Wednesday 16 January 2019

Did you really want to hurt each other?

Lynn Barber

The love-hate relationship of Boy George and Jon Moss was the creative force - and destruction - behind Culture Club, writes Lynn Barber CULTURE CLUB are back together. But for how long? Their reunion feels like a mayonnaise waiting to decide whether to curdle. Last year, they did a US tour, put out a single and a Greatest Moments album. Now, they have another single out, with a new album in the autumn, and a British tour planned for December. So far so good.

The love-hate relationship of Boy George and Jon Moss was the creative force - and destruction - behind Culture Club, writes Lynn Barber CULTURE CLUB are back together. But for how long? Their reunion feels like a mayonnaise waiting to decide whether to curdle. Last year, they did a US tour, put out a single and a Greatest Moments album. Now, they have another single out, with a new album in the autumn, and a British tour planned for December. So far so good.

But it's all still jangling with unfinished business. What George calls ``the great unresolved romance of the century'' (between him and Jon Moss, the drummer) still casts a long shadow. In the glory days of the early Eighties, Jon and George were the Liz Taylor/Richard Burton of pop: their fights, their screaming matches, their reconciliations were a constant backstage melodrama. Once, in a restaurant, Jon went on the attack with a lobster thermidor. They fought, then made passionate love somehow the two were intertwined. George wrote in his autobiography, ``Our relationship was built on power-tripping and masochism,'' adding, ``Our love, however diseased, was the creative force behind Culture Club.''

And now Jon is straight, with a long-standing girlfriend, Barbara, and a two-year-old son. He says, bewilderingly, that he was never gay; he just loved George. George says he's barking if he says that. They always seemed an incongruous couple, but more so now. Jon, 41, looks younger than George, 37. He is short, sharp and dapper, with a sinister crosshatch of scars on his face, which he attributes to accidents with plate-glass windows, accidents with car windscreens, and a bit of knifework from the National Front, who singled him out early on as a ``f**king Jew queer''.

Grandson of Moss Bros, Jon grew up in north London, and talks more like a flash estate agent than a musician. He has no difficulty saying and believing that he is 100 per cent heterosexual and, in the same breath, that he loved George. The word denial is not in his vocabulary he told me he felt sorry for bisexuals because their lives must be so confusing.

In the early days of Culture Club in 1981, Jon and George walked hand in hand down the street, and were photographed kissing. But as soon as Do you really want to Hurt Me went to number one in 1982, the record company suits intervened and told them that, for their careers' sake, they had to be discreet.

It was a blow to George, who had been proudly `out' from the age of 15, but Jon was keen to keep their career on track. So, even in Culture Club's heyday, there was tension between George wanting to proclaim their love from the rooftops, and Jon wanting to keep schtum. Now, there is a surprising level of agreement in their disagreements. They both say that although their former relationship was passionate, it didn't work. George says, ``It's not like I ever really got what I needed from Jon. I loved him more than anything in the world, but in hindsight, it was a very dysfunctional relationship.''

Jon says, ``It was the band that kept us together, plus the sexual relationship, but we didn't really get on. Though I was obviously gay because I was with George, I wasn't gay in inverted commas. When we'd watch television, he'd say, `Oh, he's cute,' and I'd say, `Why can't we just watch the programme?' That was the difference.'' George explains: ``There's never been a feeling of closure. I think ours is the great unresolved romance of the century.''

The love affair just petered out, like Culture Club itself. What they say happened was that after two hit albums, Kissing to be Clever and Colour by Numbers, their third album, Waking up with the house on Fire, was a terrible falling-off, mainly because they had had no time to write it. It was George's first taste of failure and he took it badly. He flounced off to New York and started partying hard. Until then, George had always been adamantly anti-drugs, but in a New York nightclub, he took his first Ecstasy and after that it was a hop, skip and jump into heroin.

The whole process took barely nine months. His decline was terrible. His former PR recalls him wetting himself and not noticing; his sister Siobhan recalls a family birthday dinner when he kept nodding off. He went on Aspel and could barely speak. He turned up for an anti-apartheid rally on Clapham Common shouting, ``I'm a drag addict not a drug addict.'' Eventually, in July 1986, his brother David went to The Sun and announced, ``Junkie George has eight weeks to live.''

For Jon, it all seemed to happen in the blink of an eye. ``The whole thing was like a circus. There seemed to be a lot of sentimental stuff going round but no real emotion, and that scared me. I saw him looking pathetic, but I was very angry, very confused, because according to him it was all my fault. You know, with George two words, `Be reasonable,' just aren't in the dictionary. That's why I stopped in the end. I went to the other guys and said, `Look, I don't know what you're doing, but as far as I'm concerned, the band's over, I'm out. I felt it was dangerous.''

