slot of pressure for me,” Neil points out. “I can do it, but it’s a lot of pressure.” Neil suggests that Chris does this interview alone. He sits at a piano and starts fingering the chords to “Footsteps”, which they are thinking of adding to the encores. “The chords are unbelievably complicated,” he complains. He deflects responsibility. “Chris wrote them,” he says, but as he plays it through he says, “oh yes, I wrote that bit –
that’s the me bit I understand that…” He looks through some faxes. The Japanese record company have suggested that the fourth single from Nightlife be “Vampires” or “In Denial”, which fascinates him. He does hit yoga. Just before 8pm Chris arrives, and says that he had a sensational lunch in Las Vegas’s version of Paris, just next to their Eiffel Tower. “Chicken and pomp Irises,” he says. “We went to Bun Boy,” says Neil. “I had the waistline special – chicken with cottage cheese and fruit – Next to the world’s largest thermometer.” Richard Blade, the local DJ celebrity and their Dinner companion tomorrow, pops in to say hello. “Do you need to be smart to go to The Ivy?” Neil asks. “No, you don’t,” he says, bubbling with enthusiasm. “You guys are stars!” They confer about the record signing they’re doing before dinner tomorrow, at Threw Records on Sunset Boulevard.
Once they have resolved to wear the wigs, Chris says they need good lighting, and their lighting designer Marc Brickman – who is only around because he lives here – is asked to do it. “It’ll make its wow kind of thing,” Neil says. “It’ll be like when I saw Batman and Robin in Blackpool with the Batmobile,” Chris says. His eyes suddenly slight up. “We’ve got the Hummer stretch! I knew there was something to look forward to.” They are to arrive at the record signing in a Hummer, a rectangular tank-like army car which has been extended into a limousine. Chris even suggests for a moment that they simply stay in the Hummer and sign records through the window. “That really would be taking the piss,” Neil says. During the interval Merck comes into the dressing room. He has noticed that in “Can You Forgive Her?”, when Neil sings “…get yourself a real man instead”, he forcefully grabs his culottes in the crotch area with his hand. “Where did that come from?” Merck asks.
“I’ve been doing it for about four nights,” Neil says. In the second half, during “Opportunities”, Neil is thrown an S-shirt. He mops his brow with it and throws it back into the crowd. A pair of knickers appears at one point as well. When he introduces everyone onstage before “Go west” he tries to get Chris to say “hello”. He puts the microphone in front of Chris three times, and each time Chris pushes it away. The crowd goes crazy. Finally he relents, and unleashes his second on-stage utterance of the tour. “Hello,” he says. (Hit first – also “hello” – was in Atlanta.) “We’ve got to go and grin’n’grip,”
advises Merck afterwards. “Grin’n’grip,” repeats Chris. “I like it.” “AxI Rose isn’t here,” Neil sighs. “It’s not the same.” At the grip’n’grin they meet various people including Coronation Street’s Natalie Horrocks, who is in town doing a shoot for Hello magazine. Neil meets a pregnant woman who is having a girl and tells him she is going to call it Chris neil. On the way out they spot the two looks alike from the other night, and stop the bus to greet them. Back on the bus Neil confesses how annoyed he is at not buying one of the peg games at the Bun Boy restaurant. When I was in the Legion of Mary at school,” he begins, to a certain amount of sniggering, “you used to do charitable work and you used to go to a centre for handicapped kids in Gosforth, and this kid was mentally retarded and he had webbed hands, and he used to beat me at draughts and chess…l was supposed to be helping him.”
Tuesday, November 2
. Neil has agreed to appear on the popular MTV programme called Loveliness in which people phone in with their love and sexual problems and are given advice by the three hosts and a guest celebrity. (Chris hat declined to take part.) “Thanks for doing the show,” one of the TV executives tells him in his dressing room. “We’re so thrilled that you’re doing it.” “Yes, I can’t believe I’m doing it,” Neil replies. The first question, before Neil is introduced, is from a bloke wondering whether he should have a threesome with hit girlfriend and her cousin. Soon Neil is pondering of a 19-year-old from Baltimore who is worried that’s all, be bat done have killed his sex drive. Be favourite lots of nitrous, apparently. “What is nitrous?” Neil asks. “Laughing gas,” they tell him. “Oh,” be says. “I don’t think we do that in England.” The next caller is a 20-year-old girl who says she was raped when a virgin and contracted herpes. Adam, one of the hosts, the one who is supposed to add the comic colour, announces that they will get back to the rape and herpes after showing a little of the new Pet Shop Boys videos. He says this with such spectacular glee and poor taste that everyone watching backstage in the green room gasps. Neil tries to raise sensible points – “do you think it’s possible for people to divorce their emotional relationship from their sex life?” he asks at one point – but the presenters seem less interested in intelligent debate than tasteless jokes (the comedian) and patronising know-all analysis (the medically-trained supposedly sensible presenter, Doctor Drew).
When Neil mentions during one answer that he is gay they simply seem perplexed by this information. Soon Afterwards he is drawn into an entirely baffling conversation about hot dogs on sticks. “Well,” says Neil, afterwards, still not quite sure what be has been through, “it was a unique experience for me. It made me very sad, all these people with their problems.” The executive bounces in to thank him. “I’ll let you know when it airs,” she enthuses. “And I’ll make sure I don’t watch it,” Neil replies, laughing. Next, in the dressing room, Neil does an interview for a VH 1 history of the pop video (one version of which will subsequently be shown in December 1999 on Channel 4 in Britain). Be reminisces about seeing The Supremes on Top Of The Pops (“you couldn’t quite believe they were real, which is something I’ve always loved in pop music – like they were from another planet”), and of David Bowie performing “Starman” in 1972 (“be put his arm around Mick Ronson and it was vaguely homoerotic”). He discusses some favourite Pet Shop Boys videos like “Can You Forgive Her?” (“Actually it’s a song about a man admitting that he’s gay”), “Co West” (“it bad a chord change that was very popular in baroque music”) and “Being Boring” (‘lust kids getting ready for a party…MTV were shocked by the naked man at the start”). As he talks, they have sound problems –
eventually they realise that the background noise is being caused by ice melting in a bucket on the dressing room table. “I want something to eat,” Neil announces. “I want a hot dog.” The limo driver says that he’s not allowed to atop for a hot dog – he bat only been booked to take us back to the hotel. Eventually he’s persuaded to drop us at The Cajun Bistro on Sunset Boulevard. “Sometimes it’s nice to do something a bit out there,” Neil reflects, of today’s strangeness. “Something you wouldn’t normally do. Extend your repertoire.! Now know I don’t want to be an agony aunt.” Be orders some lunch, and talks about hit first ever visit to America when he worked for Smash Hits. “It was to see Genesis in Philadelphia. And I went walking the next manning, and this black guy stopped me, and I jumped about three feet in the air. He was, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you, I just wanted some spare change’. I was like the woman in Hoirapray when she goes to the ghetto…. Phil Collins, I couldn’t think of anything to ask him after twenty minutes. I wasn’t very experienced.! Had no interest in his music. Mike Rutherford – a very nice man; if he walked in now I’d say hello to him -drove me to New York in his car because the tour bus had broken down. He stopped at the toll at the Midtown tunnel and ‘Planet Rock’ was playing in the ear next to us – it was 1982 – and! Thought, ‘lam here’.” He mentions that once, at a Prince connect Phil Collins came up to him and asked him for his autograph for his son.”! thought that was sweet’ Neil says. “
A lot of People’s egos wouldn’t allow them to do that.”
