Who I Am: Boy George On David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Fashion And Spirituality

ORLANDO, FL - JULY 03: Boy George (R) of Culture Club performs at House of Blues Orlando on July 3, 2018 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Gerardo Mora/Getty Images)

A pop music superstar, Culture Club frontman Boy George became one of the biggest names in music in the early ‘80s as his band rocketed to multi-platinum success on the strength of hits such as “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me,” “Karma Chameleon,” “Time,” “Miss Me Blind,” “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya,” “Church Of The Poison Mind” and more, leading to a 1984 Grammy win for Best New Artist.

More than 30 years later, a now 57-year-old Boy George, real name George Alan O’Dowd, remains a compelling and captivating frontman, one whose interviews and persona are as entertaining and provocative as Culture Club’s sold-out shows. With a current sold-out tour and a new album due this fall, Boy George and his band mates are as musically vibrant as they were when they dominated the pop charts.

But how did Boy George develop into the global superstar he would become by the age of 21? In this third installment of Who I Am, George tells me, taking readers through his discovery of David Bowie at age 11 and how Bowie made him realize the word queer didn’t have to be derogatory, to his teenage admiration of Bob Dylan and Oscar Wilde, discovering fashion through punk rock and Vivienne Westwood, how Culture Club’s Colour By Numbers changed his life at age 22 and his eventual spiritual path. This is Boy George, pop icon.

David Bowie,

The

Man Who Sold The World

(Age 11)

The first thing that springs to mind is the first time I heard David Bowie’s album The Man Who Sold The World. That was through my older brother, Richard, who was a fan. He had that album and he had his own room, so it would always be locked and we weren’t allowed in there. And often these beautiful songs would play through the door and I’d sit outside and have a listen to what he was listening to. And I remember being struck by that particular record. When Ziggy happened it was a little bit too exotic for my older brother, so I inherited Bowie from my brother.

David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars Live (Age 12)

I went to see Ziggy Stardust in concert in 1972, two months before my twelfth birthday. So you can only imagine the kind of effect not only The Man Who Sold The World but also Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars had on me as works of art. I remember on Ziggy Stardust hearing Bowie use the word queer, which was a word I only ever heard as an insult in the school play crowd. When I heard him singing [in “Five Years”] “A cop knelt and kissed the feet of a priest/And a queer threw up at the sight of that,” that was pretty life-changing for me because having grown up being called queer, not as a term of endearment.  But I saw that show as a young kid and that particular night at Hammersmith Odeon we had no idea that would be the last Ziggy show ever. I went to that show as a very young kid and how I got to that show was hilarious as well because my grandmother was visiting from Ireland and she caught wind that I was going to see this terrible creature called David Bowie and tried to put a stop to it. My dad was kind of going against my grandmother and that’s how I got to see it. I would say that moment in life was very altering in so many ways because obviously seeing that concert, just what Bowie was wearing, the sort of sexual nature of the show.

Denis Brian,

Tallulah Darling

(Age 14)

Another book I read when I was very young, one of the first books I read from cover to cover, is this biography of the American actress Tallulah Bankhead. She’s amazing and she was quite friendly with Winston Churchill and she used to come out with some great one liners. That’s another thing I love, I love quotes and one liners that sum up everything. My favorite quote forever has been, “You teach best that which you need to learn” (Richard Bach).

Dorothy Parker/Oscar Wilde (Age 15)

