Viva La Vida: The Day Boy George Cleaned the Streets of New York

When I lived down in Battery Park (near Ground Zero in Manhattan) I used to crazily walk to work everyday whether there was sleet, snow or heavy shine.  That walk would approximately take 40 minutes on a good day. If there was high wind, then it may have taken me 50 minutes.  My walk would take me through the neighborhoods of Battery Park, Tribeca, SOHO, the Village, Union Square and Chelsea.  Such a walk meant that I would see tons of interesting people, newscasters and newsmakers, mainly bleary-eyed celebrities.  I once bumped into Anderson Cooper head on. I squealed like a high school girl at a football event.   Other than that, I usually keep my cool when I see celebrities walking about.

On one such walk, actually it was August 14, 2006, I was dripping in sweat ten minutes into my walk. I had my music blaring and was ignoring most people about me as a typical New Yorker is won’t to do. Then an orange blob caught the corner of my eye. I turn my head and there was Boy George. See, he had been ordered to clean the Tribeca Streets of New York as part of his court-mandated community service for something related to cocaine. I can’t recall at all what the charges had been. I looked at him and thought about how much he had fallen the last decade. A few years back I had seen him on his comeback tour in Berkeley, California. He gave a great performance where the girls were idiotically  swooning. He was talented. He once had it all.  I didn’t want to cause him discomfort so I nodded hello and kept moving on. The image of him bending over the sidewalk sweeping up and sweating up a storm stayed with me all throughout the day.  Although I admittedly totally forgot to mention it to my work colleagues.  I admit, though, I was quiet proud that I didn’t take a photo of that moment. Nowadays, however, not many would show such restraint to capture not only a celebrity in the midst, but a fallen celebrity in the deep throes of that fall. I can imagine that people would be posing for selfies and photobombing others. Ah, the digital age.

boy george sweeping

Almost exactly two years to that date, I gave birth to my son.  Of course, I adored, pampered him and doted on him to no end.  I immediately noticed that he loved to groove to music. I would play some tunes and he would do a baby jig. There was one song in particular that he loved with his whole body. That song was Viva la Vida (oftentimes referred to as “when I ruled the world”) by Cold Play. The song had been released two months prior and the radio stations couldn’t stop playing it for like a year.  In order to soothe his nighttime cries, I would sing the song repeatedly substituting saint names for his. He seemed to like that I would insert his name into every verse.

On one of those long nights of no sleep we debated at home the meaning of the lyrics.  The song starts off with

I used to rule the world / Seas would rise when I gave the word

Now in the morning I sleep alone/Sweep the streets I used to own

In the fog of a sleepless night, I flashed back to the day that I saw Boy George cleaning the city streets in his glob of orange.  Could it be? Could it be that Coldplay was singing about Boy George?   At 3am we were pontificating and pondering.  In a way it felt like a high school night when we would stay up all night studying for our history exam and blinking our room lights at the boys’ dorm across the quad.  It is not necessarily that the band Cold Play is a really deep group that writes profound lyrics.   However, as we stared at this young life so full of grand potential (he was born the day Obama announced Biden would be his running mate), one couldn’t help but think what happens to those that squander their potential or drop from grand heights.  As we nurse our babies at night, we smile, we cry, we hope and we plan for the best in life for those little beings.  At some point we let go and let them chart their own paths.  But until that time that we try to chart their course and feed them hope.  Watching a son fall so mightily but be heart wrenching.

Back to Cold Play. Was this song about Boy George?

It was the wicked and wild wind
Blew down the doors to let me in
Shattered windows and the sound of drums
People couldn’t believe what I’d become

I have no idea who Cold Play wrote this song about but it certainly could fit Boy George’s life trajectory.   He did rule the world once- maybe only for a New York minute in the ‘80s-but he still had it all.  Madonna has come close to ruling the world. She certainly did as much as she could in the ‘90s to reach that apex.   There are those in the music industry that claim that the song is about the French Revolution.   That’s just too literal for me. I prefer to think about it as a warning of the perils that highly-sought after celebrity status brings to those that mightily crave said status.

My son may come to rule the world or he may not. And either way is cool with me. The title of the song (which is in Spanish) can be either  “Long Live Life” or “Live the Life.”  I believe it is meant to be Live the Life …but do it well and in a smart, thoughtful way.

5 replies »

  1. What a great story. And I absolutely love Viva La Vida.. it’s crazy but I still play it like it just came out. I’m often wondering who the song is about. Now I’ll be thinking of “Mr Charma Chameleon” when I hear Coldplay. LOL.. now that’s a thought.


  2. What a great share. Maybe they did write that for Boy George! Man, I do love me some of his tunes…Karma Chameleon is now stuck in my head. That man has a smooth voice.


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