Boy George was chatty. He always is. Catty, too. Of course. The veteran British rock star phoned to dish about Adele, Prince, Brexit, Donald Trump, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Duran Duran and Culture Club, his band that’s on the reunion trail. He was quick to laugh — at himself and at others.
“I can’t understand it,” he said of England’s vote to exit the European Union. “It sounds like a breakfast cereal. I wasn’t there when it happened. No one can blame me for that. But maybe [blame me] for the ’80s quite a lot.”
Absent from the road since 2000, Culture Club, the Grammy-winning 1980s new-wave sensation from England, toured the United States last year, and things went so well that the band doubled the number of shows for this year, including a gig Sunday at the Myth in Maplewood.
George (it’s hard to call him “Boy” when he’s 55) promises that Culture Club will deliver “gorgeousness” — hits, covers and a few new numbers. “It’s a pop show,” he said.
Three new songs have been turning up in the quartet’s set list. But when will the new album “Tribes” — long promised for 2016 — turn up?
“I don’t know when it will come out, whether it will come out,” he said. “We do some of the songs live, but at the moment there’s no commitment to put the record out. You don’t get played on the radio. What’s the point? You put a record out, and it disappears into the ether. It’s not worth it to put it out until you have the right time. I don’t know when that’ll be.
“Maybe when I become president,” he giggled. “It’s a funny old time for music.”
George did mention Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, only because the pop star taped a new season of “The Celebrity Apprentice,” the show that launched Trump into reality TV stardom. But the program, which begins airing in January, will feature Schwarzenegger as host.
“Arnold is very good. He has a wry charm about him. He can be tough, but he’s not nasty or rude; he can be quite cutting,” George pointed out. “Trump tells you to shut up. I don’t want to be told to shut up. It’s just not nice. Arnold doesn’t do that. He’ll give it to you, but it’s done respectful, with a slight glint in the eye. I wouldn’t have lasted a week with Donald Trump.”
George is experienced on reality TV. Last year, he was a coach on “The Voice” U.K., replacing the inimitable Welsh rock belter Tom Jones. It was more for fun than a career move.
“Sometimes being on those shows is a fast way to remind people who you are,” George said. “You have to be careful how you flirt with TV because that can end up being your job. I’m not looking for a job. I’m a musician. I don’t mind occasionally putting my foot in the pool, but I don’t want to get completely wet.”
Never at a loss for words, George even had a few things to say about England’s most successful voice of the century, Adele.
“I’ve seen Adele [in concert]. She does talk quite a lot,” he observed. “I don’t talk as much as she does.” Then he burst into laughter.
Having reunited in 2011, Culture Club was supposed to play in the Twin Cities on Saturday, the same night as Duran Duran, another 1980s rock favorite from England. But George’s band switched rather than compete with the Duran boys at Xcel Energy Center.
“There might be some crossover,” he said of their fan bases. “Back in the day, it was very split. But these days, it’s a similar audience.”
Solo career and DJ’ing
Despite his foray into TV, George has never really left the music business. In 1987, a year after Culture Club disbanded, he released the first of his nine solo albums. His third album, “High Hat,” was produced in part by Minneapolis drummer Bobby Z, formerly of Prince and the Revolution. George’s most recent solo effort was “This Is What I Do” in 2013 — his first in 18 years.
What he also does is DJ in clubs. He’s authored two volumes of his autobiography (in 1995 and 2005), created a line of clothes, composed and starred in a London musical (“Taboo”), done stints in drug rehab (he’s been sober for eight years) and spent time in prison (for assault and false imprisonment).
But the bloke born George O’Dowd is best known for being the flamboyantly androgynous soul singer with Culture Club, delivering the hits “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” and “Karma Chameleon” that led to a Grammy for best new artist in 1984 (over Eurythmics and Big Country).
Culture Club — which still features original members bassist Mikey Craig, drummer Jon Moss and guitarist Roy Hay — made its Twin Cities debut at First Avenue in 1983. George remembers it vividly.
“I remember Chi Chi LaRue. She’s a drag queen pornographer from Minneapolis. Her and her friends were doing this kind of mad dance with their hands in front of the stage. And one of them handed me a bunch of pearls. They came backstage. I remember that night so well. There are a lot of places I don’t remember being.”
The silent Prince
George also cannot forget his sole personal encounter with Prince, which occurred at a party in Europe. Someone told George that Prince wanted to meet him. Prince said “hello” and complimented George on his earrings. Then there was silence for 10 minutes until a plate of pasta arrived and Prince started feeding his wife.
“There are handful of people that I love so much I don’t really care what they’re like as people,” George declared. “He was very awkward when I met him. I felt like he tried to intimidate me with silence. I always loved him. I was devastated when I heard he died. It’s the worst news ever. He was such an incredible artist and wrote so many beautiful songs that I loved and still listen to. It’s too depressing to even think about it.”
While George’s admiration for Prince has not wavered, the British singer’s voice has changed.
“I’m not going to sing the same as I did when I was 19. My intentions are completely different,” he said. “In many ways I don’t bear any resemblance to that person at all. I’m not dissing who I was. I’m trying to move on musically, vocally. I have a lot of voices. I think my voice is richer and more soulful. I’m more experienced now.
“I would never write a song like ‘Do You Really Want to Hurt Me’ right now. It would never come into my head to play that role at 55. I love singing that song, but it just has a different meaning for me now, a different depth.”
George’s look onstage has evolved, too. His thing was always about “disguising myself, putting on my war paint.” At 14, he became excited to discover makeup.
“I could become whoever I wanted to be. At this point of the game, I don’t wear makeup to hide anymore. I wear it ’cause I love it. I wear it for the same reason a woman might wear it — because it gives you confidence and it makes you feel more sparkly.”
Colorful looks or not, what remains the same is Culture Club’s impact on culture.
“When I travel round the world, I do have people who come up to me and say, ‘You helped me to be myself,’ ‘You helped me come to terms with my sexuality,’ whatever it may be. And I’m proud of that contribution.
“When I was 19 or 25, I wasn’t trying to think about my impact on the world. I was just trying to get my hair higher. As an older man, I can look back and see we were quite shocking and refreshing. When MTV started [in the early ’80s], we were vivid postcards that went into people’s living rooms in Nebraska and Montana and Denver — people who had never seen anything like me before.”
He giggled. Proudly.