The 26th issue is the Vietnamese-American designer’s most intimate project to date, inviting readers to explore the idea of home and understand the internal narratives of the shy designer.
Being Boring (1990)
Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant in conversation with James Righton
An excerpt from ‘Being Boring’, an interview between musicians Neil Tennant of the ‘Pet Shop Boys’ and James Righton of ‘The Klaxons’ featured within A Magazine Curated By Erdem.
James Righton: ‘Being Boring’ is my favourite song of yours. Is it autobiographical?
Neil Tennant: Yes, it is. When I was a teenager, I had a close group of friends in Newcastle centred on the People’s Theatre, a big amateur theatre which had a youth group that I was a member of. My first musical collaboration was a folk group called Dust, inspired by the Incredible String Band, which a friend and I started and wrote songs for. ‘Being Boring’ tells the story of this friendship and how we moved to London, and our lives evolved with me becoming one of the Pet Shop Boys at the same time as he was diagnosed with AIDS and then died. So it’s really an autobiographical elegy based on our mission statement from the early 1970s that we never wanted to live boring lives in routine jobs which we felt our education was pushing us towards.
JR: ‘Being Boring’ was from a Zelda Fitzgerald quote that was written on an invitation to a party when you were 17. What party was it? You were in Newcastle?
NT: Yes, it was a party in I think 1973 which my friend organised. He called it The Great Urban Dionysia which sounds very grand when actually it was a house party in a suburb of Gateshead! But we were fascinated by the Bright Young Things of the 1920s, and they had thrown a party with this name. The invitation indeed quoted Zelda Fitzgerald: ‘She was never bored, mainly because she was never boring.’ And that quote partly inspired the lyrics of the song.
JR: What would a 17-year-old you make of you today?
NT: The 17-year-old me used to go around Newcastle telling people that he was going to become a pop star, so I think he’d be delighted with how things turned out. It seemed both very unlikely but also possible. I never gave up on writing songs, and then when I met Chris Lowe, everything fell into place.
JR: Zelda was never boring… In life, what do you find utterly boring?
NT: Pointless polite social occasions.
JR: Roger Morton from NME described ‘Being Boring’ as ‘a scrapbook flick through his journey from expectant Northern youth in the 1970s to a doubting 1990s adulthood, burdened by unease and a sense of loss (of close friends)’. What loss was it exactly? Who do you miss the most from that time?
NT: The loss, as mentioned above, was friends dying during the AIDS crisis. I think the ‘heterosexual community’ recently were educated by the TV series It’s a Sin about the personal tragedies and horrors of that era. The Covid-19 pandemic has also had echoes of it. For almost ten years, 1985–1994, I always knew someone who was wasting away with the disease. I miss the friends who died. Because of living through it, I wrote song lyrics about the experience.
JR: What was it like collaborating with Derek Jarman?
NT: Derek was a highly imaginative and very practical artist whose life was truly bohemian. His art and life were inseparable. We approached him to make a video for our song ‘It’s a Sin’ because, while we were mixing it, his film Caravaggio was playing on the studio TV. But the real collaboration was our first tour production which Derek directed and made films for. He brought together music, film, costume and dance, and it was very thrilling to be part of it. Chris and I had refused to tour until we could afford to stage a theatrical show in the tradition of Grace Jones and David Bowie, and Derek helped us realise this ambition.
JR: There is something almost elegiac about your earlier music. A melancholia. The AIDS epidemic was looming large at that time. I imagine being gay 1986 was very different to now. What influence did those times have on your music?
NT: I’ve always loved elegiac orchestral music, expressing beauty with dignity and some of that love has gone into PSB music. It was instinctive to write elegiac songs during a tragic period. But at the same time, it was a period of fabulous euphoric pop and dance music. In the early 1980s, you could hear thrilling and inspirational dance music in gay clubs that you would hear nowhere else. By the end of the decade, it had become the sound of pop. I think Chris and I have blended euphoria with sadness in our music.
The Swedish artist’s monographic exhibition at David Zwirner Paris ponders heartbreak and nostalgia whilst blurring the textures of reality.
The American artist muses on the light of the end of the tunnel during this prolific period between his exhibition at David Zwirner and his sculpture for Frieze.