Boy will be boy – musician Boy George – includes related article on Culture Club – Interview
On the eve Culture Club’s comeback tour, Boy George talks about his band’s troubled history, the joys of reuniting, his still-tense relationship with ex-lover Jon Moss, and what may be his favorite subject of all, George Michael
When Culture Club won Best New Artist at the 1982 Grammy Awards, the band’s cross-dressing leader, Boy George, quipped, “America knows a good drag queen when they see one.” This summer, when Culture Club regroups for a nationwide reunion tour, George and the boys hope America will once again embrace one of pop’s queerest success stories.
Although the band never officially called it quits, it seemed to dissolved as the ’80s came to a close. Perhaps the pressure of George’s spiraling drug use and the breakup of his tumultuous relationship with band member Jon Moss proved too much for the group’s tenuous dynamic to bear.
In the succeeding years George got off drugs, hit the Billboard top 20 as a solo act with “The Crying Game,” formed his own record label called More Protein, wrote his autobiography, Take It Like a Man, and forged a booming career as an international DJ. Throughout the past decade George’s relationships with the other members of the band have ranged from cordial (with guitarist Roy Hay) to hostile (toward drummer Moss) to nonexistent (with bassist Mikey Craig).
Cynical music fans may look at this tour–which also features the Human League and Howard Jones–as an opportunity for the band to cash in on the growing wave of ’80s nostalgia. Whatever the reasons, gay music fans can take this rare opportunity to hear an unabashedly out singer on a major national tour, which kicks off in Atlanta on July 23 and will mark the band’s first live shows in 13 years. It will also coincide with the release of a double CD, one disc to include greatest hits and the other to feature the band’s studio performance on VH1’s upcoming Storytellers special, airing June 14.
The following interview took place over tea in George’s suite at the Regency Hotel in Manhattan during the band’s press junket for the tour. Seemingly weary from talking to so many journalists, one after the other, the wonderfully irreverent George perked up considerably when the conversation veered toward topics like ex-lover Moss, the nature of sexuality in the ’90s, and, of course, the April arrest of George Michael.
So tell me how Culture Club got back together.
About three months ago, Roy [Hay] came to London. I think he’d been talking to my manager, Tony [Gordon, the original manager of Culture Club and George’s manager since the band’s breakup], and they had been scheming behind my back. So I went to see them to talk about doing this tour. My initial reaction was, “Jon’s not doing it. He’s not in the band. I’m going to use my [current] drummer.” And Roy said OK, but I could tell he wasn’t happy with that. And then I thought, That would be a really cruel thing to do. So I called Tony and said, “Jon’s got to be in the band. If we do it, it has to be proper.”
And you hadn’t seen Jon in how long?
When I interviewed Jon earlier, he said you said some horrible things about him in your book, Take It Like A Man, and that they aren’t true.
Everything I said in the book was true. Of course Jon is going to say that book is full of lies. But the book is balanced. I say lots of bad things about myself in that book. I knew that if I was going to say stuff about Jon, I had to say stuff about myself.
And then you called him a liar on the Behind the Music show because he has always denied that the two of you were involved in a relationship.
He was a liar. You don’t think he was?
No, I’m not saying that. He did avoid talking about your relationship on the VH1 show, but now it seems he’s changed his tune. He was very honest with me. He told me he had been in love with you, and he admitted to having a relationship with you.
I know. Yesterday we did a whole series of interviews with VH1, and Jon was incredibly frank. I think that Jon can’t go through the rest of his life not acknowledging something that, was important, regardless of the fact that he’s got a beautiful child and a very nice girlfriend. I get on really well with her. My problem has always been, Why can’t you be honest about it? So in that respect I think that this whole experience is very healthy.
And how are you and Jon getting along?
It’s difficult being in the room on my own with Jon. I haven’t been alone with him [laughs]. It’s like, Don’t, leave me alone with him.
Why are you avoiding that?
I don’t know. I haven’t gotten to that point yet where I feel like I can be alone with him. But I have to say, I’ve realized there’s a lot of love in this band. I think that a lot of it’s me not being so separate. Because in the past I always felt that I didn’t belong. I always felt like I didn’t have a place in the band–because I didn’t play an instrument, because I was gay. So I’m actually making more of an effort, This morning I got up, and I thought, I really love these guys. I really do love them, and I really am enjoying being with them.
You’ve said In the past that the songs in Culture Club were a narrative of your emotional state. What will the new Culture Club songs be about? Are you still writing songs about Jon?
The day we had our first meeting about getting back together, I wrote a song about Jon. This whole load of emotions just came out. It was like, Where did this come from? I listened to the song the other day, and it’s a really good track. I haven’t played it for them, and I might keep it for myself. But it’s just weird how it happened because I had said to myself, I’m never going to write a song about him again. He’ll never come into my mind.