The Q photographer asks Neil whether he doesn’t Want to interview people any more. “I can’t be bothered to,” Neil says. “I used to hate writing. I’d take ages to do anything. I’d sit in the end room – Room 36, because it was the phone extension – and it took me ages. It still does. I did the Spectator diary and it took me three days.” He discusses hit other contributions, “I tried to bring sex into Smash Hits,” he says, “because it was resolutely non-sexual. I used to do things like ask Paul Weller if he was gay. He quite liked it, but everyone was quite shocked. I used to be known as the person who asked Paul Weller if he was gay.” “
I think you’ve superseded that now,” the photographer says. More memories: “I remember with Culture Club and Haysi Fantasee it was ‘which dreadlocks band do we go for?’ and we all chose Haysi Fantasee. They had a great The Of The Pops performance…one of those that was to shocking they just played it anyway.” His thought Tums back towards Loveliness. “Do you think I shouldn’t have done it?” he wonders. “I actually really hated them.” Outside the hotel, a fan comes up to Neil. He explains that he has a bag of Pet Shop Boys records, which he is planning to bring to the record signing. Neil pauses, waiting, but he doesn’t ask, so Neil does. “Wouldn’t it be better if I signed them now?” Neil suggests. Neil and Chris meet for make-up in Neil’s bungalow just before 6.3Opm.
“Well, how was it?” Chris asks Neil. “I heard it was a bit disturbing. Do you feel like you prostituted yourself or do you feel like you’ve done the world some good?” “A bit of both,” Neil replies. Chris studies the prints he’s just got back taken with his new Lomo camera. He’s quite thrilled with them. “The white border,” he says proudly, “is essential.” Chris has just done his Q interview, which went fine, though he was a bit perplexed by the way the journalist said “how curious” at the end and then didn’t say anything else. “Neil,” asks Chris, “do you think Bilingual was cold?” “No,” says Neil. “I told him very firmly that it wasn’t cold. That it was warm. “Because I couldn’t think of the answer to that one,’ Chris says. “I said I was trying to listen to it in my head and I couldn’t imagine it.” They put on the wigs, giggling about the fuss they are making just for one record signing. “We’ve got Pink Floyd’s lighting designer,” Chris laughs. “The world’s first in-store lit by Pink Floyd’s Lighting designer,” Neil says. “They’re exploiting the boundaries of what can be spent once again.”
They go through the rules. They’ll try to sign everything, but if the queue is too long they’ll just sign one item per pension. “Alto,” says Chris, “we’re not allowing kissing either,” “No flaming kissing,” Neil agrees. They get into the Humber and drive the few hundred yards down Sunset Boulevard towards the store. As they go, they imagine what people will be thinking as they pull up in such an audacious vehicle. “I’m surprised they’ve come in this,” says Chris. “It’s not very them, is it?” “I’d have thought they’d come in one of those new Beetles,” says Neil. “This,” says Chris, “is more Puff Daddy.” Chris realises that he will have to get out of the limo first. He releases. “I can’t go Out first,” he insists. “It’s reverse order.” “You go on stage first,” Neil points Out, with compelling logic, but Chris is adamant, and so Neil clambers over him and steps out in front of the crowd. Chris follows. A man who works for the store rushes up and explains how much he likes the Pet Shop Boys. “It’s you and Sondheim,” he gushes.
“Us and Sondheim,” repeats Neil, quite liking the sound of this, but then he feels obliged to point Out, “Chris isn’t a big Sondheim fan.” “He’s rubbish,” Chris says. The signing starts. “Can you write ‘Amanda, with love…’,” one girl asks. “‘With love’?” queries Neil. “That’s a little presumptuous.” When a fan brings Outs copy of “Absolutely Fabulous”, Neil holds it up to show the lingering Q journalist, who has been somewhat dismissive of its place in the Pet Shop Boys’ canon. “Look!” says Neil. “Look!” like Tums to the fan. “Do you like this record?” “Yes,” says the fan, a little nervously. “See?” says Neil. “Do you not like it?” Chris asks the man from Q. “I would not have spoken to you if I’d known. One of our finest offerings…” “I’m not responding to irony,” the joumal it retorts, pauses, then adds, tartly, “just the one, is it?” “Yes,” Neil concedes, “to be fair.” The next fan hats question: “What job would you never do in the world however much they paid you?” Neil thinks. “I wouldn’t want to be a sewer attendant,” he says. “I wouldn’t like to be a coal minor particularly,” says Chris. The fan tells them that when she asked Sean Lennon the same question he said, “be Yoko Ono’s assistant”. Another kind fan hands them bottles of Dom Perignon champagne.
“Now we’re talking,” Chris says. “Now we’re talking,” Neil agrees. “We’re only accepting expensive gifts from now on,” Chris says. As the fans queue, Richard Blade grabs their cameras and photographs them as they get their records signed. One fan seems a little unwilling for this to happen. Chris advises her to give in. “You’ve got to have your picture taken,” he explains. “It’s like meeting Santa Claus.” “I love the hair,” Neil is told. “It’s all our own,” Neil replies. “Is it really?” Chris says provocatively. “No,” he says. “Can you take off your sunglasses?” Neil is asked. “No, it’s part of my look,” he says. “When you’ve got a look, you’ve got a look, you know.”
They are brought a laser disc of their second video collection to sign. “It’s pure genius,” Chris reflects, “calling it Promotion.” “If you do say so yourself,” mutters Neil. Chris takes the mickey out of Neil for singing Along with “Radiophone”, playing in the background. “Chris, I happen to like our records,” Neil retorts. A man asks Neil, “Can you tell me how you write The melodies in the songs?” Neil doesn’t immediately reply and so Dainton says to Neil, “he wants to know how you write the melodies in the songs.” “Dainton,” says Chris, deadpan, “can you translate, please?” “They just come,” Neil says. “They come quickly.” “When you least expect it,”
Chris says. “That’s true,” Neil points Out. “They just inspirationalise,” summarises Dainton. They have signed around 500 copies of Nightlife, And plenty of other bits and pieces, when the queue finally dissipates and they climb back into the humour. “It’d be great,” Neil comments, “to invade a country in this.” A convertible full of fans, loudly playing “Happiness Is an Option” follows them. “It’s like Argentina!” says Chris. Dinner with Richard Blade is at The Palm, after which talk of going clubbing evaporates. Bed beckons.
Wedneiday, November 3.
In the morning, they fly to Oakland, in North California, from where they will cruse into San Francisco. “Well,” says Neil, off the plane, “welcome to the Hay Area. You know what I’m going to have right now – a hot dog.” And he does. At the baggage claim area, disaster looms. Chris’s bags are nowhere to be seen. “Oh well,” he says, with a nonchalance which poorly disguises his fury, “that’s them lost then.” For about twenty minutes he refuses to leave the terminal until they are found. He simply won’t budge.
He even considers flying back to Los Angeles to find them. Neil waits in the limo. In the end Chris is persuaded that Dainton will stay, but he is fuming. In the car he gets annoyed that his photo is taken. “Stop distracting me from being angry,” he says. He is silent for a while, then, as we cross the bridge into San Francisco, he says: “My bags can’t disappear forever. I can’t go 00.1 won’t look how I want. It’s that important.” “You’ll have to do some serious shopping,” Neil suggests, but Chris is not in the mood for practical suggestions. “No,” he says, firmly. He gets out his Lomo camera and points it Out of the window. James speaks to Dainton on the phone. Apparently the bags have been traced. They’re still in Los Angeles. “Thank God for that,” Chris says. “Presumably they haven’t apologised,” Neil notes.
They check it, their hotel then head straight out to a radio interview at a Station called, in the modem way, Alice, “Why is it called Alice?” Chris asks the people who work there. None of them seem to know. “How many times can you call a station Mix or Power?” a bloke finally responds. “Why so long?” the interviewer asks, about the gap between their American tours. “Is it because of all the theatrics?” “Theatrics?” laughs Chris. “Oh, there’s a lot of theatrics go on behind the scenes.” “What do you think” they are asked, “the audience takes away from the concert?” “Merchandise,” answers Chris.
