The Story of Culture Club

Culture Club at the height of their fame: Roy, George, Jon, Mikey

"Every day is like a survival. You're my lover, not my rival." Culture Club, Karma Chameleon.

"You say you're leaving; you've got too much pride. It's not love if you have to hide it." Culture Club, Stormkeeper

Love has inspired some of the most fantastic works of art over the centuries: poetry, paintings, novels, and---of course---music. I grew up in the 1980's, and a band I loved to listen to was Culture Club. The band was fronted by the famous---and in some quarters, notorious---Boy George (George O'Dowd), a man who looked like a beautiful woman and was famous for his pithy sound bites and gorgeous, soulful singing voice. Three other bandmates had a less visible, but important presence. I would listen to their cheery pop music, never knowing the story behind the lyrics. Culture Club became one of the most famous rock groups of their time, though they hid the passion, love, and anger that inspired and drove their music.

These emotions refer, of course, to the relationship between George and the band’s drummer Jon Moss. Their relationship was, for the most part, a secret to the general public. (Although there were some choice shots of the two kissing, and some fans and interviewers inferred the truth.)

In 1997, George was interviewed by VH-1 and discussed, at length, the relationship. (He had published his autobiography, Take it Like a Man, in 1995, which also delved into it.) The VH-1 documentary, Behind the Music, shed light on the relationship and stirred up interest in it, including my own. In 1998, Culture Club reunited for a VH-1 special and a tour, and the station featured another documentary on them. Here is the love and hate story between George O'Dowd and Jon Moss.

Just so you know, most of the quotes here are from the aforementioned VH-1 interviews. As many music fans, I find the relationship fascinating, though I am not myself a gay male or a "fag hag." Just a Culture Club fan and someone intrigued by a good yarn.

George and Jon

"Our relationship *was* the band. The music (of Culture Club) was the soundtrack to the relationship" --George

"I was in a relationship with someone I really cared about, and I couldn't let anyone know." --George

“A hurtful act is the transference of the degradation that one feels inside.”--- a psychologist’s maxim

George and Jon met while George was putting together a rock group. George had teamed up with bassist Mikey Craig. They soon found Jon Moss, a man in his early twenties who had plenty of experience, including drumming with the Clash and the Damned. So George and Jon met in 1981; George was 20 and Jon 23.

Almost immediately, Jon and George fell in love. George remembers that Jon was very confident and had a big aura about him. "I fancied him immediately, and there was a complete magical energy between us the minute we met." Mikey remembers observing that the two fell in instantaneously. George confirms, "We were rampant lovers. We were really in love."

Jon said that he had never dated a man before. George speculates that Jon liked him because, "he couldn't figure out what I was." George added thathe did everything he could to look female.

Culture Club guitarist/keyboardist Roy Hay said that everyone knew Jon and George were in love, but they kept it pretty quiet, "which was fine with me. I didn't want to go there." He jokingly added that he wanted to be in a rock n roll band, not in the middle of a "gay drama."

The title of Culture Club's first album, "Kissing to be Clever" was directed at Jon. "What are you?" George wondered, "Who are you? Why are you sleeping with me if you're so confused about what you are?"

But George later felt as if Jon used him to some extent. "Jon definitely saw me as his big chance. He wanted to consume me. He wanted everything, and pretty much got it for a time."

By 1982, Culture Club was experiencing worldwide success. But George writes in his autobiography that Jon had an affair with a woman, the first---George says---of many such affairs. He would always return and apologize, but George says that "set the pattern" for the remainder of their relationship.

George has described the relationship as both “traumatic” and “joyous.” He has said that they fought day and night, though they did have some great times together.

Reading George’s biography, one gets the sense that the relationship declined as Culture Club grew more and more successful. The two men fought constantly and sometimes violently. Jon broke his finger twice while hitting George, and George once threw a bottle at his lover. "It was never great, never fantastic," George remembers. The stress of fame, constant touring, and the pressure of trying to stay #1 on the charts did not help things.

George has said that most of his lyrics during Culture Club’s reign are about the confusion, love and anger he felt over his relationship with Jon. During the 1997 VH-1 special, Jon denied that Culture Club lyrics were about him. He said they were ambiguous enough that they could have been about anybody. George responded, "Jon's just a liar….He knew the songs were about him because we talked about it. We'd sit in bed and he'd ask me what things meant."

George admits that when the romance started to sour, Culture Club "lost its allure for me."

By late 1984, George knew that Jon was slipping away and probably forever. Heartbroken, he turned to drugs and took a lot of them in a short period of time. VH-1 describes how Jon and George met in Paris to rekindle their floundering romance over a dinner, but Jon found George in a drug-induced stupor.

Culture Club went through the motions for a little while longer, but the group was on it's last legs. "Jon was gone, the relationship was gone, so I turned to drugs," George explained. The heroine nearly killed him and it took him years to overcome the addiction.

Jon was interviewed for VH-1's Behind the Music in 1997, and he did not want to discuss the relationship with George. "I don't want to talk about it," he said. "It was done, it was great---fantastic." He said that his parents, girlfriend, and friends all know about the relationship "and they don't care."

After Culture Club’s break up, Jon and George did not see each other often though they did collaborate on a song in the early `90’s. Jon has since married and has a baby.