There’s also a song that we’re doing that I wrote about Michael [Dunne, with whom George had a relationship for ten years after splitting up with Moss], called “Some Strange Voodoo,” but it could also be about Jon. And I guess it kind of is. What was interesting to me about that song is that it’s kind of gay. And I thought that Roy was going to be funny about it, because I’m not changing the lyrics.
Why would he be funny about it?
Well, because he was always a bit funny about that. You know, he’s always been, “Do we have to say `he’?” And I told him, “This song is staying as it is. It’s my song, and I’m not changing it.” I mean, it’s not that queer. It just says, “No happily ever after, no big dark man.”
Your look has changed over the years. You no longer dress in drag. How does your image mirror your feelings about your sexuality?
For some reason, when I was younger, I dressed up like a girl, I looked feminine, and so straight boys wanted to fuck me. And now I don’t really look like that anymore. I’m not a little girl. I’m not skinny, frail, petite. I’m a big guy, although I still wear makeup. So I’m in this weird no-man’s-land, and it’s fucking strange. I’m learning as I get older that sexuality is a very gray area. I don’t actually believe in gay and straight anymore. The older I get, the more I think it’s kind of a mind-set. When I was 16, I did not find women attractive. As I’ve gotten older, I can now look at women’s bodies and think, Yeah, they’re nice. And I can watch porn videos with straight men and women and actually get turned on. Couldn’t have done that when I was 16.
But you do still sleep with men? It does happen, right?
Well, you know, it doesn’t. For me, I have always felt that I’m in a sexual no-man’s-land. I don’t get fancied by gay guys–ever. I don’t go into gay bars and pick men up. I never have, and I never will. It’s not like I don’t try [laughs]. I split up with Jon, I went out with Michael for ten years, and since I split up with Michael four years ago, I’ve had sex with two people. And it’s not like I don’t go out.
Do you ever just go out and pick up a guy and have anonymous sex?
I don’t have the guts to do shit like that. A lot of my friends are very promiscuous. They go to parks, and they go to saunas. It’s a world I don’t know anything about. I don’t have the confidence to go into a sauna and have sex with someone I’ve never met before. I probably would do it if I had a better body.
A lot of British male pop stars from the ’80s are gay: you, Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys, Marc Almond of Soft Cell, Holly Johnson of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and George Michael. Did you ever think of it that way?
Yeah, I think that art is a great playground for gay people. It’s a fantasy realm. It’s one of those places you can be anything you want to be. I remember going to see k.d. lang a few years ago and thinking that it was so great that there was this gay butch singer with the most amazing voice. You could never have done that 20 years ago or even ten years ago. And I remember thinking, You can be anything you want in rock and roll. You can be fat, ugly, you can be a crazy drag queen, you can be a lesbian.
Speaking of lesbians, I hear that you attended the party celebrating Ellen DeGeneres’s coming-out episode in London.
Yeah, it was fantastic. There were lots of gay people there–writers, celebrities. I mean, she was crying. At those points you remember that, England is liberated in a way. You don’t have such right-wing control of the media as you do in America.
What did you think about George Michael’s getting arrested in that men’s room in Los Angeles?
I think that when you lie about what you are, you do get caught with your trousers down eventually. I think George Michael created that situation. I believe that wherever you are in your life is where you want to be. The only way he could face his sexuality was by actually being caught doing something embarrassing. The downside of it for me is that everybody points the finger and says, “See, look at gay people. They’re just really sad. They go to toilets and wank, and they don’t have relationships, and they don’t love each other.” And I hate that. That annoys me because I am not that kind of person. I’m romantic. I love being in relationships. I don’t care if someone wants to go to the toilet–that’s fine. But it’s kind of odd, if you’re in a relationship, to be going off fucking guys in a toilet. That’s what I think anyway [laughs].
I know that over the past several years you have been pressuring George Michael, both in the press and in person, to come out of the closet.
I’ve picked on George Michael for years. This first started in ’87 or ’88–I was on national radio, and the interviewer said, “Who would you like to do a duet with?” And I said that I would love to have done one with Aretha, but she’s already done one with the other George. And he said, “Oh, do you think she banged on the wrong door, then?” And I said, “More like the wrong closet.” And he said, “What do you mean by that?” And I said, “Oh, he’s a queen. Everyone knows it. I don’t know why he doesn’t just come out and say it.” So it was a big scandal. I don’t know why I said it; I was just in one of those moods. And then, four or five years ago, I was invited to someone’s birthday party, and George was there. And he was talking to me about his boyfriends and lovers, you know, the whole shit. I said to him loads of times, “Why don’t you just come out, because everyone knows you’re queer.” I’ve been the bane of his existence, let me tell you.
So you two were never friends?
