By Mark Simpson
W hat is it about middle-aged queer British pop stars from the '80s? Why can't they settle down, keep their noses clean, their peckers zippered, and their faces out of the papers? More precisely, what is it about middle-aged queer British pop stars from the '80s named George?
George Alan O'Dowd, slightly better known as Boy George, former Culture Club front/frock man, starts 2009 being 'banged up' -- as we call prison sentences in the U.K. -- for attacking and imprisoning a Norwegian male escort he'd invited to his home.
OK, Boy George is 47 and less an androgynous pretty boy than a dodgy nightclub bouncer with a scary glitter-paint habit, so dates must be harder to come by than in the past. Even so, manacling a rent boy to your bed, then chasing after him when he escapes, flailing a chain as he flees into the street in his underwear screaming for help, is a tad too needy and controlling.
This latest incident, for which he received a 15-month term, comes hard on the stacked heels of several other scrapes with the law in recent years'most famously, wasting police time in New York in 2006, for which he was sentenced to sweeping the streets of Manhattan in an orange jumpsuit. Boy George had reported a burglary in his New York apartment that never happened -- which is one way of persuading strange men in uniforms to visit.
Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, a.k.a. George Michael, 45, was also arrested last year, this time in a public toilet in Hampstead Heath, North London, for possession of controlled drugs. George Michael now has the rare distinction of having been arrested in public lavatories on both sides of the Atlantic -- a transatlantic flush, if you will.
George Michael escaped with a warning this time, but given the way he's been repeatedly found slumped behind the wheel of his car in the last few years, apparently under the influence of drugs, a prison sentence might not be far off for him either. If he's not very careful, George M. could conceivably find himself sharing a cell with B. George, a kind of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? with a reality-TV twist.
In a funny-peculiar way they've been sharing the same cell since the '80s. Both born in the early '60s in the month of June, both second-generation immigrants to London (from Ireland and Cyprus), both solo pop stars who started off in bands and in the closet. Even when B. George's star declined in the late '80s and early '90s as George M.'s continued to light up the transatlantic sky, B. George chained himself to George M. by constantly bitching about him.
The Two Georges are now very much out of the closet and pursuing the same path of self-destruction -- neither one is enjoying a happily-ever-after.
As a fellow queer Brit, I should probably apologize for their embarrassing behavior, shake my head at their failure to grow old gracefully and be role models for a young generation of gays, discuss their internalized homophobia, and urge them to seek help and healing for their addiction to sex and drugs.
But I won't do that -- in part because if I had their energy and income I might get into even worse trouble. While I don't think either is making the best case for growing old disgracefully, these are pop stars from an era when being a pop star was not, as it is today, a respectable career -- like, say, a licensed accountant or dentist. It was also an era when being openly gay was not acceptable. Now it's practically compulsory for a TV career in the U.K.
Maybe the surprising thing is that so few '80s Brit queer pop stars have gone off the rails: Holly Johnson, Marc Almond, Andy Bell, and Neil Tennant are all being good boys. Imagine how strange it must have been to grow up queer and afeared in the '70s, become globally famous in the '80s because you were 'interesting,' and then watch in horror in the '90s and '00s as the world became so much queerer than you.
Perhaps the value of the Two Georges is that they remind us that there is not necessarily a happy ending -- to coming out or to life itself. Both can be messy and disappointing.
A London taxi driver once said to me about George Michael's public sex habit: 'He's a rich man. Why can't he get someone to visit him at home?' Well, yes, but look what happened to Boy George'