BOY GEORGE COMES FULL CIRCLE
As Culture Club ready their first new album in two decades, we talk past and future with the 80s icon
boY GeorGe & cuLTure cLub at Sony Centre (1 Front East), Friday (August 24), doors 7 pm, all ages. $53.50-$123.50. ticketmaster.ca.
In the years prior to the 1982 release of Culture Club’s debut album, Boy George had already become a prominent face in a post-punk community of artists who permeated London’s creative nightlife. This cross-pollination of people working in fashion, film and
music nurtured the demented, DIY version of drag that has now become synonymous with George’s name and helped inform his notoriously androgynous looks.
As Trump-era neo-conservatism ravages the planet (with our own version here in Ontario), the timing couldn’t be better for the return of the band who originally scandalized the masses during the equally evil President Reagan’s reign.
On the brink of Culture Club’s first album in 19 years and a sold-out show at the Sony Centre, NOW caught up with Boy George to talk about how his early artistic collaborations are still a source of inspiration to him today.
WHAT’S YOUR RELATIONSHIP TO THAT ORIGINAL LOOK WE ALL KNOW SO WELL? HAS IT BECOME AN ALBATROSS?
That original look was an accidental result of cultural ideas clashing with basically whatever was available to me. At the time, there was a lot of reggae music being played in London, and you’d see loads of people with dreadlocks and it just became a thing to create these quasi-religious images. It sort of went from the dreadlocks to the bandages to the hat, but it was all done really blindly. You make sense of it afterwards, if you know what I mean.
YOU RECENTLY DISCOVERED THAT THE COSTUMES FROM YOUR 2002 STAGE MUSICAL OF TABOO (BASED ON THE LIFE OF ARTIST LEIGH BOWERY) WERE BEING SOLD OFF WITHOUT YOUR PERMISSION. HOW IMPORTANT IS MANAGING YOUR ARCHIVE AT THIS POINT?
It’s quite funny – I love clothes, but I don’t really care about them. I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older to be a bit more respectful of these talismans that we have in our lives. I was just on a UK [genealogy documentary] program called Who Do You Think You Are?, and during that experience I was able to see all sorts of ancient artifacts that belong to my ancestors. I realized that there’s something special about certain objects, and it can be quite important to try and acquire these things and treasure them as part of your personal history. So hearing about the clothing from Taboo being sold from the boot of a car, it was just awful because it ends up with people who just don’t give a shit!
HOW DID YOUR EARLY YEARS LIVING IN LONDON SQUATS WITH ARTISTS AND MUSICIANS INFLUENCE THE WORK YOU ARE DOING NOW?
Those things more than ever represent what I am doing right now. Stevie Stewart (of legendary 80s fashion label BodyMap) did all the outfits for this tour, and I worked with [recently deceased renowned fashion stylist who helped George create his early looks] Judy Blame again quite a lot just before he died. We got a lot of stuff made specifically for this tour from him. It’s funny how some people never really do go out of your life. I think it’s really important to work with people who you have established history with, because there are a lot of things we have in common that we already share.
WITHIN THE SPECTRUM OF QUEER VISIBILITY IN FASHION AND ART, DO YOU SEE THE HISTORY OF YOUR WORK MAKING MORE SENSE NOW MORE THAN BEFORE?
I’m definitely not trying to make sense, but weirdly it’s only in the last few years I’ve actually become much more concerned with my own personal individuality, and how I can create things that other people might not understand. Fashion now is so available that you can walk into H&M and get something that might look like you got it from Prada or Gucci or whatever, and because of that fashion and music have all become so generic. But in another way, it’s made it a lot easier for people to do something different and really stand out. [Doing that] shows you give a shit.
IN ONTARIO WE’RE CURRENTLY DEALING WITH A VERY TRUMPLIKE POLITICIAN IN DOUG FORD, WHO IS BRINGING THE SEX-EDUCATION CURRICULUM BACK TO A DECADES-OLD FORMAT THAT NEGLECTS SAME-SEX RELATIONSHIPS, ABORTION AND CONSENT. YOU STARTED YOUR CAREER DURING A VERY CONSERVATIVE ERA – WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS?
That’s really sad and strange because the world is embracing a whole other ideology! It’s so amazing to hear young kids talking about fluidity. The openness that these young people have is really beautiful. This sounds like burning books, you know…. You can’t go backwards!
WITH SO MANY SHIFTS IN MUSIC AND CULTURE OVER THE DECADES, HAVE YOU EVER ENCOUNTERED A CRISIS OF CONFIDENCE WHERE YOU HAD TO CONSIDER THE POSSIBILITY OF DOING SOMETHING ELSE?
Oh god, never! I’ve always thanked god I get to do what I do and that there are people out there who give a shit! In the way that Judy can make a beautiful creation out of something other people threw away, that’s how I think of what I do. I feel so lucky to be able to do what I do and continue sharing the message of individuality. Kevin Hegge is a Toronto-based filmmaker in post-production with his feature-length documentary TRAMPS!, which looks at how the intersection between art, fashion, music and film was nurtured by art students living communally in squatted spaces in early 80s London. firstname.lastname@example.org | @KevinHeggs_