In 1982 was er ineens die bijzondere Britse groep, Culture Club met zanger Boy George, geboren op 14 juni 1961. Met ‘Do you really want to hurt me’, op het Virgin-label van Richard Branson, werd meteen de top van de hitlijsten gehaald, een jaar later gevolgd door ‘Karma Chameleon (I’m a man without conviction)’.
Over publiciteit had Boy George nooit te klagen. Niet alleen vanwege zijn flamboyante uiterlijk, maar tevens omdat hij er constant van alles uitflapte. Je hoefde hem maar iets te vragen, je hield maar een microfoon voor zijn mond, of er kwam wel wat uit, in de eerste helft van de jaren tachtig. Over elk onderwerp had hij wel iets op te merken. De vraag was in hoeverre dat geloofwaardig was. Hij zei het zelf in een interview met Betty Page (Beverley Glick) in het blad Sounds : “I like answering questions. I can muck about and lie!”
Boy George ging nog een stap verder: “My opinion changes every day. I’m a complete hypocrite, I’m full of shit, but we all are”.
Page was een van de eerste journalisten die ervan genoot Boy George uitgebreid aan het woord te laten. Dat was op 12 juni 1982, nog vóór de eerste hit geboren was. Wat de vertegenwoordigers in een drietal artikelen in die tijd uit zijn mond lieten komen, wil ik hier vastleggen met de woorden zoals hij ze zelf bezigde.
Boy George interview in Engeland
Betty Page beschreef de zanger met de woorden: “This man giggles and the world giggles with him. He likes doing interviews, interviews like doing him – George is what we in the trade call ‘easy copy’ – he doesn’t have to be provoked into comment (intelligent or otherwise) or controversy, it comes pouring forth from his ruby lips like water off a duck’s back”.
De journaliste vroeg wat het publiek van zijn groep kon verwachten. Ze kreeg meteen een spraakwaterval over zich heen, die ze omschreef met ‘het monster is losgelaten’.
George: “Culture Club are really getting together now – it’s really amateur anyway, so that’s good, we’re not a professional band, but we’ve been in the studio about four times now and we’re really learning, and that’s all there is to it really.
I don’t even care about the band. I don’t want to go into depths about music ’cos I know nothing about it anyway. I can’t even read music. All I know is whether I think it sounds good and if I like what I’m doing.
Because when we started, the band really tried to be different. The stuff now is good, it’s really vocal and it’s just songs – I think that’s the best way to do it”.
Boy George bleek meer een bewonderaar van Cliff Richard te zijn dan van de progressieve deejay John Peel: “You can’t go round saying I hate everything that isn’t young and trendy – I like Cliff Richard – I mean that, I really like him. ‘It’s So Funny’ – that’s a great record, great. I think every band’s got something that’s good, one good track – even the bands you hear on John Peel”.
Had de Culture Club een bepaalde doelgroep voor ogen?
Pretenties waren er niet, leek het: “The sort of audience we want is just people that like music, that don’t give a shit whether you’ve got blue eyebrows and pink lips. I dress up but I’ve been dressing up for years, so it’s not like The Book, The Film, The Band, The Look, hey kids!
The band don’t dress up, they look really normal most of them, they don’t wear make-up and they’ve all got girlfriends – well, nearly all of them! It’s great, and we get on really well.
Terrible arguments though. Everyone’s got a great personality. I’m a big mouth and so is Jon, the drummer. Someone said to me your single sounds like it’s white people playing soul but so what? Who gives a shit?”
Hoe origineel was de muziek die ze maakten?
“Nobody creates things, everything you see is a complete rip-off of something else. If you’re not influenced by everything you must be a real moron. It falls into place, but it’s not The Concept Album featuring Frank Zappa and Peter Frampton on guitar and the Bob Marley Female Singers on backing vocals, we’re just doing it and having a great time”.
Was Boy George wel normaal? “People wouldn’t say you were normal would they?”
George: “Only cos they think they’re normal. Most people are really insane, people on buses with beehives and Doctor Spock eyebrows. I think normality is really offensive”.
