Boy George chats about hats, hits and herion addiction.
Pop Rock's: Culture Club's Jon Moss, Boy George, Mikey Craig
and Roy Hay
He could easily have forgiven the fact that the mostly French
audience he'd played to the night before in Monte Carlo was painfully reserved.
Or that the crowd"well-preserved millionaires and their much younger
girlfriends" as he puts itwasn't really made up (as far as he could tell) of
Yes, Boy George would have accepted it all, save for one
thing: they didn't get his jokes.
"Musically, everything went great. But,
and maybe it was the language barrier, they didn't respond to my humor and the
little comments I made between songs," says the 37-year-old singer in a phone
interview from Atlanta, where Culture Club was set to kick off its 20-city U.S.
tour. "They didn't get my jokes. So that was a major disappointment."
wonder: part of what it means to "get" Boy George is to latch onto his utterly
disarming wit and somewhat caustic sense of humor. A strapping six-footer known
for wearing outrageous amounts of makeup and some highly confrontational drag,
his innate charmas much as his sexy, radiant voicewas always a major part of
the formula that made Boy George a star to begin with.
Even more, that
conspiratorial "let me let you in on a joke" persona enabled Boy George to pull
off what he admits was a "pretty amazing feat" for the early 1980s: being
acceptedfeted, reallyby a primarily straight, mainstream audience while
dressing pretty much like a woman. Even more astounding, he says, was the fact
he managed to dance around the topic of his sexual orientation for years, coming
off instead as some sort of asexual eccentric.
"If I'd said I was gay at
the time, it would have absolutely destroyed my career, and I knew that," says
George. "Everyone who needed to know, knew. I was pretty certain that the fans
knew. Still, it was tough. I'd come out to my parents when I was 15 so I was
always a bit like 'Why am I pretending? Why can't I just be who I
Instead, Boy George made headlines as the first pop star whose
actual gender came under debate: "IS IT A HER? A HIM? OR IS IT NEITHER?"
screamed England's Weekly World News in November 1982; "MISTEROR IS IT
MISS?WEIRDO," chortled London's The Sun.
"God, it was crazy," George
says with a laugh. "But, darling, it had to happen that way. I was a product of
Never one to take himself too seriously, the former George
O'Dowd was able to get away with it allthe flamboyant behavior, the outlandish
wit, the crazy get-upsprimarily because he was so damn fun.
forget, for example, Boy George's oft-quoted remark about preferring a good cup
of tea to sex? (Years later, in his best-selling dish-the-dirt autobiography,
Take It Like A Man, he would confess, "I was lying through my lipstick-stained
teeth.") Or how he shocked the millions of people watching the 1983 Grammys,
when, in accepting Culture Club's award for Best New Artist, he thanked the
people of America by saying they had "taste, style and know a good drag queen
when they see one"?
"I always wanted to be more gutsy than I was able
to," he says. "But I took it as far as I could at the time. I've always found
that humor, especially self-deprecating humor, is a great weapon... it really
disarms people. I had a good laugh on myself, so people weren't too
In fact, he says, Boy George gave pop music a bit of sorely
"All you've got today is me and Marilyn Manson with style,"
he says. "Madonna's looking like that young singer, what's her name? Fiona
Apple. And Courtney Love's turned into Bette Midler. It's terrible. No one's got
an ounce of style anymore."
So, does this mean that he'll dress in drag
for the current tour, which came about after the group rehashed its history on
VH1's Behind The Music and gave a well-received performance on its Storytellers
program earlier this year?
