In the Pleasure Groove
Love, Death & Duran Duran
Being a teen idol means you become the focus of a very unique kind of energy, midwives to adolescence. Everywhere we went, there were young girls trying to get our attention, catch our eye. More often than not, their eyes were teary and bloodshot.
Dumb me. I had thought there was this guy named John (or Fred, or Walt) Duran, and when he (or his investors) decided that he would become a rock star, they decided that by doubling his name to Duran² he would double his power, double his attraction, double his personality, and, no doubt, double his sex life.
Well, I was wrong, but they weren't. He started out in life as Nigel John Taylor, then when he picked up his bass guitar, he decided that no one of any importance in the music biz could or should be called Nigel. So he made himself "John Taylor" and then when it was time to name the band, he thought of Jane Fonda and Barbarella, "the most gorgeous astronaut detective the galaxy has ever seen." She had been sent on a mission to "Find Durand-Durand and ... preserve the security of the stars." He surmised for some reason this applied to a burgeoning bunch of proto-musicians from Birmingham (England, not Alabama): Stevie Dufait, Nick Bates, Simon Le Bon and John. He figured that he could drop those in-the-way letters at the end of Durand-Durand, because "you can't hear the final Ds in the film, nor the hyphen..."
After we get through many of the earlier ravishments, fame, playing, loud LOUD at the Rum Runner, then on the stages of the world, hearing himself on the BBC, being on the road in distant countries (Holiday Inns in Australia! in L.A.! in Osaka!), Duran², or rather this Duran falls into the usual drugs and sex.
"The trouble is --- and I didn't figure this out until I was almost forty --- that there is something about an intimate encounter of that nature with someone you barely know that jars against the spirit."
You want it, but it doesn't feel quite right. And when you start doing it night after night, week in, week out, your ideas about love and sex begin to get somewhat distorted.
"Something..." "someone..." "somewhat..." Strunk and White would have a field day with Nigel's style, jammed with what they once dubbed "weasel words."
Drugs? "I didn't want to be lonely, and the drugs ensured I never was."
I'm a pinup on thousands of bedroom walls, but the fear of loneliness is turning me into a cokehead.
§ § §
The many chapters in In the Pleasure Groove run about a page-and-a-half, and are boxed between dozens of sometimes very fetching black-and-white photographs. Until the world discovered him, he was like many of the rest of us --- rather geeky, ashamed of being ashamed of being who he was. He was "four-eyes," putting up with full-on mockery from his fellow students.
Is there anything worse than being laughed at? I'll take surgery every time.
What did he do to avoid it: "I began to take myself out of the race."
I didn't like coming first either ---what was a boy to do? --- because that meant walking to the front of class or, worse, assembly hall, to receive a prize ... in front of all those hooligans.
I almost took myself out of Pleasure Groove after Nigel stopped writing letters back to his fans: "Taking it in turns, we would formulate a monthly missive that would then be reproduced by the thousand in color on glossy paper and disseminated by our fan club organization."
Something was definitely lost in the expansion program, but what else could we do?
Oh, woe! The pains of being a super-star. Dark moods that even getting laid every night by a new teenie couldn't erase. Battles with the producers. Internal tension (no matter how they've changed and matured, they always end up on the same bus together going here or there in the world, and on the same stage when they are playing).
Once Nigel banged his hand through a light fixture (drugs again: he was jealous of Roger and Amanda). The next night, he learned that Duran Duran didn't really need him. Since he couldn't play for a couple of months, the managers found someone else to be John Taylor. "They told me that I would still be going along to do all the peripheral stuff --- press conferences, TV interviews, etc. --- but another bass player would be coming in to play my parts for the shows."
Only at that evening's concert, standing alone on the side of the stage, watching my band perform without me, did I pause for any introspection. My stand-in was a thoroughbred pro and had no difficulties in learning my parts.
"The conclusion was gut-wrenching. I was not an irreplaceable component of the machine anymore..."
§ § §
For some odd reason, the New York Times, Huffington Post, Publishers Weekly, L A Times, and Kirkus have come on like ravening teens over In the Pleasure Groove. We're not sure why. Is it the old Samuel Johnson dog miracle bit all over again, the paradox of a rock musician who can actually write: It's like a dog's walking on his hind legs [said Johnson]. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."
Still, we must remember that Nigel is young, a high-school drop-out ... and so he has not yet discovered that there are some things that you write that cannot be parsed, some phrases that should never see the light of day. On his being a gift to his fans: "Once, I sat outside a Venice Beach art gallery and gave an impromptu acoustic performance. Fans sat on the sidewalk; none of them could believe what I was doing."
In Osaka, the band together, with this new tension: they had been apart for some time; Nigel had taken the pledge, no more drink, no more drugs; but the urge came on for some saki. Did he rise to the occasion? Oh, did he! How? He dropped down to his knees, knew he had "to transcend human help, throw myself at the mercy of the universe. I had to ask a higher power for help."
Like most who choose words over music, Nigel will learn, we hope, that words sometimes just can't take the weight of events, especially religious awakenings. He is fairly sure that he has the divine in his back pocket, even doing his special effects: At a concert, in a "holy place, Coachella" (Coachella! A holy place!), "God was on my side, had my back, and wanted the best for me."
It's an outdoor festival, so tour manager Craig will not get to give his usual cue to take the house lights down. Tonight, that is one of God's jobs.
Great: God becomes a part of Duran-Duran's son et lumière team.
Nigel can, when reporting things out of his childhood, write with some assurance. This is his child's memory of listening to a very old radio, "powered by tubes that took more than a minute to warm up. It picked up signals from all across Europe, places on the wave band such as Hilversum and Luxembourg that had an exotic allure."
I would press my ear to the single speaker and turn the dial slowly, like a safecracker, hoping to make a stronger connection. Music of all sorts; some pop, but more often soaring symphonies and brittle rhythmic music I would come to understand as jazz.
"It was as if the entire universe was being funneled into the front living room of our house, which was exciting, and it went on twenty-four hours a day, every day of the week. A room that measured 8 by 12 feet had become a space of infinite size."
§ § §
At worse, In the Pleasure Groove does have the power to give a chance reader a taste of the wonder of high rockdom. That in those days, a veritable nobody, complete with the right investors, and the right producer manipulating the sound-box (and the right publicist manipulating the publicity-box), could, in a matter of months, go from being a nothing to being a superstar, complete with an instrument that he had never before in his life met, nor played.
It's manufacturing of the most astounding sort. Out of thin air, these fabricators could command the ears (and the financial rewards) of millions of fans, make everybody rich in the process.
Thus, back there in the last gasps of the 20th Century there arose a magical moment of musical history: dozens of nobodies turned into a veritable zoological garden of noisy kids who (whatever their noise-making ability), could be transformed into the being famous, or rich, or at least, heard around the globe.
And even those who didn't make it joined in with the oddest names you could imagine (Van der Graaf generator, Jesus & Mary Chain, Scent Organs, Buzzcocks, Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls ... and my four faves of all times: Foo Fighters, Sniffin' Glue, The Damned Rat Scabies, and --- yes! --- Gimme Shock Treatment): even their little star was able to blaze for a brief moment; and then, thank god, disappear forever.--- Pamela Wylie