Your Funny Uncle

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1989
Original album - Alternative
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - Introspective 2001 reissue Further Listening 1988-1989 bonus disc
Other releases - b-side of single "It's Alright"

The other "It's Alright" b-side, a short, poignant, downbeat song with a lovely melody, unusual in that there's not a trace of percussion to be found. Inspired by the recent funeral of a friend who had died of AIDS-related illness (the same friend whose death had inspired "Being Boring"), Neil adopts the role of an observer at just such a funeral, watching the others in attendance. The "funny uncle" of the title is one such person, who, "with military bearing," meets and greets the young friends of the deceased. Perhaps there's a sense of irony in this older, repressed relative—quite possibly himself gay—meeting the gay friends of his nephew, who has died in his prime. (Please see the detailed annotation below about the connotations of the term "funny uncle.")

Amidst the spare but harmonically lush instrumentation—all, aside from the piano, played on a keyboard sampler—a lead clarinet (a musical echo of the uncle's heyday and personality) takes us to the conclusion. The closing words ("…no more pain, no fear…. These former things have passed away…."), embellished with increased reverb to give them greater emphasis, are derived from the biblical book of Revelation, an excerpt that Neil himself had read aloud at his friend's funeral:

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
                - Revelation 21:4, King James Version

An important implication lies in the implicit contrast of gay generations—the older repressed generation exemplified by the "funny uncle" as opposed to the younger, far more open generation represented by the deceased as well as by Neil and their mutual friends. When he sings "These former things have passed away," Neil could be referring to the repression faced by that older generation. In the wake of both gay liberation and AIDS, the closet is, if not history, at least well on its way out. As the song's final words put it, "Another life begins today."


List cross-references