I admit it. John Taylor made me cry, and not in an OMG OMG I LOVE DURAN DURAN kind of way.
While I will always credit Duran Duran for being my gateway band to MTV and the alternative, emerging music scene to which I have adhered for the past thirty years, I cannot count myself as a die-hard DD fan. After Rio went multiplatinum in 1983 and confirmed Simon Le Bon, the unrelated Taylors Three (John, Andy, and Roger) and Nick Rhodes as musical mega-celebrities, I caught a condition with which I still struggle today, called “If Everyone Loves Them, They Can’t Be That Good.”
So it was from a healthy remove that I watched DD rise in the ‘80s, fall in the 90’s, and get back up again over the past few years. Indeed, when I heard that their bass player John Taylor had an autobiography coming out, my first reaction was, “Which one was he again? The pretty one?” After a couple of beats: “I can’t believe I’m going to buy it.”
Yes, the group’s bass player and co-founder has written a terrific memoir called In The Pleasure Groove: Love, Death, and Duran Duran (Dutton, October 2012). And now I feel like I owe John Taylor a series of apologies.
1.) Sorry for thinking you were just a Video Band. DD was the example to which everyone who wanted to gnash their teeth about the downfall of the music business in the ‘80s pointed, saying that the video era meant that now only the good looking bands would triumph, and that indeed they might triumph absent musical talent. There’s no arguing that DD understood and leveraged the power of the video, what will all those Sri Lankan beaches, hot bikini babes, and pastel suits worn over mesh shirts.
But by taking us through the band’s very earliest days in Birmingham during which John Taylor and Rhodes, as young teenagers, masterminded the band and meticulously sorted through the players who could take them in the musical direction they envisioned, I gained a serious level of respect. No one reading this book could come away thinking that Taylor’s driving passion was anything other than making new, exciting, challenging music.
2.) Sorry for thinking that a guy as cute as you had it easy all the time. First of all, anyone who is a parent of a child going through that awkward stage, please refer to Page 32 of the book, and then to the cover photo, and show your kid what kind of transformation is possible. It takes a long time, a really long time, for Taylor to finally stop wearing his coke bottle bottom glasses onstage, and then to figure out what to do with the ensuing feminine attention. Of course, in the model of countless dorky musicians who suddenly find themselves sexy rock stars, he handles it badly (though frequently.) Never have I felt sorrier for a person who was getting it so regular from Scandinavian supermodels, since he had to be drunk and coked out of his mind to manage all the attention and stress.
An aside: I’m definitely not saying Taylor had work done, but after reading about the coke-fueled binges I would posit that any rhinoplasty he may have incurred was medically prudent.
3.) Sorry I didn’t get to hang out with you backstage. (I know that’s regret, not apology.) Seems like every time Taylor finished a gig or showed up at a club, a handler would say “Someone wants to meet you” and usher him into a smaller room to meet Bowie, Andy Warhol, or the Stones. His description of his first impression of Madonna is pretty amusing.
But it’s not just name-dropping. Taylor’s retrospective analysis of trends in ‘80s music and pop culture, and how DD adapted their songwriting and sound in response, is thought provoking, a juicy bit of inside baseball (or inside football, as Aston Villa fan Taylor might call it.)
4.) Sorry for calling you The Pretty One. Especially because Taylor appears to have found true love in the form of his wife Gela, co-founder of Juicy Couture and hilarious musical malapropism maven. But Geez-o-Pete, glancing through the loads and loads of pictures that enrich the book, that’s what you still are.
5.) Sorry for the loss of your parents. It goes against all of Taylor’s British middle class stiff upper lip Catholic reserve to do it, but he digs deep to paint an authentic story of family expectations, disappointments, and ultimately reconnection in the nick of time. I read the last few chapters sitting on the stinky floor mat at my kid’s Parkour class (don’t ask) and wiping my eyes with my dress sleeve since I hadn’t packed tissues. I really didn’t think an ‘80s music autobiography would move me to tears.
Ultimately, it’s the honesty with which Taylor’s family relationship is depicted that made In The Pleasure Groove jump the groove from hardcore, fan-only-reading to a heartfelt, page-turning memoir.
Not that there’s anything wrong with hardcore fan-only-reading, which brings me to the second book that came across the transom this month: New Kids On The Block: Five Brothers and a Million Sisters (Simon & Shuster, October 2012) by Nikki Van Hoy. The alternate title for this one could be An Exhaustive Oral History of New Kids on the Block and Their Fans, because there is no quote too repetitive, no verbal tick too distracting to not be reproduced in its full glory from The Boys, as NKOTB fans call them. (Jon likes to say “and so on and so forth” at the end of his sentences, while Donnie is not a stickler about subject/verb agreement. And they all say like, like, a million times.)
But if you were one of the superfans whose parents gave you a ride to the venue where “… you got out with your big hair, your scrunchie, and your jean jacket, and you went inside and lost your mind,” in the words of fan Kristin St. John, that’s exactly what you want: the Boys, unedited, no detail too small. The band members make it clear, in fact, that it is the sheer force of will of the Blockheads, many of whom bonded in discrete groups of five back in the ‘80s so each could choose one Kid to pine over with no competition from her sister-fans, that was responsible for their comeback tour in 2008.
For fans like my friend Joi who went on an NKOTB cruise a couple of years ago, this book is just a big slice of deliciousness, full of photos and quotes and the endearing inclusion of lots of “when I first became aware of the band” nostalgia by fans named Nanci, Celeste, and Elma. If this sounds like you: “There I was, clutching my new Duran Duran record, when out of the corner of my eye I see Donnie’s face on the cover of the New Kids’ debut album…I just remember thinking ‘Oh my God, they’re so cute! Especially the one in that colorful sweater!’” then you want to read this, stat.