Boy George’s first volume of autobiography, Take It Like A Man (Sidgwick & Jackson Ltd, 21 April 1995), is one of the great pop memoirs. Confessional, bitchy, witty, accurate and occasionally score-settling, it withstands multiple readings and covers his life and career in detail until the end of the 1980s. It also reveals the truth about rumours that persisted at that time but were officially denied or ignored. For instance, George describes in detail his tempestuous relationship with band mate Jon Moss, a subject that had been addressed in unofficial biographies before but which George had not previously had the opportunity to set the record straight (for want of a better word) on himself. “When I told Woman magazine, “Sex? I’d rather have a cup of tea,” I was lying through my lipstick-stained teeth,” he writes. “It was true that I enjoyed a good cuppa, and tea was certainly more reliable than Jon. But I wasn’t the moral paragon I made myself out to be.”
His love affair with Moss was an important part of the chemistry of Culture Club. When they were getting on, the results achieved by the band were incredible; when they were fighting, Culture Club could be brought to the brink of collapse. The desire they both had to make sure the group was a success ended up (for the most part) pushing disagreements aside, and second album Colour By Numbers was a huge international hit. All four of the album’s singles made the Top 10 in the UK, with Karma Chameleon making #1. Enormously popular with its catchy melody, clever lyrics and memorable video clip, it repeated this feat all over the world. Culture Club was among the biggest bands in the industry and George was most of its most recognizable stars. But at the end of 1984, it was difficult to judge how long this would last.
On the one hand, Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas, on which he was featured prominently, was at #1; it was the biggest single of the decade and coordinator Bob Geldof had insisted that it was vital George be involved. On the other, there was third Culture Club album, Waking Up With The House On Fire. Exhausted by constant travelling, out of ideas having had no thinking time, sick of each other’s company: the group approached the writing and recording of the album in a mechanical way and it showed. They had little choice but to rush the recording as if they dwelled too long on anything, the internal arguments would flare up and sessions would be abandoned. “When we delivered the album to Virgin, they should have advised us not to release it,” said George. “Perhaps they were pecking at the last bit of flesh.” It wasn’t that it was a flop – it comfortably sold a million copies worldwide – but with a recording budget of around half a million pounds, more was expected of it. At first there was no problem: despite its trite lyrics, lead single The War Song was catchy enough to fall only just short of #1. But second single The Medal Song struggled to make the Top 40 and when plans for a third single from the album, Mistake No. 3, were abandoned (at least in the UK), George’s confidence was badly dented.
Fortunately the media’s attention was on Band Aid and not on the careers of its participants, so there were few predictions that Culture Club’s time was up. But crucially there was no release from Culture Club in the UK at all in 1985, and few public appearances from the whole band together. For George, the void was filled with side projects and drugs. In Take It Like A Man, he identified January 1985 as the first time he took Ecstasy in New York, and credited it as supplying him with a temporary boost to his confidence at a much needed time. Unfortunately, as he went on to say: “Coke was a natural progression from E. One led to another like steppingstones across a murky stream.”
While Culture Club was on hold and the drugs took their hold, George’s side projects included helping his friend Marilyn with his career: “In my heart I did everything I could to help Marilyn, but he just didn’t trust me. He was convinced I wanted him to fail, that I was operating on some deeply twisted level. My biggest mistake was making him dependent on me, and his biggest mistake was expecting me to run his life.” Marilyn joined George in New York with the idea to record a version of Spirit In The Sky, and the two met up with producers Man Parrish and Micahel Rudetsky (who had worked on George’s Bow Wow Wow colleague Annabella’s proposed single War Boys). Rudetsky arranged some studio time and it was the beginning of a friendship with George.
Other projects for George were less expected, such as his acting debut on the family-oriented action show ‘The A-Team’. Drugs featured on that shoot too: “In the episode titled ‘Cowboy George’, I was supposed to play myself, but I was handed a Valley Girl script full of cringy lines like “Go for it, Hannibal,” “Totally awesome, Mr T.” I had to stay stoned to get through the experience.” It also ended up featuring the rest of Culture Club, although it had been intended that George feature alone: “Toward the end of filming, Marilyn joined me from New York and Jon, Roy, and Mikey flew in for a cameo. Originally the band had no part in the show but they kicked up a fuss … Jon said it would look better with the album due to be released. I knew it was just ego.” If there was one project that should have reunited Culture Club during 1985, it was Live Aid. But George said, “I didn’t want to appear, even though I’d made half-hearted promises to Bob Geldof and excuses to the band. It was a mixture of fear and loathing. I didn’t think we could cut it in front of two billion people and disliked the rock pomposity of it all… I found it boring and self-congratulatory. All my friends went on at me for not being there. Jon, Roy and Mikey were bitter. I’d ruined their chance of a part in history.”
With a disappointment like that hanging over them, it was no wonder the sessions for their fourth album were muted. George already had the title for the collection, From Luxury To Heartache, even before much of the material had been written. Despite having seasoned producer Arif Mardin at the helm, the energy and excitement of the early singles was entirely absent. George’s pronouncement to the suspicious press that he was “a drag addict, not a drug addict” was witty, but his addiction affected the sessions: they overran badly when he wasn’t up to recording his vocals and Mardin was unable to complete the work, using a deputy instead on the final takes. History repeated itself with the album’s promotion. Lead single Move Away did well, follow-up God Thank You Woman (George: “I told everyone it was about my mum”) scraped the Top 40, and a third single, Heaven’s Children, was shelved. Whether the cancellation of the latter was down to the unlikeliness of this rather weak song to chart, or because of negative publicity surrounding George’s arrest and conviction for possessing drugs at the time white label promos of the track were being sent out in mid-July 1986, is unknown. The shocking and sudden drugs-related death at the beginning of August of Rudetsky, who had co-written a track for From Luxury To Heartache, permanently ended any plans for another single. He was found dead at George’s London home.
“It was quietly accepted that Culture Club was over,” George wrote in his autobiography about this period. “There were no meetings with our lawyers or accountants or kind words between the four of us…. Foolishly, I started making plans to launch my career as a solo artist.”
NEW SINGLES on sale from May. 19
BANANARAMA Venus (London NANA10)
CULTURE CLUB God Thank You Woman (Virgin VS861)
PET SHOP BOYS Opportunities [Re-issue] (Parlophone R6129)
Midge URE Call Of The Wild (Chrysalis URE4)