They address the rumour that they will not be attending their San Francisco record signing. “Neil is definitely Turing up,” says Chris. “Chris is probably Turing up,” says Neil. “And there might be wigs.” Next door they are interviewed by a competition winner. “I’m going to probe your psyche,” she promises. “Ob God,” says Chris, “you’re not going to get much out of my psyche.” “Do you have one?” Neil inquires. “I don’t have one,” Chris confirms. “I think I need my aura cleansed first.” They are asked which CD they would have on a desert island. “Mine,” replies Chris, “would probably be a CD on how to build a raft from first principles.” From there, they head straight to the Warfield Theatre. Inside the dressing room S familiar scene plays out… “Chris,” says Neil,
“that’s a nice pot of coffee…” “How many times do we have to tell people we don’t want coffee?” Chris shouts. “It makes the whole dressing room stink,” says Neil, despairingly. A Brazilian TV crew set up a camera for an interview. “That sound’s not going to bother you, is it?” Neil asks them, referring to the thumping of the Pet Shop Boys’ backing tracks on the stage filtering through the floor. “Some of us,” Chris says, “call it music.” The interviewer asks them about disco. “In the disco period,” Neil says, “I was probably more into punk rock. I liked Saturday Night Fever, but I didn’t got to discos.” “I’ve always dressed the same,” Chris says. “And always been into disco.” “When I first came to London in ’72, maybe ’73,” Neil says, “people were first starting to talk about disco, and then people started to do the bump – maybe that was ’74. And then it got mined by all the Hooked on Classics…but disco was a very inspirational period as well…
I Feel Love’…Electro-dance was invented then, which was an amalgam of disco and Kraftwerk, really.” The interviewer says that he saw a Pet Shop Boys interview on CNN where they were asked what the new album was about and Chris said “more of the same”. “Thanks, Chris,” says Neil, shaking his head. Chris Tums to Neil. “I don’t have to do interviews,” he points out. After the interview Neil tries to have a nap – he thinks he has flu coming on – and then they get ready. Chris slips on his trousers.
“Cones!” he bellows. “Are you sure these are mine?” They’re not. There has been an unfortunate trouser mix-up. “It would help if I had my own clothes,” Chris mutters. (His other own clothes are yet to arrive. Dainton is still at the airport.) The concert starts messily. Neil’s microphone isn’t tuned up at the start of “For Your Own Good”, as so his voice suddenly comes in two or three lines after it should have. Near the beginning of the show, after “West End Girls” (during which Neil sings the third verse twice: “I thought, ‘I don’t normally talk as I go down this ramp”‘), Neil says, “it’s nice to be back in the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco – it seems like only yesterday we were here.” lie seems to mean this just as he says it, but from the way the audience good-naturedly half-laugh and half-jeer as one, it’s quite obvious that the intervening eight years has seemed like Quite a long waits to them. At the end of” happens Is An Option” Neil picks up some flowers which have been thrown on stage and there is a huge cheer. But, nonetheless, during the interval the feeling backstage is that the crowd is a little subdued. “I don’t know if I can he bothered to go out there for the second half,” says Chris. He says to Neil, “you’re not giving it as much.” “Well,” says Neil, shrugging, meaning that he hasn’t felt inspired by the audience to do so. “So it’s, you give some, you get some?” laughs Chris. “So it’s a symbiotic relationship?” “You feed off their energy, Chris,” Neil says. “Your wig went a bit flat during the first half,” Chris adds.
“The back went flat.” The second half is much perkier, on and offstage. They return to the dressing room to find that Dainton has only just now arrived from the airport with Chris’s bags. They have been either in San Diego or Sacramento, it turns out, and then sent back to Los Angeles, and then their new plane to Oakland has been delayed. “Any apologies?” Chris asks. “Nothing,” Damson says. Chris comments on Neil’s second half stagecraft. “The thigh-slapping,” be says. “The welcome return of the thigh-slap.” “Well,” says Neil, “when you’ve got a microphone you can’t clap. That’s why that was invented. The Neil Tennant pantomimes: yes, you shall go to the ball, Cinders. There’s the Katie Kissoon fake handicap, there’s the George Michael over-the-bead, and then there’s the thigh slap…” “Which you invented,” Chris points out. There is a meet’n’greet to be done. “We’re not doing long, are we?” Chris says “No,” Neil says. “A quick flammable.” At the front of the queue is Barry Walters, an American rock critic who has given them some of their nicest reviews. The person he brought with him to the show he introduces as the one who jumped on Chris during “Your Funny Uncle” on the 1991 tour.
Sitting in a comer is the noted prom film director Chichi LaRue. Chris meets some fans. “These guys carne all the way from Sacramento,” he is told. “So did my luggage,” he points Out. “How do you do that with your hair?” they are asked. “They’re wigs,” Chris explains. “We’re open wig-users,” Neil chips in. “Wig abusers,” corrects Chris. “For the follicle -challenged.” The man from catering asks for an autograph. Neil praises the food but then ads, “t ate too much rice and Toli, and during the show it was repeating.” “It was history repeating on you,” says Chris.
They get onto the bus. “The Nineties,” says Neil. “The fabulous Nineties.” “I can’t wait for it to end,” Chris says. “Nothing really happened in it, fundamentally,” says Neil. They retire to the hotel bar. “1 was ready to go back to England,” says Chris. “If those bags hadn’t turned up I was on the next plane back to England.” They chat to the waiter who tells them about local clubs. Describing one, he says “everyone’s tweaking on ecstasy.” “It’s a new word,” Neil announces. “Tweak.” At 12.30 Chris goes off clubbing with Dainton. Neil tells Alison from Sire about his dog Kevin’. “He gets fan mail now. Re’s in Tower Pulse magazine. Re was a question on Radio One last week. The builders were in the garden and Kevin was running around and they were all cheering.”
Thursday, Novemher 4
at lunch time, the Pet Shop Boys walk round the comer to the San Francisco Museum Of Modem Art. “There’s nothing like spending the morning sitting in your hotel room on the bed in your bathrobe, flicking through the Internet,” Neil says. He has spoken to Elton John: “Elton says the buzz in Atlanta for our concert is absolutely fantastic.” “The aftershocks,” Chris says. Before art, food. They go to the museum cafe. Soup for Neil, pizza for Chris. Inside the museum they wander up to the ticket counter, accidentally skipping a long-ish queue. “I was going to say ‘the line’s back there’,” the museum attendant says, “but because of who you are…” They don’t even have to pay. “Because of your contribution to art,” the man says, “you can be my guest…
Chris surveys the architecture and has a quick look of an exhibition of the photography of famous painters, then leaves. Neil moves down to the video art floor. “Look!” he exclaims. “Bruce Naumann.” There is a video piece from 1990 in which two heads spin – Raw Material – OK, OK, OK – which was the precise inspiration for the film of the Pet Shop Boys’ heads during “For Your Own Good”. Neil wonders whether they’ll have time to add to the show their other video-based ideas. The plan was that after the panels are removed from the front of the stage structure during “Vampires” that another film should be projected on them, and they have an idea for a sequence evolving Neil and Chris. After the museum, Neil shops for second-hand books, and then pops into the Jill Sander store.
