It would have been winter 1983, though I'm sure some website has the tendentious details -- I was in upstate New York, 12 years old, my 9 year old sister with me as we watched Solid Gold, the closest thing America had to a Top of the Pops style program pre-MTV. And don't believe the myth -- even in 1983 MTV was hardly available in all households coast to coast, including ours. So we were both music fans, me in a slightly more obsessive way, and we had both heard and liked a song called 'Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?' by some new band called Culture Club whose singer was called Boy George. Turns out they were on the show that evening and we watched with interest.

My sister was a little nonplussed, arguing with perfect nine year old logic: "But that's a girl!"

"What do you mean? That's a boy!"

"She's wearing makeup!"

"But his name is BOY George!"

I don't recall if we settled the argument then and there. But after hearing songs like 'Cars' and 'Tainted Love' and 'Don't You Want Me' and 'Hungry Like the Wolf' on the radio numerous times beforehand, we actually saw a post-Bowie, overtly androgynous UK performer in the televised flesh. It had to happen sometime and there it was.

I thought back to this moment recently on the passing of someone who we didn't see then, but who Boy George was closely associated, and without whom we might know him or any number of bands and acts at all. The sudden, tragic passing of Steve Strange immediately resulted in an outpouring of memories, song clips and more, from Boy George himself, from Spandau Ballet, from fans of his band Visage, the ever-changing organization of musicians that had him as the centerpoint.

But there were two chief groups in question in the end. First, those who were there, or aimed to be there and could have been there, at Blitz, the late 70s/early 80s London nightclub where that strand of dressing up and striking a pose became its own kind of self-willed fame, where Strange acted as the doorman with both an imperious eye and crossed fingers that they wouldn't get the attention of police or other authorities in terms of fire codes, while Rusty Egan span records and Boy George held down things in the cloakroom. The second group: the rest of us. All of us who weren't there, too young, could never know, but maybe could dream. A bit.




Dreaming at a distance is part of the whole story of cultural communication, the idea that someone across a physical space sets a fire in another brain or that someone out of the past could be reached to by someone in the present. Add in a little dash and glamour and there's something even more to it. Strange was both someone who dreamed at a distance -- mostly raised in Newbridge, Caerphilly in Wales, caught and hosted early punk gigs and then made the leap to London to give things a shot all before he was twenty -- and someone who inspired the dreams beyond.

I, indirectly as noted, was in upstate New York -- well away from anything close to New York City itself -- and was painfully awkward enough at 12 years old in my first year of middle school, though I dreamed a bit. In a Guardian piece, Myf Warhurst remembered an earlier self "600km or so from a major capital city in regional Australia," a touch more familiar with Visage than I ever was, but going a step further, with all the other bands that emerged "[turning] this Aussie teenybopper into a walking, talking hair and clothing explosion." Other similar stories emerged and the clear hand of Strange lay behind much of it, something rooted in the beginning -- Chris Sullivan's story of four decades knowing Strange begins with talk of baggy trousers, winkle pickers and making a mark.

What made Strange more than an inspired character with a good eye and a knack for things, though, was what Tom Ewing keyed in on in his own excellent Guardian piece, calling Strange "one of pop's secret architects." As he expanded on the thought:

"Even now there are arguments in pop about how many producers or songwriters an act can employ before some bogus line of inauthenticity is crossed. Visage were a collision of two existing groups - Ultravox and Magazine - who played and wrote all the material, but there was never any question that Strange was the frontman. He played one instrument: his aesthetic. But this was a time when the careful curation and deployment of an aesthetic could open a multitude of doors for audiences. Through Visage you might suddenly be introduced not just to musical forebears but to theatre, expressionist film, fashion designers."




And in shrugging off fear of the 'bogus' for 'aesthetic,' however conceived, Strange pulled off a perfect trick, from being the hyper Bowie fan who appeared in the 'Ashes to Ashes' video as a resplendent bishop to shifting approaches and scoring well with them almost as swiftly as Bowie seemed to, but quicker, more impulsive, more nervous and restless. Play 'Toy', 'The Damned Don't Cry', 'Visage' (especially the 12 inch remix), 'The Anvil' and of course 'Fade to Grey' sometime and enjoy the jumble.

Yet for all this memory, the present always intrudes. Remembering idle wishes of glamour and dash from a position of comfort has been rubbing up against news a slow motion horror here of trans women, mostly of color, being brutally killed, as Janet Mock details in her recent piece -- and more have happened since. It's the shared fate of an icon like Venus Xtravaganza, not of Steve Strange -- pain, fear, hatred, thanks to things that can't be easily wished away. It takes away nothing from what a Welsh kid with gumption did to note that, of course. Just simply a reminder that not everyone gets a chance to inspire that distant dreaming, or make a dream come true.

Ned Raggett writes for the likes of The Quietus, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone and Red Bull Music Academy. You can find him over on Twitter.