But the relationship was an intense one for George. He says, "I'll probably still write songs about Jon. Because when you've had that kind of relationship with someone, it doesn't ever really go away. I'll always draw on that experience. If I'm feeling melancholy, he'll come into my mind."

By 1998, there was talk of a Culture Club reunion tour. `80's nostalgia is big right now. George said that he and Jon had not spoken for three years, and had never resolved their feelings for each other or for their romance dissolving. There was a big question mark over whether they could work together. George said that when the reunion was first proposed, his knee jerk reaction had been, "Jon's not drumming."

But Jon and George patched things up in order for the reunion to work. Jon had felt that he had "played the role of the villain" for far too long and wanted to clear the air----and clear his name----before the tour.

In the previous VH-1 behind the music, George had stated, "What would be really nice would be if Jon would just say, `Yeah, I really loved George.'" He wanted Jon to admit to their relationship, instead of dodging questions about it. Jon at last did so. For the 1998 Culture Club reunion special, Jon faced the camera and said, "George, I'm saying it now to the camera: I loved George. I fell in love with him. I haven't been out with other men. It's not about sexuality, or being gay or not. I fell in love with George, I met him and fell in love with him and he fell in love with me."

Jon also admitted that he "was no angel" during their relationship, though he said George's claims of him having numerous affairs was "nonsense."

Jon continued with, "I have absolutely nothing to hide. It (the relationship) was wonderful."

George was happy that Jon at last spoke openly about their love, and the Culture Club reunion could go on. George said, "I think we've all realized there's a lot of love for each other. I mean, Jon sent me flowers the other day. That's pretty sweet…he'd never have done that ten years ago!" Jon was even able to admit the centrality that his relationship with George played in Culture Club. "I'm not saying it wasn't the music or the whole band together, but the core of it was the relationship---that was the machine that ran the band definitely."

Working together again, George admitted that the energy was "weird" at first, but they kept at it and things got better and better. As far as working with Culture Club as a whole again, he said it has been "quite magical."

Playing in Culture Club again, Jon says, "It's like an old friend. I generally feel that way about George and I think he feels the same way. Though we can still really irritate each other on a personal level."

Interest in Culture Club----and in the relationship that was the backbone of the group---is high right now. George says he knows that its naïve to think people will focus on the music and not on the romance.

During their concert for VH-1, George enjoyed something he had never been able to do when Culture Club were superstars in the `80's. He spoke openly about the meaning of the songs. After "Church of the Poison Mind", he told the audience that it was one of many songs about Jon. "He loves the attention," joked George.


"Show my heart some devotion. Push aside those that whisper never" --Culture Club, "Victims"

"Being with someone like George, having known someone like George, still being involved with George...People say {negative things about him} and I say, `You don't know him.' He's totally unique. Whether he's being good or bad, there is no one like George. I have met and worked with and loved in my life a total, unique, original person." --Jon Moss, "Young Guns Go For It" documentary, January 1999

As George said, he and Jon were rampant lovers. "We were really in love," George says. Why did their relationship fail?

The speculation has been wide. Remember that Jon says he has not dated a man before or since George. (George on the other hand, has had other boyfriends and now comfortably identifies himself as gay.) Why, then, would Jon want to start a relationship with a man in the first place? Some argue that sexuality is a continuum; human beings don't fall into neat categories of "gay" or "straight." There are people who have had same-sex relationships who identify themselves as heterosexual. Other skeptics say that Jon obviously used George. George himself, however refutes this in his autobiography. He says he is confident that Jon loved him so much that he hated him at times.

But why did Jon treat George poorly at times? One possibility is that Jon was desperate to prove that he was not gay; that he was still a man. That would explain the affairs with women. Gays are looked down upon in society, and Jon probably did not want people to think of him as one; he probably didn't want to think of himself as one. He probably felt very torn. The evidence suggests that he really did love George---despite not treating right all the time---yet he also internalized society's disdain of gay people.

In his autobiography, George also admits that he himself was immature and selfish at times and Jon was not solely to blame for things going wrong. He has admitted that neither man was good at intimacy back then.

Not being able to admit to being in love is a terrible burden for any relationship to bear. The stress and strain of having to hide the most intense emotion you feel would wreak havoc on any relationship. Things might have turned out better if society was not so homophobic and allowed you to love who you choose. Add to that the pressure of having to continue to make hit records and tour constantly. It is no wonder things were difficult.

Culture Club's music has affected me profoundly. I will always listen to their CDs, now with a better understanding of the dynamic that went on behind the scenes. And I have a new respect for George, both for overcoming his drug addiction and for being out as a gay man. As a fan, I am happy that Jon and George have been able to patch things up and Jon finally admitted that the relationship affected him. I wish them and the rest of Culture Club all the best in the future.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this page. Please send email to

Some other goodies on this site. Fun Stuff:

  • You Know You're WAY TOO Obsessed with Culture Club When...*New photo added on September 15, 1999!*
  • Top Ten Things for a Fan of George and Culture Club to do When Bored!
  • Fairytales!
  • Things to Ponder
  • A Genie Has Appeared to You...

    And Serious Stuff:

  • This and That*New photo added on September 15, 1999!*
  • More on Jon
  • Results of the First Survey
  • Results of the Second Survey
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