“Right, we’re officially in a hurry,” he announces. He can’t find Anything. Re picks one top up, studies it’ then says “1 like that so much I’ve already got it.” He sighs. “I think I need to go into tweed,” he says. But right now, there simply isn’t time for a conceptual shift of that magnitude. Chris is at the hotel, getting made up for the inshore. “I’m over-tired,” he complains. “I’m suffering from deja vu all the time. I hate that feeling. You’re in an interview and you know everything you’re going to say.” But he won’t be curtailed. “There’s so many clubs to get through tonight,” he says. “I don’t know how we’re going to make it.” Before they leave the hotel they have to go to another room to do a TV interview for a programme called Internet Tonight. “What do you use the Internet for?” the interviewer keenly inquires. Chris starts laughing. “Well, there’s only one use for the Internet, isn’t there?” He pauses. “And that’s e-mail.” “I look at a lot of music sites,” Neil says. “I quite often look at David Bowie’s site…I sometimes think that as a means of getting knowledge it’s easier to gets book.” The interviewer notes that there are about twenty sites devoted to the Pet Shop Boys. “Twenty!” Neil says. “There’s hundreds of them. Some of them are really good. There’s one called Elusive…Some of them are really specific. One is called Pet Shop Boys in The Ukraine. There’s several Hungarian ones. I’m impressed and flattered that People put so much energy into them.” Afterwards they’re asked to do some IDs to Camera. The second one is “
…and you’re listening to ZDTV radio…” Neil thinks about this for a moment. “And you’re going to film it?” he queries. They nod enthusiastically. Neil and Chris just do it. Chris refuses to walk in the corridors with the wigs 00,50 he takes his off, and will put it back on in the limo on the way to the in-store. Neil keeps his on. “You’ve got a lot of nerve,” Chris says. Neil says he’s not even thinking about it. “What about the other guests?” Chris says. “Oh, the shame…” A few minutes later, at the record store, they get out of the limo. “Oh, the shame…” says Chris. In a back room, they gather themselves and pressings stack of CD sleeves. Chris is brought a beer. It’s an Anchor Steam, a choice which rather puzzles him as he had been rather unnecessarily waken up this morning to be asked which brand of beer he would prefer at the record signing, and he had chosen Budweiser. Once Chris has sat down in front of the long queue, he comes to an appalling realisation. “I’ve forgotten my glasses!” he panics. “How did I forget them?” Dainton runs to fetch them from the hack room. “That’s better,” Chris sighs, reunited with the sunglasses. “I thought it was all a bit bright.” To heighten his sense of well being he is now brought a Budweiser, which has been swiftly purchased across the road. He takes a swig. “Budweiser’s nice,” he says. “It’s got less taste.” Two of the first fans tell Chris,
“we’ve chatted on line with you”. “I’ve never chatted on line,” Chris points out. “I went to a site once and I was the only one there. Does someone pose as me on the Intimate? Couldn’t you tell by the lack of humour?” “I’m really nervous,” a girl says. “Well,” replies Chris, “how do you think we feel in these wigs?” Neil holds up an American copy of Behaviour, on which the title is spelt without a “u”. “All the fans complained we didn’t have the British spelling,” he recalls. “We prefer the American spelling.” They are given some socks. “Thank you,” Chris says. “You can never have too many socks,” Neil says. Chris it outraged. Bow dare Neil says this? “Be just Stole my quote!” Chris objects. “He’s shameless.” Someone brings up a French seven-inch single, on Which the title of the song in question is given as “Bow Can We Expect To Be Taken Seriously?” There is much amused spluttering. “The French have managed to hide that from us for eight years,” Neil laughs. A man wants one CD signed for himself, Boris, and one for his sister Doris. “If they have another one, what are they going to call them?” Chris murmurs. “Morris?” Be twigs his second beers. “It’s quite an enjoyable way of drinking,
he says. “There’s something to do between sips. You don’t have to think of something to say between gulps.” The next fan apologises for missing most of last night’s show: “We got there late – we only saw one song.” “You know what?” Chris says. “That’s still better than seeing a whole show of another artist.” “Chris?” says a fan. Chris, who has just signed a copy of Actually, betrays no sign of having heard. The fan just stands there, waiting. “Chris,” Neil prompts. “Sorry,” Chris says. “I was miles away. I was thinking, no wonder people think we’re taking the Mickey, if we’re yawning on our sleeves.” “It’s a hit late to worry about that,” counsels Neil. “I always thought it was a great picture,” Chris says, “but it’s a message, isn’t it? No wonder people say things like ‘you’re a bit world-weary’. I always used to Think ‘why do you think that?”‘ “In Denial” is playing in the background. “I feel like quitting this job,” repeats Chris. “A poignant line…” A serious man tells Neil, “I teach middle school, and I know you didn’t come out to be a role model, but you’ve done a lot for kids…” “Thank you,” Neil says. “I love your skirt last night,” another man tells Neil.
“It’s not a skirt,” he says, “it’s culottes.” “Thanks for two decades of fine music,” he tells Chris. “I loved bilingual” “Not many people like Bilingual I’ve realised,” Chris tells him, earnestly. “Very cold. Very cold.” The Internet Tonight film crew try to get Neil and Chris to say goodbye to the camera. They vaguely, half -heatedly wave. A couple of minutes later, when the film crews are packed up, they say goodbye for real and Neil and Chris, quite spontaneously, both cheerily look up and shout goodbye (exactly as the crew wanted them to before). When this chain of events is pointed out to them, Chris looks sneakily pleased. “That’s what we’re all about,” he says. A fan asks Neil “Can you put something profound?” His pen hovers over the CD booklet. “Can’t think of anything,” he says. “Put ‘Happiness is an option’,” they suggest. “OK,” he says, and does. “Loved the skirt last night,” they say, as he writes. Be doesn’t correct them. They sign for about two hours. Neil says he’s hungry. Chris says he’s tired. “I don’t know if I can do much more,” he says in the limo. “I’m at breaking point. Is it a, quick restaurant? I don’t want to spend all evening eating.” At lO.45pm, near the end of dinner, his chicken half-eaten, Chris gets up from the table. No clubbing for him tonight; he’s going to bed.
“I just can’t do it,” he mutters. “We’re working too bloody hard. I’ve just reached that snapping point where I have to go to bed.” Once he has gone, Alison from Sire marvels at Chris’s decisiveness. “He’s decisive when he wants to be,” Neil observes, decisively taking some of Chris’s abandoned chicken from his plate, “but otherwise he avoids the decision-making process, and then blames everyone else.” After dinner Neil decides that it might be worth briefly popping into a club. “Let’s go for literally five minutes,” he says. “Well, you’ve got to digest your food, haven’t you?” he reasons. “That’s all I’m thinking of.” The visit to Club NRG lasts more than five minutes, but not long after the drag act has flounced through “Hey Big Spender”, just as the DJ puts on Cheer’s “Believe”, Neil says his bed is calling. He is only stopped from popping into another night-club on the way home because they won’t let anyone in without a photo ID.
Friday, November 5.
“Fancy Neil not being able to Get in,” says Chris in the hotel foyer. “They didn’t think I was over 21,” lies Neil. “It’s the law gone mad!” Chris exclaims. “It’s the law gone mad!” “It’s the Nanny State,” Neil says. At the airport, they have breakfast. “This is possibly the best omelette I’ve eaten in America,” Neil says, and Chris reads about the Q Awards in the Mirror. And they catch their Denver plane. Literally will not see them again until Toronto. Tuesday, November 9. Toronto. Chris has stayed in Detroit for the night, because be wanted to get some sleep, but word has all ready been received that this plan has backfired. He was booked into an airport hotel, was kept up by plane noise all night, and is now in a huge mood. He has phoned ahead to say that a sign needs to be put on the dressing room door saying “tantrum area”. Neil, meanwhile, who took the bus over the Canadian border (the Customs official told Neil, “I like you much more than the Backstreet Boys”) and arrived at 4am it feeling refreshed and rested. “It was a girls’ night on the boys’ bus,” he says. The last people to sleep were him and Sylvia. In the past few days they have been to Denver, Chicago and Detroit. (In Chicago they nearly had a serious road accident when their driver tuned the wrong way down a one-way street. In Detroit, they did “Footsteps” as an encore, before introducing the band; it sounded alright but dissipated all the built-up energy. Neil also added an extra chorus line to the final chorus of “Being Boring” by accident,
and liked the way it worked so much that he’s decided to keep it from now on.) Today in Toronto they have a hectic, nightmlare day of promotion, which they have been dreading all tour, with a concert to finish off the day. When Chris appears, ten minutes late, in the lobby, he teems much less testy than had been predicted, just rather weary. But when there is a discussion of how a Briton- theme snack can be fitted into their promotional schedule, he says firmly, “I don’t want snacks – I want a meal.” The first interview is on the Canadian version of MTV Much Music. A frizzy-haired girl interviews them in the studio, which is in the middle of the staff’s workspace. “It’s my first day as a VJ,” she tells them. A Billie video is playing on a screen nearby. “Urge,” says Neil. She asks them whether all their songs are love tongs. “Well,” Neil answers, “the love songs are love songs. They’re not just love songs. And also, when we write love songs, we try to make them different…We try to put into songs the kind of things that people say in real life but that they rarely put into songs.”
