Hagebak: LaGrange’s ‘Boy George’ may have graced MTV

Published 10:00 am Saturday, April 29, 2017

August 1, 1981…a day that changed the music world, and the way kids everywhere experienced the musical stylings of their favorite bands, forever. Music Television, or MTV as it’s known, was launched on that day, and we hip, happening youngsters were instantly glued to our TV screens, watching videos of our favorite groups performing their hits. The videos were often works of art themselves. Some of them featured the band or singer just standing around singing, with a cool camera angle or two to keep it from looking like a hopped-up American Bandstand performance. My favorites were the videos that were like little musical movies, telling a visual story of the song.

MTV did something besides give kiddos a new reason to stay indoors and watch television. It caused musical groups to have to up their gimmick game. No longer were a nice suit and tie or a shaggy haircut enough to keep the interest of the young. We wanted drama! We demanded metallic jumpsuits and upside down flower pot hats! Of course, there were a few groups who’d always gone the extra mile, but with small screen stardom came the responsibility to be visually, as well as musically, interesting.

My favorite band of the early eighties was one called “Culture Club,” a British group fronted by an androgynous and artfully made-up man named George O’Dowd. His stage name was “Boy George,” and he was something! His delicate features and wonderful bone structure seemed made for cosmetics, and his long, loose-hanging costumes, a cross between robes and dresses, were unlike anything else on the screen.

I learned every lyric to every Culture Club song. I had pictures of Boy George on my dorm wall. I made Mama listen to my cassettes and look at pictures of George, gazing sweetly out at us from behind a gallon of eye-shadow and painted on brows. Mama liked the music, but she didn’t really appreciate the make-up, mostly because he didn’t do it right.

“Why did he put that curly-que on his cheek? With those cheekbones, all he really needs is a little flush across the bone and some basic contouring, and does the child really think that much eyeliner does anything but make his eyes smaller?”

In 1984, Culture Club announced its tour schedule, and Atlanta was on the list! I scrimped and saved and scrounged and somehow came up with the money for a ticket! Two of my friends also got tickets and on April 18, we set out for the Omni.

Now…being me, I didn’t just pull on a pair of jeans and a tank top and go. No, I decided to pay homage to my musical hero and dress just like Boy George! I made my outfit from a bed sheet cut and sewn much like I’d made Barbie clothes when I was a kid. I just cut out a vague dress-like shape and sewed up all the parts that I didn’t want to flap open. It was Boy George’s style and it looked a lot better on him than it ever did on Barbie. I made two, one shorter than the other, so that I could layer them, and using a couple of packs of RIT dye, I colored them red and yellow. A scrap of sheet was turned into a huge bow at my neck, and striped knee socks peeped out beneath the ankle-length robes. Boy George wore cute little brimmed hats, kind of like Madeline in the kids’ books, and I had one of those, too. A long blond wig and a friend who was talented and heavy-handed with make-up application, and I was the spitting image of the singer!

The patio in front of the Omni Colosseum was overrun with kids when we arrived, and we could hardly move among them! Mama had made me promise to keep close to my friends, and so we looped arms as we worked our way through the throng. It was heading toward dark, and the outdoor lights were already on, casting deep shadows. I was thrilled and excited and a little frightened to be a part of it all.

The fright took over when a bearded man, who had to be at least 30, grabbed me by the arm and yanked me away from my friends! I heard them yell my name, but the crowd was so large that once the guy had me, they weren’t getting me back.

“Come with me!” he kind of huff/snarled. He yelled something over his shoulder to my friends, but I was too busy trying not to faint to decipher what he said to them. I figured it was probably instructions about ransom or something.

He dragged me into a clearing in the crowd, where other men were standing around with cameras on their shoulders, looking bored. He led me to the center of the clearing. Two other girls were already there, both also dressed like Boy George, but neither looking as fantastic as I was. The cameras all suddenly pointed right at us, and the man who’d grabbed me said,

“Sing ‘Karma Chameleon’!”

Well, it was my favorite song and I knew the words, and so did the other girls, so, with our arms around each other, we belted out the lyrics, laughing with joy only the young can have.

“What’s this for?” someone asked when we were finished.

Oh, just a segment to be aired on a little channel called MTV…

Pepper Ellis Hagebak is a resident of LaGrange.