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‘The Complete Zap Comix’ box set is the greatest thing in the history of the world, ever


 
Over the Halloween weekend I was visiting my family in Wheeling, WV (it was my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary) and I needed to buy a cheap one-hitter to help get me through it. There’s only one place to buy that sort of thing in my hometown and this would be Wheeling’s sole smut emporium, the very downmarket Market Street News.

Thirty-five years ago, in better economic times for that town, Market Street News was still a dirty book store, but back then it also sold bongs, rolling papers, fake drugs like “Lettuce Opium” or “Coke Snuff,” British rock mags, National Lampoon, biker rags like Easy Rider and Iron Horse, High Times and a small handful of underground comics. A bead curtain separated the front of the shop from the over 21 area and the place smelled heavily of incense, cigarettes and Pine-Sol. It was here, age 11, where I bought my first issue of High Times, the October 1977 issue with Johnny Rotten on the cover and the now infamous “Ted Nugent shits his pants to get out of the draft” interview. What kind of degenerate sold a little kid High Times?

Let me assure you that I was not an innocent child. By that age, I’d already read Ladies and Gentlemen, Lenny Bruce!!, I owned a copy of Naked Lunch and had already tried getting high (unsuccessfully) by eating fresh ground nutmeg and morning glory seeds, something I’d read about in that book’s infamous index section. I wanted to do drugs, I just didn’t know where to get ‘em (aside from “Lettuce Opium,” which yes, I admit that I tried.“Coke Snuff,” too!)

I couldn’t “score” real drugs, but at the age of 11, in a low level smut shop in a podunk West Virginia town, I was able to get my mitts on something equally mind-expanding (and only slightly less illicit): Zap Comix. Lewd, crude, incendiary, mind-blowing in the extreme and incredibly smart, I embraced Zap Comix wholeheartedly, even if I, a sixth grader, was considerably younger than the audience of “adult intellectuals” it was ostensibly intended for.
 

 
Although Zap founder Robert Crumb himself was already a very well-known and widely respected artist and counterculture hero by the time I discovered Zap in 1977, I can’t image that it was too much earlier than 1973 or ‘74 that something like Zap Comix would have had the kind of distribution that would have allowed it filter down to small town America. The first (#0) issue of Zap came out in 1968. Not every small town had a head shop at that time, of course, and even when they did, carrying Zap Comix—which presented some completely insane stuff, images WAY more perverse than anything that was being cooked up in Denmark or Sweden at the time—was probably not worth the heat it would bring, especially in that line of work. If they can bust you for selling bongs, why carry filthy and obscene comic books to further tempt fate?

Most people probably found out about Zap generally around the same time I did, no matter what age they were. Unless you were living in a big city or in a college town, it would have been highly unlikely to have encountered it otherwise. This is why I associate Zap with the punk era. At least that’s when a copy first made it into my young hands.

Crumb did the first two issues on his own before ultimately assembling a “Magnificent Seven” of the best underground artists around—San Francisco poster artists Rick Griffin and Victor Moscoso, Marxist biker cartoonist Spain Rodriguez, Gilbert Shelton (the creator of “The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers”), painter Robert Williams, the demented S. Clay Wilson and later, after Griffin’s death, Paul Mavrides, known for his Church of the Subgenius graphics. The Zapatistas were a sort of “supergroup”—the dharma warriors of comics. Inkslingers. Revolutionaries. The best of the best. Their only yardsticks for comparison were each other and that sort of fraternal competition raised the bar and kept their art constantly evolving and their social satire razor sharp.
 

 
Like punk (and Burroughs, Lenny Bruce, Firesign Theatre and John Waters) Zap Comix kind of helped to deprogram me at a young age during my rustbelt Christian upbringing. My deeply religious parents never looked twice at my “funnie books” but if they had they’d have been utterly appalled, finding between the covers of Zap Comix characters like S. Clay Wilson’s gay pirate “Captain Pissgums” who liked to have his crew of perverts, um, piss in his mouth or the “Checkered Demon,” a randy devil cheerfully doing the most obscene things that I’d ever seen depicted on the printed page. It was shocking then and it’s equally shocking today.

