Since his 1995 autobiography Take It Like a Man, Boy George’s career has gone through many changes. While he never reached the pop heights of the 1980s, as seen in his second volume of his memoirs, Straight, the icon was busy. Unlike his first book, Straight doesn’t deal too much with Boy George’s childhood – he touches on some aspects of his growing up and he does write at length about his difficult relationship with his father, but for most the draw of the book will be his witty take on working with Rosie O’Donnell on his Broadway musical Taboo. Take It Like a Man wasn’t just an autobiography, but a great depiction of the New Romantic scene.
Because much of his career since 1995 has been under the radar, the audience for Straight will be much more select. He has still maintained a level of celebrity and as such, some famous people pepper the second book – namely Elton John, Madonna, George Michael, and Rosie O’Donnell. As expected, he writes the stories with a cutting and often biting wit. Though it would be too far to call him a bully, his constant swiping at his pop colleagues does imply a certain envy – especially when he maintains just how happy he is not to have the massive career of Madonna (he calls the diva a conglomerate – not an unfair assessment). His run ins with Elton John and George Michael are interesting because of the singers’ placement in gay celebrity culture, in which Boy George is an important figure. When he writes about gay culture, he brings up some interesting questions about authenticity – both John and Michael were closeted for much of their careers and George himself was rather asexual at his peak. Quickly George came out – even coming out as a drag queen as a joke when winning a Grammy – but John and Michael took their time coming out (Michael was forced out when arrested for solicited sex in a public toilet). Though he doesn’t revel in Michael’s legal and personal problems, he does exhibit some schadenfreude at the “Faith” singer’s peccadillos. Michael’s problems lead into some interesting musings from George about sexuality, open relationships, and homosexuality. Though not an expert, he’s a very smart guy – a clever wit not unlike Quentin Crisp – and he’s thoughtful, sharing his personal views. None of this is genre-busting, but it’s a pleasant read, nonetheless.
For most readers, though, it’s his chapters on Taboo and Rosie O’Donnell that will be of most interest. O’Donnell caught Taboo in the West End and brought his show to Broadway to scathing reviews and disappointing box office returns, losing her reported $10 million investment. Few will be surprised that O’Donnell comes off as assertive, passionate, and sometimes pushy. Though both George and O’Donnell have outsized public personas, they are also driven individuals intent on doing their best. Predictably, there were fights. O’Donnell’s side isn’t represented, and George definitely relays the stories behind the scenes to his advantage, but for the most part, he’s fair and even-handed in his depiction of the tumultuous, but doomed journey the show took from the West End to Broadway.
Just as he did with his first book, in Straight George shares a lot without holding back, seemingly not worried about hurt feelings and burned bridges. Some may mistake this for cruel bitchery, but that would be a misguided judgement – after all, what’s the point of writing one’s memoirs if one isn’t open and honest? While not as brilliant or revelatory as Take It Like a Man, Straight is still a solid follow up. Some of the poignancy of the first book is missing – the charm of George’s first book was that he was a poor kid growing up and coming to terms with his homosexuality and achieving superstardom. The underdog rhetoric is missing from Straight – it’s told from the point of view of a wealthy and successful pop star and celebrity. It means that the story isn’t as compelling, but there’s enough strong writing and fascinating tales of celebrity culture that makes the book a recommended read.