I knew George before he got famous, before Wham! He was our friend. He used to hang out with us at gay clubs. I guess I resented George because when he got successful, he became very stuck-up. I think a lot of my problems with him, if I’m really honest, are due to the fact that he’s not very friendly to me. My honest opinion of it is that I think he thinks he’s better than other people. And in particular, he thinks he’s better than other gay people. And that’s why he’s never been able to say he’s gay, because if he says he’s gay, he has to align himself with people like me and Jimmy Somerville and the drag queens. And he thinks he’s a different type of homosexual. George actually thinks he’s too good for the gay community.
How did you find out about George’s getting arrested?
The morning after it happened, my sister came to my house, banged on the door, and the whole of Fleet Street was outside the house. Everyone was out there. I said, “What the fuck’s going on?” She said, “George Michael’s been arrested in a toilet.” And I have to say, I screamed. I went, “Yes!” Because I thought, What fucking justice.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m doing this tour, and then we’re going to do a new record. That’s what I’m looking forward to. Someone just said to me earlier, “Did you ever think you’d become Gerry and the Pacemakers?” And I said that we’re not really because this will be the one tour. We won’t do another ’80s reunion tour.
Doesn’t this tour feel nostalgic to you? You don’t strike me as someone who goes backward.
We’re seeing this for what it is. We’re going out with the Human League and Howard Jones, and we’re doing our greatest hits, so we can’t pretend it’s anything else. On the tour we are doing a handful of new songs. And then we’ll make a record and move on. The only reason for doing this was if we could make a new studio record. I mean, I don’t want to just do this tour. I don’t need this tour.
You don’t need the money?
Of course I don’t need the money. I make a fortune. So I had to think, Do I want to give up my life to do this tour? But I would probably kick myself if I didn’t do it. I love adventure. I love the idea of “Fuck, what’s it going to be like?” And all the indications so far are good.
RELATED ARTICLE: Culture clash
If you think time has mellowed Culture Club’s other members, think again. They’re as feisty as ever
“Is that the gay magazine?” Culture Club drummer Jon Moss asks suspiciously when told that he and band members guitarist Roy Hay and bassist Mikey Craig are about to be interviewed for The Advocate. “We’re not gay. Oh, yeah, I am–I was. They aren’t,” he rambles, pointing to Hay and Craig. “Ass bandit, mate!” he crows across the lounge of Manhattan’s Regency Hotel, where the interview is taking place. Ass bandit? Who’s an ass bandit, the interviewer asks. “He is,” Moss says, pointing to Boy George, who is sitting with another journalist across the room. “Him. My boyfriend. He don’t love me anymore. Bastard.” It is only after Hay admonishes Moss to calm down that the drummer settles into a more friendly mode.
Such are the ravings of the admittedly defensive Moss, who, according to George, has long denied that their passionate romantic relationship ever took place. Indeed, earlier this year Moss seemed to go out of his way to avoid questions about the relationship on the Boy George episode of VH1’s Behind the Music series.
But now, sitting on a couch at the Regency, Moss is more forthcoming. The drummer says he was “very upset” about George’s autobiography, Take It Like a Man, and all the “terrible things” the singer wrote about him. “No matter how he felt about me, he shouldn’t have said what he said,” he says. “I’ve got nothing to hide. I don’t think George understood that. I think he thought I was secretive. People don’t realize how upset I was. I was in love with George. I was painted as the villain, the guy who was running off screwing women, but It wasn’t like that. I as very, hurt.”
Since the breakup of the band, Moss has dabled in various musical projects, bought and sold “small properties,” and fathered a child by his current girlfriend. When asked if he considers himself bisexual, Moss avoids a straightforward answer. “With me, it’s not a matter of sex,” he says. “I fell in love with George, and he happened to be a man. When I stopped going out with George, I went out with women, but it doesn’t mean I wasn’t homosexual when I was with George, I’m not primarily homosexual. I prefer women to men, and now I’m with a woman I hope to be with for the rest of my life.”
Moss says he has been out of touch with George for most of the past ten years. Craig too had not seen or heard from the singer for most of the ’90s: “George is the type of guy who’s here, there, and everywhere. You try to get in touch with him, and it’s very, very difficult.” In the years since Culture Club’s ’80s demise, Craig has also become a father, twice over, and formed a small dance label called Slam Records. “George actually started playing a couple of my records,” says Craig, referring to the singer’s disc jockey career. “He didn’t know the records were from my company.”
Of the three, Hay has remained on the best terms with George through the years. He says it’s partly because his wife and George are very friendly. After Culture Club ended, Hay moved to Los Angeles and formed a production company that makes television commercials, and he is now working on film and television scores. “I haven’t written an actual song in a long time,” he says, “so to be back in a band environment working on new material is quite refreshing.”
All three members contend that the intervening years have brought a new maturity to their relationships within the band. “We’re having a really good time,” Moss says. “I haven’t laughed so much in ten years.” Hay feels that the “water under the bridge” has been kind to the band’s music. “When our relations are good with each other, as they are now,” he says, “the music comes to life.”
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