Duran Duran in Rome


As always, Oscar Wilde said everything worth saying about charm.
“It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. They are either charming or tedious.”

Duran Duran have used their ‘Big Thing’ album, their big book, big tour programme, big tour, big hotels, big money, their big heads and hearts, but above all their big charm to remind us and implore us that Duran Duran are still BIG; that they are not fading away.

Can Duran ever shake an image so huge ? Do they even like each other, or is DD merely a matter of convenience, complicity, just a calculation none of them can afford to do without ?

In Rome, of course, it’s all big. Duran included. Four police-escort sirens scream their adulation in our ears en route to the show. The Roman traffic pays no attention at all. Big stories include:

 Nick Rhodes asking Prince just how he does it all and Prince pointing mutely towards the heavens.
 Italy’s Prime Minister making Duran an offer they could not refuse and his daughter obtaining a private audience.
 A live national phone-in inundated with mothers begging the promoter to cancel before their daughters run away from home.
 Asking Nick Rhodes if he seriously thinks he’d win a Wilde contest with Morrissey and his answer, “Unquestionably.”
 Duran manager (ex-Stones/Who/Skynyrd manager and John Thaw look-a-like) Peter Rudge earnestly telling me, about Duran: “This band could really go places.”

The gig is a big, big thrill. The lights fade and a SSSCCRRREEEEAAAAMMMMM hits you like a bolt of electricity. Joy. Unbounded.

Tightened up, toughened up, there’s ‘Notorious’ and ‘Drug’, the pervy pop prescience of ‘Girls On Film’ and ‘Skin Trade’ (not so very unlike the Banshees’ ‘Peek-a-boo’). ‘Please Please Tell Me Now’ is like an ‘80s Glitter chant and a colossal ‘Wild Boys’ stamped with an excitement that the inevitable Young Gods’ cover-version will never equal, and finally a ‘Planet Earth’ reprise that reminds you the BAH-BAH-BAH-BAH/BAH-BAH/BAH-BAH-BAH chorus is a classic.

Like the posters, the book, the programme, it’s all splashed in BIG colours and Warhol artiness: so they’ve learnt a lot from Prince, but at least they have learnt.

The Italian press is sectioned off like a jury until a seductive ‘Save A Prayer’ provokes tears in the front row. And if desire in the eyes of a big 13-year-old is a dangerous weapon, let’s not forget – it’s not for nothing. These fans have thousands of bands to choose from. When they SSSCCRRREEEEAAAAMMMMM, it’s a big feeling.

Charm is always concealing something, even if it’s the absence of something.

DD are very possibly privately detestable. Publicly, professionally they’re as cunning and charming as pussycats.

They’re honest enough to admit their individual personalities are too big to do a joint interview. It means I never see any two of them together. I get hooked on trying to assess just how much hate there is (there’s always some).

Nick Rhodes, let’s face it, is a born pop star. As befits a disciple of Crisp, Capote and Warhol, he is his own creation, and has never had a job; “God forbid.”

He knows full well that Real Style requires a certain amount of the ridiculous. He is stylishly ridiculous, if not ridiculously stylish, appearing on stage sucking his cheeks in a see-thru black blouse and an awesome fur cape and doing it with Real Style. Nick is not afraid of you or I and our nasty-minded malice.

His heroic speech is: “When you’re 17, you don’t have to be responsible – you can afford to make mistakes and enjoy yourself. I still enjoy myself and I still make mistakes. I’m very proud of that.”

He is confident enough to welcome the NME into his bedroom with the word “entrez !” and to talk about francs being more elegant than lire. To some people being affected comes naturally.
“I like pretentiousness if it’s done well,” he decrees. “I loathe it if it’s simply for the sake of it.”

We end up in a restaurant at 3am talking about Kafka’s stories and Iggy’s body. As camp as a hairdresser’s convention, the Nick Sex Questions concern his decadence, his heterosexuality and having Warhol select him as his wank fantasy. All of this makes Nick Rhodes either very complex or totally uncomplex. I have no idea which.

John Taylor shows me into his room wearing a T-shirt and cycling shorts and declares with a knowing flourish: “It’ll have to be the bed.”

We agree to keep one foot on the floor. The first question is “So, you like to watch ?”

We talk about “pervy” sex and being the most beautiful man in the world. Taylor’s looks have faded, like a poster; he has the look of one who’s tired of being beautiful, very, very thin, even his handshake is thin. His explanation is: “You can’t be too thin.”

Hiding inside his gaunt, ghostly features, the cavalier, Cheshire cat grin is sudden and dazzling. Like the others he is too tired to lie.
“We’ve done too much bullshit. We’d rather be accepted for what we are.”
Currently reading Katherine Mansfield, he’s a cad. This I recognise.

Le Bon has the biggest image, biggest reputation to live up to.

