80s ‘Superfans’ talk about their obsessions for Bowie, Boy George, Duran Duran & Elvis

Superfans in the sixties.
I don’t suppose I fit the requirements to be called a superfan, well, unless you count having a cheeky wank to a Kate Bush video when I was much younger. Probably not. But I did once (all too briefly) date a tall blonde David Bowie superfan, who probably only ever went out with me because of my passable impression of the Thin White Duke. My vocal dexterity was convincing enough for this dear sweet girl to demand I serenade her with one or two of her favorite Bowie songs during our more intimate moments. I knew it could never last. There was only so long I could sing “The Laughing Gnome” without losing my ardor.

Back in January 1984, Smash Hits music magazine went in search of a selection of typical eighties superfans. They discovered a band of girls and boys who had an overwhelming passion for all things Bowie, Presley, Duran Duran, Culture Club, Madness, Staus Quo, and even Marillion. These young things gave some sweet and occasionally strange answers as they tried to explain exactly what it means to be a “superfan.” Their answers were compiled into a strange format—as if the writer was attempting to cram in as many words as possible into one sentence without thought for punctuation or even explaining who exactly was talking (Me). But that’s not so important as we do get to hear what it meant to be young(-ish) and obsessed with music in the 1980s.
Smash Hits 5-18 January 1984.


AGES: 15 & 14

“I (Tracy) liked them when they first came out. She talked me (Kim) into going on Duran Duran ‘cause I liked Dexys. She told me to take down all my DMR stuff, give it away and stick up Duran Duran. We have about the same amount of stuff. Tracy has more scrapbooks but I’ve got more on the wall—about 50 different things. We don’t get anything. We only get things if we like them. If it’s a really gonkified pic of Simon le Bon we won’t get it. You don’t put gonks on your wall do you? There’s sort of levels of being a fan. We’ve got a friend who is a real fan but we think she prefers football. She only puts up little pictures on her wall. Even if we see a little one when we’re walking up the street, we’ll be screaming. There was one time she went totally mad on Wham!. We didn’t talk to her for about three days. Then suddenly she went back to Duran. All the lost Duran Duran fans are Wham! fans. We visit Roger’s mum and we’ve been up to Nick and John’s parents’ houses. The first time we went to Roger’s we interviewed his mum for a school project and we found out a few facts that no-one else knew. She told us he was tone deaf and that his favourite toy was a glove puppet. And that his favourite meal is Welsh Rarebit. We’ve been up twice now. No three times. The last time she invited us. His dad was there decorating. We had our pictures took with his dad, his mum and the dog. I think people who go mad and sleep on the grass outside are cruel. OK, you might see him but he isn’t going to ask you out and that is what a lot of fans expect. Some of the girls say they are going to meet John Taylor one day. He’s going to swirl them round to the dinner table—with chocolates and everything—and ask them to marry him. We know that isn’t going to happen. I (Tracy) would love to be in one of their videos. Yeah (Kim), even if we were only standing at the bus stop. Anything. The only thing we have in common is that we’re Duran Duran fans. I’m (Tracy) quiet; she’s noisy. I (Kim) say the wrong things; she doesn’t”

More superfans discussing their love of Staus Quo, Madness, Elvis Presley and David Bowie, after the jump….

Posted by Paul Gallagher
09:46 am
Behold the ‘New Romantic’ Barbie: A vintage ‘Boy George’ doll straight from 1984
10:32 am

A 12-inch version of Boy George made by toy company, LJN in 1984.
Back in the magical year of 1984 toy company LJN put out a 12-inch version of a prominent member of the New Romantic movement, George Alan O’Dowd—otherwise known as Boy George—which came ready to party dressed in a “Color By Numbers” themed outfit.

A print ad for the Boy George doll by LJN.
Billed on the box as “The Original Outrageous Boy of Rock!” the toy Boy was fully poseable and his long hair came styled in one of his signature looks—braids tied with colorful ribbons to match the makeup on his face. Little Boy George also came with a microphone, hat and “posing stand.” Noted as an appropriate plaything for ages four and up, had I received a Boy George doll when I was a kid I would have promptly burned all of my Barbies in the backyard while Boy and I twirled around the fire to the sounds of “Karma Chameleon” playing on my boom box. Good times.

