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“She covered her face with powder and paint because she didn’t need it, and 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.”—Zelda Fitzgerald.

T he quote attributed to the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald adorns Being boring by Pet Shop Boys. More importantly, it infuses the song with its meaning. It places the reader and listener at the centre of the song. It places the song in a time, or more specifically, in times. And those times change. And change brings emotional turmoil. The woman in Zelda Fitzgerald’s mind obviously believed that she was resourceful enough to entertain herself. But it is her self-awareness that shows why. She was living out her dreams. And she knew it. She may have been an actress of some sort. She may have been a star. Either way, she knew she was centre-stage. And she was because she was living her life. Like we all do. Like we are the centre of our own universes. Because we are. We are the actors. And we sure as hell can hold our own attentions. Because we have presence. And we are conscious of our own star status in our own minds. Because in our own minds we are the only stars. It’s our universe. Our movie. Our life. And we don’t know where it is ending. The woman in Zelda’s mind was aware of the here and now. The present, in the things she did, and the past, in the things she had always wanted to do, are one. The future never arrives. It becomes the present and then the past. And she lives it as we do, because we can. And we know that once it is gone there is little for us to do than to look back and wonder why we did what we did and reminisce. All movies end. Just like lives. But the only video playback for us is our memory.

Any song that utilises nostalgia as a main theme is likely to be crass, sentimental, and rose-tinted. Nostalgia is a booming trade these days. Nothing is sacred. Not even memories. They inevitably become sepia-toned and improve with time. Rarely are they genuine. Or heart-felt. Being boring manages to avoid the excesses of nostalgia by remembering the pain of the past as well as the pleasure. Times change. People change. Emotions change. Time brings death and loss. And loss is never rose-tinted. True loss becomes only more manageable, because there is nothing else for us to do except manage it. It can never be dressed-up, just addressed. And in life, change brings only two things: enrichment and loss. We gain new friendships and experiences only by shedding previous ones. And sometimes, the old ones were deeper.

I can’t think of any other song by this English pop duo that could have me writing like I am right now. That’s not to say that I believe this to be their peak. I believe this to be their most emotionally prescient song. It’s the reason that this song is considered their best by many. It reflects the experiences of us all in some way or other. Some feel the meaning more acutely than others. But everybody old enough to regret feels its tug. It’s the story of life and lives. Of love and loss. Of hope and expectation. Of youth and experience. Of bitter reality and the passage of time. It’s a monument to the writing talents of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe. It is also the most gloriously hyped song that this duo will ever construct. Because it is about us. And nobody is more important than us. Not to us. And who else matters?

T o my mind, Being boring is a magical adventure. It’s life after all. Its brilliance lies in the manner in which Tennant and Lowe have distilled life into a seven minute pop song. Seven minutes sum up life. And the single reduces it further. Proof that commercial reality taints everything. Its UK chart debut of number 36 can be viewed as the day Tennant and Lowe lost their public. It can also be viewed as the day they gained immortality. The shedding of the teenage brigade for the intellectual high-brow guaranteed a longevity that the fads of the day could never hope to match. The fads of 1990 were New Kids On The Block and MC Hammer. Hammer time was up. That’s not to claim that number 36 was part of the plan. Not at all. But it showed a band that seemed intent on releasing what it regarded as its best work. While the eventual climb to number 20 precipitated a major re-think of commercial values, it also signified a determination to think independently and retain individuality. A stomping U2 cover brought the success back fleetingly, but subsequent releases like Jealousy, DJ Culture, Liberation, Before, and You only tell me you love me when you’re drunk showed that the charts were never again intended to be dominated as 1987. Success would be welcomed, even encouraged in leaner times, but never bought by the sale of values.

Detractors of Being boring are few. Detractors of the myth of Being boring are more easily found. And they are correct to identify a myth. The myth in question hacks at the true beauty of the song. It revolves around the selfish notion that Being boring is the PSB peak because “I’ve lost someone.” Being boring is considered by many to be an elegy. The narrator, Tennant, is not an old man. But he seems to have lost. And lost many. The lines “All the people I was kissing / Some are here and some are missing” suggest that some kind of plague or war has vanquished his loved ones. Tennant’s personal history and his pre-occupation with the consequences of AIDS, as evinced in songs like Domino dancing and Dreaming of the Queen, suggest that it is AIDS that has caused him such loss. To my mind, and I know that I’m being controversial here, some fans of the band have jumped on this as some form of personal collective vindication or expression of special poignancy. This is perfectly understandable in itself. But some then take this to extremes and will not hear of another song gaining more acclaim among the overall fan-base. AIDS has possibly touched more fans of this duo than some other bands, but let’s not obscure a simple fact: loss affects everyone. We all feel it. Maybe some have not lost as much as others. But the revisionist thinking that stops the PSB clock at November 1990 fails to address the simple fact that if this song was so touching to the fan-base, which was a lot larger then, why did it flop so badly? Too many people now think this song is the greatest PSB track for anyone to believe that they all rushed out and bought it in 1990. The myth grew over the years. It became a Stalinist point of fact. It became the song of snobbery. “Oh yes, Being boring was their best.” Yes, it might well be the greatest. But it might well not be either. Love this gorgeous record for itself, not for what others tell you to. It’s far too beautiful to become a cliché, the thing to say. The song to be seen with. Being boring is not a fashion accessory or a statement of superior taste or an expression of self-pity. It is a dignified distillation of life and loss. It’s a celebration of who we are and of what we do. Those things we had always wanted to do. And did.

Brian O’Driscoll.

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