Both Rhodes and Taylor are agreed: “he is his own worst enemy.”

He is not afraid of living up to your worst impression – it’s the Rik Mayall in him – if only out of spite.
His obnoxiousness is too obvious though. Loud, hairy, stubbornly forthright, he is an energetic slob with a juvenile sense of the contentious and a slovenly, schoolboy sense of humour. He will not be “defensive.”

The angel Yasmin watches over him.
“When Simon reads that he’s a Fat Bastard, Simon doesn’t get angry. Simon loses a bit of weight,” she explains. There are no SLB Sex Questions.

Currently reading Clive Barker, Le Bon is the rock version of the ‘Goering-was-a-good-bloke-underneath’ line of history. You’d probably like him.

Rhodes is right to say: “there are no great pop bands left” – no bands with chemistry or personality. Not even ego.

‘80s Pop will be documented by Human League and Duran Duran hits albums, you see. They don’t think it’s enough. I do. As pop has become brimming with Nothing, DD have gone against the tide of cheap idiocy towards their own dumb goal of substance.

Suddenly serious, they have taken control (of themselves, of their audience) just when they should ideally be under control (say of Dieter Meier). They have never resorted to the cover-version, just because they are fading (like Everything But The Girl etc).

How does it feel to be fading ?
“When ‘Skin Trade’ only got to 26,” says Le Bon, “I laughed.”

“I couldn’t care less about Bros. I don’t envy them, God no,” says Rhodes. “The better you get, the less the public like it, so what ?”

They maintain that they have lost the bad aspects of Success with the good: less pressure, more time, more fun; they can “for the first time” judge their careers on something other than chart success; all three recognise that they’ve made “the best record we’ve ever made, with the best band we’ve ever had and having the most fun.”

NR: “How ‘Wild Boys’ got to Number One and ‘Skin Trade’ didn’t even make the Top 20, I’ll never know. Unfortunately good taste has always been exclusive. Doing one Wembley and not five, as before. But it could be The Marquee.”

They are, after all, Top Five in America. ‘I Don’t Want Your Love’ was Top 15. Le Bon points out that no one judges Prince on his chart position.

I would lay money on the fact that Mark E Smith is more concerned with his chart placing than any of Duran. After 10 years there was only one way to go after all. They seem to quite enjoy it.

SLB: “People said we’d only last six months. 10 years later, they’re saying we’ve only got six months left. It’s nonsense. We’ve done a big nosedive, bottomed out and now we’re climbing again. It’s the second coming, hahaha.”

Taylor is perhaps the most comfortable with their new position. If Le Bon believes in song-writing and Rhodes in “a good live band”, Taylor believes in Musicianship. He’s happy that the adulation will no longer “stunt the musical growth of the band.”

“We’d been playing rock clubs in America, then we hit Italy and the screamers, the whole thing fell apart. Suddenly, Simon was behaving in a certain way, so was I, so was Nick. We just fucked up… The dynamics of the old Duran were always geared to getting maximum screams – everyone was really into their own trip. There was no bond between us. We didn’t know each other well enough. We’d had so many line-up changes, we were a joke in Birmingham.”

He pauses to let the gravity of this sink in.
“I remember one bloke saying to me, ‘Duran Duran ? Are they still going ?’ That was before we’d even got a record out. It’s taken me a long time to realise that the note – the rhythm and sound of the note – should dictate how you move and stand. We were watching a Doors video, and Morrison was trying for ages to get them to shut the fuck up. He couldn’t do it. We’ve played a lot of our shows totally on autopilot. Like doing interviews, we were just telling them what they wanted to hear. We were just being charming.”

They suffer either way: either too juvenile or too mature; either prance and pander too much or (now) not enough.

SLB: “We’ve stopped wiggling our arses, titillating them.”

Though their recent singles are as modern as any, side two of ‘Big Thing’ is more Cliff Richard than Sex Pistols-meet-Chic, full of Rafferty sax solos, Floyd Americana and Dire (Straits) melancholy, student poetry. You want to have your cake and eat it.

SLB: “You can make a good pop album, Jackson’s done it, look at ‘The White Album’ – there’s some serious shit on that album – ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ next to ‘Ob-la-di Ob-la-da’. I think we do represent Pop Music, yeah, to a certain extent, we always will. We definitely still want to be a pop group. It’s slow pop music – like Kate Bush or The Cars’ ‘Drive’.”

It’s muso MOR.
“’Big Thing’ is a more mature album, but I’m 30 years old ! We’ve been writing music for 10 years.”

It’s facile.
“It may be facile but it got people’s backs up, made them listen. It’s a lot more provocative than Acid House, which is just so pale compared to punk. But Pop Music is getting blander and blander, it’s to do with the conservatism of this country and the British. Music has become label-conscious: ‘That’ll look good on the Golf stereo.’ We’re reacting against all that.”

