Back on Planet Earth
By Cameron Adams
Behind the soft-porn videos, teen hysteria and drug habits, Duran Duran changed the face of modern music. Cameron Adams meets John Taylor, a reformed character in a re-formed band THINGS have changed in the world of John Taylor, Duran Duran bass player and subject of several million teenage crushes in the 1980s.
During the band's heyday he vacuumed drugs at a rate that almost put an end to the re-formation of the original line-up Taylor is now spruiking. But today, in Los Angeles, Taylor's beverage of choice is a smoothie that is an alarming shade of green. He's in running gear and looks remarkably healthy for a man who has spent half his life in the hazardous world of rock. He's on his way to band rehearsal.
Just the fact the classic Duran Duran line-up of Simon LeBon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Roger Taylor and Andy Taylor (unrelated) are in the same room together, let alone back in the one band again, is enough to make a lot of people very happy.
Last month, at their first London show with the original line-up since Live Aid in 1985, Duran Duran played a warm-up gig. The show sold out in four minutes: 200,000 requests came in for only 2000 tickets.
And while fans may be happy the band is back together, Taylor is ecstatic. When asked, he says the reunion is all going well. Ask him to answer the question again with his hand on his heart, and he's slightly more frank.
``Well, it's been challenging,'' he says. ``We've all had to grow up a bit. Well . . . I've had to.''
A quick Duran Duran history lesson: Formed in 1978 in the English city of Birmingham, the band had gone through a few incarnations before settling on the classic line-up that made a near-perfect first impression with their 1981 debut single, Planet Earth.
Taylor's vision for the band -- the attitude and rock of the Sex Pistols with the style and groove of funk pioneers Chic -- was ably displayed on their self-titled debut, which was pushed into the stratosphere with global hit Girls on Film.
Before long Duran Duran had invented soft-porn pop videos, the longform video, the 12-inch remix and the now-common practice of filming pop videos in ridiculously exotic locations.
The 1982 album Rio was where their ambitions collided with their success -- cracking the US with Hungry Like The Wolf and helping them become the biggest pop band since The Beatles, with screaming fans and spontaneous hysteria everywhere they went.
A string of hits (My Own Way, Save A Prayer, Rio, Is There Something I Should Know ) and jaw-droppingly cool album tracks (Friends of Mine, Sound of Thunder and The Chauffeur, which even Powderfinger have covered) followed.
However, by 1983 the band were supermodel-dating, Picasso-buying twentysomething millionaires with the world at their disposal. And that's when the wheels started to fall off.
The making of their third album, Seven and the Ragged Tiger, was almost as ridiculous as its title. Recording sessions took place all over the world, with the budget stretching higher than their hairstyles at the time.
``Put it this way,'' Taylor says. ``We couldn't make it work in the south of France. We couldn't make it work in the West Indies. By that point it was like `Throw a dart in the map and find somewhere else to record: OK, Sydney next'.''
The band holed up in Sydney's 301 studios to finish the record. There are plenty of infamous stories about the Sydney sessions involving sex, drugs and rock and roll, possibly not in that order.
``Have you seen (the movie) 24 Hour Party People, where the Happy Mondays went to the Bahamas?'' Taylor says.
The incident he is referring to saw the British band packed off to record in the Bahamas because the country allegedly was heroin-free. The Happy Mondays developed crack habits instead.
``It was like that,'' Taylor continues. ``For me it was a party. I'd done all my recording. We were just waiting for Simon to do the vocals.''
A remixed version of the album's opening track, The Reflex, became the first and only No. 1 hit to feature the line ``I sold the Renoir and the TV set''.
Basking in the spotlight and riddled with egomania, Duran Duran were soon a divided camp.JOHN Taylor was discovering his inner rock star. He started the Power Station and took fellow Durannie Andy Taylor along for the ride (the late Robert Palmer provided vocals for the hit Some Like It Hot ).
LeBon and Rhodes, the man who wore more make-up to his wedding than his wife, formed a seriously arty offshoot, Arcadia.
Duran Duran were split down the middle. By the time they'd reconvened in 1985 to perform at Live Aid, including A View to a Kill, officially the best James Bond theme ever, they were in trouble.
Roger Taylor already had left the band to move to the British countryside and become a farmer. Then Andy Taylor bailed out. Duran Duran became a trio, John Taylor, Rhodes and LeBon funking things up for the wildly underrated Notorious album of 1986. But it would never be the same.
After a handful of increasingly patchy albums (1990's Liberty is the record only Duran's mothers could love) the band discovered a creative second wind with 1993's The Wedding Album and the global hits Ordinary World and Come Undone.
Then they spoilt it all by releasing a covers album, Thank You, which won a place in a list of the world's worst albums.
The irony of Duran Duran covering Grandmaster Flash's anti-cocaine anthem White Lines (Don't Do It) was not lost on anyone. The album tanked, sending the band spiralling south through the rest of the 1990s until their record company showed them the door.
In 2000 a chance meeting with Duran Duran's lawyer had Taylor seriously contemplating the happy ending various Duran documentaries always put to the band: a fresh start.
There was a catch: it was one in, all in.
TAYLOR says the band had major issues to resolve before re-forming.``It was mainly just `OK, can we trust each other?' We'd all taken each other down various roads in the past. We had to make sure we were all in this for keeps, that was the main question. It's been two years now. I'm surprised we've made it this far. But I knew once we made it to the stage that'd be the first acid test.''
The premise of the reunion was originally to record a new album, then tour it. The band hit the studio with Notorious/The Reflex's Nile Rogers -- for a week.
``It was the natural place for us to go,'' Taylor says of Rogers, ``but I don't think we'll be working with him again. It was interesting . . . ''
The new Duran Duran album is, officially, on hold. Taylor says the touring set list has created major arguments in the Duran camp.
``The shit we argue about now isn't brain surgery. We argue about what song we should open the show with. We can really shout and scream about that. We argue about whether to wear suits or shorts. That's the stuff that makes up the life of being in a band,'' he says.
``We don't really argue about whether that song should be in F sharp, that kind of works itself out. But the set list, yeah.''
So what's in the set list?
``Obviously there are a number of hits you have to play, then there's the darker side of the band from the first two albums,'' Taylor says.``Then there was the issue of `Are we going to play the later songs? Are we going to play songs Andy and Roger didn't play on?' We were saying `We kind of have to play Ordinary World. And Roger and Andy were like `Nah, we want to play Notorious. So we started building up a set.''
The reunion has not only led to a string of Duran re-issues getting belated praise for their musical vision, but a string of awards. ``We're on the love train at the moment,'' Taylor says.
``How did that happen? We survived and we came back. Surviving is good and looking pretty good is good, too. It is nice to be acknowledged, though.''
Fatherhood snapped John Taylor out of years of drug abuse and he's acutely aware of the dangers going back on the road may entail.
``We're all grown up. You just have to be more pragmatic now. You approach life differently in your 40s. But it's a demanding job. These shows we've been doing, we come off stage shagged. It's not like `OK, where's the party?' but `I'm ready to chill'.''
Duran Duran, Brisbane Entertainment Centre, December 8