If you’re like me and had no idea that this delightfully dolled-up version of Boy George even existed and now must have one of your very own, you’re in luck as I found a few for sale on eBay. During my very important “research” for this post I also came across footage from a UK television show doing a feature on a Boy George doll (that came in two sizes—one rather alarmingly large) put out by a UK Culture Club fan club during which the gorgeous looking Mr. O’Dowd is presented with one of his very own—which he holds while singing a version of Cliff Richard and The Drifters song “Living Doll.” You can see that surreal event below along with a few images from die-hard CC fan, Flickr user KAZZ who went the extra mile and created custom outfits for her Boy George doll. All of this proves once again that the 80s were indeed much cooler (and a lot weirder) than most of our collective memories give it credit for. Enjoy!

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Cherrybomb
10:32 am
Boy George ‘Karma Chameleon’ telephone is the best/worst (and saddest) thing of all time
09:05 am

Culture Club and their gender-bending lead singer, Boy George, were top hitmakers in the ‘80s, selling more than 50 million records. Ten of their singles reached the Top 40 in the United States, and they dominated the early days of MTV (back when MTV still aired music videos).

Despite the fact that by the turn of the 21st Century, the ten-hit-wonder group was already practically a footnote in music history, some marketing genius in 2003 came up with this fucking thing:

This is the “Karma Chameleon” telephone, which was sold via television marketing at the “low, low price” of $69.95 (marked down from $89.95).

It’s a cheap plastic telephone in the shape of a chameleon and ladybug. When the phone “rings,” it plays the Culture Club hit “Karma Chameleon.” The animatronic lizard “sings,” while the ladybug plays the harmonica. The tacky chameleon lights up in the “red, gold, and green” from the song’s lyrics.

Boy George himself actually shows up in the commercial to hawk this item. How badly did he need the money at that point? It looks like they shot him with a VHS camcorder.

When I first saw this, it seemed so over-the-top stupid that I assumed it had to be a put-on—it’s SO “Tim & Eric”—but, no, this was a real, actual thing. Here’s a 2003 Entertainment Weekly article on it, and you can still find the phones on eBay from time to time.

I have to admit, now I kind of want one.

What it looks like in real life, after the jump…

Posted by Christopher Bickel
09:05 am
‘I pity the fool who messes with my Boy, George’—An unlikely A-Team cameo
08:38 am

When I was a kid I liked The A-Team and I liked Culture Club, yet somehow I never knew about Boy George’s inexplicable guest-star gig on the NBC program. I’ll chalk this up to a combination of not expecting these two worlds to collide and the fact that by the fourth season, The A-Team had already “jumped the shark” and was moved to the Friday at 8:00 pm slot up against Webster. Webster was hot shit.

Face (Dirk Benedict) has a scheme to make big money as a club promoter managing a “Cowboy George” concert at a local redneck bar. The ol’ bait-and-switch brings Boy George to play the contractually-obligated gig, not at the promised “Arizona Forum,” but at the “Floor ‘Em.”

The rednecks at the Floor ‘em aren’t the biggest Boy George fans in the world, indicating that they “don’t want no English glitter prince.” Boy George is likewise not excited about playing the roadhouse which he describes as “a certified toilet.”

B.A. (Mr. T) shows up and is star-struck by Boy George, whom he is a huge fan of.

Believe it or not, things get really convoluted from there. Boy George has to entertain the roughneck good ol’ boy crowd at the Floor ‘Em while the A-Team guys investigate the shady dealings of the club owners. Of course Culture Club inexplicably wins over the rowdy roadhouse crowd.  While Culture Club plays, the A-Team foils a bank robbery in typical A-Team style with lots of bullets and explosions but with no actual people being shot or blown up. When the A-Team gets falsely imprisoned for the robbery they foiled, it’s up to Murdock (Dwight Schultz) and Boy George to bust them out and catch the bad guys. All’s well that ends well with an encore Culture Club performance at the Floor ‘Em with a rousing performance of “Karma Chameleon.”

This episode has made such illustrious lists as “The 25 worst cameos in TV history” and “Most embarrassing TV moments.”

Here’s an abbreviated and condensed version of the bizarre episode:


Posted by Christopher Bickel
08:38 am
Do you really want to out me?: The trial of Kirk Brandon vs. Boy George

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.
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.
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.’

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.

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.