When I discovered David Bowie I did believe in my teenage naivete it was the beginning of something revolutionary, then I discovered Quentin Crisp, Oscar Wilde and all these characters that had been around long, long before Bowie. So I’m very interested in what I call musical maps, but I suppose they’re cultural maps, of how things are connected. There are a lot of people who I consider to be part of the chain of change -- Bowie, Oscar Wilde, Klaus Nomi. So many of those characters I’m fascinated by and kind of shaped me in one way or another. The first time I met Bowie, when I was about 18, I had this crazy hair that shot right up in the air. I remember sidling my way up to Bowie trying to be all cool, but screaming inside, in this nightclub. This was before I was famous, I wasn’t famous. I was famous in my head but not in reality. I went up to him and managed to say, “Hello.” He said, “You look like my friend Klaus Nomi.” He was an operatic singer and he appeared with Bowie and Joey Arias on Saturday Night Live. So, for me, I suppose all of my reference points are musical and character based. I love the trilogies of Dorothy Parker. And her poem “Resume,” I was reading it to my manager yesterday and he’s like, “Oh, it’s very cynical.” I was like, “Oh my god, I love it, I absolutely love it.” So cynics, exhibitionists, weirdos.

Bob Dylan,

Desire

(Age 15)

We had this thing, called Capital Radio, it was a show just after school and you could ring in and vote for what was in the top 10. I had a friend and her mother was this mad hippie. I would hang out at her house after school and her mother had a copy of Desire and we used to play it. It was really the beginning of me realizing these politically intense songs. The first time I heard “Hurricane,” which was a really long song, I remember thinking, “Wow, this is such an interesting song, it’s so different from what you hear on the radio and it’s about something.” Dylan and Joni Mitchell were the beginning of me realizing you could write about things that were real and political and important. Obviously Bowie was part of that as well, but with Dylan it was much more intense. And also the reason I knew about Dylan was because of Bowie because on Hunky Dory Bowie sings about Bob Dylan. So you do discover artists through other artists. We used to ring in after school all the time to vote for “Hurricane” and try and keep it at number one. That was a really important album for me.

Vivienne Westwood (Age 16)

The whole explosion of punk rock and tying in what Vivienne Westwood was doing with fashion. I was from a working class family, there wasn’t a lot of money, I’d go on these pilgrimages to King’s Road and Chelsea every weekend to walk up to the shop and just look at the clothes longingly hoping that at some point I’d be able to afford them. And one of my favorite moments was I was out going to a pub with a friend of mine and we spotted Vivienne Westwood and a bunch of her followers in the street. And we followed them around. They were wearing the new collection, those parachute tops and they had the Spiderman boots on. We’d heard about this collection and we were like, “Oh my god, they’re wearing it.” We followed them around. They must have thought we were really insane but it makes me laugh. But I think punk rock was the beginning of realizing you made a statement with what you wore. It was such a brilliant time to be a teenager, to walk around with rips in your clothes and being of that age you already had the swagger down. I remember my dad was a builder and he used to have these incredible overalls splattered with paint and I would steal them to wear them out to clubs (laughs). My dad was like, “What the f**k are you doing wearing that?” I’m like, “They’re cool.”

Bhagwan Rajneesh Center (Age 17)

This was quite near where I used to hang out at the pub. Have you watched that documentary Wild, Wild Country? It’s American, you should watch it. It will blow your mind. I’d be interested to hear what you think about this guy after watching it. I still love him and I remember walking into Bhagwan, they were these religious sects that were anti-marriage, into free love. They used to call him the “Rolls-Royce Guru.” He’s a little bit of a rock star actually. I remember going into this center cause I saw through the window all these people dancing in these kind of red and orange robes and I was drawn into it. I also was always fascinated by this guy. He was called Bhagwan Rajneesh but he became known as Osho, which I think means master in Japanese. So with Bhagwan and then Shirley MacLaine that was the beginning of me thinking, “Oh, maybe there’s more to life than what I see.”   

Shirley MacLaine,

Out On A Limb

(Age 22)

My friend Marilyn [Peter Robinson] gave me this book. Sitting here now it’s so surprising that he was the person gave it to me. When I think about all the books I’ve read since reading that book it sort of almost seems crazy. But that book was quite profound for someone who really didn’t know about spaceships and spirituality. It’s an amazing book, but then when you go on and read other things you think, “Oh yeah, that’s an odd way to start a spiritual journey.” I might read it again because it’s been a long, long time and I remember the effect that it had on me and started that yearning for spiritual truths and more of an understanding of esoteric things. It started with Shirley MacLaine and I think that’s true for a lot of people. It was a seminal book at the time.

