Enduring Duran

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ONE of the side effects of fame is that it freezes the public's perception of you: years, even decades, can pass but people still remember a younger, thinner and less wise version of the person you are now.

For John Taylor, bassist with English pop institution Duran Duran, those cultural blinkers mean that some of those he encounters still think he's living in 1982, when the group was ascending to MTV-sponsored teen hysteria.

''Someone asked me recently about hot spots and I laughed,'' the 51-year-old says. ''My idea of a hot spot is a really cool vintage record store, or a modern art gallery, or a rare-book store. If I can find all those three things within walking distance of the hotel while on tour, then that's truly a hot spot. If they're open late, with a good coffee bar nearby, then it's a very hot spot.''
Taylor, along with his band mates - vocalist Simon le Bon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes and drummer Roger Taylor (no relation) - has lived through every age of pop infamy. The hyperventilating fans, whirlwind romances with models and drug dalliances are distant memories, and the current reality off-stage is somewhat less exotic.

Speaking from Liverpool during a successful British tour, he talks about being ''part of a blended family''. He has a 19-year-old daughter from his first marriage, as well as 21- and 23-year-old stepchildren from his current wife, Gela Nash, co-founder of the fashion label Juicy Couture.

''That's really challenging,'' he says. ''For kids to become themselves they have to work through whatever it was that mum and dad did. In my case, they have to figure out why dad took so many drugs and along the way we may have to try a few out.

''I wasn't able to convince my daughter to go to university. She said to me, 'What are you talking about, you never went.'''

Taylor jokes that he has a bachelor of arts in pop music sensibility, having studied in the pubs, clubs and record stores of Birmingham, the economically depressed Midlands city that was a cultural hotbed of punk fervour, electronic experimentalism and disco chic in the late 1970s. Influenced by Roxy Music records and the Clash's disdain for music business orthodoxy, Duran Duran became emblematic of the early '80s, pursuing a pop aesthetic hungry for experience in the wider world on hits such as Planet Earth, Girls on Film and Rio.

With their glossily risque video clips from tropical climes, Duran Duran were part of a new English generation taking pleasure in consumption. They didn't miss a beat until 1986, when exhaustion slowed them down, but where contemporaries such as Spandau Ballet or Culture Club fell silent, Duran Duran have proved surprisingly resilient.

''If you're in the creative fields and you make a name for yourself doing a certain thing in a particular way, how that way evolves is quite tricky,'' Taylor says.

Low points included 1988's Big Thing, their first commercial misfire, or the woefully misjudged 1995 covers collection, Thank You. But in 1993 they had a pair of hit singles in Ordinary World and Come Undone, which suggested a gloriously melancholic maturity.

Midway through the past decade, their early records became a key reference point for '80s revivalists. ''I remember my stepdaughter saying to me a few years ago, 'Oh my god, they played Duran Duran all night at this club I was at - how crazy is that?''' Taylor says. ''And I'm like, 'So, how did we sound?' And she says - as only your child can - 'Not bad.'''

As rock stars get older they revel in notions of authenticity and experience but pop acts are rarely awarded second or third acts. Duran Duran realised that you have to stay productive and project an air of disdainful confidence.

On last year's All You Need Is Now, the band sounds bright and relaxed. They are working with producer Mark Ronson, Amy Winehouse's former key collaborator, who grew up listening to the group.

''Every day that you're in the studio with Mark Ronson, you feel good about yourself - you don't feel like an old fart,'' Taylor says. ''You can't underestimate what Mark's presence does for the group's esteem. We've been targets, for a long time, of a sceptical media over whether we're valid today or if we should have thrown it in a long time ago. To have somebody like Mark, who clearly knows what is going on, want to work with us was just fantastic.''

Ronson, in turn, had no qualms about pushing Duran Duran to further themselves. When he heard the initial lyric for the band's current single, Girl Panic, inspired by science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, he insisted they start over.

The video, which has had more than 5 million views on YouTube, casts veteran supermodels Cindy Crawford, Helena Christensen and Naomi Campbell as the members of Duran Duran.

''It looks like a tribute to classic Duran Duran,'' Taylor says. ''Everybody knows who we are at this point but a little bit of brand association helps a younger audience get with it.''

■Duran Duran play Rod Laver Arena on March 19. ticketek.com.au

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/music/enduring-duran-20120210-1sguf.html#ixzz1m8BP0b6n

Courtesy The Age/Australia