Take a look at this short piece from S. Clay Wilson titled “Head First”—IF YOU DARE.

See what I mean? Remind yourself that this strip is now nearly half a century old. The reason I linked to it is because embedding it would probably have made our advertisers very nervous about what kind of people we are! Crumb’s Zap contributions were never as out and out repulsive as Wilson’s, yet he was still utterly fearless in portraying his own infantile sexual fantasies and neuroses (and finding willing groupies to help him act them out along the way. Which he then wrote about in subsequent issues of Zap. Heavy meta…).

The goalposts have moved quite a bit over the decades as “obscenity” has been redefined by culture, AND YET that vile, hilariously fucked up strip has lost virtually none of its power to offend. This is only one of the reasons to love S. Clay Wilson—whose work ultimately sets the tone of Zap because his is the wildest, most feral and least compromising—his willingness to basically puke on his reader’s sensibilities, no matter how “far out” they think they are. The sole purpose is to be brutally offensive, no more no less. You can look for something deeper, go ahead, but I’m not sure you’re going to find it in a piece like “Come Fix” (click for pdf) in which a lesbian biker chick injects semen intravenously with an interesting result.
 

The front and back cover of Zap #14 by S. Clay Wilson
 
In the context of the late 1960s that was something both sickening and ENLIGHTENING. And it had nothing whatsoever to do with flower power or hippie. Zap Comix was cynical and dark, twisted and perverted, full of “gags, jokes, kozmic trooths.” Zap wasn’t interested in persuading you of anything, it wanted to beat its epiphanies into you.

This is another reason I see Zap Comix as being aligned with punk, because philosophically-speaking it was. Indeed in its crudeness, lewdness and desire to shake its readers out of their complacency, Zap anticipates punk (and a lot of other things!) and surely would have influenced many of punk’s prime movers who undoubtedly were exposed to it.

Anyway, when I bought my one-hitter, I got into a conversation with the guy behind the counter and I mentioned that I used to buy Zap Comix there when I was a kid. Then the very next morning in the hotel I read an article in the New York Times about how Fantagraphics were publishing the complete run of Zap, along with a sixteenth and final issue, in a deluxe slipcase box set weighing over 20 lbs, complete with sixteen high quality giclée prints of each Zap Comix cover.
 

The front and back cover of Zap #13 by Victor Moscoso
 
I immediately wrote to Fantagraphics fab director of publicity Jacq Cohen and requested a review copy of The Complete Zap Comix. It was sent Fedex two-day shipping, which seemed to me to be the longest two days of my entire fucking life. An eternity. In fact, it ended up being a day late, and by that time, I was truly salivating over the prospect of its arrival. I was not disappointed. I’m a man with a lot of toys and The Complete Zap Comix went immediately into my “prized possessions” category. If you’re reading this thinking “Yep, I need that” trust me, you do need it. However, as far as pricey Christmas presents to yourself go, you might not want to wait for Santa to lay this one under your tree because it’s probably going to sell out. Only 2500 have been printed and from what I can tell anecdotally from how many friends of mine are buying it, it won’t last long.

The irony of turning something that was once sold in dirty bookstores into a $500 collectible is delicious, but I can’t think of a more deserving title than Zap. The production quality of The Complete Zap Comix is first rate and the pages are clearer than they’ve ever been, blown up to 9.75” x 13.25” and painstakingly cleaned up digitally. Everything comes in a sturdy, gold-embossed slipcase and there’s a separate book dedicated to “The Zap Story,” an oral history/scrapbook that also reprints some Zap rarities and “jams” where each of the artists would complete a frame or two—upping the ante in the process—and then pass it on to the next guy.

In the title here, I declare that The Complete Zap Comix box set “is the greatest thing in the history of the world, ever” and I’m only semi-exaggerating. Seeing the whole of the Zap run laid out like this, it seems obvious—so very, very obvious—what a profound and truly American cultural treasure this is. This is great art of historical and cultural importance that changed people, blew their minds and inspired them. I know that it changed ME. Zap Comix deserves to be reappraised and valued for what it’s truly worth and Fantagraphics has done an amazing job with this stunning box set.