In die tijd waren de Britten in oorlog met Argentinië over de Falkland eilanden.
George: “I think we’re fucking lucky that people will fight. I think Margaret Thatcher is great, at least she’s trying. She’s a snob, but at least she’s an honest snob”.
Het gesprek vond plaats tijdens de opname van het tv-programma Top of the Pops. Daar liepen nogal wat aantrekkelijke mannen (‘heart throbs’) rond, merkte Page op. Dat was de concurrentie voor Culture Club. “What do you think it’s going to be like being in competition with all those heart throbs on TOTP?”
George: “I’m not in competition. I’m not a heart throb. I don’t think I’m a particularly sexy person. I’m not like the guy in [de groep] Tight Fit. I suppose some people might fancy me, but so what, I’m just thinking about whether they like the record, whether they like us on stage and whether they dance to it.
Even if it takes us 10 years...as long as we’re into each other, it’s a career. You create your own situation, it’s up to you what happens to you. There’s no message”.
Het kon de artiest in zijn opvallende kledij niets schelen. Als hij maar opviel. “George has an amiable infectious personality that doesn’t like being written about in ‘arty ways’. I promised not to say ‘George is the reason there is light’. He had this picture taken with a peacock in full bloom and is just waiting to see the captions.
‘Pouff peacock’, he speculates, chortling.
George is not big headed, and promises not to be at least until he sells as many records as Julio Iglesias, one of his heroes. Culture Club are going to be working very hard, and George is currently beavering away at being completely inanimate”.
Boy George interview in New York
Culture Club, midden links Boy George, midden rechts Jon Moss
Vanwege het succes van ‘Do you really want to hurt me’ moest Culture Club meteen de wereld rondtrekken. En dan te bedenken dat George nog nooit in een vliegtuig gezeten had.
Max Bell noteerde: “‘I’d never left England until I joined this band’, confesses George. ‘The first adventure was when ‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me’ became a hit in Belgium and we had to go there to promote it. Virgin did a typical hatch-up job because they weren’t sure if we were going to make it. We flew on this really cheap old plane. I hated the travelling at first; never wanted to leave England. Now it’s become like using the bus and I still hate it.
I have a real fear of flying, it’s extremely uncomfortable and dull. Because we’ve had so much success so quickly we’ve had to consolidate it by constant touring which means that we go to too many places too fast. Next year I am not doing this. I’m planning the schedule so that we can go by boat and train. It’s horrible not seeing anything’”.
Half december 1982 was het in New York nog warm weer. De dag na een optreden liep George samen met Dave Rimmer door Central Park. “Everyone just leaves their winter clothes at home for a change and comes out in shorts and T shirts. Everyone, that is, but for Boy George. He’s to be found taking the afternoon air in his usual attire of stove-pipe hat and long black coat. Isn’t he hot? He shrugs: ‘But this is what I always wear’”.
In die kleding viel George wel op. Dat was waarschijnlijk ook de bedoeling.
“A fresh-faced boy and girl skate to a halt in front of him: ‘Hi, we caught your show last night. It was really great. We’re music fanatics!’
They explain they’re from Toronto, and wonder if Culture Club have plans to play there. George replies that they probably will, in March.
‘We’re going to buy your record for our party next week’, they declare, skating off again. One of them, still looking back at the smiling George, suddenly loses control and falls over”.
Boy George vergeleek de Verenigde Staten met zijn eigen land. Hij was het niet helemaal eens met Jon Moss, de drummer van de band. Die vond de Amerikanen nogal ‘dollar-orientated’. Alles draaide om geld in het land waar ze niet eerder geweest waren. Toch was er, ook in de ogen van Moss, een wezenlijk verschil: “In England everybody’s trying to make money but they're ashamed to admit it. Here, it’s easy to talk business. And if you’ve got the business sorted out it, makes everything else so much easier”.
Boy George wond zich meer op over alle soorten scheerzeep die je in New York kon aanschaffen: “It’s really funny buying things in shops. You know in England they’ve only got two flavours of shaving foam. Well here they’ve got about 46! Lemon and lime, apple blossom, foam for men with big arms”.