She asks about the show. “I think architecture is the only art we haven’t plundered yet,” Chris explains, “to we’ve plundered that.” Neil laughs. “So,” she says, “it’s not a theatrical show?” “Oh no,” says Neil. “It’s architectural.” They are brought drinks. “This is a bloody good cup of tea,” Chris notes. “Well, you’re in Canada now,” Neil points Out. Chris nods. “You can tell we’re not in America.” They are asked to talk about and introduce Favourite videos. They suggest USA for Africa’s “We Are the World”. “Hi, we’re the Pet Shop Boys,” Chris begins. “And this is one of our favourite videos,” Neil says. ‘We Are The World’,” says Chris. “I particularly like the bit,” adds Neil, “where Cindy Lauper rushes forward.” “It’s great,” says Chris. “It’s the best video ever made.” He gets up. “OK,” he says. “Sandwich time.” Back in the dressing room, Merck mentions that the streetcar stop where he first met his wife is just outside this building. Sandwiches come,
but Chris rejects his. He wants something better. The next interview is in the same building, several floors up. Chris takes the lift; Neil takes the Stairs. Inside a bare room, there is a set built for the interview: a fair approximation of a hotel room. “We could have done this in the hotel,” mutters Chris. The interview begins. Lots of questions about the old days. “We decided to be how we were,” Neil says. “Not to pretend on TV we were having a great time and winking at the camera. And Chris became the idea of what a keyboard player is in a dance group.” “They were all ‘wizards’, weren’t they?” Chris remembers. They are asked how it would compare to “West End Girls” reaching number one in America if they did it again now. “The first one’s more exciting,” Neil says. “The most recent one’s tweeter.” He asks about the dynamic of their song writing, and whether the lyrics or music come first. “Well, actually,” Neil says, “it sort of comes simultaneously.” Re asks them whether they’ve thought about why it works. “It works because we don’t analyse it, I think,” deflects Neil.
No,” Chris agrees. “We just copy what everyone else is doing.” Neil laughs wearily. “I don’t think I’ve ever written a song about Chris, fascinatingly,” he says. “Thank God for that,” Chris says. Back in the dressing room, Chris’s second lunch, a burger, has arrived. Neil poaches some onion rings. They are already due at the next programme, the Mike Dullard Show (a Canadian David Letterman rip-off). They rehearse “New York City Boy” on the stage. “You guys better be good,” Bullard tells them jovially. “That smoke cost $80 and we don’t have it. I have to go downstairs, but depending how this goes we’ll let you know whether you’re on tonight.” “Oh,” says Chris. “You are Mike.” “I am he,” Bullard says, “but try to maintain your aloofness.” Only Neil is singing live, and when they run through the song again they realise that the bellowed backing-singer shout of “New York City!” is missing. “It’s weird not having that,” Neil observes.
“That’s OK,” Chris smirks. “Its not like it’s a national TV programme, is it?” (It is, of course.) They arrange an extra microphone. Chris checks with Dainton what the filmed version of the song looks like on the monitors. “I’m not in it, am I?” he asks, hopefully. “I don’t want to be in it. It’s the reverse of eight years ago. How times have changed. I really don’t want to be in it.” They return to the dressing room, Dainton throwing out a slim, uncertain man who is lingering there. He turns out to be Marc Anthony, the Latin singer and actor who is, at this moment, rather more successful in North America than the Pet Shop Boys. They do another TV interview in the dressing room. “My favourite kind of performer,” Neil recites, “you can’t really believe that they’re real, and a lot of what we do is an auempt to be less real.” “Where’s home?” the interviewer asks. “Wherever we lay our hat,” replies Chris. She Tums to Neil. “You’re not wearing a hat,” she observes. “He’s homeless,” Chris says. Between the rehearsals and filming of the Mike Bullard show they have to go to the venue to sound-check. The traffic is terrible. When they arrive, they play through “Footsteps” which they plan to put at the end of the show tonight Neil practises talking over the final piece of music: “Thank you very much –
You’ve been a wonderful audience,” he says to the empty hall. “Yes, I like that,” he nods. “It’s very showbiz.” In catering, Neil talks with some of the American crew. They tell him that pork is called “city chicken”. “What’s Sloppy Joes?” he asks. “What’s Sloppy Joes?” one of them repeats, incredulous. “What planet are you from?” “I’m from Planet England,” he points out. They take the limo back to the Mike Dullard Show. In the dressing room, Chris keenly watches the beginning of the show.
“Got to make sure he doesn’t say anything rude about us,” he explains. Their performance is broadcast with an extraordinary bubble effect superimposed on them, like the tackiest of Eighties pop TV. It looks so absurd, surreal and useless, it’s quite funny. After they finished the song they are interviewed. “You haven’t seen our effect,” Bullard tells them proudly. “I think you’ll like it.” “What did you do?” asks Chris. “The bubble thing,” Bullard says. He asks: “Were the Village People an influence?” “Not particularly,” Chris says. “Not on that track.” In the limo, Neil reflects, “he was very nice to us”. “Yes,” says Chris. “He was. Good thing, too, or he’d have got it.” They take their wigs off in the car, though Chris won’t get out at the venue until his cap has been fetched from the boot and handed to him. Backstage, they discuss schedules and plans for New York. “On Thursday,” Neil says, “I’ve got to buy something to wear for the party.” “Neil, why don’t you go as you?” Chris suggests. Neil surveys the table in their dressing room. No coffee, thank goodness, but there is still a problem.
There’s no white wine!” he gasps. “The whole tour’s falling apart.” This crisis is only averted when he notices, on further inspection, that there is indeed some white wine on the table. There is a knock on the door. Chris, who slept while catering was being served earlier, has ordered an Indian take-away, and here it is. Neil changes. As he takes off his offstage socks, he looks at them, and decides that their time has come. They will not be leaving Canada. He drops them into the rubbish bin. “These former soaks…goodbye,” he says. The Warehouse, tonight’s venue, is far from ideal -the stage is crammed in halfway along one long side of an oblong, and most of the crowd have a poor view. At halftime, Neil and Chris seem a little disgruntled – “we are playing in a toilet,” Chris notes – though they look on the bright side. “I love having the audience really low down, at your feet,” Chris says. “I’m less intimidated by them.
” He complains, however, that someone on his side of the stage put their drunken the stage. “Damn cheek,” he says. “Someone put his jacket on the stage,” Neil reports, “and I kicked it off. Well, I moved towards it and they took it off.” Chris nods. “Because they know what you’re like. You don’t like litter.” “If we wanted a jacket on the stage,” Neil reasons, “we’d have had a jacket on the stage. Tan MacNeil would have designed it.” The show finishes with “Footsteps”, which is a bit wobbly, and almost seems an anti-climax in such a sweaty rock venue as this. They mess up their exit -Neil walks off before the music finishes, while Chris is still at his keyboard, which he understandably feels it is inappropriate to leave before the song is over. In the dressing room Neil mutters “good, well, upwards and onwards…we managed to rock Tint”, and helps himself to one of Chris’s leftover samaras. At the meet’n’greet they are pleased to discover that Ian MacKellen, who is in town filming The X-Mcn, is here. When Neil and Ian pose together for a photo Neil quickly swaps sides with MacKellen so that he will be on the right in the printed photo. “First rule of show-business,” Neil laughs.
