ZANG TUMMM TUMB ARTICLES “the first draft of history”

Generations of Love

If one was asked to suggest two names to sum up pop music in the barren landscape that was Britain in the Eighties, Holly Johnson and Boy George would certainly form the perfect answer. Their careers may not have followed exact parallels, but they did overlap at crucial points and there is a strong argument to suggest that Boy Georges role as the acceptable face of camp helped create a world in which Frankie Goes to Hollywoods overt depictions of gay sexuality could be indulged. George and Hollys backgrounds are notably similar: they were born a year apart, both into working-class families; both sought to express their inner selves by creating outrageous looks that never failed to draw the attention they were seeking—Holly with green hair, George with blue. Both had abortive first attempts at stardom, Holly being sacked from the now legendary Big in Japan (home to the KLFs Bill Drummond, Teardrop Explodes Dave Balfe, Siouxsie and the Banshees Budgie and Pink Militarys Jayne Casey) and George booted out of Malcolm McLarens pop proteges Bow Wow Wow. Both found fame by pushing back the boundaries, George bending genders and Holly breaking rules. Its at this point where the huge differences between the two become apparent. The marketing of their respective images meant that George became the family favourite, with the personality and the absence of sexuality to fit into the unlikeliest of situations, while Hollys message to the family values brigade was ‘lock up your sons. The final similarity—that both publish autobiographies this year ensures that the names of Holly Johnson and George ODowd will always be linked.

Queer before his time

With Do You Really Want To Hurt Me? riding high in the charts, we were in love with the idea of a trannie at number one. The mere thought was revolutionary. In that same week, George gave an interview to the press in which he went on and on about ‘poofs. Well, we in the gay community were outraged. (This was 1982, a long time before Queer.) He was clearly a traitor and was challenged as such when he tried to gain entrance to Londons premier alternative nightspot of the time, The Pied Bull in Islington, home of the politically correct. The doorman, immediately entered into a wrangle with George. “Someone in your position should support gay rights. Ill have you know Ive been beaten up for wearing a Gay Pride badge.” George, with rapier wit, lunged back: “Thats nothing—Ive been beaten up for wearing a Mothers Pride badge.” We all thought it hysterical, though we werent quick to forgive.

(cont.)
Frankie, however, were right in there at the cutting edge. Gay sex, kinky sex, SM sex—they rammed it down our throats and we wanted more. When they went to number one, we were over the moon.Relax reflected a barometer swing in gay politics; Frankie represented a new archetype. Looking back, I suppose George was ahead of his time. Frankie couldnt have happened if George hadnt laid the foundations of Queer music before them.

Pas Paschali

Filth glorious filth

For me, Boy George was the last foppish flourish of the New Romantics and the last sad gasp of my school days. At the first plaintiff words of Do You Really Want To Hurt Me? goosepimples still rise and the sexless wail summons up the unlaid ghost of an unconsummated romance with a boy two years below me during final year at boarding school.

Holly Johnson singing Relax was the soundtrack to my seedy descent into Manchesters gay underworld; the winsome hot-beverage-instead love of the Boy was quickly exchanged for the debauched desublimation of Frankie. I still wasnt getting my leg over, but Relax conveyed the popper-fuelled frenzy of backroom action well enough for me to feel a part of it.

I have to admit that I tried not to think too much about Holly. For all Frankies glorious filth, I was less likely to connect him to sex than Boy George. Holly always struck me as the kind of boy who probably sung in the choir at school. I never really believed in his performance of gayness; for all his ‘raunch he just seemed too showbiz—in the Blackpool Pier sense of the word. Of course, later I was to learn that thats what being gay is all about.

Mark Simpson

Two Tribes

The Eighties were brash—the politics, the architecture, the mood—and it would be folly to expect popular culture, a pushy, flash area if ever there was one, to be an exception. Pop found itself at odds with the times though, in its continuing wildness, a mood of rebellion not yet entirely packaged. Thatcher was in No.10, but people partied, experimented with drugs and accepted out (or obvious) gay pop stars in the charts.

Boy George and Holly Johnson seemed like opposite ends of a gay continuum. George was more than total mary, he was supermary, wearing a dress for gawds sake, and singing “Do you really want to hurt me?” (Answer: yes, with that vocal victim posture, who wouldnt?)

But Holly strutted around, grinding his groin and talking dirty. Remember their antiwar songs—the pomposity of Frankies Edwin Starr cover War, and the bluster of Two Tribes, compared with the gentle charm of George singing “war is stupid” in ditsy queen tones.

