With Details joining the great auk, let’s take a minute to praise the stable of writers under James Truman’s stewardship in the mid nineties: Rob Sheffield, Chris Heath, Rob Tannenbaum, Glenn O’Brien, and countless others who contributed to a magazine whose vision of masculinity as insouciant, sexually ambivalent, and comfortable with objectification educated thousands of confused young men like me.
The peak of the early Truman years was the July 1992 music issue, bought on a family trip to Cancun. A Q&A on fashion advice with Bryan Ferry, Robert Smith cover story, Deee-Lite interview, exposé on rave culture, and columns penned by Anthony Kiedis and Neil Tennant. The latter’s column on the benefits of hating was one of the most eye-opening pieces I’d read, shaping my sensibility for years. I reprint it below:
If not for hatred, I wouldn’t be doing what I do now. I became a pop star because I hated football at school. I hated that whole attitude of being one of the crowd. Becoming a pop star was my revenge. Revenge for being bad at football. For not being athletic. For being mocked.
That’s the thing about negative energy, about hatred. It can be positive. It throws into relief all the things you know you like. It tells you, by elimination, what you’re about. Sometimes you can only define yourself by what you hate. Hatred becomes an inspiration; it makes you think, “What I’m doing now I totally believe in, and I don’t care what other people say.” Guided by hatred, you don’t have to follow the herd.
I hate the way people all like the same things at the same time. I’ve never understood it. When people are told about Coke – “It’s the real thing” – they should think, “No, it’s a hideous soft drink that is fantastically unhealthy to drink, full of sugar that turns into glucose that turns into fat.” They should look around America and think, “God, there are so many fat people here! Why? Because they all eat hamburgers and drink cola.” And they should hate the people who represent that. They should hate Michael Jackson for trying to foist Pepsi onto them, to make them fat victims of their own society. They should hate more. Hate Pepsi, hate Coca-Cola, hate Michael Jackson. Hate George Bush. And think about the alternatives. That’s another good thing about hatred. It makes you think about the alternatives.
Of course, these days it’s more fashionable to be positive. I hate positivity. The problem with positivity is that it’s an attitude that’s decidedly about lying back, getting screwed, and accepting it. Happily. It’s totally apolitical. It’s very, very personal and one-on-one. It’s not about changing society, it’s about caring about yourself. In fact, it’s totally about ignoring one’s economic role in society, and so it works in favor of the system. Just look at work years of personal consciousness theories have given us: those icons of the status quo, George Bush and John Major.
Positivity is fundamentally middle-class. It’s about having the time, the space and the money to sort out where your head is at. Therapy is just another side of positivity. It’s a leisure activity, a luxury for people who don’t have any real cares. It’s new age selfishness, the new way of saying that charity begins at home.
And positivity makes the world stay the same. Hatred is the force that moves society along, for better or for worse. People aren’t driven by saying, “Oh wow, I’m at peace with myself.” They’re driven by their hatred of injustice, hatred of unfairness, of how power is used.
That’s as true for pop music as it is for politics. I always feel the reason so much music comes out of Britain is because there’s so much hatred. You see or hear something and grow envious. Whereas if your positive reaction is, “Wow, that’s great,” you just sit back and think how great it is and you don’t do anything. You relax.
Luckily, I’ve never been a very relaxed person. When I look at pop music, I immediately hate things. I look at singers who say they are taking two years off to work for charity when, in fact, they’ll spend two years working on their album, and I hate them. Right now I really hate performers who make a big deal out of playing benefits and donating the proceeds from the sales of their records to charities. They could give plenty of money to charities and not tell anyone, but instead, they cash in on the fact. That’s not charity, it’s marketing. It’s about selling albums under the guise of a moral imperative. They say they’re trying to raise consciousness, as if being a celebrity gives them power and endows them with the answers to the world’s problems. But really they just want to be seen as heroes. I think it’s breathtakingly cynical and I hate it.
Another thing I hate, and another inspiration for what the Pet Shop Boys do, is the way people misunderstand pop culture. It annoys me that after more than twenty-five years, Top of the Pops, Britain’s most important pop-music TV program, changed the rules so that you have to sing live. Why? Because the people in control are the kind of conservatives who think that in the ‘60s, everything was much more talented than they are now. It’s all about Rolling Stone rock culture, which is essentially a fear of the new. Rolling Stone’s idea of a musician is Jerry Garcia, from the 60s. Look at all the ‘new’ artists – Curtis Stigers, Michael Bolton, Lenny Kravitz – all of them living in the past. I think you have to live in the future. Or at least in the present.
The Pet Shop Boys have always hated most of the prevailing attitudes and tried to do the opposite. Our hatred of what other people do has always helped us redefine our actions. To hate a lot of things is tantamount to really caring about others. If you like everything, you deal with nothing. When people hear Chris and me talking, they’re sometimes shocked by how negative we are. We’re constantly critical of everything, including ourselves. But I come from a generation that liked its artists to say what was wrong with our lives. I retain the old-fashioned belief that pop music is meant to be a challenge to society as well as an affirmation of it. And so I consider it my duty to hate things.
Reading Details in the nineties, it summoned a mode of presentation that looked as fictional and distant as Oscar Wilde’s carnation in the lapel. Look around you. Men live in Details‘ world now.