Now the Smithsonian Institute needs to step up to the plate while the remaining Zap artists are still alive and kicking against the pricks and give them their due. It could happen. It should happen. Let’s hope it does happen.

Below, one of the greatest—and most eerily prophetic—comics EVER by Gilbert Shelton, “Wonder Wart-Hog’s Believe It or LEAVE It!”...Um… he could be talking about TODAY’s America, here, couldn’t he???
 

 
More classics from Zap Comix after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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David Bowie’s early appearance as Ziggy Stardust, 1972
11.19.2014
09:49 am

Topics:
Heroes
Music
Pop Culture

Tags:
David Bowie
Ziggy Stardust

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RCA records paid $25,000 to fly the “cream” of America’s rock press over to see the label’s up-and-coming star David Bowie perform at the Friars Club, Market Square, Aylesbury, England, in July 1972. The record company hoped the scribes from Rolling Stone, CREEM, New York Times, Andy Warhol’s Interview, and the New Yorker, would be sufficiently impressed to spread the word about Bowie back home. It certainly worked as Bowie, along with his Ziggy line-up of Mick Ronson (guitar), Trevor Bolder (bass) and Woody Woodmansey (drums), delivered a blistering set, which been a source of mythical tales and innumerable bootlegs ever since.

Also in the crowd that fateful night were Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor of Queen, who were just starting off on their career. Taylor later recalled the gig for MOJO magazine in 1999:

...Freddie and I saw the first Ziggy gig at Friar’s Aylesbury. We drove down in my Mini. We loved it. I’d seen him there about three weeks before in the long hair and the dress. Suddenly you saw this spiky head coming on stage. You thought, wha-a-at??? They looked like spacemen.

The band’s appearance was not just a shock to the audience as Bowie later explained:

Woody Woodmansey was saying, “I’m not bloody wearing that!” [Laughs] There were certainly comments, a lot of nerves. Not about the music - I think the guys knew that we rocked. But they were worried about the look. That’s what I remember: how uncomfortable they felt in their stage clothes. But when they realized what it did for the birds… The girls were going crazy for them, because they looked like nobody else. So within a couple of days it was, “I’m going to wear the red ones tonight.”

 
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Bowie’s performance at the Friar’s Club was voted the greatest gig to be held at the venue.
 
While Glenn O’Brienn described the concert in Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine:

The Aylesbury town hall is the size of an average pre-war high school gym…There were perhaps a thousand peers in the hall when we entered. At first I thought it was remarkable that RCA had spent at least $25,000 to bring a select group of writers to a concert at which there were no seats for them, save the floor… David Bowie did not come on unannounced. He was in fact preceded on stage by a handsome Negro and his attendants who attempted to work the audience to a fever pitch by tossing them balloons, pinwheels, and hundreds of Bowie posters. The audience needed little prodding, though, and anxiously awaited David Bowie and The Spiders From Mars, while the giant amplifiers sounded a recording of old Ludwig Von’s Song of Joy from the Ninth Symphony. David appeared on stage with his band to what could fairly be called a thunderous ovation. And he deserved every handclap… His hair was a vibrant orange… And the band played on… And David proved himself to be a unique performer.

 
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Bolder and Bowie on stage at Aylesbury, being filmed by Mick Rock.
 
The Aylesbury gigs was a key moment in Bowie’s career and photographer Mick Rock filmed it all on 16mm. This footage was apparently thought lost until 1995 when it “discovered” and transfered onto video by MainMan. It has not been made officially available although it currently circulates amongst collectors.

While the footage available on YouTube is raw, the camerawork sometimes iffy, and the sound, well, about what you’d expect from a concert, but as an historic document of early footage of David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust it is a delight.

Track listing: “Hang On to Yourself,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Queen Bitch,” “Song for Bob Dylan,” “Starman,” “Five Years,” “Waiting for the the Man.”

The color footage is believed to be from the July 15th gig at the Friar’s Club while the b&w footage is from the June 21st gig. Audio taken from July 15th performance.
 