The failure of Taylor’s ‘9 Weeks’ single, Arcadia and Power Station all gave early reminders that fans are ultimately not chained to faces. In Italy though, mania prevails, kids travel continents to end up out in the cold at 4am, just for a glimpse. There’s a gang of 14-year-old Neapolitans who’ve all run away to follow DD around Europe.

SLB: “You get used to it. Yasmin spent half the summer telling these kids in our garden to go and look around London. I never moved, no. I’m more thick-skinned than the others. I love it. I mean, I love it when they scream at shows, the others don’t. It’s absolute excitement. We have no obligations towards them, our responsibility is to excite and entertain them – they go to Shakespeare or cricket to be bored ! But we never took that attitude of ‘fuck you, I’m just an entertainer’, we have a responsibility towards them to that extent. But when they’re on your doorstep in a foreign country with no money and their parents don’t know where they are, what do you do ? I think we’ve always looked after them.”

JT: “In Milan I was thinking, shit, we should go and say ‘hi’ or acknowledge them in some way, but you Can’t. You can’t let it control you. I finally think I know where we’re at and where we’re going and we can’t be distracted from that. You turn into Spinal Tap, sure. When there’s a constant presence of kids at the hotels, you wake up to it, you go to sleep to it, they keep you awake at night, it completely dominates your life. I dealt with it by moving in the end (to Paris). The other problems ? By the time I’d found out the answers, the problem had gone.”

Of course they want it both ways.

All three maintain their image is “way off”, “not even close”. But then Nick says: “we’ve always been ourselves.” Le Bon says “the music speaks for itself” and Taylor says “the images have come out of us definitely, not all poses. I think there’s a lot more going on in our heads than people think, but then I’ve got to say that, haven’t I ?”

If the image is just too big to shake, their mistakes have always been Big, notably the notorious Mulcahy videos, particularly the preposterous ‘Wild Boys’.

JT: “Christ ! Please ! I had massive ructions with the management over the immoral amounts of money. £100,000 on a video is undoubtedly wrong. For what it’s worth we’ve still got money tied up in all that. We are probably responsible for making every pop band spend a bit more on eye-shadow, not exactly an achievement. We’ve still got to do something about that. What I want to be remembered for we haven’t achieved yet. It’s a shame because video wasn’t expensive. We made ‘Save A Prayer’, ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’ and ‘Nightboat’ in Sri Lanka for £38,000 using Videocam. Then the Americans moved in, Jackson made ‘Thriller’ and we ended up trying to compete.”

Their next video will be made by Chen Kaige, director of ‘Yellow Earth’ and Bertolucci associate.

Taylor is eagerly looking forward to “not being expected to go through the motions of being a pop star. He said, ‘I want to make a film for this song, and what’s more I think I want you to be in it!’ We really put ourselves on a carousel, with things like delivery dates, just to maintain our chart success. I want us to be above the market. A lot of it has not been fun at all. With ‘View To A Kill’ Nick and John Barry couldn’t even talk to each other; we’ve had so many warring factions. But we’ve made all the records and all the films we wanted to. I can’t form any of them into regrets. It’s better than a lot of gigs in life.”

Nick: “I don’t think those videos were wrong. We were young, we were enthusiastic and we made great pop songs. Now we’re older. When you’re 18 and everything’s very new, you don’t give a damn what anybody else thinks about you going on this yacht or flying on Concorde straight to a beach. People have an engraved image of us because of the glamorous girls and shiny clothes, but all that happened in 1982. We all have our cross to bear, it doesn’t rally bother me. In 10 years your values change.”

SLB: “I’m the one person in the band who’s not ashamed of the ‘Rio’ video. I won’t be defensive about this. OK! So we spent a lot of money making videos in Antigua and Sri Lanka, it’s up to us! It was our money ! We put it back into our work and tour ‘art’. In 1982 it wasn’t wrong, it would be now, because we’re older. Anyway it wasn’t ‘rubbing affluence in people’s faces’, it was creating an image to sell a product. U2 do it, Matt Johnson does it. Indie bands do it. You make a video to sell the record. You can’t make great statements in a three-minute pop video.”

Despite everything, despite themselves, DD are chained to glamour, they understand glamour. Pop should always be about glamour.

JT: “Pop music, by its nature TO ME has always been glamorous. In the ‘80s, when pop music turned in on itself and maybe as a reaction to bands like us became very grey and introverted, that was news to me. I can’t help it – I do like glamorous things. My generation, reading about John Bonham shipping out 10 new hot rods, thought, ‘Wow, wouldn’t it be great to be in a rock band and ship out 10 new hot rods.’ Is there something wrong with that ? (Pauses) I suppose there is, yeah, but then in those days, I didn’t realise that. You see, I just really liked cars, haha.”