Their manager persuaded them all to take a year's break while George recovered, then he'd call them. But the call never came. George got off heroin fairly quickly, but remained addicted to methadone and valium. Meanwhile, a musician friend visiting from New York died on his sofa, of heroin poisoning, another friend died of an overdose, and George was convicted of `prior possession'.
THE other three members of Culture Club each put out solo records that sank without trace, while George remained holed up in Hampstead. It wasn't till 1990 that they got together again. Boy George was clean by this stage, and full of his spiritual journey to India, but still spoiling for a fight with Jon. He lit some joss sticks in the studio. Jon complained that he couldn't breathe and George duly freaked. ``I just said, `Oh, f*** off. You're such an arsehole.' I told the others, `It's been really nice seeing you all.' And I walked out, and I didn't see them again for another six years.''

Mikey Craig, the bassist, was probably the most upset. He was the one who'd started Culture Club and felt they still had more to give. He rang George periodically, but George didn't even return his calls. Ironically, though Mikey and George and Jon lived within a mile or two of each other in north London, the only one they kept in touch with was Roy Hay, who had moved to Los Angeles. But he had his own problems he split up with his wife and ended up in rehab. Nowadays, he is strictly teetotal.

George spent years working out his problems through therapy and writing his brilliant autobiography Take it like a Man (which Jon calls Fake it like a Ham). He built a new career as a DJ and set up his own record label, More Protein, and several other mini-labels. He says he collects new labels like other people collect vintage cars. He had a few hit singles as a solo artist The Crying Game, Generations Of Love, Bow Down Mister but his 1995 solo album, Cheapness and Beauty, sold so badly that Virgin dropped his contract.

For 11 years, he lived with a young Irish man but when that affair ended four years ago, he became virtually celibate. He says he is very fussy about who he'll sleep with now. What he really fancies is an older man with greying hair and a job.

The tabloids camped on George's doorstep again in September 1995, when his younger brother Gerald, a bricklayer and former boxer, killed his wife, Gill, by stabbing her in her sleep. At his trial he pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, and three psychiatrists gave evidence that he was a paranoid schizophrenic. He was committed to a secure mental hospital where he remains. George visits him, of course, but says, ``It's something that doesn't ever get resolved. It's not like there's ever a point where it stops being horrible and painful. It's never going to be OK.''

Meanwhile, a mile down the road and out of the limelight, Jon was going through some painful readjustments of his own, but without the benefit of psychotherapy (he calls therapists ``The Rapists''). He says the end of Culture Club was ``Horrible. It was like someone suddenly pulling your raison d'etre from underneath you. I remember watching Live Aid and thinking, `Oh I'd love to do that!' and then, ``Hang on! What am I talking about? A year ago, I was doing that.'''

For a while, he kept on living the high life, flying to New York on Concorde, staying at the Bel Air in Los Angeles. Then in 1988, he decided to settle down in St John's Wood, London. He set up his own studio, but ``hated going to those bloody machines every morning. And I was snorting cocaine and drinking quite a lot, because I was so unhappy.''

But the main problem was that he felt he couldn't form a relationship after George. ``I tried to go out with another bloke, but it just didn't work. I felt like a pervert. It just didn't feel right.''

He tried various girlfriends, but they all seemed a bit boring. So he used to just sit at home reading. Then, one day, the doorbell rang and it was a girl he'd known for a long time Barbara but ``never thought would happen''. This time, it did happen, and since then, they've barely spent a night apart. Two years ago, they had a baby, and Jon became a besotted father.

About the same time, he and Barbara were walking down the street, when they bumped into an old friend of hers who said he was in a group but they'd just lost their drummer. Jon said: ``Oh, I'm a drummer'' the man didn't know who he was and agreed to play a few gigs. ``So I started playing down the Dublin Castle in Camden Town. I can't look back now and believe I did it. I thought someone would say, `Oh, it's Jon Moss from Culture Club. Look at him now!' But, actually, a few people came up and said, `Well done, mate.'''

With 200 people, it's jam-packed and there's no dressing room, and you have to go through the audience with the kit to set up, then you play - and it was a really fast rock band. Then, at the end of the gig, you've got all these drunk people onstage, and you've got to get your drums out again, and you can't have a drink because you've got to drive home. And we'd get £100 between the five of us, and one of the guys was on the dole, and whether it was £20 or £25 made a lot of difference, so in the end I said, `Have my £20.' I thought, `Better than spending £400 a week on cocaine.'' And I love playing I was physically better, building my muscles up again, a happier person, and the band was great as well. So that was my therapy eating humble pie and that's what got me off the drink and cocaine.''