 
More after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Wild at the Wheel: 1970’s driving safety film makes you want to get funky and drive with caution
11.17.2014
06:01 am

Topics:
Pop Culture
Unorthodox

Tags:
PSA

Wild at the Wheel
 
Part cautionary tale, part psychoanalysis of the 1970’s bored suburban teen, part strait-up fusiony funk throw-down, the film below, called Wild at the Wheel, fictionally explores the sad case of decidedly handsome, deceased 1970’s teen epitome Tom Robinson. Known by his friends as “Speedy” for reasons that become obvious, Tom’s silky, loosely buttoned western shirts and even silkier flowing golden locks earn him lots of chicks, but his hubristic need to constantly put the pedal to the metal proves to be his undoing.  After months of highway showboating and increasingly sporadic road theatrics, Tom finally rolls his beautiful, vintage forest green Mustang over a California cliff while trying to change the radio station. What could have caused this tragedy?

Wild at the Wheel is narrated by a local traffic investigator who’s taken an interest in the story partly because he happened to be Tom’s tight-shorted, side-burned softball coach before the tragic accident took place. This curly-haired funk detective’s got all kinds theories about what drove Tom over the edge, as it were. Was Tom compensating because he didn’t make first baseman at softball tryouts the other day? Was it Tom’s own aggressively driving father that set a poor example about masculinity and power? Or was it because Tom got turned down for that raise by his boss at the local drug store? All valid questions, but one thing we do know for sure from watching the film is that it clearly wasn’t Tom’s lack of tail that was causing him to drive like a maniac. He’s pretty much up to his eyeballs in smiling, feather-haired ladies throughout this whole thing.   

And then there’s the soundtrack. It just seriously makes you want rock out and form a Return to Forever cover band immediately. As one astute YouTube commenter mentions, the (at times) vaguely Goblin-esque soundtrack features a dirgey funk ballad called “Confunktion,” a smooth KPM stock recording by Dave Richmond that kind of kicks ass, leaving you confused about how to feel, especially since it shows up just as the paramedics are hauling off Tom’s bloody carcass. I was also able to identify another Dave Richmond track that appears later called Phase Out, also a piece of KPM stock recording and also ass-kicking. If there’s one unintentional takeaway from the film, it’s that awesomeness was in no short supply when it came to cheap, funky library scores in the 1970’s. 

Look, as Wild at the Wheel attempt to make clear, reckless driving is no laughing matter, especially when it involves hunky teens taken from us far too soon. On the other hand, this clip is pretty goddamned hilarious. Please refrain from watching it on your phone while driving!
 

Posted by Jason Schafer | Discussion
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Are Tim and Eric running the Totino’s pizza Tumblr?


 
Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim are the two geniuses behind Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and their latest venture Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories, both of which have emerged from Adult Swim. It’s safe to say that Tim & Eric have developed one of the most distinctive voices in comedy today, rather as if the Wonder Showzen gang had gotten trapped inside a KMart clothing warehouse with full access to the best video effects the 1980s had to offer.

Their purposefully garish sense of awkwardness is so powerful that it’s spawned a delirious subreddit, r/NotTimAndEric, that’s dedicated to real-life examples of the actual world seeming to imitate Tim & Eric bits. That subreddit has 38,022 readers as of this writing, so it’s not like there is any shortage of that kind of thing. Point being: Tim & Eric are potent.

Tim & Eric made the news last week when their commercial for Totino’s Pizza Rolls (and assorted other Totino’s pizza products) hit the Internet, producing an expectedly awestruck reaction (that commercial is linked below). The clip, called “Pizza Freaks Unite,” is staggering enough, but what you might not know is that, in keeping with their new branding, Totino’s has a full-blown Tumblr in the Tim & Eric style. In the headline I asked if Tim & Eric are actually running the Tumblr, but there’s a journalistic truism that the answer to any question trumpeted by a media outlet is always “No,” because if the fact at issue could be proven, then that would be the headline—i.e. questions are for unproven speculation.