Theyve both changed, and their wardrobes are probably interchangeable these days. Most Eighties stars grow rather more bearable with age, both as personalities and as musicians (George Michael, The Pet Shop Boys and so on). And Boy George is no exception. Hes cleannserene now, DJ-ing, and re-releasing fine remixed versions of his old hits, looking good and writing memoirs.

Holly has borne illness and the savagery of the press with dignity and courage. Hes been featured at home in Hello! and yes, hes written his autobiography. If you didnt like him before, this book wont change your mind—but perhaps he doesnt want you to like him. When the charm was dished out, George got the lot.

James Collard

Tea but no sympathy

I never saw the queer appeal of Culture club. I thought George had a great voice, and some of the early singles were fabulous, but there was something strangely sexless about the whole thing. At the height of Culture Clubs success, George came across as a kind of living doll, a clown. The denials he made (all that crap about preferring a nice cup of tea to sex) only reinforced what was already there in his image.

(cont.)
In a strange way, the ribbons and bows were an alibi against the charge that he was queer. It was like imagining having sex with My Little Pony.

Lately hes been inclined to describe himself as a drag queen. Well he wasnt a drag queen at the time. To be a serious drag queen you have to fuck with gender, not bend with it. The point is, George wasnt remotely dangerous. He says this himself now, and attributes it to Jon Moss influence over him and the groups image.

When Radio 1 banned Relax everyone in the Upper Sixth who hadnt bought it went out and got themselves a copy (well, we were still teenagers after all—just). The song didnt grab me, although the original video did. I thought Holly looked slightly ridiculous in his leather shorts, but Paul Rutherford looked knowing, like he knew what Holly was singing about.

Two Tribes was a different story. In the days before clubbers became addicted to beats-per-minute, it sounded like a dance record, only faster. Although Relax was the song with the lyric that talked about sucking and cumming, Two Tribes sounded like pure sex. I remember going to a birthday party and the DJ playing it at maximum volume. I was still going through my Cure phase at the time, but listening to Two Tribes forced you to dance differently. You couldnt just wisp around the place, you had to pump and grind. In other words, it made you dance like a gay man. Im sure all the boys at school who enjoyed dancing to Two Tribes turned out gay. I dont know what happened to the girls.

Paul Burston

Boy George

After years of speaking out on almost every topic (apart from sex of course), what else is there left for Boy George to reveal?

BOY GEORGE LIKES to talk. Rather more than he likes to listen. An interview with George is not a cosy chat, but an invitation to come and take notes at the feet of one of this countrys slackest jaws. In the twelve years that people have been willing to listen, George has been talking… constantly; about his working-class childhood, about his heavy-handed father, about his clothes, about his lovers, about his fame, about his drug addiction, about his faith, about his friends, about his enemies. In fact, in the twelve years that weve been listening, it feels like weve heard it all, whether its Georges version of the truth at the time, or his more considered recollections.

But for all his talk (and Wogan appearances), he has not become the perennial showbiz schmoozer one might have expected. However safe the environment, he retains the edge of someone whose raw honesty might lead them to say anything, which is why, after all these years, we still want to hear what he has to say.

Like Holly Johnson, George went there, did that and bought the T-Shirt so long ago that the letters are beginning to fade. And also like Holly, he is preserving those letters in the form of an autobiography, before they fade away altogether. The provisionally-titled Take it Like a Man has been a long time in the writing (it was first discussed in print as much as two years ago), and is currently “three-quarters of the way through” and hoped to be ready for publication before the end of 1994. After a dozen years under the microscope, why does he feel the need to invade his own privacy still further?

“I wanted my privacy invaded, on a certain level,” admits George. “I think during the process of writing this book Ive realised how manipulative I am, how powerful I am and how Ive abused that power in certain ways. So its given me a lot of perspective. Ive really tried to portray the characters fairly, and be as honest about other people as I have about myself. But I think Jon Moss is going to feel very uncomfortable with some of the things Ive said about him. Very uncomfortable.”

It wont be the first time that George has spoken out of turn, but these days the more spiritually-guided chameleon is able to deal with the resultant karma. His embracing of Krishna consciousness has given him a more balanced perspective on life and the people around him.

(cont.)
Having tried the hackneyed pop star route of ambiguous sexuality, drugs and rocknroll, George finally came out, kicked drugs, move-move-moved away from mainstream pop towards harder-edged dance music and, most significantly, looked east to restore his faith.

