Duran Duran '80s playboys who are still wearing it well
By Allison Stewart
December 14, 2007
So the members of Duran Duran were sitting around one day, preparing to enter the studio to record what would become their latest album, “Red Carpet Massacre” (Epic), when Justin Timberlake called.
He “sort of invited himself. He … said, ‘Hey, I hear you guys and [hitmaker Timbaland] are getting together in New York, and I’d love to take part in it,’” recalls Duran bassist John Taylor, 47, doing what is probably a very accurate Timberlake impersonation. “‘I’d love to help out on a song. Would that be OK?’”
For ’80s pop stars in dire need of contemporary cred, Timberlake’s call was teen pop manna from heaven. The subsequent marathon New York writing and recording sessions, which Taylor likens to “going into really deep psychotherapy without the meds,” birthed several Timbaland/Timberlake/Duran collaborations, including the album’s first single, “Falling Down.”
For a band that’s been left for dead and resurrected as many times as Duran Duran, the electro-pop-inspired “Massacre” serves as a medium-sized comeback. Album sales have been solid. Reviews have been polite. Does Taylor, phoning in from England, think his band is in the midst of a late-career renaissance?
“Well, I wouldn’t go that far,” he says.
Duran Duran’s oft-examined history need not be recounted here. Suffice to say it involves supermodels, luxury boats, white suits, platinum albums, bitter breakups and cautious reconciliations. And that was just in the ’80s. The depth and breadth of the band’s fan base is the stuff of legend. Hard-core devotees include American women, hip-hop stars for whom the band’s albums were an early introduction to luxe, and — this is a pretty sizable group — men who came of age in Eastern Europe in the early ’80s.
“For us behind the Iron Curtain, they were a sample of style and variety, messengers of news from exotic corners of the Earth,” says Majo, leader of the popular Slovak fan site Duranduran.sk. “For me, Duran Duran and their music were the ticket to [an] empire of fantasy, to a country of unlimited possibilities and freedom that we could only dream about. … In my opinion they are the Beatles of the ’80s.”
Taylor, who is cheerful and forthright and seemingly embarrassment-proof, figures, “We’ve written a lot of songs, and they’ve gotten into a lot of different people’s heads in a lot of different places.”
Everything you could think of to say to him, every compliment, observation or insult, he’s heard already. Tell him that you imagine British rock stars all aspire to be landed gentry with flocks of sheep and manor houses, and he’ll say, delightedly, “I’m in my manor house” (South Wraxall Manor, in Wiltshire).
Taylor’s wife, Gela Nash-Taylor, is the co-founder of the popular clothing line Juicy Couture. This means: A) Taylor is even richer than you thought, and B) he may not even be the most famous person in his manor house.
“She won’t let me wear anybody else’s clothes,” he says. “I’ve become quite a fun toy for her to play with. She could try anything and I’d wear it.”
Taylor was involved in the development of Juicy’s new-ish menswear line, though the recent flurry of Duran-related activities now leaves little time for anything else. The group recently headlined a multi-night stint on Broadway and hopes to take a scaled-down version of that show on the road next year. The band, whose members all still like and respect each other, at least according to Taylor, could continue indefinitely.
“I’ve still got energy, and I believe in music and in its potential for transcendence,” he says. “I know that sounds a little highfalutin’ for a pop musician … but it keeps me alive. I know that much. I don’t know where I’d be without it.”
Resurgent ’80s icons return
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday (headlining WTMX-FM 101.9’s Miracle on State Street 9)
Where: Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St.
Price: $47.50-$82.50; 312-902-1500
Courtesy Chicago Tribune