Boy George. Oh my, the Case Of Boy George. Here's the thing: He appeared right at the moment when I was really getting interested in pop music, in 1982. Strangely, I have never written about Culture Club here, but some of my happiest teen memories involved sitting in my room, drawing on a drafting board, and playing Colour By Numbers on my turntable. It's one of the greatest pop albums of my lifetime. There is a whole generation of pop music fans who know that Victims (watch the video) is one of the finest 80's ballads. You know who you are.
Can you imagine him being popular today? We blather on about how far we've come, but I find it hard to believe a persona like his could make it today. The business is far too mercenary and bottom-line oriented. It panders to conservative notions of what is acceptable. Violence and aggression are fine. Wit, confusing sexuality and subversiveness are not.
Boy George falls into the category of misunderstood. Due perhaps to a mix of appearance and instability, he has never secured his place in the pop canon as the great songwriter he is. Lyrically there is a certain kind of "Boy George song." He has a very defined way with words (see Unfinished Business below). Vocally, he was unparalleled in the 80's. Though his imperial phase only lasted two albums, he has consistently surprised over the years with hidden gems like Broken Spirit, the amazing I Specialize In Loneliness, and Innocence Is Lost. His longtime collaborator Jon Themis has always supplied strong arrangements for his best songs.
Over the past few years he seemed to be hiding under extreme makeup and unrecognizable vocals, either in the glam side project The Twin or on strangely worn guest vocal appearances such as his collaboration with disciple Antony Hegarty. Last year's fantastic Time Machine was evidence that the old George is still around.
People slam him, deservedly, for his forked tongue. He's a bitched out queen, no doubt. But really it's the flip side of his writing talent. I have many favorite Boy George lyrics, but one that never fails to amuse is from Unfinished Business, a song he wrote about Kirk Brandon, an 80's minor popstar who denies he and George were lovers. Boy had a habit of going for unavailable men. Can you imagine if someone you loved when you were young totally denied the relationship ever existed? Ouch. Anyway, the song is a delicate ballad with a wicked lyric. The best line is this one:
Now go tell your friends that I'm mad in my head
That I don't know what I mean
You walk like Jack and you love like Mary
And you're more
Than a bit
Of a queen
In 2007, it appeared that George had truly come undone at 46. For the past few years he's been in the same drug/arrest abyss that has swallowed up people like Britney. It's as if the internal wounds of a life in the spotlight finally erupted on the surface. Very cliche (on my part and his), but not surprising.
In January, George gave an interview with The Daily Mail which is fascinating:
"I hate talking about me," he says. "I think people have a fixed idea of me now. They think my life is miserable. But that's not the case."
No, I venture, while most people retain a deep-seated affection for him, some regard George's lifestyle as, well, a bit on the seedy side.
Boy George could not look more wounded. He rocks back in his chair and reaches for a cigarette, a small but discernible tremor to his hand as he attempts to fire the lighter into action...
He's visibly upset. "I can't believe people would think that," he says.
It's a bit rich, isn't it? That George would not understand people think he's a mess? The end of the article - kudos to the writer - is kind of poignant, because he says hearing Amy Winehouse's Love Is A Losing Game really inspired him to sing again. He started a new tour of England a few weeks back called Songs That Make You Dance And Cry. He's been playing a new song called Shadow Boxing that's pretty solid (watch it) and his vocals seem closer to form. I hope he can pull himself together, because he is a great talent.
My Top Ten Plus One Boy George songs:
Time (Clock Of The Heart)
Miss Me Blind
Same Thing In Reverse
That's The Way
Bow Down Mister video
Generations Of Love video
The Crying Game
This list was hard to edit and changes all the time. I didn't even mention Church Of The Poison Mind, Colour By Numbers (the song), Karma Chameleon, Do You Really Want To Hurt Me or After The Love.