“I think the world is beautiful, I think people are beautiful,” he says in such a matter-of-fact tone that those words lose their inherent hippy dippiness. “Im hovering around the spiritual globe. I hate the word ‘religion, ‘cos it summons up images of dogma and all those things I really dont like. I just think Jesus was a really cool guy with a really powerful message, and that message has been warped and twisted by other peoples needs. If Jesus was to come back now, theyd probably kill him. If he was to walk into the church, with his dark skin and his long hair and sandals, theyd destroy him.

“My spiritual beliefs are really haphazard. I was one of those kids who, if I saw a Hassidic Jew walking down the street Id want to know what they were, you know. Ive always been interested in India particularly. I loved the smell of the food, the rituals, everything. I think that led me to my interest in Krishna consciousness, or Buddhism. Its very difficult for me, ‘cos if you show an interest they want you to say ‘Im a Hare Krishna or ‘Im a Buddhist. I feel very uncomfortable with those titles. I think you can be attracted to something without wanting to throw yourself into it one hundred per cent. I feel a real need to live in the real world, the material world. I love it in the material world.” Spoken like a true material girl.

Boy George left the material world for the weightless atmosphere of pop stardom in 1982. At the time of release of Culture Clubs debut single White Boy, George had already found celebrity of sorts as a face around town on the London club scene, and as an occasional singer with Malcolm McLarens teenage sex toys Bow Wow Wow.

Even before his third single, Do You Really Want to Hurt Me? had trolled up to the top of the charts, George was coming on like he was born with a star on his door, happily imparting his views on scandal (“I would never ever sell my sex life to the papers”), on money (“I just want money so that I can be really irresponsible”), on David Bowie (“I think hes had it really. Hes just there, like Harrods or Frank Sinatra”), on Andy Warhol (“Hes an idiot. Like a big cheesecake on legs”) and Marilyn Monroe (“She was just a glorified transvestite”).

The success followed closely behind the fame, but although the fame has never dimmed, the initial burst of success was relatively short-lived. While George was riding the crest of his wave in the same top ten with the easy listening of Victims, Holly Johnson was bumping and grinding up the charts with the X-rated Relax. The arrival of Frankie seemed to trample the competition underfoot, and Culture Club were among the victims of this full-frontal attack. Georges repeated refusal to categorise himself sexually seemed coy and closeted in the face of Holly and Paul Rutherfords openness.

“OK, so in the past I didnt go round saying ‘Im homosexual,” he says now, “but surely I made it clear through all the visual statements. What else did I have to do for people to actually say ‘theres a queen? Hop, skip and jump across Red Square in a fucking tutu? But I suppose since then Ive realised I was mentally closeted in a way, even though it was blatantly obvious.”

One of Georges motives for disguising his sexuality at the time (however thinly) was the relationship he was having with Culture Clubs drummer Jon Moss, “a so-called straight man” in Georges words. Their split led to George swearing that hed never fall for another straight man, although they remain a temptation.

“I love straight men. Theyre so gorgeous. The best kind are the ones that flirt with you. They state their boundaries.

(cont.)
They say theyre straight. Its all logistics isnt it? The number of blokes Ive been to bed with whove said theyre straight. Even with their mouths full.”

Georges promiscuity these days, though, is all imagined, his day-to-day existence being one of contented domesticity in his gothic mansion in Hampstead with long-term lover Michael. This, combined with his faith and the huge underground, if not mainstream, success of his More Protein record label, indicates that he has largely left his troubled past behind.Take it Like a Man closes several chapters and, after a more than bumpy ride, anticipates a long and happy ending, but for the shadow that AIDS casts over all our lives. Holly Johnsons HIV diagnosis two years ago, is what spurred him on to write A Bone in My Flute. Although, happily, George cannot claim the same motivation, AIDS does play a significant role in his life today.

“I know a lot of people who have HIV,” he says. “Its something Ive really had to face up to in the last two years. Ive lost quite a few friends in that time. Its wiping out a whole creative community. I guess theres also a part of me that wants to deny it, that spends a lot of time thinking theyll find a cure. Every time I hear about a cure Im full of hope. That hope keeps us going.

“Ive wanted to write a song about it, to kind of try and convey the feelings you have. Ive written this song about my friend Stevie who died the Christmas before last. It was such a powerful experience for me being around Stevie. He was smoking a joint in hospital. I was telling him off and he was laughing, saying ‘what are they going to do, kill me?. Stevies humour was extraordinary. Humour is very much about fear; laughing in the face of horror. It really unsettled me. Whenever anybody dies I expect a black cloud to appear. I want it to appear, to acknowledge how Im feeling. The sad thing is, life goes on.

