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    Boy George chats about hats, hits and herion addiction.

    by Nicole Pensiero
    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 it—wasn't really made up (as far as he could tell) of true fans.

    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."

    No 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 charm—as much as his sexy, radiant voice—was 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 accepted—feted, really—by 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 am?'"

    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; "MISTER—OR 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 my times."

    Never one to take himself too seriously, the former George O'Dowd was able to get away with it all—the flamboyant behavior, the outlandish wit, the crazy get-ups—primarily because he was so damn fun.

    Who can 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 threatened."

    In fact, he says, Boy George gave pop music a bit of sorely needed style.

    "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 now?"

    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 Club—George, drummer Jon Moss, bassist Mickey Craig and guitarist/keyboard player Roy Hay—enjoyed 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 center.

    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 heights—like sharing the cover of Newsweek with Annie Lennox as leaders of the "New British Invasion"—made his sudden fall all the more spectacular.

    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 erstwhile singer.

    "It was a difficult time, certainly," Boy George says. "I was lost musically and in a lot of other ways as well."

    But he 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 States—even people in the music business—seem 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 myself—did therapy, that kind of thing. But I never truly went away."

    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 name.

    As a singer, Boy George says he's never been better.

    "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 George—the real person, not the persona—thanks 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 sure—a few choice photos of the Boy planting his tongue in Moss's ear at an awards ceremony got tongues wagging—but, for the six years they were together, the truth was stuffed in the back of the same closet as George's homosexuality.

    So, what's the relationship like now?

    "It's a 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 ever will."

    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 star—like a Prince or a David Bowie—you'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 person—and 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."

    No regrets then?

    "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.


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    Une petite parenthèse entre la reformation du culture club 1999 et 2000, pour vous diffuser ces photos issus du catalogue BOY LONDON, la marque que George créa en 1986, alors qu'il etait un JUNKY renommé....

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