Enter the ’80s ‘In the Pleasure Groove,’ by Duran Duran’s John Taylor

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‘In the Pleasure Groove,’ by Duran Duran’s John Taylor

Published: December 7, 2012

If you were a boy-crazy, MTV-addicted teenager in the 1980s, chances are you fell hard for Duran Duran. You were mad for their music: a mash-up of crooning vocals, atmospheric synthesizers, blistering electric guitar and a driving, dance-or-die backbeat. You were hooked on their videos: slick mini-features depicting the band in glamorous settings with exotic vixens. You worshiped their fashion sense: natty, rainbow-colored suits accessorized with rakish fedoras and jazz shoes. But above all, you were desperately, passionately enamored of one of the band’s five members: Simon, Nick, John, Roger, Andy. Like the Beatles before them, these handsome bearers of British pop were a generation’s heartthrobs; wherever their jazz shoes touched (planet) earth, hysteria inevitably followed.

As a child of the ’80s, I know whereof I speak. John Taylor, Duran Duran’s bassist, was my imaginary boyfriend for years before I even considered getting a real one. I loved his insouciance and chiseled cheekbones. I loved his funky, sophisticated bass lines. I loved the dirty ashtray I stole from the housekeeping trolley outside his hotel room after a concert in 1984. I loved his silver leather pants. (Black, after all, is a rock-star cliché — but silver?) All told, I spent one decade pining for the man and two more putting my obsession behind me. From this perspective, his autobiography, “In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death and Duran Duran” (written with Tom Sykes), comes as a mixed blessing. Let recovering John addicts everywhere be warned: Taylor turns out to be just as appealing on the page as his younger self was in those silver leather pants.

Schematically speaking, Taylor’s is the archetypal rocker’s tale. Humble origins, indifferent academics and early musical enthusiasms precede the fateful convergence of five young musicians with extraordinary chemistry. (After a flamboyant Simon Le Bon nails the audition for lead singer, Taylor writes: “The poetry had arrived.”) Celebrity quickly ensues, complete with screaming fans, stadium gigs, groupies, tour-bus shenanigans (a k a “coffin sex”), substance abuse, marriage. Next stop, Götterdämmerung: slowing record sales, artistic differences, divorce, loneliness, more substance abuse, rehab. In the last act, sobriety brings a measure of mature contentment, drawn from carefully nurtured relationships (with parents and children, the new wife and the old band), and perhaps even more from the abiding pleasure of the groove. Redemption comes to our hero whenever he taps into the joyful creativity that has been with him all along; in these moments, “the music never sounded better.”

The real pleasure of the memoir, though, is Taylor’s voice — a disarming blend of candor, warmth and self-­deprecating humor. Candor: “I’ve never had the kind of relationship with my basses one often hears guitar players talk about having with their six-string lovers. I don’t cook breakfast with my bass strapped on, and I’ve been known to take it to bed with me only once or twice in really desperate times.” Warmth: “I often think, given the number of hours that I have spent looking at Roger’s face over the years” — that’s the band’s drummer, Roger Taylor (no relation) — “how lucky I am to have such a pleasant, nonjudgmental, friendly face to look upon.” Self-deprecation: Taylor becomes a teen idol before he even has a driver’s license; when he finally goes to take his driving test, “the gray-suited examiner took a moment . . . to address me: ‘Now, Mr. Taylor, I want you to know that I know who you are. In fact, my daughter has pictures of you all over her bedroom wall. But this will not influence me in any way. I hope you understand that. Now, pull away smoothly in your own time and follow the road ahead.’ I passed.” You can say that again. Reader, I love him still.

Caroline Weber is a frequent contributor to the Book Review.

Courtesy New York Times Book Review