Perhaps he needed to eat humble pie before he faced Culture Club again. The call to reunion eventually came, not from any member of the band, but from the American music channel VH I , which wanted to make a documentary. It interviewed Jon and George separately and, of course, they slagged each other off. At this point, they hadn't spoken to each other for six years, and didn't intend to. But the programme was such a hit that promoters in the US started badgering Roy Hay to do a revival tour. So he flew over to London to ask George if he'd be interested. George said yes, but not with Jon. Then he thought about it some more and said yes, but not without Jon. Eventually, they all agreed to meet. Both George and Jon rang their manager that morning to cry off, but he persuaded them to come. They were all very nervous. George claims: ``I think Jon was actually terrified that no one would want him in the band.''

Jon recalls: ``When it [the reunion] was first mooted, I thought, `I'm not going to do it, because I don't want to look pathetic, I'd rather let it lie.' And I knew they couldn't do it without me, or maybe George thought they could, but it had to be the original Culture Club. But my attitude was there was no point doing it and not making money to go on tour and not make money is just stupid.''

But then the money was forthcoming, when George suggested they make a new album. So, rather nervously, they started rehearsing and set off on what Roy called `The Tolerance Tour', with Jon and George in separate buses to minimise friction. In New York, they faced a barrage of interviews and everyone was on tenterhooks. Would Jon or George say the wrong thing and fall out again? The worst would be if Jon tried to deny his former relationship with George. But he didn't. He said, as he did to me, that he had loved George deeply.

But George was cynical: ``It's a career move end of story. If the band hadn't reformed, Jon would never have discussed our relationship. But Jon's not stupid. He realised that if he came back into the band, he was gonna have to start talking. But in America, he was extremely open. He said he loved me and talked about it in a very open way, and it was great just to hear him say it. And I think it was good for him, too.''

But all these conversations have been through journalists. Jon and George still haven't had a heart-to-heart. George doesn't think they ever will. Jon says they'd better not. ``I know George would like to have a blazing row, but whenever George sounds off at me about something, I try to keep very calm. I'm not very good when I lose my temper.'' He says it's a myth that George has been changed by psychotherapy: ``He's still a drama queen. He likes problems, and he gets away with it because he's George. He's got this amazing charisma, and people put up with crap that they wouldn't put up with from anybody else. Is there a deep hurting person inside? I doubt it, actually. George is a lot tougher than people think.''

Anyway, they all agree that the dynamic of the group has changed. In theory, it is more democratic. In practice George is still the star and always will be. But nowadays, his closest relationship is with Roy, and Jon has taken a back seat: ``I'm happy with what I've got. I said to all of them, `I'm not precious. If I have to take a back seat, I will whatever is best for the group.' As long as that doesn't go with an attitude from everyone else. Unfortunately, sometimes I'm not saying in this situation if you take a back seat, people trample all over you.''
THERE was a big test early on when the other members wanted to put out a video and Jon didn't. In the old days, he would have said, ``No way,'' but this time he went along with the majority. ``That's the attitude I take now; have to. You can't fight your position now, it's too difficult. Anyway, we did it, it was dreadful, and George admitted it at least he knows when he's wrong. But that's what I mean about taking the back seat. I've got to protect my position. I'm older now, I've got my family and I'm not going to put myself in the position again where I'm going to be bedevilled.''

Of course, they all proclaim that their reunion has nothing to do with money. Jon says they were each still getting about £80,000 a year in backlist royalties, but none of them, apart from George and possibly Roy (who writes film music), had earned much outside Culture Club. And George lost a lot of money two years ago when his former boyfriend, Kirk Brandon, sued him for defamation over the lyrics of Unfinished Business. George won, but Brandon went bankrupt, so he was lumbered with his own huge legal costs.

Jon admits that the money is important. ``Well, it's very important to the others, I know that. People always say I'm only concerned with the money. Money's got a lot to do with it, but everybody enjoys it. The pound signs have appeared, but I wouldn't do this just for the money. If I found it unbearable, I'd just walk away. I've never been desperate, I've never prostituted myself. But what's so nice is that it's great being in a group. No matter how many rows we have, it's like a family. And the great thing is that people don't have to ask you what you're doing any more. They know.''

So is everything in the garden rosy? I don't quite think so. There's a lot of lip-biting and bottled emotion. George longs for a fight. Every time Jon says he was never gay, it's like a goad in his side. Jon has to keep swallowing his pride and saying over and over again that, yes, he did love George which is something he'd rather forget. But being a father has given him the confidence to take it like a man and he concedes that performing with Culture Club is better than going back to the Dublin Castle. He knows he'll never win the fight with George: ``I think he just needs to blame me for everything. But I don't care any more. I've got a lovely family, I'm fine, I'm solvent, I don't care what people think of me.''

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