Duran Duran Looks Beyond its Pretty Past for Reunion

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Duran Duran looks beyond its PRETTY past for reunion

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

By Ed Masley, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Duran Duran
Where: Chevrolet Amphitheatre at Station Square.

When: 7:30 tonight.

Tickets: $34.50-$59.50; 412-323-1919.

When John Taylor told a friend a few years back that he and the other original members of Duran Duran were getting back together, the friend responded, "Well, I know it's gonna sound OK, but what are you going to wear?"

Taylor laughs at the memory, but it was a valid question. After all, he and his bandmates did define the word videogenic in their '80s prime, making the most of MTV, nice hair and killer cheekbones in exotic videos for "Rio," "Hungry Like the Wolf" and "Is There Something I Should Know," to name a few.

And Taylor knows it.

Asked how important it was that they would still look good on the reunion trail, he doesn't even have to think about it.

"Well, I think it's crucial, isn't it?" he says. "Whether you're a politician or an actor, if you're trying to tell people that you're good at what you do and 'Don't buy that, buy this,' image is everything. You have to look like you know what you're doing. If we had all come back, like, seriously overweight. ... I mean, nobody can control hair loss, of course, but if we'd have looked like we didn't give a [bleep] and we'd all been out to pasture for 10 years, it just wouldn't have gone over. It's the clothes that date you, really, not the music. So we had to lay some ground rules. No pink."

Taylor pauses.

"Yet," he adds, delivering the punch line like a pro.

The idea for getting the band back together was hatched at Taylor's L.A. home four years ago, when lead singer/poster boy Simon LeBon and keyboardist Nick Rhodes were passing through town with the band whose name they'd kept alive long after the other three members had drifted away.

"Duran Duran never stopped playing," says Taylor. "The lineup just withered away to two original band members."

Or it had until that day when what the bassist calls "the great unmentionable" came up, and everyone agreed that it would be a good idea. Calls were placed, and soon enough, they were meeting in London with guitarist Andy Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor. There was some tension to work through at first, he admits, "but there was also residual love that flared up. Spontaneous acts of positive emotion. It wasn't all negative. It could just as easily be 'Damn, man, I really missed you' as 'I've been wanting to kill you for years.' "

It did take time, though, to get to the point where it felt like they were in a band again.

As Taylor points out, "Everybody had become kings of their own little castles. And it took us a couple of years to become a team again, as opposed to the idea of a team. That would have been a documentary. We went through about three managers in the first 12 months, you know. One manager said, 'I don't think you guys are going to get $20 million. I think you'd better start thinking more about $2 million.' He got fired for that. And 12 months after that, we would've signed a deal for half that. It was such an exercise in humility and coming to terms with reality."

And writing songs.

By Taylor's count, they cranked out maybe 50 songs together in those first 12 months.

"We didn't get together," Taylor notes, "and say, 'OK, what should we play, "Hungry Like the Wolf"?' We didn't play any of those songs for a year. The feeling was that that's the easy bit, the muscle memory, and what was way more challenging was to write something that had any kind of currency today. So we just came together as five creative musicians and tried to make some music, which was great."

But nothing really clicked the way they would have wanted it to click. And so, they dusted off the hits and, in what Taylor calls "that classic Spinal Tap tradition," played Japan.

"It was amazing," Taylor says. "Kids flew to the shows from all over the world. We got really good press. The response was fantastic. It was just 'We're doing the right thing here. We've gotta just keep doing what we're doing.' "

Which is what they did, emerging late last year with "Astronaut," the first Duran Duran release to feature all five members from the "Rio" days since "Seven and the Ragged Tiger" back in 1983. A surprisingly solid effort with at least one classic single, "What Happens Tomorrow," it hasn't exactly been taking the Billboard charts by storm. But Taylor's cool with that.

"I think that we would like to make music that has meaning," he says. "And we'd all like to think that that music can work on the radio, too, but even Bruce Springsteen doesn't get played on the radio. Not his new music. We went out like 'No, we're gonna get on MTV. We're gonna get it all back.' But you have to let go of stuff. I mean, you have these ideals, but they get replaced. I think the whole experience has been an amazing one for us, not least because of the relationships that have been opened up again. I think we all have become better men for this. We're all on good terms, and we're looking forward to writing more songs together."

In the meantime, they've been doing bang-up business on the road without a hit, riding the crest of an '80s revival fueled by a new crop of bands who clearly cut a tooth or two on "Seven and the Ragged Tiger."

"When we first got together, there was a concern that we were gonna sound sort of anachronistic," Taylor says. "There's a particular style which I have as a bass player, Roger has as a drummer, Simon has as a singer, and I've been through phases of trying to distance myself from my style and I think if anything over the last 12 months of us being on the road and being aware of these bands that are sort of ... you know, they're not knockoffs, but I hear my playing in the Killers. It's undeniable. And it just makes you think 'No, that's what you've got. That's your thing.' So I think we're gonna go to the next record with a far greater sense of who are. Not pride, but this is who we are. And it's real."

Of course, a major part of who they are is a group of guys who were able to use their looks to get a leg up on the competition at the dawn of the video age, a fact that doesn't seem to bother the kids at the Killers show nearly as much as it bothered, say, their dads in 1983.

"I think over the years," he says, "we've proved our credibility. I mean, all of that is so, so ridiculous. Would Bruce Springsteen have ever been successful if he looked like ... [freaking] George Bush? I mean, he's a good, amazing looking, skinny charismatic guy. So, yeah, looks had a lot to do with it, but you're fooling yourself if you don't think looks have a lot to do with success on almost any level in the entertainment industry.

"I know where I'm coming from. I did some acting work, because I live in L.A. and stuff just kind of came to me. And I realized working on these films that I was a novelty because I was a pop star from a previous generation, and it was kind of cute to have me around. But everybody else was an actor. Acting was their life. And I was like well, [expletive], I'm not one of these guys.

"I'm a musician. That's what I do. Music has been my life. So that taught me that this is my thing, because when I'm in music, nobody's got one up on me. I'm as passionate as anybody, and I'm not a virtuoso player but the passion is there, and nobody can take that away from me."

Courtesy Pittsburgh Post-Gazette