You don’t think you’re decadent ?

JT: “Not by my own standards, no. Let’s see. We have addresses all over the world: guilty. We try to go to sunny places when we can: guilty. Our girlfriends are all stunning: guilty. I have no interest in parties at all, no. What are the other images ?”

You’re in love with yourselves (Pop Law Number nine).
“Mmmm, we’re not really. Oh we were, God yes. I remember once when I came top of that ‘Most Beautiful Man In The World’ thing. I came third in the Best Dressed and my comment was ‘Is that all ?’ Now that was vain. You know the vanity is getting too much when you start talking to yourself in the mirror, ‘Hey, you’re looking good tonight,’ all of that. I never got that bad. Not really.”

What about the lifestyle of the videos – designer sex, designer drugs, the models, is that you ?
“Ah, I don’t know. What is designer sex ?”
Oh, come on. I present as evidence the ‘Girls On Film’ video, ‘Skin Trade’, The Chauffeur film (chic soft-porn, oil, nurses uniforms etc. etc.) and your ‘9 Weeks’ single.

“Oh yeah ! They are quite pervy. I suppose that is me, that stuff comes mainly from Nick and I. I’m definitely a little bit pervy. The 9 Weeks thing was just something I thought John Taylor should be involved in. Do I like to watch ? I suppose so. At the moment it’s true. I’ve been away from my old lady for eight weeks. I’m getting more and more of a voyeur.”

This isn’t a “Do you still beat your wife ?” question – who wouldn’t be into all that stuff, that has to be the point.
“Yeah, right. It’s thrills really, you’re right, that’s the point, otherwise why would I be involved in this. That’s the kind of things we were into. Those tendencies are definitely ones I have to check. The ‘Notorious’ cover was the last straw, getting Christy Turlington was really a half-baked Roxy rip-off 10-years-too-late, wasn’t it ?”

Are you a ladykiller ?
A long pause, says, ‘Yes’.
You’ve had your moments ?
“Hahaha, yes, I have. It would have been silly not to.”

When a bouquet of roses arrives he laughs.
“Y’see, still a ladykiller…probably from a guy.”

“I’m just coming to terms with all of that really. It wasn’t that I was particularly good-looking when I was at school or anything. I wasn’t captain of the football team. I never felt like the most handsome man in the world. If I was walking up the Kings Road, you wouldn’t notice me, I wouldn’t want you to. I know what you mean though – rich, stylish women. You think they’re still after me ? Well that’s good to know. It’s not for my music though, is it, hahaha ? I’m just starting to get into that now – the power of charm.”

Nick Rhodes will say of his image: “I am ‘individual’ and I will always remain so and I don’t really care what anyone thinks of what I look like. I try to be myself, which is probably just what I want to be. I do think individualism is by far the best definition of style. If I really wanted to walk down any street wearing anything, no matter how extravagant, I would… Maybe not Naples High Street, no !”

You’re such a poseur.
“No, posing really adheres to something quite stagnant. Empty. I don’t like the word. It’s fake and apart from my hair, I’m not.”

Nick collects Cocteau drawings. Before he goes on stage he listens to piano music and yet with utter confidence he can declare himself not to be a dilettante. Not even decadent ?

“I’m a voyeur, yes, not decadent, no. Decadence has its place, but it’s not the ‘70s anymore. Social attitudes have changed. We have been decadent in the past.”

A tired and emotional Nick will later reveal: “I lied. I LOVE decadence !”

Can it be possible you’re not gay ? (Nick Rhodes has a wife and child.)
“What, because I’ve got bleached hair and I like shiny clothes ? How strange. I’ve never thought about it. You’re one of the first people to ever say so. I have a lot of gay friends but my genes aren’t made that way, they never were. I like women too much…”

What do you do when you’re not working ?
“I work. I’ve had one holiday in three years. It would be very easy for us to create a situation of not working very hard, but we like working. If we were ‘abolished’ ? That’s a horrible word! I wouldn’t have to work for money, no. But I’d never want to be a gentleman of leisure. We haven’t got that much stashed away, we never dabbled in the markets, we never had time really. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing very well at your profession.”

If none of them are afraid of their living, Le Bon seems determined to live up to his, writing in the programme: “The worst thing is how politics begins to leak into your life.”

They’re almost obliged to avoid politics, he says, because “our political views go across the board.”
I have no idea who is who.

How do you get all those egos into the same room ?

NR: “We control them. We give each other a lot of space. Ultimately everything comes to a vote. Two to One. Easy.”

JT: “We are still very ambitious. I don’t think we’re together just for our careers.”

Le Bon, inevitably, has the final word.
“Half the time, to be honest, I think John and Nick are cunts, but for the other half I absolutely love them, that’s what I feel about most of my friends actually.”

Of course charm will win. May they never fade away.