Boy George a man of substance—and substance-free.
In 1984, Boy George made androgyny a household world, bursting onto the scene as the front person for soul-pop band Culture Club. Thirty years later he’s in the midst of his biggest career and personal recovery yet.
Having just released his first full-length solo album of new material in nearly two decades, and having been substance-free for more than six years, it is, he says, the happiest time of his life.
“One day I just realized that I’m really lucky to do what I do. When I was younger and fame was thrust upon me, it was more of an obsession, but now I’m looking at it with a bit more maturity.”
In fact, he’s lucky to be alive. Boy George’s life for the last couple of decades has been marked by drug addiction, jail time and a steep fall from his ’80s A-list celebrity status as a music and gay icon.
Fortunately George found his way out of the depths of excess through religion and a dramatically different lifestyle.
“I finally realized I can’t do things in moderation,” says Boy George. “So abstinence is the only thing that works for me. I attended my first Narcotics Anonymous meeting in 1987. I remember walking out because of the whole God thing. I was young and that was how I felt at the time. Today I have many different beliefs, not necessarily religious, but more spiritual. I’m a practicing Nichiren Buddhist, which is a Japanese branch that embraces having joy now as opposed to the after-life.”
Now more focused on health and well-being, his rituals involve daily chanting that makes individuals capable of attaining enlightenment in their current form and present lifetime. Although devoted, using spirituality as a means to add more dimension to other parts of his life, George doesn’t have a physical shrine that he uses, admitting he’s more of a “digital Buddhist” with an “app on my Smartphone.”
He’s even adopted a healthier eating regimen more in line with his cleaner-living lifestyle. He enjoys cooking and has embraced the vegetarian/vegan/raw food concept, yet he’s not hardcore about it. “I often tweet about interesting recipes or meals that I’ve prepared. I love food and find it very exciting. It’s also something that’s very emotional.”
His current vice—a fresh French loaf—is a stark contrast to five years ago when George was sentenced to 15 months in jail for falsely imprisoning a male escort by handcuffing him to a wall and beating him with a metal chain.
George’s musical comeback began with the release of Coming Home, a digital single with a house music vibe.
But it was the lyrics that underlined his return from the darkness.
“I actually wrote that song as a way to find my mojo. I started off not really knowing what I wanted to say, and questioning the point of my present existence. I was in a complete happy place for the first time in a long time.
I had no bad breakups, emotional baggage or demons to write about, and felt kind of lost for words,” he chuckles. “After finishing [Coming Home], I knew what I was going to say on the full album.”
That album, his ninth solo release, is titled This Is What I Do, the name created on a whim when a television host put him on the spot. The title reflects a certain irony since this is his first album of new material in almost 20 years. “I wanted to make a baggy album that wasn’t overproduced, and I think I have achieved it. I was listening to things like Beast Of Burden by The Rolling Stones; my head most definitely was in the ’70s.”
The new material also led to George’s return to music videos, a world Culture Club helped pioneer as one of the early acts of the 1980s MTV generation. And while today’s videos have moved from the once all-powerful MTV machine to a world where YouTube can make anybody a star, George’s videos, if by name only, still stand out from the crowd.
He shot and directed the video for Coming Home himself, but conspicuously is not featured in it. He’s also completed videos for the first two singles off the album, as well as for a powerful cover version of Lana Del Ray’s Video Games. “It’s one of those songs that doesn’t quite fit the pop song model, yet it works wonderfully as a single. I found similar comparisons to The Crying Game, which I did back in 1992.” Plus, Video Games appears as a bonus track on the US release, along with a cover of Yoko Ono’s Death Of Samantha.
The lead single, King of Everything, begins with the line, “Put down the booze/Let the demons win the fight.”
While George claims the song is more about recovery and human frailty than a reflection of himself, he does admit there’s a personal element to it. “I never drank booze in my life. That wasn’t my problem,” obviously referring to his well-publicized drug-addled past. “I wrote it more like a movie. The song really is about recovery and getting your shit together as a person. I actually got quite emotional and tearful when I first heard the final version of this song. That’s how important it is to me.” With lyrics like “What’s the word on the street? Have I lost my crown? Or will I be king again,” clearly Boy George questions how the public will react to his new material. But by all accounts, reviews have been quite favourable, some even going so far as to proclaim it as the comeback of the year.
An eight-city North American tour stops in Toronto this month—the only Canadian date. He’s touring with a nine-piece band, many of whom worked with him on the album, which features collaborations with the legendary producer Youth (Siouxsie & the Banshees, Primal Scream, The Orb, U2, Depeche Mode), as well as a string of stellar guest musicians including DJ Yoda, Kitty Durham, Ally McErlaine, MC Spee (Dreadzone) and Nizar Al Issa, and makes mention of a slew of forthcoming remixes to be released. “There’s a bunch of people who’ve worked on Feel The Vibration, including the Hoxton Whores. Also, George Clinton contributes to a remixed version of Bigger Than War. There’s still plenty more to come from this new recording.”
And best of all, Boy George confirms that Culture Club is back together and writing new music to be recorded this summer, with a tour to follow. When asked if there was a Culture Club remix he liked, he was quick to reply with a simple, “No.” He then gave it a second thought and said there was one of Do You Really Want To Hurt Me? done by Quiver that he quite enjoyed because of its very soulful vibe.
Whether or not Culture Club reclaims its past fame, or his solo album soars up the charts, George’s pursuits go beyond the musical. Though he also continues to DJ around the globe, he has written a couple of autobiographies, maintains his own fashion line, B-Rude, and has dabbled in art and photography. He recently did a painting of the infamous drag queen Divine for a charity auction event, saying, “I quite enjoy art. In fact, it was the only thing that I was really good at in school. When you reach the age of 50, you suddenly become fearless and are more open to taking risks.”
His return to the world stage, rejuvenated and recovered, puts the karma chameleon back in the pink and on the path to enlightenment.
Boy George plays the Danforth Music
Hall on April 24. boygeorgeuk.com.
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