f ANIMAL BEHAVIOUR
There is a Pet Shop Boys song called ‘Shopping' that goes something like this: ‘We’re S-H-O-P-P-l-N-G . . .we‘re shopping'. Like ‘Rent’ (‘I love you, you pay my rent”). the lyrics are so banal,
they‘re brilliant. Swathed in layers of bleeping pop technology, Neil
Tennant's chanted monotones become
statements about privatisation and
capitalism respectively, or if you prefer
(and i do) songs about shopping and
Chris Heath‘s ‘Literally’ is a bit like
. that. it‘s so straightforward, it’s
3 bewildering. It‘s not a biography,
although snippets of the Pet Shop Boys‘ genesis are divulged intermittently.
Neither is it intended as a tour book, despite the fact that it records with fastidious detail the group's 1989 tour
2 of Hong Kong, Japan and Britain.
Author and ex-Smash Hits journalist
Heath is keen to clear away any
preconceptionsthat this mightbe an
on-the-road kiss-and-tell account.
‘What I was really wanting to write was
a book that showed in sometimes
horrible detail the kind of intimate
: anatomy of how a pop group exists. Not
i in terms of nuts and bolts— airtickets
and encores — but in terms of just what
a phenomenally strange thing it is to be
a pop group. It's one of the great
private worlds of the late 20th century.‘
' However, in some early reviews his , aims have been understandably
; misconstrued. By recording diary-like l and utterly unembelllshed the
l day-to-day events, thoughts and
' conversations of the group and their entourage, he gives the superficial impression of a series of lists.
Heath again scotches that idea by outlining his intentions. ‘The furthest thing from my mind was to have a trainspotter guide to the minutiae of a pop star’s life. Every bit of information is there for a reason. It's trying to build up a realistic idea of what’s actually going on in those people’s minds. l deliberately didn’t package that
between sandwiches of analysis
because you’ve got to hope that people are going to read it and be thinking about it themselves. Not that I'm comparing it with a novel, but ifyou read a novel you don’t get explanatory bits in between.‘
What you do get in between are straightforward but often in-depth interview transcriptions — one chapter, . for example, exploring the workings of their management relationship. The key is to read between the lines.
With almost any other band this approach would not have worked, but the Pet Shop Boys project such a strong public image as camp British ironists (as discussed at some length in the book) that it demands to be broken down through closer inspection, both trivial and cerebral.
Heath has known the group for some years and was aware of the kind of idiosyncrasies that make them such suitable subjects. ‘One reason why they‘re quite a peculiar but particularly interesting band to do this with is because they‘re absolutely obsessed with the idea of self-analysis. A big part of their everyday life is reflecting on what they do as pop stars which for some reason other pop stars don't do.‘ (Fiona Shepherd)
Pet Shop Boys, Literally, by Chris Heath, is published by Viking, priced £12.99.
On Fri 23 November From 5.00pm - 6.00pm at FORBIDDEN PLANET 168 Buchanan Street Glasgow
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T8 The List 9 — 22 November-l-‘T‘NTT—
FICTION COURT CUISINE
I Rumpole a La Carte John Mortimer (Viking £13.99) Mortimer is about as close as we‘ve got to a late 2(lth century I’.(}. Wodehouse. He's the sort ofchap that people with country retreats off the M4 like to collect and peruse in front of a roaring log fire as the ozone layer gets punctured. It comes as some surprise then that this is the first hardback Rumpole. But don't expect any more.
Rumpole a [.a ('arie continues the in the same old, rich vein. Mortimer is never downright hostile to anyone or anything but rather condescending and patronising to everything. Trade unions. radicals. solicitors. judges and women (especially women) are treated like small children who are amusing enough but can never really satiate the great mind of Rumpole.
As one cannot read these books without believing Rumpole is Mortimer one is always slightly uneasy. Such opulent conservatism would be fine if it was restricted to the practices of the eccentric and
fictional barrister. But Mortimer. an influential author. must surely really be like that too. Nevertheless he has such an elegant turn of phrase. such knowledge of the intrigues of chambers and. above all. such wit. that one can forgive almost everything. (Philip Parr)
i I Hocus Pocus Kurt Vonnegut (Cape
£13.99) Jaunty pessimism has long
3 been the predominant tone of
Vonnegut’s writing. concerned as it is with the futile cruelties of capitalism and the vacuity of the American Dream. His work has often outraged the ignorant and the wealthy, though normally on ill-judged grounds of blasphemy or obscenity. Here, his assault on respectable avarice is so overt and vitriolic that only his status as a Harmless Old American Man Of Letters will undermine the Republican backlash.
Set in a college that has become a profitable, Japanese-run prison, Hocwr Pocus spans the Vietnam war, the collapse of the US Dollar in the early 19903, and takes place — or is narrated — in the year 2001. The narrator — a thinly disguised authorial persona — is a former soldier, turned anti-war philosopher, teacher and (by accident) criminal. All the characteristic Vonnegut themes are here: war, sudden death in bizarre circumstances, extremes ofwealth. poverty and idiocy.
Though the voice is unmistakably his, Vonnegut has never before combined passion, control and irony to such great effect. The picture of wrecked people occupying a
wrecked world is both the blackest
and the most vivid to have emerged from his pen. Depressing, yet superbly entertaining, this is
American satire at its best. (Andrew
THEN AND NOW
I On The Crofters' Trail David Craig (Jonathan Cape £14.99) Craig treks through the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and Canada in search ofa rich heritage ofmemories. myth and fact provided by descendants of those emigrants forcibly evicted during the Clearances. While investigating the personal struggles of the crofters. Craig simultaneously describes his own researching travels. which provides the context in which the material was collected. but can make reading a little convoluted. It does. however. provide the opportunity for making some poignant remarks concerning Scotland‘s economic situation today, and some humorous comments on the absurdities ofcontemporary estate owners. hinting at a sinister legacy of the Clearances.
The work is undoubtedly valuable in documenting the testimonies of the dispossessed. Ifit lacks conclusion, its strength lies in the clear and sensitive insight into the minds of those suffering such impotence and frustration. Against a backdrop ofcruelty and destruction, incidents ofdefiance and Craig‘s moments of lyricism prevent this from being merely a catalogue of misery. (Charlie Llewellyn)