Yes, Actually

5.11.2009

By Andrew Sullivan

There's a buoyancy and positivity about the new album, a combination of great enthusiasm intertwined with a great sense of loss. in some ways, that's the Lowe-Tennant combination: Loss and energy at the same time.
CL: I think that sums up the Pet Shop Boys, really. And there's also a melancholy thrown in, with uplifting dance beats.
NT: It's romance and realism, the ideal and the reality. Opposites have always fascinated me.

You expect it to go up, and then you suddenly feel it going down.
CL: Absolutely. If you just want to create a Pet Shop Boys sound instantly you can program some drumbeats and then play an A-minor chord over it: 'Oh, God, that sounds like the Pet Shop Boys. Oh, that's the trick, is it?'

Your music has also spoken to gay men for 20 years, which is really half the time since Stonewall. How would you think of the reality and the ideal in terms of how gay lives have shifted over that time?
NT: Well, that song you referred to earlier, 'It Couldn't Happen Here,' has a bit about someone in high heels quoting magazines. That was my experience of gay clubs when I came to London in 1973, and the gay thing in those days was all very zhuzhy. It was before clones or people dressing like skinheads or something.

Zhuzhy? Can you translate that?
NT: Zhuzhy means sort of fabulous, maybe trailing a scarf, maybe wearing nail varnish, very fashion-y, maybe with long hair that you flicked back over your shoulders. Zhuzhy. [Laughs] That's what they used to say in London.

And then what?
NT: And then I got alienated from the gay world -- when I went through my famous heterosexual phase -- because everyone looked the same. To this day, I've never got the everyone-looking-the-same thing.

The Muscle Marys?
NT: Yeah, but this was the clones and the checked shirts and the 501s and the same mustaches, you know. I mean, now you can look back, and it seems sort of endearingly kitsch. It's Tales of the City, you know -- it's that period. I found that alienating because it seemed professional and narcissistic and just about doing sex really well. And all of that I don't find very sexy. [Laughs]

What about leather bars?
CL: We once went to the Mineshaft, just before it closed. We went as tourists. It was empty and all a bit depressing. Just rows of empty bathtubs that had once seen better days.

The golden showers had finally stopped. Over the years, of course, the club scene has gone through various transformations. How do you keep up with that?
CL: Well, we like clubbing.

At some point is that not going to get a little old for you?
CL: I go to Ibiza every year, and I don't have a problem going out there at all. In Berlin they take dance music very seriously. We went to a night of impenetrable dance music that was so impenetrable you couldn't dance to it. Everyone was just standing around. I thought, Well, that's really taken it to an extreme, hasn't it? Just a load of intellectuals standing around chatting.

Is The transition from AIDS to marriage rights something you've tackled?
NT: I haven't tackled the partnership thing, but if I did it would be satirically. It's quite a good idea.

Have you thought of getting married?
NT: No, I haven't. I haven't been in a relationship where I've wanted to, firstly. I was in the city when they brought gay marriage in, and I said, 'Well, that's great, they're going to invent gay divorce.' And, of course, they did.

You're NOT really that much of a cynic, are you?
NT: You're right -- I'm not. I do have cynical streaks, but my longing goes into music.

There's also a Catholic defense of love in your songs, an underlying sense of humaneness that seems to be quite Catholic in its instruction.
NT: I think I get that from my parents, who became liberal Catholics. My parents, who both died in the last 12 months, had an amazing journey. My mother once apparently asked my sister, 'Is Neil one of them?' And, of course, they'd read I was gay in The Sunday Times. In our family it was because we never talked about sex, let alone being gay. But they went on this amazing journey where they quite liked the fact I was gay by the end, and they didn't mind that my sister was divorced and remarried, whereas in the 1970s they would have been appalled -- aghast beyond belief.

Have you thought about going back to the church?
NT: No. Actually, I've become less religious as I've gotten older. Even when I wrote 'It's a Sin' part of me was probably still a Catholic. But the things that I always liked about Catholicism they got rid of! I liked the Latin and the incense and the sort of music and plainsong. When I was 8 years old, I could sing the Latin mass in plainsong because I was an altar boy.

In some ways, there is nothing more Broadway than the old Catholic mass. when people ask how many gays are in the church, you say, 'Well, who do you think created the vatican high mass?' it must have been some tortured queen.
NT: Particularly in the Anglican church! The irony of them having a debate about homosexuality. I always think, If we take all the homosexuals out, love, what's going to be left? I have always liked incense, though.

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