"Well, I've got some wonderful hats," he says
with a laugh. "I'm even going to wear the braids again. I've got some nice, full
drag, honey. I've always believed that 'more is more.' Why change
For anyone who might have slept through the '80s, Culture Club, at
its peak, sold millions of records. Their second album alone, 1983's Colour By
Numbers, went platinum six times over. For a time, Boy George and company pretty
much ruled both the pop airwaves and MTV. A true singles band, Culture
ClubGeorge, drummer Jon Moss, bassist Mickey Craig and guitarist/keyboard
player Roy Hayenjoyed an amazingly successful run on the charts: "Do You Really
Want To Hurt Me?" "Time (Clock Of The Heart)," "Karma Chameleon," "Miss Me
Blind," "It's A Miracle," "I'll Tumble 4 Ya," and "Church of the Poison Mind"
were all Top Five hits in rapid-fire succession. Musically, the band seemed to
have found an unbeatable formula: effervescent, catchy pop melodies and sensual
ballads, set to often obtuse lyrics. It didn't matter if the songs made no
sense, they sounded great. And always there was that voice: passionate and
emotive, Boy George sung like he lived with his heart front and
George quickly became not only a pop icon, but an all-around
celebrity whose undeniable charisma and penchant for witty one-liners made him a
talk-show favorite. For a time, Boy George was the name on everyone's lips, the
voice on everyone's turntable. He stood at the pinnacle of superstardom, and
those dizzying heightslike sharing the cover of Newsweek with Annie Lennox as
leaders of the "New British Invasion"made his sudden fall all the more
When Culture Club released its third album, 1984's Waking Up
With The House On Fire, the public was already losing interest. Boy George had
become a victim of media overexposure and, before long, the hits stopped coming.
The group's final studio album, 1986's aptly titled From Luxury To Heartache,
ended up sounding like nothing more than a formerly good band in its painful
death throes. It was released (and forgotten) just months before George's
escalating addiction to heroin gave the press a whole new reason to dissect the
"It was a difficult time, certainly," Boy George says.
"I was lost musically and in a lot of other ways as well."
surprised everyone, bouncing back within a year.
"It was much easier in
England; it's such a small island. America's a much bigger corporate beast, so
many people in the Stateseven people in the music businessseem to think I
dropped off the face of the earth," George says. "I had a number one hit in
England, 'Everything I Own,' the year after the drug thing happened. That helped
redeem me. But I kept a low profile for a while and selfishly focused on myself,
really worked on myselfdid therapy, that kind of thing. But I never truly went
Indeed not. Boy George, in fact, has released more solo albums
than he did records with Culture Club. And in the past few years, he's been
seemingly everywhere: he does a very chatty, catty weekly newspaper column for
London's Express newspaper, runs an independent dance record label, and works as
an underground club DJ in London. On this side of the Atlantic, George made a
triumphant return to the U.S. pop charts with his stirring remake of the 1964
Dave Barry song "The Crying Game" from the 1993 movie of the same
As a singer, Boy George says he's never been
"There's more feeling and more understanding of what I'm
singing," he says. "I understand my voice better and I understand what I'm
singing about better as well."
More importantly, he says, the public now
knows Boy Georgethe real person, not the personathanks in part to that
unflinchingly honest autobiography and the Culture Club VH1 Behind The Music
documentary. One previously hidden aspect of his life now common knowledge is
the high-drama, often destructively obsessive love affair he'd had with Jon
Moss, the band's seemingly straight drummer.
There were whispers of the
romance, to be surea few choice photos of the Boy planting his tongue in Moss's
ear at an awards ceremony got tongues waggingbut, for the six years they were
together, the truth was stuffed in the back of the same closet as George's
So, what's the relationship like now?
fucking nightmare!" George says with a hysterical laugh. "No, seriously, it
should be weird, but it isn't. I don't know why, maybe it's the British thing,
but we haven't talked about it; about what happened with Culture Club and what
happened between us as people. We joke about the past, but we haven't had an
intensive 'group session' or anything remotely like that. I don't know if we
The band regrouped in January at Roy Hay's urging and is
getting along wonderfully, George says. They plan to record their first studio
album in more than a decade later this year. (A two-CD live and best-of package,
VH1 Storytellers/Greatest Hits, hits store shelves Aug. 11.)
"To me, if
you're a real starlike a Prince or a David Bowieyou're always a star even if
you don't have a hit record. And I honestly don't think you change the core
essence of who you are, even if a lot of crazy stuff happens in your life," he
says. "If you're a sensitive person, you're always a sensitive personand you
always get hurt. But you learn to process the experiences differently. I don't
respond in the same ways as I did in the past."
"I truly believe that everything had to happen just like it did in
my life. And the best part is knowing the game's hardly over yet. I might just
be warming up."
The Big Rewind Tour featuring Culture Club, Howard Jones
and the Human League will be held on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 7:30 p.m., at the Mann
Center for Performing Arts. Tickets are $15-$45. Call 336-2000.