Being Boring

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1990
Original album - Behaviour
Producer - Harold Faltermeyer, Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - Discography, PopArt, Pandemonium, Ultimate
Other releases - single (UK #20, US Dance Sales #10, US Dance #19); ; live bonus track with single "You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You're Drunk"

With this one song, the Pet Shop Boys gave voice to an entire generation of gay men who to that point and afterward had managed to survive the AIDS epidemic.

It's inspired by a quote by Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of American author F. Scott Fitzgerald ("… someone's wife, a famous writer in the 1920s…"): "… she refused to be bored chiefly because she wasn't boring. She was conscious that the things she did were the things she had always wanted to do." The fact that Neil found this quote so inspiring is very revealing. He uses it as the springboard for a heartfelt rumination on the path his life has taken, rendered bittersweet by his success and fame amidst the personal and social devastation wrought by AIDS. Neil has stated that this song was inspired, in particular, by the AIDS-related death of his longtime friend Chris Dowell, whose funeral had also inspired "Your Funny Uncle."

The Pet Shop Boys have cited this melancholy but gorgeous, deeply moving track as one of their finest achievements and personal favorites. It has proven a perennial fan-favorite as well. Not only are the melody and arrangement beautiful, but Neil writes one of his most moving lyrics, including the marvelous line, "I never dreamt that I would get to be the creature that I always meant to be." (Note again the Zelda Fitzgerald influence.) In a slightly truncated version, this song served as the second single released from the album. Its accompanying video, shot by Bruce Weber, was notorious for its brief glimpses of male rear nudity. But now, like the song itself, it's recognized by many as a true classic of the genre.

In a somewhat (dare I say it?) ironic twist, this song—which to many fans marks the beginning of the Boys' more "mature" phase—owes a major musical debt to those "poppiest" of U.K. music producers of the 1980s, Stock Aitken Waterman. As Neil revealed in a 1996 interview with BBC Radio 1:

We were always fascinated about the way Stock Aitken Waterman would change key for choruses. And so the verse of "Being Boring" was in A minor or D minor, maybe, after we went up a semi-tone into A-flat for the chorus—which we would never have done before. It wasn't an attempt to be mature. It was actually an attempt to be like Stock Aitken Waterman.

In short, the song's musical innovation and maturity emerged at least in part from a source that few would consider likely candidates for such influences. Such are the strange workings of creativity.

Some fans have expressed concern or confusion that Neil would refer to himself as a "creature" in the last verse: "I never dreamt that I would get to be the creature that I always meant to be." Why, they wonder, would Neil use such a deprecating term to describe himself? But this only seems deprecating because we've grown up in a modern popular culture in which the word "creature" is most commonly used to refer to monsters in horror movies (such as The Creature from the Black Lagoon). Neil, however, is using "creature" in a more traditional sense: as any product of creation, particularly a living being. "Creature" and "creation" are, after all, etymologically linked, derived from the same Latin root. We are all "creatures" in this sense. Further, the context strongly suggests the element of self-creation; that is, Neil is in many ways the product of his own conscious decisions—as, to varying degrees, we all are. In essence, Neil has become the person that he had always wanted and strived to become. He is his own creature. The fact that he expresses some surprise at his success at having done so adds both poignancy and a gratifying touch of humility.

It should be noted that the lyrics, with that final verse placing it squarely in the 1990s, seriously risked dating the song beyond redemption. But Neil has adapted it for live performances in subsequent decades and the new century, often revising the line "Some are missing in the 1990s" to "Some were missing…." It's simply too great a song to let a little thing like time render it irrelevant.

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