So I don’t necessarily think that Tim & Eric are running the Totino’s Tumblr. However, it is very enjoyable in a similar way to Tim & Eric’s TV work. Even if it’s not true, the Tumblr as well as the Totino’s PR strategy in general seem to indicate that this is a major mainstreaming moment for Tim & Eric’s aesthetic. Tim & Eric’s stuff may be brilliant, but it isn’t exactly The Big Bang Theory—indeed, it could fairly be said that their work might give some (older) portion of the audience a frontal-lobe headache. So it’s a pretty significant moment to see their worldview cross over. It isn’t every day that Andy Kaufman shows up for his first day of work at Taxi, after all. 
 

 

 

 
More Tim and Eric-flavored pizza stuff after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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12-year-old Christopher Walken in clown makeup will make you hate clowns a little less (or will it?)
11.06.2014
12:28 pm

Topics:
Amusing
Pop Culture

Tags:
Christopher Walken


 
Here’s an amusing (or is it just straight up American Horror Story: Freak Show territory?) photo series of a 12-year-old Christopher Walken applying and then sporting some clown makeup. These were shot in 1955.

As many of you already know, Walken’s been acting since he was child. He started in 1953 with his first film Wonderful John Acton.

You can read more about Walken’s early Hollywood acting career here.


 

 

 

 
More of Walken after the jump…
 

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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Studio 54: Candid photography captures all the bacchanalian revelry
11.05.2014
06:44 am

Topics:
History
Pop Culture

Tags:
Studio 54


 
74-year-old photographer Tod Papageorge is best known for capturing the buzzing streets of NYC and subtle moments in Central Park. His latest book, Studio 54, is a record of hedonism that includes actual swinging from the rafters and a literal procession of men in Dionysian drag. The setting is quite a departure from his most famous work, but Papageorge’s keen eye for detail and fascination with his subjects is consistently engaging—he just makes everyone look gorgeous.

Crowded scenes of fabulous party animals have the most obvious appeal—the fashion and the dancing just drip with the pursuit of pleasure and sensual self-indulgence. My favorite shots though, are post-party. Bodies sag, make-up is melted, and glamour gives way to fatigue. For those of us who prefer photojournalism to actual opulent dance clubs, the morning-after exhaustion on patrons’ faces may be the most relatable theme of the series.
 

 

 

 

 

 
More 70s revelry after the jump…

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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Paintings of Divine, Apu, Amy Winehouse, Princess Leia and more, using old coins as a canvas


Divine, over an image of Generalissimo Francisco Franco
 
Andre Levy must be quite the draftsman, to paint such compelling and amusing images on the unforgiving terrain (copper, nickel) of a coin measuring no more than an inch square. But that’s what the artist, who was born in Sao Paulo but is currently based out of Frankfurt, has done. A cheeky sense of humor (he clearly loves the Simpsons) and a sharp eye have surely aided him in his quest to take over the Internet (which he seems to have done).

Benjamin Sutton of Hyperallergic got in touch with Levy per email: “I’m a graphic designer and split my time between an advertising job and my personal projects, which include street art and illustration. The most notorious of those projects, so far, is Tales You Lose, which became popular on Instagram and Tumblr,” Levy told Hyperallergic. “I never collected coins. What initially made me accumulate a few was the fact that I keep forgetting them in my pockets. I learned, though, that outside its territory of origin the coin leaves behind its illusional value as currency to carry a value defined by its carrier. I saw those coins as massively reproduced sculptures, and felt they could be turned into templates for something richer. Painting the coins was a way to give those metal pieces some room for interpretation. The pop characters were a way to bring in narratives as strong as the original ones and enable the new stories when people relate both characters.”
 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Leonardo, over Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man
 

The Flash, on a Greek Olympic coin
 

Princess Leia, over an image of British Queen Elizabeth II
 

René Magritte’s “The Son of Man,” on a Chinese coin
 

YouTube error icon, over Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
 

Amy Winehouse, on a French coin
 

Apu from The Simpsons, on a Thai coin
 

Asterix and Obelix, on a French coin
 

Swiftwind, on an Irish coin
 

Simpsons doughnut
 
via Hyperallergic

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Ian Curtis: Handwritten schoolboy poem up for auction

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As a child Joy Division’s lead singer wanted to be stuntman. He went so far as setting up a specially constructed stunt that involved him jumping off a garage roof. Cheered on by friends, Curtis donned a crash helmet and took a giant leap off the roof. He landed badly and his ambitions for a career as a stuntman were over.

