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
They break 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 clubby."
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
"Yes," Neil agrees. "He did, didn't he? The one with the
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 weird."
Neil laughs. "Nine out of ten rock stars wouldn't find it weird,"
he points out.
Chris mentions 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 nothing whatsoever."
"What about Steps?" Dainton suggests.
"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.
"I'm 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 editing afterwards.
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."
"You're 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
comments Chris afterwards. "Being positive. Did you notice how positive
we are? There's no room for cynicism or irony any more.
"We've 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
"They might want a wee-wee now," one of the handlers tells Chris.
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, soon afterwards.
"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
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 photographer.
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 great songs.
"'The Name Of The Game'," Neil begins.
"'The Winner Takes It All'," says Chris.
"'Knowing Me Knowing You'," says Neil.
"Aha," says Chris.
"What was the fourth?" Neil wonders.
"No," says Chris. "'Thank You For The Music'?" he
"No" says Neil.
They ponder for a moment.
"Maybe there's only three," Chris says.
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 house.
"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," Neil says.
There are other problems.
"Have you heard the scandal?" Chris asks Neil. "No food
"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 Neil, sympathetically,
"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
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.
Areagraphy Ltd 1999: All Articles have been
Taken From Literally 1999 Issue 20