“You talk about it with your friends, what you would do if you found out you were positive. How, if it was you, youd fall to pieces. Its incredible the way people deal with it. So, you know, theres a lot to run away from.”

But George is no longer interested in running away, or in a life of pretence. He takes it like a man and is willing to face the consequences.

Holly Johnson

His private life has been the subject of much press speculation, but now Holly Johnson has chosen to make it public.

‘BY MARCH 1983, it seemed we were never going to get a record deal. Bob and Sharon put us on at the Camden Palace. The ticket read: “Slum it in Style. Trash at the Palace, every Tuesday 9-3am”. I remember Sharon Johnson covering two sets of wooden steps with tinfoil so that we could chain The Leather Pets to them. We didnt have the budget for scaffolding. We were hard, rough and sleazy. The Palaces laser came on momentarily during Relax, but I felt they were a bit mean with it.

A quote from Holly Johnsons recently published autobiography A Bone In My Flute sums up the angst of the struggling pop star to be and highlights a scene from Frankies early days. Only a year later, in 1984, Londons Oxford Street was awash with white ‘Frankie Says… T-shirts, worn by everyone from the disco diva to the inveterate clubber. Frankie Goes to Hollywood had arrived. Brushing against Georges coat at the Mudd Club was old news, but espying Paul Rutherford at Heaven was something new and exciting.

At the time, I never really took much notice of Frankie Goes to Hollywood as a concept. I wondered what all the fuss was about. I was still lost in my Sandinista song sheet, stuck in a post-punk-cum-new-romantic time warp. Beyond the fact that club entrepreneur Simon Hobart re-named his Kit Kat club ‘The Pleasure Dive after Frankies Pleasure Dome single, I never really gave them a second thought.

I was dubious about reading A Bone In My Flute. Ive always avoided pop autobiographies like the plague, presuming them to be narcissistic. Far be it for me to admit I was wrong, but this one really charmed the pants off me. I found it glowed with wit, humour and poignancy. It was through reading the book that I discovered, not only the story behind a rags-to-riches rise to stardom, but the real talent behind the Frankie phenomenon.

When I interviewed Holly Johnson, in the week prior to the release of his autobiography, he lamented the cynicism of Doubting Thomases such as myself.

“People have certain prejudices against pop artists and they are somehow not taken seriously as human beings or creative artists. From my point of view, Ive always found this a bit sad. It amazes me that people say ‘I liked your book, with great surprise in their voice, as if they didnt expect me to have any creative talents. I find that a little bit insulting. I have written some really good songs in the past—The Power of Love, for example.

(cont.)
Do people not think I wrote it or something?”

A Bone In My Flute catalogues the life of Holly Johnson, from a plastic gun-wielding four-year-old Liverpool lad, through traumatic schooldays to first bands, pop stardom, his court case with ZTT, his solo career and his HIV diagnosis. Humorous, if painful (for Holly, at least) family vignettes are sketched with words from his early poetry and lyrics. Although Hollys relationship with his parents was fraught (items of clothing such as Hollys patchwork clogs didnt go down too well in the Johnson household), you get the feeling that, though they were constantly two tribes at war, they still had a mutual respect for each other. When Holly was diagnosed HIV positive two years ago it was his parents he first turned to.

“I felt a moral obligation to tell my parents before it leaked out into the public domain. I hadnt communicated with them for several years before I told them and they put aside that past communication problem and came down to London to see me, which I thought was quite touching really. Not all parents would have reacted in that way and I was afraid that perhaps they would disown me further. At the end of the day, they would never see one of their children go hungry. Him going crazy at me for wearing make-up and going to gay clubs was, in his universe, a genuine act of love. He didnt want to see me on a toilet floor somewhere being queer-bashed. It was the only way that his generation could express themselves. Some journalists have suggested that Im trying to condemn my parents in the book, but Im not. I think its a thing that has to be discussed.”

During the Seventies, Hollys close friend and ally against school bullies was one Honey Heath, with whom he would go on record- and clothes-buying sprees. The two rebels not only shared a horrendous attendance record at school, they shared something much more important—an undivided adoration for the then ‘bisexual David Bowie.

‘David Bowie was always painfully thin. Most of my immediate family were a bit on the chubby side, from eating a typically Northern working-class diet—chips with everything. I was determined not to be like them, so I started to make myself vomit in the lavatory—nowadays they call this bulimia, and even princesses suffer from it.