“So it’s ‘Neil Tennant with Sir Ian MacKellen’.” Mackellen nods, acknowledging that this is appropriate. “Oh,” he concedes, it’s your night.” Chris comes over and chats with Ian MacKellen about bow they could do with hunting stools to sit on at events like this. They look up to see Neil across the room. “Neil,” says Chris, “is literally posing for pictures with the competition winners. Tomorrow they must be up early to do a final Canadian TV interview and fly to New York…but there arc clubs to be visited. Chris says lie’s too tired. Neil says he’s not coming out tonight. Both of them do. “That’s what you do,” Neil explains. “You make your excuses and stay.”
Wednesday, November 1Oth
Chris appears at l0.3Oam, complaining, but without real vigour. His complaint is about one more of expensive hotels’ illogical habits. “I like the way with ‘do not disturb’ signs,” he says, “they won’t knock on your door, but they’ll ring you.” They’re both tired, and not happy about having to do this interview on the way to the airport. The TV crew has refused to do this morning’s interview in the hotel, so the Pet Shop Boys pile into the limo. “This interview is approximately five minutes,” Merck reassures them. “At the outside,” says Neil. “And they better be ready,” warns Chris. “And we don’t do, ‘sorry; can you say that again because the battery’s run out’?” adds Neil. “We’re professionals,” says Chris. “We’re a Professional outfit.” The drive takes about thirty seconds. Neil and Chris stay in the ear. “You’d better check they’re ready,” Chris suggests to Merck. “There’s about a 95% chance of a tantrum,” warns Neil. “Including one from me.” They go in to the bar where the crew has set up. “I missed your show,” says the female interviewer, “but it sounded great.” Chris’s reply to this is, not unreasonably, fairly but he laughs as he says it and it is taken as the joke it nearly is. Then he asks, “do you always do interviews in a bar?” “We thought it would be a cool atmosphere, clubby, for you guys,” she explains. The interview begins.
“A lot of the Pet Shop Boys is about disguises,” Neil explains. “I hate dressing up,” Chris says, “but I have to keep Neil happy.” “You’re both in your forties,” she says, “which is a bit older than when you started.” “A lot older;” Chris says. As they are unclipped from their microphones, the woman says, “you’re on a promotional tour?” (Merck covers his face. This is not a good avenue to go down.) “A concert tour;” Neil says. “You could be forgiven for thinking that,” says Chris, tartly. “Enough already,” squirms Merck. She asks where they’re off to. “We’re going to New York,” Neil says. “To do some promotion,” says Chris, deadpan. “With the odd concert thrown in.” In the airport lounge they hear that Nightlife has entered the American chart at number 84. They’re a little disappointed – it would only have needed to have sold a few thousand more to enter in the top 40, and they think that the difference will have been made by copies sold on import since it was released three weeks earlier in the rest of the world. A limo meets them at the New York airport to take them straight to a radio interview. Neil shares his in-flight reading: “Got a write up in the New Yorker. It’s a classic – sniffle enthusiastic. ‘…Continue to find inspiration in their rather limited formula…”‘ It mentions, as though this is most original observation on earth, that Neil’s voice sounds a little like Al Stewart’s. Neil sighs. “In 1971,” he says,
“I played my guitar and sang at a friend’s birthday party, and someone said wow, you sound just like Al Stewart’. And I thought, ‘Who’s that?’ And I have been linked with him ever since… “Pity they didn’t say ‘Al Green’,” Chris chips in. “But you can’t have everything.” “…I wouldn’t have known who Al Green was,” Neil continues. “And I have zero familiarity with Al Stewart. Obviously I’ve heard ‘Year of the Cat’…” “Do you know the classic ‘Time Passages’?” Merck asks. “Never heard of it,” Neil says. Merck speaks to Seymour Stein, head of Sire, their American record label, on the phone. “Everyone say hello to Seymour,” he says, holding up the phone. “Hello!” shouts Neil. “Hello!” shouts Chris. Neil is hot. “Have you tuned off the air-conditioning?” he asks Chris. “Yeah,”
Chris replies. “It’s too cold.” Neil opens the window. Eventually they arrive at WLIR. “We’ll be live in – gadanoks! – Fifteen seconds!” The DI, a woman called Malibu Sue, tells them. She asks about the stage show. “It’s designed by the intentional-renowned architect Zaha Hadid,” Neil says. “Who?” says Chris, mischievously. The DJ tells them their look is “Sid Vicious meets Beethoven”. “I like that,” Neil Says. “I’m going to start using that in interviews.” “Will we hear all the old hits?” she asks. “No,” lies Chris. “We’re not doing any of the old hits. Lust obscure h-sides.” Whilst “New York City Boy” plays, she asks what song they want her to play next. “What about ‘I don’t know what it is that you want’?” she suggests. “I like that,” Chris says.
“That’s a much better title.” She tells them that she was instrumental in their success because she played “West End Girls” for eight months on import. “I basically take credit for your whole career in America,” she says, “so put that in your hat and smoke it. I expect a thanks on your next record.” “We don’t do thanks,” Chris says. Back on air, she repeats this Story of her role in their success. “However,” Neil comments, mischievously, “in LA they all think it’s down to KROQ.” While “I Don’t Know What You Want…” plays, she asks them to suggest an old Song. “Shall we play ‘Being Boring’?” Suggests Neil. “Let’s,” Chris agrees. “That’s in the show,” Neil points out, “in a controversial new version.” “It’s a pretty Song,” she says. ‘It was a pretty song,”
Chris says. “We’ve done it in the style of Limp Bilk it.” She looks somewhat surprised. “No, we haven’t really,” he adds. Back on air, she mentions that “its Alright” is being used in the new Ford car commercial. Though they have agreed to this, neither of them has yet seen the advert. “We’ve sold out now,” Chris says. Interview over, they are asked to do some IDs. On top of the sheet of paper they are given it says “Upbeat please”. Whether because of this or coincidentally, Chris drones through the first with a monumental lack of enthusiasm. Neil starts laughing. “That sounds like you’ve just entered the witness box,” he says. They start again. In the limo back into town, Neil Says, “We’re going to have an hour off in the hotel. It’s fantastic. I’m going to have a snooze.” He talks about Rage against the Machine, who has entered the album chart at number one this week. “I’m fascinated by it,” he says, “because my instinct tells me it’s all bullshit and in ten years everyone will say ‘what was all that about?’ Whereas they’ll still be singing ‘Liven’ La Vida Loca’.” They ask about the guest list to their New York party, which is to be held at the legendary disco,
Studio 54, re-opened for one night only. “Names names names,” says Claris. “Has Lulu been invited?” asks Neil. Merck talks about computers and Neil notes that, in American word-processing programmes, spellcheckers happily accept “nightlife” as one word, whereas British spellcheckers insist that it should be two. A couple of hours later; Neil is having hit wig put on in his room at the Mercer hotel, preparing for the New York record signing. Chris is refusing to put his on until he is in the Hummer; they have a Hummer again for New York. James is on hit mobile phone, giving the address of Virgin records, where the in-store is being held. “It’s where Seventh Avenue meets Broadway,” he explains. “Do you want me to sing it to you?”