In één opzicht zag Boy George de stad helemaal zitten – het was een ‘melting pot’. Alle culturen kwamen er samen. Dat sprak hem geweldig aan. “People celebrate each other’s cultures. In England people ostracize each other, but here they mix. They might shout at each other, but they don’t hate each other for the wrong reasons”.
Volgens de journalist zaten ze in deze stad dan ook op een band als Culture Club te wachten. “ In many ways New York is the perfect place for this band: the whole city is one big culture club. The ethnic mix of the group’s members, their slick moulding together of different musical styles and the contradictory symbols on their regulation clothing seem completely at home in this vast melting pot of a city where just about all conceivable nationalities rub shoulders”.
George en Dave liepen over Fifth Avenue. “Passers-by stare dumbfounded as he dances inanely about the pavement to the bangs and whistles of a dodgy one-man band. A souvenir shop assistant calls over and confides: ‘I’m really jealous. Your make-up is very good’”.
Hoe anders zou het niet in het conservatieve Arizona of Texas zijn.
Van Coati Mundi, percussionist van Kid Creole, had George er al iets over gehoord. “He said: ‘They’ll love your record in Texas, but when they see you they’ll hang you from the nearest tree! But I think people get over that shock. People respect talent’”.
Het was maar een druk gedoe in New York. “Police sirens sweep by on the avenue outside our hotel. On the pavement two guys shout at each other. George shakes his head and smiles: ‘I couldn’t live here. It’s too much. Too many people talking at once. Coming here makes me really miss my parents. If I was here for a month I think I’d get back to England, fall on the ground, and kiss the turf – just like the Pope’”.
Boy George praat honderd uit over ‘Europa’
In het najaar van 1983 had Boy George een lang gesprek met popjournalist Max Bell. Culture Club had het intussen helemaal gemaakt in de (westerse) wereld. De single ‘Karma Chameleon’ bereikte de nummer één op de hitlijsten in landen als Engeland, Nederland, België, Noorwegen, Zweden, Zwitserland, Canada, Ierland, Nieuw Zeeland en de VS, met daarnaast zeer hoge klasseringen in Duitsland, Oostenrijk, Italië, Frankrijk en waar niet al meer.
George was nu een wereldster en hij coquetteerde er volop mee. “His intense drive for superstardom arises from the most peculiar form of narcissism. Although he is the unspoken leader of Culture Club, not someone to cross, he is still approachable and kind. There can’t be many other people in his position who would invite the girls that camp on his doorstep in for tea and a chat”.
Boy George was publiek bezit geworden en zo gedroeg hij zich ook: “George laps it up; from the cover of ‘Woman’ – Britain’s best-selling woman’s magazine – to a Silvikrin Shampoo competition to win a night out with the star, he understands the value of being a public property and seems capable of coping with it”.
Als hij ondanks zijn vliegangst overal heen vloog, ging zijn voorkeur eerder naar het verre oosten dan het gebied dat door Britten meestal omschreven wordt met ‘Europe’.
Vooral Frankrijk moest het ontgelden.
“I don’t like playing in Europe as much as Japan and Hong Kong. Europeans miss the sentiments of the songs sometimes. I think rock ’n’ roll is boring unless you have audience participation and with the language barrier people misinterpret a lot. Not being a professional I rely on my instincts which works fine in England and Japan. Europeans are more rigid. For example the French. The French hate the English. We sold a million singles and they still didn’t come to see us play!
I haven’t seen much art or architecture yet but I liked the Pompidou Museum, all those tubes, and Orly Airport.
France doesn’t have a pop history, apart from Edith Piaf. Perhaps because the society is more agricultural. In France they seem quite self-centred. They don’t want to idolise us. I think they miss so many wonderful clichés because they’re scared to seem uncool.
If I ordered coffee in Paris with my meal they laughed at me. And the hotels! The first time we went there we stayed in this awful dump with an orange vibrating bed. The only good thing about it was that my room had a nice bathroom so I spent the whole time in there”.
