“And you see it and just remember how insecure you felt then, and think about what was going through your head and how much you just wanted to be loved. Versus now, when you get to this age, you just think, ‘OH FUCK IT.”
From underneath a high, feathered hat clearly befitting Pharrell, Boy George – the brash, bold Grand Dame Diva, the Queen Himself – was sharing a moment of vulnerability.
Everything exists in moments. And that, that was a moment. Just like the moment when he saw a gentleman in the front row wearing an actual jean jacket that George himself had made, customized with studs and chains and metal. After he pulled the chap (who had bought the jacket at a charity auction in London) up on stage to show off his handywork, then sent him off, George took one last look at the jacket. He put a hand on his heart, cocked his head, paused and for a moment, looked like he had the wind knocked out of him.
On November 15, 1984, I went to see Culture Club at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. I sat in Section 42 RED, Row B, Seat 1 and the ticket cost $22. It was my first-ever concert and I kept a diary of the event. I drew a picture of where we sat, and of the stage. The stick figure in the middle of my drawing on “the big screen” was wearing a fez. These are important details to tell other people’s grandkids.
I went with my friend Caitlyn and her uncle, who happened to be gay. I remember he was gay because I also remember how embarrassed I was when, before the concert at dinner at Fran’s Diner on College Street, I accidentally used the phrase “gay” as a pejorative to describe Craig and Glenn, some twins at school who, you know, really annoying. It was a sad trend in the 80s to use the phrase negatively – most of us kids didn’t know what it meant, but I did, and I remember it slipped out in our conversation by poor habit and I was embarrassed. I quickly looked at him and then looked down and felt ashamed. I was 10 years old.
Caitlyn had a stocky frame and long dark brown hair. I had short, feathered hair. A few months earlier, we had appeared as Culture Club in a school performance. I was drummer Jon Moss to her George and we braided red, gold and green ribbons and tied bits of fabric into her hair. We both had our hats. She, her Do You Really Want to Hurt Me top hat and I had a Moss-ian flat cap. But when the time came to perform “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya,” I forgot my drumsticks and so had to air drum. Still, we managed. We all did the hand signs, too: point to your eyes, roll your hands in a tumble, make the number four, point at the audience. Eye’ll Tumble 4 Ya.
Caitlyn was a masterful lip synch-er and we did very well that day.
Meanwhile in 2015, up on stage at the River Rock Casino in a suburb of Vancouver, Boy George was talking about a different Caitlyn. Caitlyn Jenner.
George spoke about bravery and beauty, and how the world was a slightly “fuzzier place” now with “The Supreme Court rights, with Transgender rights (puts hand up, smiles)” and said, nodding to original guitarist Roy Hay, “Roy used to say that anyone who had a Culture Club poster on their wall was a bit more accepting.” We were. And then they lead into a new song, off of their new album Tribes, called “Let Somebody Love You.”
I let myself love Boy George. I covered my lapels in those one-inch square pins, and for a half-year before I went mental with Duran Duran, Culture Club were everything to me. But I loved drummer Jon Moss the most. At that show in 1984, I was convinced that when he looked into the camera and winked, and his face appeared on a screen to 15,000 screaming people, that he was smiling just for me. I knew a lot of things back then, but I didn’t know that Jon Moss and Boy George were lovers and that I wouldn’t have been a contender.
So I loved Jon Moss. And I hoped Jon Moss loved me back.
I still love Jon Moss, but I wouldn’t get to see him tonight. In a poort twist of fate, after everything that had passed to get Culture Club to this point (watch the 2014 BBC doc ” Karma to Calamity”), Moss had fallen quite ill. He was in Vancouver, George assured us, but laid up in bed, and unable to move. George apologized for his absence. “It wasn’t even anything I’ve done,” he assured us, making reference to his and Moss’ volatile and passionate history, “I’ve been bringing him chicken soup and everything!!!!” Mickey Craig leaned into the mic and said “and he sends his love to all of you, and is so sorry he can’t be here.”
See? Jon Moss loves me.
Now to the music and Culture Club of 2015. A fantastic gold overcoat, hat, trainers and witty banter with the crowd do not a new memory make. Nostalgia might be a collection of moments, but if you’re 40+ and your legs hurt and the beer is $9, you want Culture Club to be GOOD, great even. For seven times the ticket price of your 1984 ticket, they better be.
But lo! Thank Marilyn, they were. Opener “Church of the Poison Mind” was a buzzy, gleeful party during which I grinned like a loon at the sheer full-circleness of life, and drowned in a flood of history.
Flanked by 10-piece horde of backing singers, percussionists, guitarists, keyboardists and brass-men, the three members of Culture Club stood there, smiling and grooving. The stage was a TARDIS to the 80s: all big performance and over-production. “It’s a Miracle” was joyous, and during “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya,” I looked to my right to see a woman in her late 40s rolling her hands in a tumble, too. Sense memory.
In “Victims”, George’s voice was the strongest I’ve ever heard it, better even. Filled with soul and a new precision (a gift since George underwent surgery for a polyp they found in his vocal chords last year, resulting in the cancellation of the US tour), he elicited goosebumps.
“Time (Clock of The Heart)” sounded brilliant, “The Crying Game” was a Bassey-Goldfinger moment, while “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” – “the song that started it all” – was just fun and pretty. A singalong kicked off “Karma Chameleon” before George came back on stage to finish it, and it was all red, gold and green lights. What else could it be?
And despite a few technical feedback glitches, a miss start on a song, a smattering of those typical reggae-lite-soul/MOR tracks that never quite cut it (I would have been happier yelling “War, war is stupid, and people are stupid!” but that didn’t make the setlist), the show was wonderful. Warm and authentic, filled with smiles plastered on the faces of each of the three members, Culture Club had come so far to get here. They’d travelled 30 years, through breakups, in-fighting, heroin addiction, media bullshit, management changes, diva hissy fits and countless setbacks to be here. But here they were, and it was good. Great, even.
And when George said “Without Bowie there would be no me, without Oscar Wilde there would be no Bowie, and without me there would be no Madonna,” before closing out the show with Bowie’s “Starman,” well, it felt like we were all having a bit of a moment together. \m/
All photos by Kevin Statham for the River Rock Casino Resort.
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