‘There was a lack of openness between Honey Heath and me about our true sexual desires. I should repeat that in the early Seventies, bisexuality was fashionable—it meant being like ‘Davidwhereas homosexuality had only ridiculous, stereotyped associations, like John Inman or Larry Grayson.

When asked if hed still like to meet Bowie, Holly is emphatic: “No, I wish Id spoken to the bisexual David Bowie, but I have no interest whatsoever in the heterosexual one.” After becoming famous, Holly got to meet another of his idols. “Using my position as a ‘pop star to meet Andy Warhol was for me my best pop art statement. I was always jealous of Nick Rhodes, because he was actually a friend of Andy Warhol. That was much better than just meeting him a couple of times.”

With the early Eighties came success, several permanent relationships and many more one-night stands and backroom experiences at Heaven and the Subway in London. It was prime-time for Britain and its plethora of new talent. Fellow pop star Boy George, his spotlight not shining quite so brightly at that time, was a main mover on the club circuit, renowned for his razor tongue.

‘We had already been attacked in the press by the cosy, cuddly Boy George, who had not yet come out at the time, and who claimed our video gave gay people a bad name—“Cheap, disgusting and very childish” (Record Mirror, May 12, 1984). This Widow Twanky act was, of course, pure green-eyed jealousy. He no longer appeared even slightly controversial.

(cont.)
His proclaiming that hed rather have a cup of tea than have sex was another way of confirming to the world that his suspect sexuality was something to be ashamed of.

Touché. Later, in 1987, at an International Aids Day event organised by the Terrence Higgins Trust: ‘Boy George was still getting over his heroin addiction at the time and looked sedated, to say the least, though not too sedated however to come out with one of his school yard retorts. I asked him if he had a comb before I went on stage and he replied, “Oh, you Comb-O-Sexual”.

A turning point for Holly was when he met his current partner Wolfgang at Harpoon Louies in Earls Court. ‘I asked him where the cigarette machine was (not very original), then I returned to ask for change which he did not have. After getting the cigarettes I returned to him again and asked for a light. Holly claims that he was attracted by Wolfgangs strong personality and the fact that he wouldnt put up with Hollys prima donna tantrums. Holly soon fell into step with Wolfgangs comparatively ‘normal lifestyle, which involved far less night clubbing and going to bed at a reasonable hour. But because Wolfgang often toured with the band, a wedge started to be driven between Holly and the rest of the Frankie. As Holly recalls, “They were trying to make me look bad because I wouldnt live that way. Thats what I found disturbing. They started to slag me off, saying ‘what are you, some kind of nine-to-five person? They tried to undermine the way I chose to live my life. Thats what I didnt like.”

As the rift between Holly and the rest of the band grew deeper, Wolfgang became one of his few allies, standing by him through a messy court case, a patchy solo career and finally his HIV diagnosis, all of which were deeply disturbing to Holly: “The book took sixteen months to write, two months of which I couldnt face it any more and I gave up. I was having to face going through the break up of the group and the court case over again in my mind, so I kind of stopped at 1985 and thought, ‘Oh my God, I cant face it any more, its too painful. Then I somehow got a second wind.”

From around 1983 onwards, Holly had the suspicion lurking in the back of his mind that he might be HIV-positive and there are some dark moments in the book where he describes his fears and remembers friends who have already died of the disease. He believes that he contracted the virus in the early Eighties and attributes his current “excellent state of health” to his sedate lifestyle with Wolfgang over the past ten years.

“I dont think Id have been alive and speaking to you today if I hadnt have met Wolfgang, been attracted by his strong personality and changed my lifestyle in the way that I did. I think I would have continued to do the drug-taking and my health would have subsequently suffered because I believe that I contracted the HIV virus in 1983 and obviously, if Id have continued on the course of going out every night and taking drugs, then it would have worn down my health a lot sooner. In a sense, I think that my relationship with Wolfgang saved my life. I know it sounds melodramatic, but I believe it to be true.”

Although hes had some pretty low moments (“I cant pretend otherwise”), Holly is now working on some new songs with Nick Bagnall and “sniffing around for new potential”, despite the fact that record companies these days are giving him the brush-off. “No, I dont get calls ‘cos they all think Im tragically ill. Theres still so much ignorance about HIV infection that they all think, ‘Oh, its terribly sad, poor Holly, and thats that. People write me off. My job is to persuade people otherwise, that Im living with AIDS, not dying of AIDs.”

Put the book on your shopping list. Its living proof.

A Bone in My Flute is published by Century

Photographs: Retna, Brad Branson