Friday, June 14, 2013

The Sadness of the Pet Shop Boys

 For me there has always been a sadness underlying a lot of the music of the Pet Shop Boys. For that reason, they were also the perfect gay band.
I was reminded of this when I was in a gay bar the other night and I suddenly heard what I think is the perfect Pet Shop Boys song: “Love Comes Quickly.”
While it can be read on the surface as an obvious play on words (see also Richard Hell’s “Love Comes in Spurts”), “Love Comes Quickly” perfectly encapsulates not only the sadness and loneliness of a life of one-night stands, but also the sadness and loneliness of the life of a pop star: traveling all over the world but never staying in one place long enough to develop a real connection.
The Pet Shop Boys are, arguably, the quintessential gay band because, while they never talked about anything explicitly gay, they perfectly encapsulated a “gay sensibility,” whether it was the emptiness of consumer culture (“Shopping”) or the power/economic dynamic of a lot of gay (and heterosexual) relationships (“I Love You, You Pay My Rent”). Even their name, the Pet Shop Boys, is a seeming allusion to the Richard Gere/gerbil myth that refuses to die.
What was it about the ’80s that gave birth to so many gay bands, and why have they suddenly disappeared at a time when gays are more visible than ever? Certainly, there was a lot of “gender-bending” going on, whether it was Eurythmics or Culture Club or Boy George’s pop star friend, Marilyn.
But you also had The Smiths, who were so melodramatic it was funny (“I was looking for a job and then I found a job. And heaven knows I’m miserable now.”).
But gays could also be outrageous/campy drag queens like Boy George and Pete Burns from Dead or Alive, although Boy George could also be melodramatic. Who could forget the Barbra Streisand-like production on “Mistake Number Three” and its correspondingly melodramatic video?
They could also be defiantly political and heart-rending, like Bronski Beat with their coming out anthem “Small Town Boy,” depicting the loneliness and isolation of gay life in a small town.
But there was something else about the Pet Shop Boys, whether it was Neil Tennant’s plaintive voice or Chris Lowe, the “cute” one whom you saw but who never said anything and always hid behind his keyboard and/or some outrageous costume.
Chris Lowe could be read as a symbol of the objectification of gay life.
But Neil Tennant was and is something more. Neil Tennant was/is that most feared thing in the gay community and, indeed, society in general: an intellectual. 

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