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.
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
12:05 pm
‘Like Punk Never Happened’: Remembering Smash Hits, the ‘totally 80s’ pop magazine
12:30 pm

Culture Club cover of Smash Hits July 19, 1984
Culture Club on the cover of Smash Hits, July 19, 1984
Music magazine Smash Hits started out in 1978 and was a mecca for pop fans. It had a strong rotation of writers back in its heyday such as Dave Rimmer (author of the 1985 book, Like Punk Never Happened), Mark Ellen (MOJO), Steve Beebee (Kerrang!) and Neil Tennant of The Pet Shop Boys. Regular content included interviews and pictorials but Smash Hits also published some fun features like “Bitz” (a smattering of industry information like fan club addresses and such), and was filled with pages of lyrics to the current top 20 songs (you know, so you didn’t have to keep trying to write them down on your own). There was always a centerfold spread, and in addition to the magazines eye-catching covers they also ran a special “back cover” with glossy photos of hot at-the-time artists like Limahl the spiky-haired vocalist for Kajagoogoo or the Thompson Twins.
Limahl of Kajagoogoo Smash Hits May 24th, 1984
Limahl of Kajagoogoo, May 24th, 1984

In 2009, Smash Hits superfan Brian McCloskey, an 80’s kid who had hung on to his copies of Smash Hits since youth, decided to rescue his collection from his parents’ attic at his childhood home in Derry, Ireland. McCloskey had the magazines shipped all the way to his home in California, tracked down copies he was missing in his collection from the magazines inception, then took on the painstaking process of scanning and uploading every page of every issue he had to his blog, Like Punk Never Happened. McCloskey’s collection of Smash Hits represents every issue of the magazine from 1979 to 1985.
Big Country Smash Hits April 14th, 1983
Big Country, April 14th, 1983

As I can’t help but admire his dedication to this pop-culture gem, I contacted McCloskey to learn more about his recollections from the early days of Smash Hits.

Smash Hits took music very seriously, but they didn’t take musicians seriously. A very sensible distinction. I think that people have either forgotten or didn’t realize to begin with that Smash Hits was quite a serious magazine. During their peak years they would receive thousands of letters - handwritten letters! You could read great interviews with real artist like Paul Weller or Ian Dury. After the magazine’s redesign at the end of 1981, the snark really took over. I’m glad that the my archive has reminded, or opened people’s minds to the early days of Smash Hits.

Gary Numan Smash Hits September 1983
Gary Numan, September 1983

Smash Hits continued to publish issues well after its official decline in the early 90’s, then ceased its print run in February of 2006. McCloskey updates his site with new vintage issues every two week and hopes to continue posting issues beyond 1985 with the help of fellow fans. I highly recommend you get comfortable, set your Pandora station to “80’s Pop,” then head over to McCloskey’s blog and lose yourself for a few hours. A number of images published during the years 1982-1984 from Smash Hits follow.
The Belle Stars Smash Hits February 3, 1983
The Belle Stars, February 3, 1983

Cyndi Lauper and Thomas Dolby lyric sheets from Smash Hits March 29th, 1984
Cyndi Lauper and Thomas Dolby lyric sheet, March 29th, 1984

Scritti Politti Smash Hits June 7th, 1983
Scritti Politti lyric sheet, June 7th, 1984

Thompson Twins Smash Hits November 24th, 1983
Thompson Twins, November 24th, 1983

Billy Idol Smash Hits July 19, 1984
Billy Idol, July 19, 1984

Adam Ant Smash Hits December/January 1982
Adam Ant lyric sheet, December/January 1982

Posted by Cherrybomb
12:30 pm
Boy George invades northern Ohio, 1984
11:38 am

“Hide your kids, hide your wife, hide your husband…”

We forget it now, but back in the early to mid-1980s, Boy George and Culture Club WIGGED PEOPLE OUT. Not many groups who achieved that level of visibility worried right-thinking adults to the extent that they did. The brief, massive success of Culture Club represented a key signpost not only in the mainstreaming of postpunk music but also in the normalization of the gay aesthetic. See, the kids—especially the girls—really dug Boy George, and a lot of them grew up to become right-thinking adults in a different way.

