"It doesn't seem like a lot of work, talking about yourself all day," says Boy George, "but it actually is quite stressful."
A typical rock star lament, right? Well, maybe it seems that way from where you're sitting, but from Boy George's room in the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown, things look a bit different. It's not just that he's out doing press for his new album, "Cheapness and Beauty." He's also promoting his autobiography, "Take It Like a Man," doing book signings and the like, all while maintaining the rest of his day-to-day business.
"It's been pretty chock-a-block," he says. "Toward the level of being suicidal. I mean, I took the day off on Friday because I'd been working every day for two weeks, from 5, 6 in the morning to late at night. I finally got to the point where I thought, 'Right, this is enough. I'm having a day off.' "
Trouble is, that sort of thing gets him in dutch with the record company. "They don't want too many days off in the hotel," he says, laughing. "It's like touring. It's all pretty strict like that."
George himself seems all business. Dressed in an almost shockingly conservative dark shirt and black suit, he looks like any successful music biz executive -- apart from the milk-white face powder and elaborately mascara-ed eyes, of course. Still, it's a far cry from the colorful clown costumes and Kabuki-like visage he sported with Culture Club.
That was a decade ago, though, and George has long since moved on. His new album, for instance, is much harder-edged than those oldies, full of loud guitars and punkish drumming, and when he tours with his new band this fall (they'll play Lisner Auditorium in Washington Nov. 16), the emphasis will be entirely on the new sound.
"There are highlights from my career," he says, grinning wickedly. "We're going to do a heavy metal version of 'Karma Chameleon,' because that's the only way I can deal with it these days."
"Cheapness and Beauty" is also more explicitly about his life and sexual orientation, and that's one of the reasons he's going through the torture of this press tour.
"I'm not interested in people being interested in me just because I'm 'interesting Boy George who gives good interviews,' " he says. "It's not what I'm about. So at the end of the day, it's important for people to listen to the music.
"Especially this record. From the perspective of gay people, this is an important record, because people are often very general in their music, and this album is very specific. It's about issues -- issues that affect me and affect every other gay person."
Rather than address those issues through campy, frothy dance pop -- traditionally a safe haven for gay-themed pop -- George has opted for a straight rock and roll approach. "It's taking traditional elements and mixing them with untraditional lyrics," he says. "I've always loved rock and roll, but rock and roll hasn't spoken to me -- ever, really -- as a gay man.
"I mean, David Bowie certainly touched on it, and a lot of people in rock and roll borrow from our imagery. You see people walking around with 'Pervert' T-shirts on, but how perverted are they? How far would they go? It's almost like people steal your ideas, and turn them into cartoons."
This wouldn't bother the 34-year-old George so much if there were more positive and realistic images of gay men and women in entertainment. But as he sees it, "whenever gay people are represented on film or on TV, they're always inoffensive. They're sexless. I mean, at the peak of Culture Club, I became this kind of gender-less, exotic doll. And if you look at RuPaul, it's the same thing. He is a kind of doll, it's not threatening in any way."
Boy George (his last name is O'Dowd) understands that some people are uncomfortable with sexuality of any sort. "All human beings have a certain sexual frailty, and that's what they don't want to be reminded of," he says. "A lot of gay people say, 'Everyone's queer,' [but] I think most people, when they're born, have dual sexuality, and you choose one or the other.
"But even when you've made that choice, you can still be insecure, and that's, really, what the issue is. I find that the people who really shout about it the most are the ones who really are queer, or just have terror, complete terror, in every corpuscle in their body.
"Most people out there in the real world couldn't give a damn," he adds. "I think the industry -- the record industry, the film industry -- is where most of the homophobia exists. Because it's 'bad for business.' It's almost like the industry second-guesses the public. Like with my new single, 'Same Thing in Reverse,' which is, I guess, a gay love song. A lot of radio stations are saying, 'It's a great record, it's a great sound, but . . .' It's like they can't deal with the issue. So it makes me wonder how far we have moved on."
That question also rises in regard to how "Take It Like a Man" has been received. A great deal of the book finds George coming to terms with his sexuality, and talks quite a bit about his various lovers -- including his Culture Club drummer Jon Moss and various male celebrities. Hot stuff, right?
Wrong. "Interestingly enough, nobody has really delved into the homosexuality in this book," he says. "It's as if they don't want to deal with it.
"If I was writing about sleeping with Madonna, or having an affair with a famous woman or something, it would be front-page news. But the fact of the matter is, they're gay relationships, and people have really steered clear of it. All the TV shows I've done have talked about heroin, or they've talked about my childhood, or dressing up. They haven't dealt with any of the sexual stuff in the book."
Reason for book
Still, putting his sexual identity well out of the closet wasn't the main reason Boy George wrote his book. As he sees it, it was to "understand myself, understand why I am how I am. I think a lot of entertainers are deeply insecure people, and the reason we want fame is we associate it with being loved and accepted. And very often, when we reach that pinnacle of the desired success, we find ourselves equally empty, equally disappointed. And that's when you try to fill the hull, the void, with drugs, or elicit sex. Or put a gun in your mouth, like Kurt Cobain.
"What I've realized in the last five years is that nothing outside of yourself can make you feel whole. And that's a hard one. Because we're all, everyone on this planet, trying to fill that void."