Bros: After the Screaming Stops

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“I am missing that relationship with my brother, I literally woke up in tears this morning.  I just want the relationship with my brother.”

(Matt Goss)

At the height of the mania that surrounded Bros from the moment they set foot into the public sphere my cousin was a Brosette.  Bandana around her neck, Grolsch bottle tops on her black Doctor Marten shoes, faded Levis…and that look in her eye whenever anyone so much as mentioned their name.  She was obsessed in a way that people often try to tell you only teenage girls can be by a pop group.

It’s not just teenage girls though.

When I looked in the mirror at that point in time I was confronted by acne and awkwardness.  I was still wearing the clothes my mum chose for me…and while I was probably smart and contemporary I wasn’t what you would have called “cool” or “trendy”.

When I saw Bros for the first time I was fourteen and a good two years away from discovering the world of The Smiths and indie music in general.  I had records by Erasure, Wet Wet Wet, Rick Astley, Bronski Beat…but very little, if anything, by anyone in a rain coat, a floppy fringe and a guitar.  Bros were very popular with the girls which, automatically, made them popular with unpopular boys, like me, who saw them as a connecting point between two worlds that, otherwise, would never collide.

I still have my copy of their debut album “Push” which shifted over a million copies in the UK alone…and, regardless of what anyone else might think, I still reckon its a great pop record, absolutely top heavy with fabulous pop songs of the sort only the eighties ever really spawned.

By the start of the nineteen-nineties the mania had died…the screaming had stopped and the brothers were left with, well, nothing.

Literally.

Speaking with journalist Jim White of The Independent in 1993 Luke Goss described the financial reality of the Bros world;

A few weeks after the split, the financial implications of their career broke over the brothers’ heads. They had been living on credit throughout their 18 months of stardom. Trouble was, like the hero of Martin Amis’s novel Money, when the tab was presented, it was them who had to pay it.

‘We generated six million quid as Bros,’ Luke revealed. ‘We ended up with nothing, less than nothing, we ended up with minus nothing.’

The problem arose because of the contract they signed with their manager Tom Watkins. Within days of the 18-year-old blond twins from Camberley walking into his office in December 1986, Watkins, the marketing genius who had guided the Pet Shop Boys to success, got them to sign a contract which guaranteed him 20 per cent of the gross of any earnings. Under his tutelage, his eye for a niche, they hurtled to fame and the money started to flow. Into his bank account.

A typical piece of Bros business was their British tour in 1988. It grossed pounds 1,623,600. It cost pounds 1,332,596 to stage. Commission to Watkins’s company was pounds 286,143. Which left pounds 4,860 to be split between the brothers and their erstwhile partner Craig Logan. At the time Luke was employing two body- guards and a personal assistant; he was paying a mortgage and financing a tidy jewellery habit. His weekly expenses were pounds 70,000.”

After that fall from financial security, from fame and from the attention of the once adoring hordes came…bereavement, bitterness, battles and the brutal reality of coming to terms with being nobody after having been somebody.

Both Matt and Luke forged new careers in the entertainment industry…Luke as an actor and Matt as a Las Vegas performer.  No longer superstars, no longer teenagers, no longer heart throbs but…alive and kicking, which is more than can be said for some people who suffer in the way they did.

Now, nearly three decades after the highs of Bros mania comes a documentary from directors Joe Pearlman and David Soutar which finds Matt and Luke preparing to step back into the spotlight for a one off reunion at the O2 Arena in London.  What they have brought to the world is a film that has inspired an incredible reaction…much of it mocking of Matt and Luke.  Whether or not that was their intention it is difficult to know, if it was they should be ashamed, but a closer look at the film with more sympathetic eyes reveals something more than the Poundland “This is Spinal Tap” that the Twittersphere suggests.

There are, undoubtedly, moments of supreme awkwardness, particularly in the films opening act, where both brothers are guilty of utterances that even David Brent would shy away from; “I’m a London boy…Big Ben, the Embankment…cab drivers” says Luke as he skims stones into the ocean near his Los Angeles home.  “I think the letters H-O-M-E are so important…because they personify the word home.” suggests Luke before going on to show us one of the loves of his life; a painting of his bulldog, Alfie, holding a pint of beer.

So yes they appear, initially, to be ludicrous but those moments serve simply to mask the real story at the heart of the film…a story about family, about love, about fame and its devastating effects and about the need to feel that, in some way, we matter.

It is, I think, difficult to understand how corrosive fame can be to some people…or at least to some parts of themselves.  I have been close to one or two people who have experienced fame and my observation is that they quickly begin to believe the things that people say to, and about, them…as long as it is positive.  Conversely they have very quickly lost the ability to listen to people who are more honest…and who offer either criticism or, worse, who say “no”.  That, clearly, isn’t good for people.

“Pain, loneliness, isolation…it all comes with fame.”

(Matt Goss)

The title of the film comes from a question they were asked by Terry Wogan during an interview on his prime time show on BBC 1 but what isn’t included is the conclusion of that question;

“Have you guys though, what you going to do when that screaming stops?  Has it changed you perceptibly?  If you think about it, analyse it…has it made you different people?”

(Terry Wogan)

Has it changed you?

Has it made you different people?

How could the answer be anything other than “Yes” to both of those questions?

Change is a good thing…but not when it happens without your control, your understanding, your consent and without the proper supports in place to help you manage it.

For Matt and Luke there was no support…just a greedy public, an even greedier industry and a misguided belief that this was how their lives would always be.

It really is easy to laugh and mock people like them for saying things that are pretentious, foolish or nonsense but you have to put it into context and try to understand what has led them to that place.

“I made a conscious decision because of Stevie Wonder not to be superstitious” sounds like the most idiotic thing that any human being has ever said until you remember that this is a man who has lived a sheltered existence, who has been battered, abused and abandoned by an industry that once feted him and who has no formal education to speak of.  Think about that and it becomes easier to see what he was really trying to say…that music matters.

When the film addresses the passing of both their sister and their mother and the awful impact that had, and maybe continues to have, on both of them it is a cold heart that doesn’t feel for them.  The veneer of being the bloke from Bros cracks and we get to see the boys who used their love of music and their good looks to drag themselves out of a childhood where their favourite toy was a dart, sans dartboard, and to being the two most famous faces in the country…maybe in the world.  It is difficult to read some of the more sneering reactions to the film as anything other than snobbery…musical and class based.

The presentation of the rehearsals for the show seem to have been deliberately edited to present both men as ego-maniacs…playing on the peculiarity of the “twin thing” in order to paint a vulgar picture.  Does anyone really believe that the entire rehearsal period was one long argument?  Even if it were…isn’t that understandable?  Think about what was at stake.  They had a rabid fan base who wanted this gig to transport them back to a time when their lives were simpler and, maybe, happier.  They had an equally rabid press determined to ridicule them and write scathing reviews.  They had “real music” fans carping from the sidelines, trying to convince people that “Drop the Boy” is any less important than “All You Need is Love”…they’re wrong.

Anger.

Insecurity.

Pain.

Grief.

Pretentiousness.

Ridiculousness.

Selfishness.

It is a shame that a film about two men that lays bare so much emotion is going to be remembered for a portrait of a dog holding a pint of beer.

Watch it once and laugh.

Watch it again and feel.

 

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