Thankfully, Curtis showed greater talent for writing poetry, and it would be his lyric writing and singing that eventually brought him fame. Now, one of his original poems, written circa 1966-67 when Curtis was at school, is to be sold next month at a “Beatles Rock ‘n’ Roll Memorabilia Auction,” with a starting bid of $1,200 (£1,000).

According to Tracks Auction the poem:

...is written on a piece of lined paper and is glued into a school book called Our Book Of Epitaphs along with poems from the other pupils in the class.

It reads, “An Epitaph for an Electrian (sic), Here lies Fred the electrian (sic), who went on a very fateful mission, he got a shock when tampering with a fuse, which went from his head right down to his shoes, by I. Curtis”.

Ian has also drawn a small picture of a man and a tombstone.

Hardly T. S. Eliot but certainly not McGonagall.

The poem is described as being in “excellent” condition and measures 6.5 inches x 3.75 inches. It is contained within a larger book of poems by fellow classmates which has some wear and tear and a few of the poems have become detached from the book.
 
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A letter confirming the poem’s authenticity from the owner and former classmate of the singer is included. The letter reads:

“I grew up on Hurdsfield Estate, Macclesfield where I attended Hurdsfield Junior School. I started Hurdsfield Junior School in 1963 where I met Ian Curtis, he was a fellow pupil in my class and we went through school together. Mr Young was our teacher when this piece of work was carried out, he himself has got a poem in the book along with myself and all the other pupils in the class. This poem was written in 1966 or 1967. I was presented with the book at the end of the school year for being head boy. At the time the head teacher was called Mr Tattasall. Ian Curtis lived on Grey Stoke Road, Hurdsfield Estate, I lived on Delemere Road, Hurdsfield Estate, Cheshire”.

As far as pop culture goes, it seems everything and anything is up for grabs, and amongst the other lots going under the hammer are Adam Ant’s 1981 “Prince Charming” shirt, Kate Bush’s handwritten lyrics for “Wuthering Heights,” various signed singles, albums, posters and concert programmes, and a shed load of Beatles’ memorabilia. I’m sure these will all make more than their asking prices and if you fancy bidding check details they are here.
 
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Below Kate Bush’s handwritten lyrics for ‘Wuthering Heights.’
 
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H/T Letters of Note
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Shania Is a Punk Rocker: Celebrities wearing Ramones t-shirts
10.30.2014
10:30 am

Topics:
Fashion
Pop Culture

Tags:
The Ramones
celebrities

Joey Ramone
Joey Ramone

It’s been a good decade-plus now, but at some point wearing faded band t-shirts from the 1970s and early 1980s started to become a trendy thing to do. Eventually celebrities got in on the act, and these days the very famous are frequently photographed sporting vintage (or faux vintage) band tees.

The t-shirt that’s all the rage amongst actors and pop stars is the one featuring the classic Ramones logo (seen above). The iconic tee has been worn with pride by faithful Ramones fans for nearly forty years, and that logo is so freakin’ awesome that its coolness couldn’t help but rub off on the punks who wore the shirt—partially due to the fact that even members of the Ramones could be seen in a Ramones t-shirt.

But now the rich and powerful want a piece of the hip pie, too. Knowing the group’s music doesn’t even seem to be a prerequisite for these celebs (does anyone really think Paris Hilton listens to the Ramones?).
 
Paris Hilton
 
Who knows, maybe Harry Styles from teen pop sensation One Direction actually likes the leather-clad punks from Queens, but he seems to over-compensating or something, as there’s a shit-ton of photos of him online dressed in the iconic t-shirt.
 
Harry Styles
 
Like Harry, most opt for the classic logo, but really any Ramones shirt will do.
 
Megan Fox
Megan Fox prefers Marky Ramone

Image-conscious celebrities co-opting cool isn’t anything new, so we shouldn’t be surprised. Maybe they genuinely appreciate the Ramones and are using their platform to expose the masses to the band. Perhaps we should be thanking them for keeping the spirit of punk alive?

