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 George’s role as the acceptable face of camp helped create a world in which Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s overt depictions of gay sexuality could be indulged. George and Holly’s 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—
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 London’s 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. I’ll have you know I’ve been beaten up for wearing a Gay Pride badge.” George, with rapier wit, lunged back: “That’s nothing—
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 Manchester’s gay underworld; the winsome hot-beverage-instead love of the Boy was quickly exchanged for the debauched desublimation of Frankie. I still wasn’t 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 Frankie’s 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—
The Eighties were brash—
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 gawd’s sake, and singing “Do you really want to hurt me?” (Answer: yes, with that vocal victim posture, who wouldn’t?)
But Holly strutted around, grinding his groin and talking dirty. Remember their antiwar songs—
They’ve 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. He’s clean’n’serene 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. He’s been featured at home in Hello! and yes, he’s written his autobiography. If you didn’t like him before, this book won’t change your mind—
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 Club’s 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. Continue »
Lately he’s been inclined to describe himself as a drag queen. Well he wasn’t 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 wasn’t remotely dangerous. He says this himself now, and attributes it to Jon Moss’ influence over him and the group’s image.
When Radio 1 banned Relax everyone in the Upper Sixth who hadn’t bought it went out and got themselves a copy (well, we were still teenagers after all—
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 couldn’t just wisp around the place, you had to pump and grind. In other words, it made you dance like a gay man. I’m sure all the boys at school who enjoyed dancing to Two Tribes turned out gay. I don’t know what happened to the girls.
Paul BurstonContinue »