A Q&A with Simon LeBon: In Love with Bowie, in Awe of Prince

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Soon after they broke into the music world in the early 1980s, Duran Duran was dubbed the Fab Five: a quintet of dashing British lads who filled the charts with hits starting with “Hungry Like the Wolf,” released in 1982. Their music blended new wave with dance-rock and synth pop into catchy songs that became staples of MTV in its earliest days.

Over the years, the band has survived a few hiatuses and several lineup changes, continuing to tour and put out albums, the most recent of which, “Paper Gods,” was released in 2015.

Sunday, Duran Duran will perform at Starlight Theatre. The band’s co-founder, lead singer Simon LeBon, recently talked to The Star about the people who inspired him, his fascination with evil and his earliest Duran Duran moment.

Q: What was the happiest part of your childhood?

A: That’s a hard question to answer. I had a pretty happy childhood. I remember a bit of it when it wasn’t. I thought I was really lonely as a teenager, around the age of 14. But now when I look back on it, I realize I was happy then, as well. So I wouldn’t be able to pick a happiest point. It was all pretty good. It was all very different, and it changed all the time, but I’ve always enjoyed change.

Q: How old were you when you decided you wanted to be a performer and a musician?

A: I’d wanted to be a performer from a very early age. And music: I felt like music was mine from before I could even speak properly. I went to stage and drama school from the age of 5, so I was aiming to be a performer from about that age. … I went to university to study drama and theater arts, then I met the band. I was in a punk band before that, as well. But it was always about being onstage.

Q: Was there any band or singer or performer in particular who inspired you?

A: Yes, indeed. There were many. The one I was kind of in love with was David Bowie. The one who made me think “I could do that” would probably be Johnny Rotten. The one who made me realize that words were a great way to make up for the fact you weren’t good at any instruments was Jim Morrison. And Patti Smith: Wow. Patti Smith. Words, (bleeping) words.

Q: You were a contemporary of Prince. What kind of influence did he have on you?

A: Prince influenced everyone in music because he came along and showed everybody how sharp you could be. The level of sharpness was so beyond anything that anyone had ever attempted before. It was extraordinary, the attention to detail: sonic detail, writing detail, musicality/playing detail. We were basically in awe of him for the whole time. I mean, you have (Duran Duran) songs like “Skin Trade” — that wouldn’t exist like it does if it weren’t for Prince.

Q: Did you ever meet him?

A: Prince? Yes! Not the easiest person to have a conversation with. But, you know, he’s his own man, and he was respectful and decent. Yes, decent and good.

Q: If you could meet anyone in history, dead or alive, who would it be?

A: Bloody hell. Good question. I think William Shakespeare has to be up there for artistic genius. I don’t imagine he was an ass****. Michaelangelo probably was a real ass****. I mean, there are so many major figures: Genghis Khan, but he’d probably cut your head off. For sexual fantasy, Cleopatra would probably do it for me.

You know, you might want to go dark and meet some of the really dreadful people, like Josef Stalin or Adolf Hitler, just to be in the presence of their absolute evil, to see what it felt like. Did they have any charm whatsoever or were they pure evil? Those are questions I ask myself.

I hasten to add in this politically correct world, I’m not a fan of either Josef Stalin or Adolf Hitler, just in case anyone gets the wrong idea. But I’m fascinated by the bad guys as much as I am the good guys, to be honest with you.

Q: Do you remember the first time you performed live with Duran Duran and what it was like?

A: I do remember it very well. It was on the 16th of July, 1980, at the Rum Runner nightclub on Broad Street in Birmingham. We went on at 8 o’clock sharp. I was so nervous the entire left-hand side of my body was shaking, strangely not the right. My voice was (quavering) the whole time. It was an ordeal. I was pitifully nervous. But we got through it.

Q: What is more satisfying for you: a great live performance or recording a song you’re really proud of?

A: Basically you’re asking, “Does the audience make a big difference?” and the audience does make a big difference. I love recording because I know we’ll listen back to it, and other people will listen back to it time and time again, and that’s a wonderful feeling.

But there’s something about the razor that you walk on when you play a live show, which has absolute failure on either side of it. But it’s very exciting and very addictive, so I have to go with the live performance.

Q: If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would that be?

A: Well, just one single thing? That’s difficult. I’d make artists a little more savvy, especially when they’re young kids and getting started. We were certainly exploited to a certain extent by the early deals we signed. I wish we’d had a better lawyer.

Q: What does being a father mean to you?

A: It means that my bloodline continues. It means I feel I’m part of a chain, not at the end of a rope. I love my kids and I get much love from them, but there’s something greater and more important than just that.

Q: Are any of them into music or performing?

A: Yes, absolutely. My daughter Saffron just finished her course work at London University and received a first-class degree in jazz singing — a degree in music with an emphasis on jazz vocal. How amazing is that?

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

Duran Duran performs Sunday at Starlight Theatre. Chic featuring Nile Rodgers is also on the bill. Showtime is 7 p.m.; tickets are $35.95-$185.95 at kcstarlight.com.

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