Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Sex, Drugs, and New Wave
By the time Live Aid rolled around in July 1985, my pubescent obsession with Duran Duran had mostly faded. You know who else was over it? Andy Taylor. Watch this clip from Duran Duran’s set below, and you’ll notice that Simon Le Bon’s badly squawked note (at approximately 2:54 on the video) is punctuated by Andy’s subsequent reaction—the body language equivalent to a disgusted sigh.
So sets the scene in the prologue to Wild Boy: My Life in Duran Duran, the autobiography by the band’s former guitarist so misguidedly referred to as “the ugly one” by gazillions of girls way back when. From Duran Duran’s early days at the Rum Runner to meeting Princess Diana, from the intraband power struggles to striking out on a solo career, Andy traces all the highs and lows of achieving global superstardom at a tender age.
The funniest parts are the little digs Andy takes at Nick Rhodes, like about his lack of interest in “traditional music skills,” pointing out that he would play only the black keys on the keyboard; how he changed his real last name, Bates, after Andy kept calling him “Master Bates”; and how nobody cared much for his American girlfriend/wife, Julie Ann Friedman, which is especially satisfying since Nick was my favorite when I was a young Duranie (portending a lifelong weakness for femmey keyboard boys). On the other hand, Andy’s account of Nick as a bossy and condescending bandmate was eye-opening.
The chapter on making their music videos is full of great stuff, for example, about getting stared down by thousands of Buddhist monks during the “Save a Prayer” shoot, how uncomfortable the boys were about a supposedly homoerotic scene where an elephant sprays water all over John Taylor’s bare chest, and how terrible they all thought the “New Moon on Monday” video was. As for “Wild Boys,” Andy takes credit for introducing the “ripped-jeans look” to the world!
There are all the outrageous hotel antics, booze binges, and coke scandals typical of any good tell-all. John especially is painted as quite the mess, to the point of unintentionally bloodying himself while totally blitzed on more than one occasion. More surprising is the shortage of post–Rum Runner sluttiness. Andy was married at 21 and has stuck it out for a quarter century at this point, so I can understand his not divulging trysts of his own, if there were any. But he also doesn’t include many juicy bits regarding other members, save for the occasional rivalry between John and Simon over some model or other. He actually asserts that nobody ever hooked up with a groupie on tour. Really?? (If you have firsthand knowledge otherwise, e-mail Ooh La La!)
Since Andy officially split from the band soon after the Live Aid debacle, we are conveniently spared from details of the “lesser” D-squared discography. His solitary remark about that era is that “Simon and Nick had carried on together in a watered-down version of Duran Duran during the nineties with guitarist Warren Cuccurullo.” Anyway, even the post–Fab Five chapters are enjoyable, with some amusing anecdotes about working with Rod Stewart and Steve Jones and nice tributes to Robert Palmer and Bernard Edwards.
Cut to the new millennium: Bygones are bygones, and the aging pop idols decide “if we don’t do it now it will never happen because we are all either forty or well on our way to being forty.” The first round of reunion concerts in ’03 was actually motivated by the fact that the band members had run out of money working on a new album and it became apparent they could generate a pile of cash in ticket sales. I wish Andy had gone into more depth about the process of making Astronaut, which is actually pretty good.
It’s generally assumed that Andy quit the second time in protest over the direction the band was headed in working with Timbaland and Justin Timberlake for what would become 2007’s Red Carpet Massacre. But interestingly, it was Andy (according to him, at least) who first brought up the idea of working with Justin when the two chatted after the Brit Awards in 2004. Andy also mentions in passing that the band had originally signed up Youth as the producer—that is, the bassist from Killing Joke who’s worked with the Verve and Primal Scream, not to mention Paul McCartney. What a missed opportunity.
The book’s conversational tone and liberal use of exclamation points, italics, and ellipses make Wild Boy a really entertaining and super fast read. And it reaffirms for me that the real Duran Duran is Simon, Nick, John, Roger, AND Andy. Now if only the other members would each pen a memoir of his own, we could collect them all.