Culture Club,

Colour By Numbers

(Age 22)

Are you allowed to talk about your own work as a work of art? I’m not even sure if it was a work of art because when you make your first album it’s full of youthful exuberance and panic and the first album we made was very disjointed and then Colour By Numbers was kind of like a sort of a pop opus for us, in a way. Everything came together. Suddenly we were in a successful band, we had a record deal, we were getting played on the radio and that really altered everything about my life. I remember one thing that really sticks out for me from that time. When you’re a young kid you’re very sure that you’re never gonna change. And I remember saying to me then manager how I’m always gonna be me, I’ll never change. And he said that’s interesting because he said what happens when you get famous is everyone treats you differently and ultimately you’re never gonna be the same person. And I think of that album, in a sort of timeframe sense, being the moment that really altered my life forever. I joke about that being the moment when I married the world and I stopped having any sort of privacy. Although I think now I have a lot more privacy than I did then cause I learned how to make it work to my advantage. There is a point where you learn to deal with people and just accept it and sort of make peace with it. But it’s always interesting to look back at points in your life where you just go, “F**k, man, that’s where I really lost control” (laughs).

Eckhart Tolle,

The Power Of Now

(Age 47)

In the last few years the thing that’s really affected me the most is The Power Of Now. That was a real life-altering moment for me reading that book. I was at a friend’s wedding and I just got sober, so I was three months clean and I bumped into a friend of mine and I was talking to her husband. I was having this intense conversation about spirituality with this guy and he said, “Oh, I’m gonna send you this book I’ve just read.” I gave him my address and I really didn’t believe he would ever send it to me. And about a week later I received this book from Amazon and just sort of read it. I wasn’t sure about it, but that book really did change my life. It really made me look at things in a very different way. It’s still something I try to practice all the time.

 

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ORLANDO, FL - JULY 03: Boy George (R) of Culture Club performs at House of Blues Orlando on July 3, 2018 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Gerardo Mora/Getty Images)

A pop music superstar, Culture Club frontman Boy George became one of the biggest names in music in the early ‘80s as his band rocketed to multi-platinum success on the strength of hits such as “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me,” “Karma Chameleon,” “Time,” “Miss Me Blind,” “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya,” “Church Of The Poison Mind” and more, leading to a 1984 Grammy win for Best New Artist.

More than 30 years later, a now 57-year-old Boy George, real name George Alan O’Dowd, remains a compelling and captivating frontman, one whose interviews and persona are as entertaining and provocative as Culture Club’s sold-out shows. With a current sold-out tour and a new album due this fall, Boy George and his band mates are as musically vibrant as they were when they dominated the pop charts.

But how did Boy George develop into the global superstar he would become by the age of 21? In this third installment of Who I Am, George tells me, taking readers through his discovery of David Bowie at age 11 and how Bowie made him realize the word queer didn’t have to be derogatory, to his teenage admiration of Bob Dylan and Oscar Wilde, discovering fashion through punk rock and Vivienne Westwood, how Culture Club’s Colour By Numbers changed his life at age 22 and his eventual spiritual path. This is Boy George, pop icon.

David Bowie,

The

Man Who Sold The World

(Age 11)

The first thing that springs to mind is the first time I heard David Bowie’s album The Man Who Sold The World. That was through my older brother, Richard, who was a fan. He had that album and he had his own room, so it would always be locked and we weren’t allowed in there. And often these beautiful songs would play through the door and I’d sit outside and have a listen to what he was listening to. And I remember being struck by that particular record. When Ziggy happened it was a little bit too exotic for my older brother, so I inherited Bowie from my brother.

