On the shock of the old being new again.
On music and memory.
Anyone of a certain vintage remembers the moment. It was 1983 and you were lounging in the lounge when a person of indeterminate gender exploded into the room courtesy of TV1. Or was it TV2?
Either way — and there were only two back then — you couldn’t stop staring at the spectacle. The braids, the makeup, the plucked eyebrows, the flat chest, the deep voice. What the …?
Is that a boy or a girl, squeaked dad, squinting at the screen from the depths of the recliner. And you didn’t know what to say, because you couldn’t work it out either, and the very fact of that blew your mind.
All you knew was that someone named Boy George and something called Culture Club had very definitely arrived, and that the nation had quite possibly just drawn a single, sharp, collective breath. Can you imagine, if you’re not as ancient as me, how shocking and thrilling and utterly foreign that was?
Bowie had already blazed a gender-bending trail of course, and then there was Prince, the poster-poppet for ambiguity in his improbably tight and high-waisted trousers. But Boy? He was the one who first spoke to those of us who were teenagers, way back then, in 1983.
Ah, the 80s. Joy Division and Talking Heads on high rotate on mum and dad’s turntable (and OK, if we’re honest, Duran Duran and Depeche Mode, too). Karyn Hay and Barry Jenkin, the voices of reason. This was the era of the New Romantics, though none of the guys you knew would actually be seen dead in lip gloss and frilly shirts.
Girls with aggressively plucked eyebrows, eyes lined using a black felt-tip swiped from an older brother’s pencil case. Hairstyles that bring Woody Woodpecker to mind as a style muse. Swotting while listening closely to the radio — Sunday Night Requests on the Tonight Show — hoping that someone had sent in a shout-out, just for you.
Boy George materialised the same year Madonna was off on “Holiday” and Wham were busy being “Bad Boys”.
It was the year after Men At Work’s “Down Under” and Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll”; the year before Cindy Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and Dexys Midnight Runners’ “Come On Eileen”.
It was the glory days of our provincial pub circuit. Of underage raging to The Mockers, The Exponents, Peking Man, The Chills. It was Kahlua and milk and sticky carpet and pub rock. It was the soundtrack of possibility.
It all seems like a lifetime since those years, and maybe it is. But then the past rears up out of nowhere and rushes in to haunt the present.
It happens through music. Boy George and Culture Club, playing here for the first time in December (page 26). The Mockers, reforming for a tour this summer. Karyn Hay as MC at the launch party for Volume, the exhibition spanning six decades of Kiwi music, at Auckland Museum (page 92).
Takes you back, doesn’t it? To the person you were on the cusp of becoming, all those decades ago.
Another time, another world. The music of memory.
It was Kahlua and milk and sticky carpet and pub rock. It was the soundtrack of possibility.