They are led in the side entrance, and sit down at a table with a red curtain in front of it, expecting the Curtain to open and reveal the queuing fans. After a few minutes of confusion, it is pointed out to them that this table and Cretan have nothing to do with the record signing at all, and that everyone is waiting for them to come to the real table to that the signing can begin. One of the first fans gives Neil a card. On the front it says “For Your Own Good” and when he opens it up the lyric continues “call me tonight”, and there is a name and phone number. One of the next asks Neil to sign a laser disc for the film Cool Itorid, which includes Electronics’ “Disappointed” on it. Out of habit, Chris takes it and begins to sign his own name. “You shouldn’t sign that,” Neil points out. “Why? What’s on it?” Chris asks, and looks. “Oh. ‘Disenchanted’,” he says. Neil has been referring to the Rolling Stone album review, and the notion that the audience are “Petheads”, moat nights since Las Vegas. Now they meet the first fan in a home-made PETHEAD T-shirt. Neil holds ups copy of “Absolutely Fabulous”. “Get Q on the phone!” he hollers. The signing is more regimented than the previous ones – apparently the only people allowed to queue are those who have bought a copy of Nightlife here and have received a special P555 to stand in line (the shop’s rules, not the Pet Shop Boys’) and after an hour or so everything has been signed. Neil and Chris have been told that they can have some free stuff from the shop. Chris isn’t too bothered –
“I want to go back to the hotel; I’m not really interested in music any more -there’s nothing I like” – and though Neil browses through the art hooks, he’s not inspired. “It’s a problem when you can have anything,” he reflects. “YQu don’t really want anything.” On the way back to the hotel in the Hummer, they reflect on how regimented the signing was. “I think the next time we do a signing,” Neil says, “it should be a screaming mass. It’s too super-organised.” “It was,” Ian MacNeil observes, “a bit like filing past Lenin’s tomb.” Neil and Chris attend the embers of a posh $1000-a-head dinner in honour of Seymour Stein, and then come hack to the hotel, where Neil humps into Simon Ic Bon, who has just played a Concert with John Taylor. “Simon!” says Neil. “Neil!” says Simon. And they hug, then exchange brief pleasantries.. There is an attempt to gather everyone and go to club, but after various taxi and limo joumeys it ends in disaster. Chris, in a terrible mood, goes to bed. So does Neil, then gets up again for a night-cap. John Taylor wanders by, and greets him. “I was talking to someone on Saturday who said she’d seen you,” John Taylor says. “Was that the girl in the health food store?” Neil says. “Yeah.” Another friend comes in, and asks Neil what everyone did this evening. “We went nowhere,” he says. “We went a long way to nowhere, and then took a taxi hack.”
Thursday, November 11.
Neil has gone to lunch uptown with Elton John and Janet Street-Porter. Chris is worrying about his new Nike trainers; there’s a weird bump on one side, rather like the feeling you get when you’ve got some chewing gum stuck there, and it’s annoying him. They arc scheduled to go to the venue at 5.15; just before they come down from their rooms, Simon Ic Bon and Dainton chat in reception. Le Bon explains that he has a plane to catch. “I would love to go to the panty,” he sighs. “I look forward to your parties with great anticipation. Your parties are legendary…” In the limo, Neil and Chris realise they don’t know exactly where they’re heading. Chris gets on the phone to Derek in the production office. “Hi Derek,” he says. lt.’s Chris of the Pet Shop Boys. What’s the address of the stage door?” As the limo crawls north, the two of them discuss the relative merits, and lack thereof, of Geri Hallwell and Emma Bunton. “In years to come, Neil proclaims, no one will be able to remember any of the Spice Girls solo records. They’re all sort of nothing records.” At the Hammerstein Ballroom, they immediately examine the stage. Chris stands behind his keyboard and asks for Elton John’s box to be pointed out to him.
“I need to check where to perform to,” he explains. He walks away as the music for “Happiness Is An Option” echoes out of the speakers. “War,” Chris says, “what is it good for.” Backstage, he has a haircut, and tries to clean himself off with a towel. He’s covered in white fluff. “These blasted towels!” are lumens. “We need pre–washed towels!” During the sound-check – all of which it conducted with a large, industrial cleaner standing near the middle of the stage – Neil investigates where be can have steps down into the pit so that be can go walkabout and meet the fans up close. “Yes,” he announces, “I’m doing a Bono. I’ll shake lots of hands and then it’ll give me a link to ‘Shameless’.” It’s not feasible – they have to leave the pit access clear in case they need to get fainted fans Out on stretchers, and so the only way of also having steps there is to move the crowd barrier, and hence the whole crowd, a couple of feet Luther back from the stage. Which seems like a rather counterproductive way to create more intimacy.
When the last song of the sound-check, “For Your Own Good”, is over, some rather different music comes through the speakers. “What’s this?” Chris wonders. It is Ian Dury’s “My Old Man”. “Why are we listening to this?” he says. “Actually, I did use to like Ian Dury.” In the dressing room, they have the proofs for the Pet Shop Boys Christmas Card. Farrow, their design company, have provided five different options, with different graphic outlines for the top of the Pet Shop Boys wig. They choose the straggliest, irregular one. Calm is interrupted by the arrival of Neil’s jeans, which he has given to the wardrobe department to have washes. “They haven I pressed them down the middle,” he moans, esushed. Because they have. “It’ll crive me Insane. That’s specifically why I gave them to you.” The wardrobe people assure him they know how to Get the creases out. He shakes his bead. “You’ll never get the line out.” A sigh. “That’s an overwhelming fashion disaster. I can’t quite believe that’s happened.” Another sigh. “Never mind…” Another shake of the head. “I so nearly didn’t have them cleaned…” Chris, who has missed all of this, comes out of the bathroom.
“I’ve had one of the most momentous disasters of my life,” Neil tells him. “My three pairs of jeans…Two Gucci, one Jill Sander…” “Creases down the middle?” gasps Chris. “She claims she can do something about them,” Neil says. Chris shakes his bead firmly. “Can’t. Throw them away.” “The fact is,” Neil says, “I’ve only bad them for three weeks.” A few minutes later, one pair of jeans is brought back for Neil to inspect. Bafflingly, the crease seems to have gone. Neil is pleased, but suspicious. “Show Chris,” he in Struts. “Just steam?” Chris asks. “It’s never worked before.” They get ready. “These are our last two shows of the millennium in the United States of America,” Mitch says. Neil laughs. “its not like we’ve done that many in the first place, is it?” be says. He looks in the mirror. “The wigs look great tonight, Christie,” he congratulates. “It’s a good wig day.” He stands up. “Well,” he says, “we’re ready.” “The walk,” says Dainton. “It’s time to go,” says Chris. “This is it,” says Neil. “New York City.” “It’s what we’ve been working towards,” says Chris. And they walk. Behind the stage, as the light goes down and the crowd roar, Chris Tums to Neil with some last minute advice.
“Don’t forget to bow to Elton,” Chris advises. “He is a dame, after all.” Then Chris pretends to be one of the crowds. “Neil!” he goes. “Neil!” The bass note, which goes with, the interference noise before “For Your Own Good” booms. “‘Night boat To Cairo’,” says Dainton. “It it as well,” says Chris. “‘Nightlife To Cairo’.” He Tums back to Neil. “I hope they’re not going to let you onstage without your past. Do you have a pass?” Neil giggles. Chris starts half-jogging on the spot. Neil begins tinning. It goes well. “Elton’s going to have a heart stakes,” Merck reports in the interval. “Have you seen him? He’s whipping around likes banshee.” “I fancy a voeka and tonic,” Chris says. “You know,” says Neil, “it’s great having an Interval. Peter Schwartz pops in to see if he can persuade them to do “Footsteps” tonight but a little unnerved by a review in Toronto, which derided it, they decided not to. “I’d love to sing it,
” Neil says. “I love singing it -it’s my favourite song in the whole show really.” But not tonight. Chris’s drink comes. It is made with Belvedere vodka, which he is assured is fine, though he has his doubts. “That sounds like a bed and breakfast in Blackpool,” he points out. The mood builds further in the second half, and the only spanner in the works is that when Neil moves to play his keyboard at the end of “Go west” he realises it isn’t there, so he walks off; taking Chris with him. “I like the wig-out at the end,” says Chris, slightly disappointed. “That’s the only bit I like.” He gets increasingly annoyed about the mistake. “It’s not often you find me complaining about not playing,” J,e says. Elton Jolso bursts in.