Nah.
 
Fergie
Fergie
 
Lindsay Lohan
Lindsay Lohan
 
More celebrities in Ramones t-shirts after the jump…

Posted by Bart Bealmear | Discussion
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Do you really want to out me?: The trial of Kirk Brandon vs. Boy George

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The golden rule: Never sue anyone unless you know you are going to win.

Eighties pop star Kirk Brandon should have considered this when he sued Boy George (aka George O’Dowd) for “malicious falsehood over allegations of homosexuality” contained in the singer’s autobiography Take It Like A Man and his song “Unfinished Business.”
 

 
Brandon is known as the frontman of band Theater of Hate, who had several hit singles in the 1980s most notably “Do You Believe in the Westworld?” Boy George is Boy George, and as everyone knows has achieved global success as a solo artist, DJ and with the band Culture Club notching up a string of number one records. Back in 1980, Brandon and George were members of the Blitz Kids—the young trendsetting New Romantics who were creating a club scene and were soon to dominate the pop charts.

In 1997, Brandon was incensed that George had “outed” him by writing about the couple’s “alleged homosexual relationship in the early 1980s.” (What’s wrong, I wonder, with just saying “relationship”?) Brandon said the “gay allegations” had damaged his career as a musician, claiming he “was terrified of being ridiculed as `some blond peroxided poof’.” A damning quote that tells you all you need to know about Mr. Brandon.
 
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The Blitz Kids: Kirk and George, 1980.
 
By 1997, Brandon was married and had a child, his wife Christina said, “It’s every woman’s worst nightmare to be told their partner is gay”.

Christina, 28, first read about the alleged affair in the gender-bender’s autobiography, Take It Like A Man, which was published in July, 1995.

And as she skimmed through the book in a bookshop her world fell apart.

“We had only been married a year and I just couldn’t believe what I was reading,” she says. “I knew that Kirk had been friendly with Boy George. I loved hearing about their time together. But, all of a sudden, I was reading about this intimate, sexual relationship they were meant to have had. I felt confused. Betrayed and humiliated. Tears started rolling down my cheeks. Then I felt angry.

“I rushed home to confront Kirk. I wanted the truth. Why he had lied to me? This could so easily have destroyed our marriage.

“But I know Kirk really well and I believe him when he says it’s not true.”

Yet, Brandon’s litigation was to prove otherwise.
 
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Brandon and George in the early 1980s.
 
When the case came to trial in April 1997, bucking the trusim that the man who is his own attorney has a fool for a client, Brandon represented himself. He told the court how he had helped Boy George from his first band and that they were good friends, adding:

He would sometimes stay at the singer’s squats—but was away on tour when he is alleged to have had the affair.

Mr Brandon said: “[Boy George’s] career took off and his mind was otherwise occupied. He was totally ambiguous and never confirmed or denied any sexual preference, terrified of rejection and the obscurity which would follow.

“Unbeknown to me, in the midst of his wealth, his obsession for me turned into something bitter, some might call it evil, a grudge. Somewhere in his mind he believed I had dumped him. Perhaps somewhere in his drug problems or whatever, his hatred focused on me. Some years later became a cleverly calculated possibility. As [George] stated himself, his book would be his revenge. He wrote his book and wrote of the relationship he really imagined he had had.”

Mr Brandon said he also believed that the attempt to ‘out’ him which would gain publicity for the book and song was part of a ‘sickening and totally reprehensible strategy.’

 
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Brandon’s opening gambit made him sound as if he was the man obsessed with Boy George, and bitter at his former lover’s success. He then began to interrogate Boy George asking him if he thought outing people in the public arena was a good idea? A question that implied Brandon himself had been in the closet.

“I don’t think you should be ashamed of what you are,” O’Dowd replied. “I don’t think you should wilfully drag people out of their closets, but our relationship was public knowledge. It was not something you denied at the time, You denied it later on.”

He told Brandon he was being “homophobic” in bringing the court action. “I said in my book that you were very talented and I loved you,” O’Dowd said. “Where is the damage in that? I am much more brutal about myself in the book about myself than anybody else.”

