A rock star named Nigel? Surely not!
IN THE PLEASURE GROOVE: LOVE, DEATH AND DURAN DURAN BY JOHN TAYLOR WITH TOM SYKES (Sphere £18.99)
By Marcus Berkmann
PUBLISHED: 12:38 EST, 13 September 2012 | UPDATED: 12:38 EST, 13 September 2012
There’s always something strange, even uncomfortable, about reading the memoir of an exact contemporary.
John Taylor, bass guitarist and lead cheekbones of Duran Duran, is three weeks older than me. When we were young, this age gap would have been trivial. Now it seems like a lifetime. When he’s 90, I’ll be 89 and 11/12s: an unbreachable gap.
The extraordinary thing is, Duran Duran are still going. Sure, they have had their problems. Women, drugs, some awful records and the ravages of monied middle age have been just some of the obstacles in their path, but like so many of us, they have reached a point in their lives at which they think, well, this is what we do, there’s no point moaning, we might just as well get on with it.
After all, they are the people who have to play Union Of The Snake every night. We don’t have to, and for that alone we should probably be grateful.
Taylor J is one of three Taylors in the band, all mutually unrelated. He was born Nigel John Taylor in June 1960 in a suburb of Birmingham, an only child of older and clearly very loving parents. How refreshing it is to read the autobiography of a rock star who had a genuinely happy childhood.
Young Nigel was brought up a Catholic, and thought that everyone went to church five times a week. He was, in his own words, ‘a speccy four-eyes’, never chosen for sports teams and slightly out of the mainstream of school life. This is a far more typical background for a pop career. The ones who couldn’t get the girl as teenagers more than make up for it a few years on.
‘Is there anything worse than being laughed at? ... I couldn’t stand it - I still can’t.’
You have to wonder whether becoming a member of Duran Duran was the right career choice, then. But young Nigel adored music, went to see Bowie, Roxy, Iggy, everyone who stopped off in Britain’s second city.
Nick Rhodes, né Bates, was his best friend from the age of 13. He ‘always was and always will be someone entirely settled at the centre of his own universe. He is an extraordinarily creative individual blessed with good fortune.’ His mother owned a toy shop, for heaven’s sake.
Meanwhile, Nigel’s grammar school went comprehensive and was ‘flooded with local oiks’. He had to develop new skills. ‘I quickly became a skilled negotiator, friendly to the morons but staying as true as possible to my own tribe, particularly the cultured young ladies in their tight blue skirts.’
At which point, I thought, this book might be more fun than I expected. Though scarcely a master of prose, Taylor knows who he is and has an amusing, self-deprecating way about him. He and Nick formed their first band, Shock Treatment, and played their first gig. ‘At the end of the night, there were two new facts that I knew for certain: 1. Shock Treatment were awful. 2. I couldn’t wait to do it again.’
Duran Duran, named after a character in the film Barbarella, gradually coalesced, and Nigel decided to change his name. ‘I’d been sick of Nigel for years. It had been the nerd name of choice for so much satire.’
John, by contrast, was a rocker’s name. ‘If I had had a greater vision for myself, I would have kept Nigel and been the only Nigel in a music business crowded with Johns and Johnnies. But I wasn’t that confident.’
What really strikes you, though, is the absolute purity of their ambition. In 1980 he and Nick worked out their masterplan: ‘To headline shows at Hammersmith Odeon by 1982, Wembley by 1983 and Madison Square Garden by 1984.’ They had ten songs and had played precisely one gig.
And like all the best stories, it came true. So many bands in the past have craved rock ’n’ roll credibility and ended up attracting mainly an audience of insane teenage girls, but Duran Duran were unusual in that they didn’t mind.
They knew the music business was a business first, second and third. The clothes were silly - Taylor suggests that they alone were responsible for the appalling mid-Eighties fashion of rolling up the sleeves on your jacket - and the make-up very slightly overdone, but their focus and work ethic were never in doubt.
Possibly their best decision was to split all income five ways, to credit every song ‘Taylor, Taylor, Taylor, Rhodes, Le Bon.’ It was remarkably mature and far-sighted, and ‘the reason we are still together today’.
As so often in showbiz memoirs, the early years, the years of struggle, are more engaging than the stretch limo years. With the inevitability of a new morning, Taylor developed a serious narcotic habit, and there’s only one thing more boring than rock stars doing too many drugs, and that’s rock stars in rehab feeling bad about how many drugs they did.
He also labours under the misapprehension that Duran Duran’s musical output was rather more important than it was. I took this book to the pub the other night and everyone who saw it reacted the same way: they laughed out loud. Then they asked whether it was any good.
Amazingly, it is. Taylor is not immune to the occasional burst of hubris - ‘I was at the epicentre of my own emotional drama’ - but in the main he is a likeable and droll narrator of his life story, generous to bandmates, loyal to loved ones and unfailingly hard on himself.
‘Behind the party face, I was caught up in a vortex of fear, arrogance, loneliness and extraordinary popularity.’
I’m not sure you could dislike anyone who came up with that sentence, even if they were also responsible for Hungry Like The Wolf.
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