||June 6th, 1999. Inside a very
large studio in West London there are three sides of a
smaller -but still fairly large - Regency drawing room,
modeled on the room at the end of the film 2001: A Space
Odyssey. Inside the room are the Pet Shop Boys. They have
blond hair and are both wearing a strange striped kind of
trouser with impossibly wide legs.
As Chris waits to be
filmed on his own, a heavy rectangular light array topples
towards him. He catches it. When it is Neil's turn, he
asks for a set of lyrics to their new single, "I Don't
Know What You Want But I Can't Give It Any More". He
hasn't completely memorized them yet.
for lunch and to film an interview for their record
company, for which they sit on the edge of the Regency
room, answering questions about the new record and
forthcoming tour. The interview is supposed to be shown
all over the world on TV programs as promotion. Chris
quibbles about the lighting, then says, "the fact is, the
problem isn't the make-up or hair. The problem is me."
Neil half-smiles. "We look like the post-punk Richard And
Judy," he says. He looks at Chris and observes, "Needless
to say you've managed to make your clothes look vaguely
When the camera starts rolling, Neil tries to
work out a rationale for their forthcoming album.
It's the first interview they've done. "In three weeks
time," he laughs, "Chris will know that speech." After
they have finished answering a few questions, they debate
whether record company interviews like this ever actually
get used. (They decide that they would like fans around
the world to write to Literally with details if they see
footage on their local TV of Neil and Chris sitting on the
edge of this video set answering questions.) The idea for
the video is that the Pet Shop Boys are seen
metamorphosing into their new images. They begin as the
previous Neil and Chris, on some kind of operating table.
"You see us actually being created to look like this,
almost in a medical process," Neil explains, "and then a
ritual dressing." In this Regency room they are dressed by
stern-faced Japanese men.
They wanted a room like the
one in 2001 "because we wanted the video to look very
science fiction, and that is the ultimate science fiction
movie." In the final scenes, to be shot tomorrow, they
will walk in a bleak urban landscape with their dogs.
Various scenes are based on various movies, Ridicule,
2001, A Clockwork Orange - and the director, Pedro
Romhanyi, actually cut together the song to clips from the
movies beforehand, to give an idea of how the video might
look. Right now, they debate whether the Backstreet Boys
are any good.
"I quite like 'Quit Playing Games
With My Heart'," Neil says
. "That one's had heart
surgery," says Chris, "so good on him."
agrees. "He did, didn't he? The one with the blond hair."
They talk about seeing Hole in New York. They only arrived
in time for the last four numbers, but just in time for
their favorite, "Celebrity Skin". Afterwards, they played
it three more times in the car as they drove downtown.
Chris says that he recently saw the famous Sixties Bob
Dylan documentary, Don 'I Look Back. "They're always
playing music in the dressing room," he says. "I found it
Neil laughs. "Nine out of ten rock stars
wouldn't find it weird," he points out.
that one recent Tuesday night he ended up in the Grouch
Club and Kate Moss persuaded him to play the piano. "I
played 'West End Girls' and then 'Suburbia' and then I
finished with a rousing 'Go West'." After that, Bernard
Summer took over. "He played something really
complicated," Chris says.
Dainton takes snack orders.
Chris asks for his latest discovery, Caramel Galaxy.
Dainton asks Neil whether he wants carrot cake. Neil
shakes his head firmly. "Diet," he says. "Carrot cake
bites the dust, I'm afraid. I might have a tangerine."
"We'll get afternoon tea, won't we?" Chris confirms.
"Actually it's great, video shoots. I'd forgotten how many
meals you get."
They are filmed together, being fussed
over and having their final clothes put on. The director
asks for an apple box for Chris to stand on so that both
Pet Shop Boys will appear the same height. The filming
moves over to a futuristic operating table around which a
strange device rotates. They have to wear green medical
smocks. In a break, Neil and Chris wander back and stare
at the Regency room stage. "Why are we standing here?"
Chris asks Neil.
"We're looking at the stage," Neil
replies. There is a short pause. "We've looked at it," he
declares, and they move off.
During afternoon tea in
their dressing room, they have meetings about their
forthcoming tour and interactive CDs, and field one of the
daily requests from their record company to make the title
of their new single shorter. ("One of the things I like
about the single title," Neil laughs, "is that I know
it'll keep on coming back and back.") And they bitch about
a certain boy band. "I don't think I've ever hated a group
as much as them," Neil says. "They're so naff. They've got
"What about Steps?" Dainton
"Steps at least are a camp frolic," Neil
says. "They..." - the boy band - "...Are just horrible."
"Yep," nods Chris. "It's appalling. I just don't know
what's happened to music really. It's time for it all to
get banished, and something to take its place. Like when
ballroom dancing got the push." Neil talks about Sir Ian
McKellen's birthday party. He sat next to Geri Halliwell
at dinner, and met Monica Lewinsky. "I said, 'I'm Neil
Tennant from the Pet Shop Boys'. She said, 'I know you
are. I grew up in LA in the Eighties and we used to listen
to you'. I asked her what she was going to do next and she
said, 'it's very difficult..."'
Chris looks at his
watch. It's nearly seven o'clock. They arrived at
ten-thirty. "Do we have dinner here?" he asks.
getting a we-leave-at-midnight vibe," Neil says. Chris is
appalled to learn that for the next shot he is supposed to
appear - albeit not very obviously in the finished video -
as he is, without hat or sunglasses. "I didn't know I was
going to be exposed," he says, dubious. "I don't remember
this being in the treatise? What am I going to do. When
was I last exposed? It must have been Please."
"Actually," Neil says.