David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars Live (Age 12)

I went to see Ziggy Stardust in concert in 1972, two months before my twelfth birthday. So you can only imagine the kind of effect not only The Man Who Sold The World but also Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars had on me as works of art. I remember on Ziggy Stardust hearing Bowie use the word queer, which was a word I only ever heard as an insult in the school play crowd. When I heard him singing [in “Five Years”] “A cop knelt and kissed the feet of a priest/And a queer threw up at the sight of that,” that was pretty life-changing for me because having grown up being called queer, not as a term of endearment.  But I saw that show as a young kid and that particular night at Hammersmith Odeon we had no idea that would be the last Ziggy show ever. I went to that show as a very young kid and how I got to that show was hilarious as well because my grandmother was visiting from Ireland and she caught wind that I was going to see this terrible creature called David Bowie and tried to put a stop to it. My dad was kind of going against my grandmother and that’s how I got to see it. I would say that moment in life was very altering in so many ways because obviously seeing that concert, just what Bowie was wearing, the sort of sexual nature of the show.

Denis Brian,

Tallulah Darling

(Age 14)

Another book I read when I was very young, one of the first books I read from cover to cover, is this biography of the American actress Tallulah Bankhead. She’s amazing and she was quite friendly with Winston Churchill and she used to come out with some great one liners. That’s another thing I love, I love quotes and one liners that sum up everything. My favorite quote forever has been, “You teach best that which you need to learn” (Richard Bach).

Dorothy Parker/Oscar Wilde (Age 15)

When I discovered David Bowie I did believe in my teenage naivete it was the beginning of something revolutionary, then I discovered Quentin Crisp, Oscar Wilde and all these characters that had been around long, long before Bowie. So I’m very interested in what I call musical maps, but I suppose they’re cultural maps, of how things are connected. There are a lot of people who I consider to be part of the chain of change -- Bowie, Oscar Wilde, Klaus Nomi. So many of those characters I’m fascinated by and kind of shaped me in one way or another. The first time I met Bowie, when I was about 18, I had this crazy hair that shot right up in the air. I remember sidling my way up to Bowie trying to be all cool, but screaming inside, in this nightclub. This was before I was famous, I wasn’t famous. I was famous in my head but not in reality. I went up to him and managed to say, “Hello.” He said, “You look like my friend Klaus Nomi.” He was an operatic singer and he appeared with Bowie and Joey Arias on Saturday Night Live. So, for me, I suppose all of my reference points are musical and character based. I love the trilogies of Dorothy Parker. And her poem “Resume,” I was reading it to my manager yesterday and he’s like, “Oh, it’s very cynical.” I was like, “Oh my god, I love it, I absolutely love it.” So cynics, exhibitionists, weirdos.

Bob Dylan,

Desire

(Age 15)

We had this thing, called Capital Radio, it was a show just after school and you could ring in and vote for what was in the top 10. I had a friend and her mother was this mad hippie. I would hang out at her house after school and her mother had a copy of Desire and we used to play it. It was really the beginning of me realizing these politically intense songs. The first time I heard “Hurricane,” which was a really long song, I remember thinking, “Wow, this is such an interesting song, it’s so different from what you hear on the radio and it’s about something.” Dylan and Joni Mitchell were the beginning of me realizing you could write about things that were real and political and important. Obviously Bowie was part of that as well, but with Dylan it was much more intense. And also the reason I knew about Dylan was because of Bowie because on Hunky Dory Bowie sings about Bob Dylan. So you do discover artists through other artists. We used to ring in after school all the time to vote for “Hurricane” and try and keep it at number one. That was a really important album for me.