In the meantime, mocking Boy George for being obviously silly and frivolous became a sort of understood joke that all of official culture could take part in—I guarantee that Johnny Carson did monologue bits about him. In retrospect it’s clear that Boy George was simply a master at pushing people’s buttons, in his zen “I’m not really doing anything at all!” way.
Culture Club
Anyway, all of this overdetermined cultural baggage meant that Culture Club’s 1984 tour of America was going to be a corker one way or the other. They’d been riding high since 1982, with the release of Kissing to Be Clever and the smash hit “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” Their masterpiece Colour by Numbers was released in October 1983, jam-packed with indelible ditties—“Karma Chameleon,” “It’s a Miracle,” “Church of the Poison Mind,” “Miss Me Blind,” and so on. As’s Jose F. Promis put it, “In the 1980s music was, in many cases, flamboyant, fun, sexy, soulful, colorful, androgynous, and carefree, and [Colour by Numbers] captured that spirit perfectly.”

On April 9 they hit the Richfield Coliseum, which was located between Cleveland and Akron (it closed for business in 1994), and ABC affiliate WEWS sent reporter Paul Orlousky over to file a report. Orlousky wastes no time in making it clear that the kids’ way of expressing themselves is invalid in any number of ways. He calls the group’s fans “Culture Clones” and actually repeats a clip of a teenage girl ineloquently explaining that Boy George’s message is to “be yourself,” exposing the, er, unthinking hypocrisy of seeking individuality through mass pursuits—congratulations, man, you are hereby awarded the Honorary Tinpot Walter Benjamin Loving Cup for 1984. He mocks one friendly mom who also claims to like Culture Club (!!!) for not taking pictures of kids playing baseball or something. Orlousky also says, “Boy George looks like Girl George and lives a lifestyle best described as bi-George.” (Burn! Uh, what?) The big moment comes he faces the camera and says ominously, “I guess I can’t avoid it—I’ve got to go in there.” What’s “in there” anyway, dude? Is it a gay dungeon? Maybe you’ll discover—eeeeek!—young people enjoying music!!

Orlousky hits the two themes that always popped up in the freaked-out media coverage surrounding Boy George—the first was simply, “WTF? Boy? Girl? Buh?” The second was, “He is communicating in a way only your children understand—and that’s dangerous!” Just a couple of weeks later, People Magazine would put Boy George on the cover of their April 23, 1984 issue with the following text: “It’s a guy, it’s a girl—IT’S BOY GEORGE! Joke, freak, or pop genius—kids are getting his message….” Or check out this clip (it’s at the very end of the video) from 1985’s (highly entertaining) Schwarzenegger vehicle Commando: “So vye don’t dey chust call him ‘Girl George’? It will cut down all da confusion I think.” (Schwarzenegger always did know how to tap into the petty complaints of the “regular guy,” whatever that is.)

In retrospect it all seems rather harmless, and the young people all seem rather nice. In December of the same year, Prince would bring his Purple Badness to the same arena—history does not record what WEWS thought of that affair.

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘Don’t want no English glitter prince’: Boy George guest stars on The A-Team
Lipstick and powder: Boy George presents a Top 10 of New Romantics

Posted by Martin Schneider
11:38 am
BBC4’s Reggae Britannia documentary liberated

Somebody’s finally liberated Reggae Britannia, BBC4’s excellent—though by no means not exhaustive—documentary on the origins, growth and influence of British reggae from the ‘60s to the present. Reggae Britannia takes you from the scene’s ska beginnings in the hands of the children of the country’s first post-war wave of Carribean immigrants (known as the Windrush generation), through to the emergence of Bob Marley, the first Brixton riots, the UK sound system phenomenon, the Two-Tone era, reggae’s merging with punk and appropriation by pop, and more. Reggae Britannia is definitely worth a look.

Here’s the trailer…click on any of the title links or graphic above to check the full thing. And please, watch instead of embed so we can hold off our friends at the Beeb from bringing it down for at least a short while.

Posted by Ron Nachmann
02:10 pm
‘Don’t want no English glitter prince’: Boy George guest stars on The A-Team

Could this be the worst celebrity guest star appearance in television history? Methinks so. Watch the cringe-worthy trailer below. Also, take note on how Boy George delivers his line “Totally awesome, Hannibal.” It’s sheer brilliance.

You can watch the entire episode titled “Cowboy George” over at Hulu. Thank God!

Posted by Tara McGinley
01:36 pm