Curious (Boy) George

The singer/DJ talks pretty about his new CD and Tour of the U.S.

You can call him what you want: “Icon of the ’80s”, “Diva of Dance Music”, or “Cat in the Hat” (Our Boy is rarely seen these days without a stylish chapeau crowning his head). You could even call him a “Bitch” — he’s been called far worse — but just don’t call him Mr. O’Dowd, because if you do, he’s likely to burst into a fit of uncontrollable giggles.

And, by George, Mr. O’Dowd has a good reason to be giddy this afternoon. He is in the middle of his first DJ tour of the US to promote his new, highly-anticipated remix compilation release, Boy George Essential Mix, as part of London-Sire’s Essential Mix series. The tour was launched on Valentine’s Day in Las Vegas, accompanied by an enthusiastic crowd that George describes as “very British”, by which he means they were open and responsive to dance music sounds — like ragga infused House — that haven’t quite surfaced in American dance culture.

“Dance music is more established in the UK than it is in America. Even people in the smallest towns routinely go clubbing every Friday and Saturday night. Clubbing and dance music is more infused with the culture there, DJ decks sell out by the dozens much more than guitars do! I think America is still finding their dance feet, you know what I mean,” says George during a recent phone interview from the home of Amanda Ghost, long-time friend and the haunting voice behind the dance sensation “Filthy Mind”.

The 17 tracks on Boy George Essential Mix are a pastiche of sounds rooted in everything from disco to techno, from two-step to progressive house with a little something extra thrown in the mix that George cheekily describes as “Prada Trance”.

“Prada Trance is a slightly intellectual sound, it’s not cheesy. It has a classy quality to it,” he says pointing to the “Spreading the Light”, track by The Colein as a prime example.

“I knew I wanted to start off the CD [a remix of the “Girl from Ipanema”] with a mid-tempo sound…fashion show music, is what I call it. I do a lot of music for the catwalks and that kind of bassy, sexy, music really works when you are modeling. This CD is the kind of music you listen to when you are sorting out your clothes and putting on your makeup and getting ready to go out, you know what I mean,” he says, his voice ringing with laughter.

Of course, we know what he means, especially gay men, who have a song or a soundtrack to mark virtually every moment of our lives.

George has the endearing trait of ending almost every comment with the phrase, ‘you know what I mean?’ as if he is uncertain whether his thoughts are being understood by the listener. But one area where he never seeks affirmation or approval from listeners concerns his choice of music while spinning for a live audience.

“Last year I was spinning at the White Party in Palm Springs. When I went up to the deck, the DJ before told me not to play anything progressive or the crowd won’t react. Well, I thought, ‘I’ve got what I got, there’s not much I can do about it now!’ You know, I never really know what I have in my box before I hit the deck, I just play what I’m in the mood to play. But the audience really seemed to go for it, though I don’t know if it was because of the music, or because it was Boy George behind the deck.”

“Gay clubs usually have their own DJs and so [those clubs] have their own sound which the people are used to,” he continues. “Gay clubs tend to like particular things and that’s why I really like playing straight venues because I tend to have more freedom in what I can play.” Pause. “But straight boys, because of the clothes and the makeup, do seem to be a little intimidated by me.”

George says he consciously looks for records that are an independent release, ones that “nobody has heard of”. In fact, fledgling DJs and producers often hand him their records while George is spinning at a club. If he likes it, he’ll play it then and there, usually in it in the next five minutes. If he doesn’t it, he throws them away.

Hunky, shirtless circuit boys have been known to try and woo the openly gay George to spin a particular song, but he adamantly refuses to take requests.

“Why would I spin something that I know Sasha or some other well-known DJ would be likely play? I tell these boys, I’ll marry you, I’ll go out with you, but I’m not going to play that record!”

When asked to rattle off the names of current non-dance performers he listens to, George calls Radiohead and “that gorgeous lead singer” from Coldplay as among his favorites.

“If you interview the guy from Coldplay, tell him I love him,” he says, only half-kidding.

“I approach music a bit like a 14-year-old girl. There’s no logic to it. If I think someone is attractive or I like their shirt or whatever…then I’m hooked. N’Sync has quite a lovely sound, for example. No matter how trashy something is, if it has heart that’s all that matters.”

Chatting about pop musicians currently in vogue, it occurs to me to ask George what is the sexiest video he’s seen in recent months.

“‘101 men'”, by Bel Ami. Its very voyeuristic with all these Baltic beauties whacking off, its a collection of audition tapes,” he says with genuine enthusiasm.

What about MUSIC videos, George?

“Oh is that what you meant,” he says before breaking up into peels of laughter. “Music videos are so fuckin’ boring lately. Its all about how much money you spend and not about the ideas. I turn on MTV at nine in the morning and then I turn it on later that night and its the same video playing! I think the Internet is going to be the next outlet where you’re going to see truly amazing and innovative music videos.

George considers himself quite Internet savvy, though he refrains from making a habit of visiting the gay chatrooms.

“I go on with a fake name, and there all these guys with their fake names and noone is saying anything except how they’re looking for sex. I usually get into these funny arguments with people because noone is saying anything intelligent or interesting. I get bored of it very quickly. Someone will ask me what I’m wearing, and I’ll tell them hoop earrings and full make-up, just to piss them off, and before you know it, they’ve logged off!”

While the chatrooms have not been the most successful of hunting grounds for George, he has managed to find love-occasionally-while on the road.

“The last time I was in Chicago, which was four or five months ago, Culture Club was performing at the House of Blues and I had sex with our baggage handler. He was straight, I think, but one night he carried all of my baggage into the room and he said he would be right back. I told him that he had already carried everything in and he said “I thought I would stay the night!” He said he would call me after that, but he never did.”

Despite this very “passionate,” (as George describes it) encounter, the singer/DJ says he is much more interested in establishing intimacy with someone than having casual sex.

“Gay men have a hard time dealing with intimacy. I know I do, I am constantly struggling with that. Intimacy is frightening. And you know, shows like Queer as Folk, which show men having predatory sex all the time…that’s not a revelation. What would be a revelation is a show that had two men in a relationship and being intimate with each other. Being in love, now that’s controversial! That would turn America on it’s head!”

Up next for George: Details are still being hammered out over the movie version of his wildly successful, bare-all autobiography Take It Like a Man. George says that actress Hillary Swank might do an “incredible job” in the title role, if only “she gained a little more weight”, though it is more likely the part will be portrayed by an unknown.

For now, the role of Boy George is being played by none other that the Boy himself, and at 40-years-old, it remains a role he’s hard pressed to define — though his resume will tell you he is a writer, a mixer, a producer, a singer and a radio show host.

“Right now, today, I am a DJ. I like being in the DJ booth because it is one of the few places that I have complete freedom.”