Also there are too many hippies in Amsterdam and it’s too laid back there with all the drugs. When I’m working I get very tense if I think people around me are taking drugs. I don’t like the people who work for us to take them, especially people who do it to be hip. Maybe it’s because I feel I’ve got natural drugs... In Holland people were constantly coming up to me in the street and asking for drugs; ‘Hey man got any skins?’”
Ook in Duitsland dachten ze dat George een ‘gebruiker’ was. Ten onrechte, beweerde de zanger. “In Germany we were in a restaurant and this girl came up to me with a huge plate full of cocaine and stuck it in my face and said ‘Hi!’ I didn’t know what it was but I was disgusted. ‘For a start’, I said, ‘the first thing you should do is say hello properly’. Who the hell do these people think they are?
I nearly blew it all off the plate. The other boys were all laughing because they knew what it was. They said there was about £2000 worth. I didn’t care. I don’t think they take it anyway. I seem to attract these drug types in Europe.
In Germany they tend to demand what they want which is annoying. I got stuck in a TV studio once on my own and all these women trapped me, sticking their tits in my face and telling me to sign them.
The German girls are very graphic sexually, not very subtle. They give you letters with headings of people making love and they talk a lot about sex which I found unappealing. It surprised me and shocked me! They teach the kids too early about sex so they lose the glamour of finding out and making mistakes. They have too many guidelines. Sex becomes robotic”.
Toch zag hij dat volkje wel zitten: “At least in Germany everything is very well organised – if you do a TV appearance it works on time. In France or Italy they keep you waiting for hours. I hate to waste time...
My most loyal fans are German kids; they always remember your birthday. I get most of my mail from them and they always want you to say hello to Steve Strange or Mike Oldfield. They imagine you know everybody! That’s really sweet. It’s a shame that the pop magazines are so bad though. They write about us every week so in the end they invent stuff. Their magazines are stuck in that showbiz rut where everything becomes complete invention and fantasy. Very corny. The more they write the less they understand.
The Germans are the most sexually equal race. There the women look like men, very Olympic, Aryan. The men are pretty. They don’t go in for so much of that pseudo expensive suede and leather look. I call that Blitz and New Romantics made expensive”.
Boy George nam geen blad voor de mond. De journalisten noteerden gretig wat hij allemaal verkondigde.
Italië was aan de zanger van de Culture Club niet zonder meer voorbijgegaan. “All I remember about Italy is the noise and the history. Italy is mad! I don’t understand it at all. They have superbosses controlling the people, it’s very patriarchal and disturbing. For some reason I won an Italian men’s fashion competition. They said my look was the tops. I suppose there’s not much else you can do with the look. It defies the realms of sanity”.
Maar, er ging niets boven België. “In many ways my favourite place in Europe is Belgium. They have these great cafeterias full of old people drinking coffee and they all have our picture sleeves on the wall above the juke boxes”.
Hits van Culture Club in 1982-1983
Boy George besefte goed dat de muziek van Culture Club goed bij Europa paste. “Our music is quite phonetic, like the Eurythmics or F.R. David. It’s simple music with a few phrases people can remember. Nice tunes. The tunes are important. Everyone can understand them”.
De onbetwiste leider van Culture Club was dan ook vast van plan zich er onderweg netjes te gedragen. “You’ve probably gathered that I’ve got a puritanical streak in me. My attitude to this lifestyle is quite clear. I never ever sleep with anyone on the road, no matter how attractive they are, male or female”.
9 december 2013
* Cliff Richard, We don't talk anymore (It's so funny), 1979
* F.R. David, Words, 1982
* Tight Fit, The lion sleeps tonight, 1982
* Culture Club, Do you really want to hurt me, 1982
* Eurythmics, Sweet Dreams, 1983
* Culture Club, Karma Chameleon, 1983
Betty Page, ‘Culture Club – Top of the Pops’, Sounds, 12 juni 1982
Dave Rimmer, ‘Boy George, the Boy in New York City’, Smash Hits, 23 december 1982
Max Bell, ‘A Boy for Europe’, The Face, november 1983