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Pet Shop Boys: Where's the G-Word?


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To the editors:

This letter is addressed to Bill Wyman regarding his review of the Pet Shop Boys concert on April 4th [April 12].

I have read all three of the major papers' reviews of the recent Pet Shop Boys concert and, although yours came closest to the mark, have found them all, to varying degrees, inadequate. The one huge omission that all three reviewers make is that they never mention the two words which most accurately describe what the Pet Shop Boys and their shows are all about: "gay" and "camp." Yes, that awful "G" word raising its ugly head again. Which is not to say that straight audience and press members were not invited (but why is it impossible for the straight press to use the word gay?). Of course they were invited (how could we have kept them away; although I did notice a number of straight couples who "couldn't take the heat" and left before the first half was over). But, when at least two-thirds of the audience attending were gay men and women (which was obvious if one was out in the lobby at intermission), when everyone of any import involved with the show is gay or at least expressed in the show a very gay sensibility, when the show raged with camp and homoeroticism (no, Chris was not stripping for the female members of the audience) from the first note to the last, then it behooves a reviewer, whether he is straight or gay, to mention these facts. Of course it was "more theater than rock concert." Of course it was "devoid of . . . false emotion, thrusting hips, and wailing screams." Of course there was a "luscious, detailed" (and I might add, very witty) program. And of course, Neil and Chris changed costumes dozens of times. They were dead serious about it all and having a wonderful time, too. The show was all the things you mentioned in your review and much more simply because it was gay. You're not going to see another show much like it anytime soon, either. Not until the next gay band comes through town (and they are few and far between; our loss).

J.P. Ven


Bill Wyman replies:

J.P. Ven brings up a valid point; I probably should have at least mentioned the issue in passing. But without taking anything away from his comments, I'd like to explain why I don't hold the view as strongly as he does. The Pet Shop Boys as "gay group" was an idea put forth in a fairly well known Village Voice piece some years ago. As I recall, the thrust of the article was "I'm gay, and it's great to be gay, and I don't know if the Pet Shop Boys are gay, but 'West End Girls' is the greatest gay song of all time." (I'm making fun of the author here, not the sentiments.) I thought then, and think now, that the characterization is somewhat limiting. For example, the Pet Shop Boys' show struck me not so much as camp as (partly) about camp. It was deconstructive, if I may use the word, of any number of dance and theater genres; one of these was the genuinely campy extravaganza perpetrated by, say, a Madonna, the type of thing that's mildly parodic itself (but not, I would argue, subversively so) of the unintentionally campy presentation of a Cher or a Liza Minnelli. Sure there was feigned fellatio; there is at a Prince or a Madonna concert as well. But when the Pet Shop Boys do it the act is set to a grinding, impersonal beat. And as for the Boys' personal preferences, I haven't the faintest; Tennant's effeminacy (if you want to equate that with gayness) has always struck me as (and I think it has more force as) a pose of androgyny or asexuality, the better to underscore the band's reductive analysis of romance and romanticism generally.

But of course this merely means that the band's sexual politics are just a bit closer to center than where Ven placed them; I should have acknowledged the pull from the gay side of things. I honestly didn't see the same audience that he (or she) did; the preponderance of Depeche Mode T-shirts made it for me a fairly normal teen synth-pop crowd.


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