Avoiding the accusation of “homophobia,” Brandon changed tact accusing George of having “a kind of vendetta” against him:

“Why have you been obsessed with me all your adult life?”

O’Dowd: I am not obsessed with you.

Brandon: You were obsessed and you probably still are. Have you ever thought of leaving me alone?

O’Dowd: I would not say I am obsessed. I would say the obsession would be more on your part if you thought I was insane, why take this action? Why not just shrug and say: ‘He’s mad?’

Brandon: I would say you are a professional liar.

 
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The questioning shifted to the lyrics of Boy George’s song “Unfinished Business” from the album Cheapness and Beauty that George admitted was about Brandon.

He said the lyrics the lyrics included the line “You lie” and “You walk like a jack but are more of a queen”.

He added: “It says that [Brandon] has lied about our relationship and continues to do so. Songs are a way of exorcising feelings.”

Brandon: You get pleasure out of writing vindictive songs.

O’Dowd: Kirk, you were in a band called Theatre of Hate. You weren’t called the Blushing Flowers.

Brandon: Theatre of Hate was an art-house name.

 
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The questioning sounded like the petty tiff of two former lovers rather than a formal cross examination. Any points Brandon thought he had scored were undermined by the appearance of one of Brandon’s former lovers Naimi Ashcroft who suggested the two men had been sexually intimate.

She said that she and Brandon had to hide from O’Dowd in nightclubs: “He did say George was upset and was looking to beat me up.”

Brandon told her: “You are here to fit Mr O’Dowd’s jigsaw. Can’t you just simply forget about me and get on with your own life?”

Every piece of a jigsaw has its own place and the picture the trial revealed was not one that Brandon particularly wanted to see.
 
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Brandon admitted sharing a bed with George in a squat in central London in 1980 but denied any sexual activity.

George recalled: “I said, ‘I don’t have a spare bed,’ and he said: ‘I will be safe won’t I?’” Both kept their T-shirts and underwear on as they shared the mattress.

George added: “Kirk pulled hold of me and we started kissing.

“But on the first night, it was mainly hugging, kissing and touching, very affectionate, but no sexual activity.”

George admitted that in the morning he was unsure if he would see Brandon again in such an intimate way, but he returned with a bag and stayed for several days at the squat. George admitted he was very inexperienced at the time.

“Kirk never said he thought of me as a woman, but outside of the bed I did a very good job of looking feminine,” added george, “We slept together more than 100 times.”

George went on: “We were very close. Kirk was the great love of my life at that time. We were inseparable, holding hands in public and I was walking around in high heel shoes.”

Eventually the relationship finished and Brandon moved out claiming he needed “space.” George described how he “smashed up” his room and “cried for a while and walked in the rain.”

The trial lasted seven days at the High Court in London, with Judge Douglas Brown ruling in favor of Boy George, describing him as “an impressive witness.” As he gave his verdict, Kirk Brandon sat staring straight ahead as the Judge said:

“It’s difficult to believe Mr Brandon did not have a physical relationship with Mr O’Dowd.

“Mr Brandon agrees he knew Mr O’Dowd was a homosexual who was sexually interested in him, but went and stayed in his bed without protest, and without asking whether there was an alternative place to sleep.”

The judge added he did not believe Brandon:

“I am satisfied he has not been truthful about their physical relationship.”

Brandon was ordered to pay an estimated £250,000 in costs, but said he was unable to do so as he was bankrupt. Outside the High Court, he told reporters he had no regrets in taking Boy George to court:

“It was a matter of honour.”

The trail wasn’t about “honour” it was about Brandon’s misplaced personal sense of pride and vanity. His actions made him look foolish, petty, and dishonest. Boy George was vindicated, and left the court telling reporters that the verdict was “a great, great day for gay rights.”

A gallery of photographs of Boy George and Kirk Brandon in the early 1980s and clippings about the trial from 1997 can be found here.

A now bearded Boy George and Culture Club tour the USA this November details here. Theatre of Hate tour the UK this December details here.
 

 
H/T The Blitz Kids.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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