Chris nods. "The front cover of
Actually. I'm not sure about this. I'm not sure about this
at all." He decides he'll have to keep an eye on the
They lie on the operating tables
again. "What a ridiculous position to lip-sync in," Neil
laughs. "You start to think about your breathing, don't
you," Chris says, "when you do nothing." There is no
catered dinner. At around 10.30 in the evening they eat a
takeaway curry. For the evening's final shots Neil has a
pill popped into his mouth from above and various probes
put into his mouth.
June 7th. The second day's
shooting begins in the grounds of Heathland school in
Hounslow. Most of today's filming is with dogs, and with
extras who are wearing garish wigs somewhat like Neil and
Chris's. Neil's are called Gracie and Frasier; Chris's are
Maisie and Josh. Chris isn't very comfortable with them.
"Mongrels are the best adjusted," he opines. "I always
think you know where you are with a mongrel."
with a mongrel," Neil points out. They are visited by the
head of their record company, who seems suitably impressed
by all the odd goings-on. They discuss plans for their new
record, and he asks them about writing songs for some
other famous people. Neil in return rants some more about
that boy band:
"Pop has never sunk as low as that. They
look crap and most of them can't sing. They've become a
sort of light entertainment institution. I think they will
be the last successful band where three of them can't do
anything... But it's a very friendly meeting. "Being nice
to the record company,"
comments Chris afterwards.
"Being positive. Did you notice how positive we are?
There's no room for cynicism or irony any more.
given up irony," Neil says.
Dainton comes in.
"Chris," he says, "you've got to have a quick lesson in
dog management." "I'm not going to be coached in dog
management," Chris protests. "It's up to them to know how
to do it. The dogs. I'm the one who should be allowed to
have an ego problem, not the dogs."
They both go and
do some dog training nonetheless, walking their dogs up
and down, trying to build up some rapport. "Still don't
like them," Chris declares. "Not bonded." The dog handlers
change the collars on Chris's dogs from colored collars to
chain ones, which will give him more control.
might want a wee-wee now," one of the handlers tells
He hands the leads over straightway. "I'm not
doing toilet training as well," he says. Back in the
trailer, Neil eats a Milky Way. "You know," he says, "when
you get used to eating seventy-per-cent chocolate
chocolate, this stuff tastes like.. Fish, or something."
It is nearly four o'clock before they are allowed lunch.
Chris has a nap. "Time for make-up," Dainton announces,
"You better wake up Chris," Neil
says. "To put on his make-up." He laughs. "That's one of
my favorite pop rhymes: wake up, make-up. It's in that
Courtney Love song: 'when I wake up / put on my
make-up..."' He picks up the sunglasses Chris has been
wearing on camera. They look accusingly modem and
minimalist but in fact they're a hundred years old: "They
are, in fact," Neil says, "a late Victorian example of
sunglasses. And, let's face it, they look like Issey
Miyake designed them yesterday."
Neil and Mitch, their
manager, discuss doing a new photo session, and come up
with an idea they like. Mitch says she'll call the
Neil clears his throat. "Can you just
run that past everyone in the group?" he suggests. In the
make-up room, they discuss the new Abba musical, Mamma
Mia, which neither of them have seen, though they are now
considering it. "I thought we decided Abba only wrote four
good songs," Neil says. "We did," Chris agrees. "No. Four
"'The Name Of The Game'," Neil
"'The Winner Takes It All'," says Chris.
"'Knowing Me Knowing You'," says Neil.
"What was the fourth?" Neil wonders.
"No," says Chris. "'Thank You For
The Music'?" he suggests.
"No" says Neil.
ponder for a moment.
"Maybe there's only three," Chris
They rejoin their dogs. "Hello doggies!" says
Neil breezily. "Remember me from an hour and a half ago?"
"Of course they don't," says Chris.
It's 5.38. Neil
yawns. "It's past the five o'clock watershed," he says.
"We only work between twelve and five, don't you know
that?" Nobody on the video crew takes much notice. Neil
and Chris walk around with their dogs amongst the extras,
and sit on a bench. They are joined for a while by two
young kids who are, presumably, supposed to be them.
Neil and Chris discuss the forthcoming photo session.
Neil agrees it should be during the week. "The weather's
always better in the week," he says. "It's a well-known
fact." He suggests that they base themselves at Chris's
"I'm not having it in my house," Chris objects.
"I've just got a new sofa." The final shots are to be
filmed in the walkways underneath the seats at Twickenham
rugby stadium. "How exciting, going to Twickers," says
Chris. "Dear old Twickers," echoes Neil. "When I worked at
MacDonald Educational, the guy who edited military books,
when you said 'what are you doing at the weekend?', he'd
say, 'Twickers!'. He was a real hoot." They walk through
the shadows in a somber manner, as directed. Neil and
Chris debate whether they should try to do it skipping.
"We don't do comedy," Chris decides.
"Not on purpose,"
There are other problems.
heard the scandal?" Chris asks Neil. "No food break."
"We might need Chicken McNuggets very soon," Neil says.
An envoy is sent to fetch their orders: a Big Mac for
Chris, nine Chicken McNuggets for Neil. Meanwhile, they
walk up and down the corridor some more. Chris keeps
getting the giggles, ruining the takes. "Actually," says
"doing the same thing over and
over again automatically gives me the giggles. It's just
one of those things." One of the staff at Twickenham has
two Pet Shop Boys records to be signed: a "Love Comes
Quickly" seven-inch and a "Left To My Own
Chris inspects the sleeves. "God we've
aged, haven't we?" he frets.
They discuss fantasy
plans of what they'll do if any of their British concerts
don't sell out. Perhaps they'll pretend to split up. "Then
we get back together at Christmas," Neil suggests. "An
emotional reunion. It is well after ten o'clock before the
last shot is filmed. By then, their cars are waiting.
Copyright Areagraphy Ltd 1999: All Articles have been
Taken From Literally 1999 Issue 20