Vivienne Westwood (Age 16)

The whole explosion of punk rock and tying in what Vivienne Westwood was doing with fashion. I was from a working class family, there wasn’t a lot of money, I’d go on these pilgrimages to King’s Road and Chelsea every weekend to walk up to the shop and just look at the clothes longingly hoping that at some point I’d be able to afford them. And one of my favorite moments was I was out going to a pub with a friend of mine and we spotted Vivienne Westwood and a bunch of her followers in the street. And we followed them around. They were wearing the new collection, those parachute tops and they had the Spiderman boots on. We’d heard about this collection and we were like, “Oh my god, they’re wearing it.” We followed them around. They must have thought we were really insane but it makes me laugh. But I think punk rock was the beginning of realizing you made a statement with what you wore. It was such a brilliant time to be a teenager, to walk around with rips in your clothes and being of that age you already had the swagger down. I remember my dad was a builder and he used to have these incredible overalls splattered with paint and I would steal them to wear them out to clubs (laughs). My dad was like, “What the f**k are you doing wearing that?” I’m like, “They’re cool.”

Bhagwan Rajneesh Center (Age 17)

This was quite near where I used to hang out at the pub. Have you watched that documentary Wild, Wild Country? It’s American, you should watch it. It will blow your mind. I’d be interested to hear what you think about this guy after watching it. I still love him and I remember walking into Bhagwan, they were these religious sects that were anti-marriage, into free love. They used to call him the “Rolls-Royce Guru.” He’s a little bit of a rock star actually. I remember going into this center cause I saw through the window all these people dancing in these kind of red and orange robes and I was drawn into it. I also was always fascinated by this guy. He was called Bhagwan Rajneesh but he became known as Osho, which I think means master in Japanese. So with Bhagwan and then Shirley MacLaine that was the beginning of me thinking, “Oh, maybe there’s more to life than what I see.”   

Shirley MacLaine,

Out On A Limb

(Age 22)

My friend Marilyn [Peter Robinson] gave me this book. Sitting here now it’s so surprising that he was the person gave it to me. When I think about all the books I’ve read since reading that book it sort of almost seems crazy. But that book was quite profound for someone who really didn’t know about spaceships and spirituality. It’s an amazing book, but then when you go on and read other things you think, “Oh yeah, that’s an odd way to start a spiritual journey.” I might read it again because it’s been a long, long time and I remember the effect that it had on me and started that yearning for spiritual truths and more of an understanding of esoteric things. It started with Shirley MacLaine and I think that’s true for a lot of people. It was a seminal book at the time.

Culture Club,

Colour By Numbers

(Age 22)

Are you allowed to talk about your own work as a work of art? I’m not even sure if it was a work of art because when you make your first album it’s full of youthful exuberance and panic and the first album we made was very disjointed and then Colour By Numbers was kind of like a sort of a pop opus for us, in a way. Everything came together. Suddenly we were in a successful band, we had a record deal, we were getting played on the radio and that really altered everything about my life. I remember one thing that really sticks out for me from that time. When you’re a young kid you’re very sure that you’re never gonna change. And I remember saying to me then manager how I’m always gonna be me, I’ll never change. And he said that’s interesting because he said what happens when you get famous is everyone treats you differently and ultimately you’re never gonna be the same person. And I think of that album, in a sort of timeframe sense, being the moment that really altered my life forever. I joke about that being the moment when I married the world and I stopped having any sort of privacy. Although I think now I have a lot more privacy than I did then cause I learned how to make it work to my advantage. There is a point where you learn to deal with people and just accept it and sort of make peace with it. But it’s always interesting to look back at points in your life where you just go, “F**k, man, that’s where I really lost control” (laughs).

Eckhart Tolle,

The Power Of Now

(Age 47)

In the last few years the thing that’s really affected me the most is The Power Of Now. That was a real life-altering moment for me reading that book. I was at a friend’s wedding and I just got sober, so I was three months clean and I bumped into a friend of mine and I was talking to her husband. I was having this intense conversation about spirituality with this guy and he said, “Oh, I’m gonna send you this book I’ve just read.” I gave him my address and I really didn’t believe he would ever send it to me. And about a week later I received this book from Amazon and just sort of read it. I wasn’t sure about it, but that book really did change my life. It really made me look at things in a very different way. It’s still something I try to practice all the time.

 

Source : https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevebaltin/2018/07/12/who-i-am-boy-george-on-david-bowie-bob-dylan-fashion-and-spirituality/

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