“Absolutely fantastic,” he says. “We led the dancing,” says Janet Street-Porter. Elton looks around, and points. “There’s the wigs!” he exclaims. “Get out of my way – I’ll steal them.” Drinks are passed around; Dainton brings Elton John some M&Ms. More mends arrive, and there is much merriment. After a while, Neil and Chris go downstairs to meet some record industry people, and to pose for photos with Elton, Janet and Seymour Stein. Then they’re in the limo, off to Studio 54. “I hope this party’s going to be OK,” says Chris. They pull up outside Studio 54. There’s a huge, unmanageable crowd. It turns out that they need to drive around to the back. They are bundled inside and led to a downstairs room – reputedly part of the famous basement where money was hidden in the ceiling and many of the greater naughtiness took place. Eventually everyone migrates to the dance-floor as first Tom Stephan and then David Morels DJs. “Well,” says Chris, “it’s a dream come true.”
Friday, November l2
“How are you tills morning?” Chris asks Neil. (It is a little before three in the afternoon.) “I had quite a nice time last night,” Neil says. “It was quite a good party,” Chris agrees. They have an interview to do with MTV2, MTV’s other channel, at the Tunnel night-club, where they are to introduce 5 series of videos which MTV have chosen from a longer list of selections made by Neil and Chris. The ones MTV have chosen are Daft Punk’s “Da Funk”Last Of The Famous Intentional Playboys”, The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me”, Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message”, T Rex’s “Bang A Gong” (Or, rather, “Get It On” as it is known outside America), Snap’s “ithythm Is A Dancer”, U2’a “One” (the drag version), Air’s “Sexy Boy”, Madonna’s “Borderline”, Brace Springateen’s “Streets Of Philadelphia”, Malcolm MeLaren’s “Buffalo Gals”, Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You”, ABC’s “The Look Of Love”, Bjork’s “All Is Full Of Love”, REM’s “Everybody Hurts” and Soft Cell’s “Bedsore”. Neil reads through the list. “Wow,” he says.
“It’s a masterpiece.” Chris asks whether MTV2 will be filming their legs. Though they are wearing wigs and the shiny metallic jackets, he can’t be bothered to change out of his jeans. “Do you think we should?” he asks Neil. “I think we should,” Neil says. “OK,” Chris concedes. “We’ll go the whole bog.” There is a slight disagreement before filming starts. The Pet Shop Boys want MTV2 to play “Being Boring” or “I Don’t Know What You Want…” instead of too many videos from the mid-Eighties, and the producer rather feebly argues that they don’t have a copy of it then has to backtrack rather awkwardly when Merck offers to have one sent over rightaway. “It’s whole logistical…political…” she blathers, and says something vaguely nonsensical about “rights and clearances”. (It seems as though her real reason is something to do with an approved play-list of videos. The ones she offers are “West End Girls”, “Opportunities” and “It’s a Sin”.)
“Shall we just not do the show?” says Chris, in a perfectly friendly way, as though he is going Out of his way to make a helpful suggestion. In the end, they agree to introduce both “Opportunities” and “I Don’t Know What You Want…” as alternatives, and the issue is quietly swept under the carpet. After filming for a few minutes, the soundman asks them to stop. “The pants are really loud,” he complains. “The pants are loud?” Chris repeats. “Yeah,” he says. Apparently when Chris shifts positions, his trousers make too much noise. “You’ve got loud trousers,” observes Neil. Jancee, the interviewer, asks them how they stay together. “We don’t really think about it,” Neil says. “It’s easier to stay together than to split up, I think,” says Chris. “I don’t like change.” Afterwards, they film some. For the video introductions. The cameraman asks for the bubbling columns of coloured water in the background to be switched off. “I really like the sound of the bubbles,” Neil says. ‘I think it’s very relaxing,” says Chris. They get turned off anyway. All this has set Neil thinking. “Does Michael Jaekson still have Bubbles?” he asks. MTV2 ask for an intro for the “…Streets With No Name…” video.
They release. “It’s one of the worst videos ever made,” Neil explains. They do one for ‘…Drank” instead. “The idea,” Neil explains, “was of the aftermath of a party – everyone’s tired and been up all night and been loved up.. .1 particularly like the hit when everyone stands up and sits down in slow motion.” They drive straight from the interview to the Hammerstein Ballroom. There’s a meeting about their next British single, but Chris skips it for a nap. “I’m knackered,
he tells Neil when Neil returns to the dressing room, though naturally he isn’t too knackered to complain how tiring their schedule is. “Well, we did have a party last night,” Neil says. “But that’s part of it,” Chris says. “You can’t pretend you’re not going to have a party now and again, so it should be built into the schedule…On this tour, it’s been gruelling. I’m glad I’m not part of the crew – I don’t know how they do it.” Neil says he’s not necessarily sure that it is harder for the crew. “You never get to escape the Pet Shop Boys,” he says, “and that’s what gets tiring. That, for anyone, is quite tough.” “The problem is,” Chris says, “since we last toured, the mobile phone has been invented. You can’t escape it. It’s crap.
” They are told that tickets for the show tonight are being sold for ~275 on the black market. “There’s a lot of money being made around us,” Neil says. Time for another interview. This one is for Denmark. Chris stays flat-out on the couch. “Do you always agree with each other about decisions?” they are asked. “Yes, we do,” Neil says. “If one of us disagrees, we didn’t do it.” “Yeah, pretty much,” says Chris. “We have the power of veto. It’s like the European community.” The interviewer asks about their image. “We wanted to look extraordinary,” Neil says. “That was the idea. We didn’t want to look like everyone else in pop music…baggy jeans. Everyone looks the same now. The style of music doesn’t influence how you dress now. There tribes in music now. It’s a bit boring, that.” “It was better when there was lots of little subcultures,” says Chris. “You could think, ‘oh, no, I’m one of these…”‘ “I thought,” says .uses Dane, “with the dogs, ‘what are they up to now?”‘ “It’s a great picture,
” Neil says. “t don’t think you need to read too much into it. It’s a fantastic picture. Why shouldn’t you make yourself into a fantastic picture? Why shouldn’t we do that?” Chris picks up the CD promo of Drunk” which is lying on a table. “Have you seen the credit on this? Guitar…pedal-steel guitar…Haas guitar…” He feigns indignation. “Is this a Pet Shop Boys record? We’re meant to be a synch duo, for God’s sake.” “We’ve made a rock record,” Neil sighs. “We’re made a flaming rock record,” says Chris. “I’m not very happy about it, as a fan.” They get ready. Chris once again tries to argue that he doesn’t need to wear eyebrows on stage, because no one can really see them above his sunglasses. “You should have your eyebrows, Chris,” argues Neil, “as a matter of theory.” Though Neil’s microphone doesn’t work for a while between “Happiness Is An Option” and “Can You Forgive Her?”, it’s another good audience tonight. “I think it’s a better crowd tonight,” says Chris in the interval. As they change they discuss which clubs they should visit later. Dainton comes in to say he has just thrown out from the backstage area a man who claimed to be from MTV. “Re’s been ejected,” Dainton reports. “He’s now on where Park Avenue meets Broadway.”
“Elton even wasn’t allowed backstage in the interval,” Chris points out. “And he’s rock royalty,” says Neil. “He was even scared to come backstage at the end,” laughs Chris. “He knows what you’re like.” They discuss the stranger people they have had to deal with on the tour. “I attract mutters,” Chris sighs. “You’re a mutter magnet,” Merck says. “Whereas,” Neil chips in, “I’m an earbender magnet.” Backstage, after a triumphant seconds half, Chris says, Hey, that’s our last show in America. That’s significant. “Party people!” sings Neil. “We’ve got to get ftinlty!” A few minutes later he says, “if fate had taken a different path I’d probably be Archbishop of West minter. With high hopes for a cardinal’s hat.” Chris complains that there’s no hot water in the bathroom. “Chris, it’s a dressing room,” Neil says. “You’re lucky there’s water.” It will be quite late the next day, after a long night’s clubbing, before everyone surfaces. Chris will go out drinking with friends; Neil will look at some art and then dine at a Japanese restaurant, and then the party wills start again. The day after they will fly, a little blearily, to play in Montreal, after which their 1999 North American tour will be finished.
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Taken From Literally 2000Issue 22