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Wild Boy: My Life in Duran Duran

by Andy Taylor

 

There was always much more to Duran Duran than ever met the public eye, their musical talents falling a far second behind their smooth, European playboy personas. In his autobiography, Wild Boy: My Life in Duran Duran, former guitarist Andy Taylor has seen fit to blow the lid off that carefully constructed image with a singular and juicy flourish.

Back in the days of yore, when Betty Ford was still a whispered notion, celebrity tabloid coverage was marginalised to guilty pleasure supermarket reading like the National Enquirer or the UK’s News of the World. Many a young lass would turn the glossy pages of magazines with names like Bop!, Tiger Beat and 16 to get the lowdown on their favourite stars. Glistening from inside those shiny sheets were the bright, shining faces of the first metrosexuals many young girls on Western shores had ever seen and happily devoured. Duran Duran was a band whose members where so stunningly marketable, they became their own cottage industry with the teenage female demographic as their leading consumer. Such was the demand for their images in this time before Photoshop, that many of the close-up photo featured said musicians sporting glazed, bleary, bloodshot eyes and Rudolph-red noses with strange pale substances around perfectly carved nostrils. However, in the era of Reagan, where the 80’s was the new 50’s and the record company was king, naÔve and innocent readers were only too happy to believe the magazine’s tales about how very hard the band was working and why they looked so “tired.”

Duran Duran got away with a lot of behaviour in their heyday that in this age of the celebrity blogger and terrorist paparazzi would have seen each of their members in residence at the ubiquitous Promises rehab centre for addictions to cocaine, alcohol and sex. As one of the foremost bands of the period, Duran Duran had the benefit of a moat around their good reputations built by their record companies, managers and many others who stood to financially benefit from the band’s continued clean (- if slightly saucy) image with the teenyboppers. Guitarist Andy Taylor helped to mould the sound that kept the quintet from being just a bunch of industry-fabricated pretty faces that played an occasional radio-friendly pop song.

What separated Duran Duran from their initial peers like Spandau Ballet - served here by Taylor for their musical inadequacies, as well as for their proclamatory hype (?!) -  was always their music. Taylor’s pride in Duran Duran’s creative peaks and processes is tangible and provides nice ballast against the tales of inconceivable wealth and debauchery that will reel in most readers. His recollections of the band’s early influences ranging from Chic and David Bowie to Roxy Music have been told before, but discovering their first single Planet Earth was actually inspired by Rod Stewart’s Do Ya Think I’m Sexy? was an eyebrow quirk moment.  I’m sure Stewart’s lawyer’s eyebrows are quirking as well.  Taylor knows how to lay on the anecdotes to great effect.  His first ignominious meeting with his future Power Station lead singer and sartorial mentor, Robert Palmer is detailed here and very amusing, as are Taylor’s behind the scenes glimpses at the little backstage rivalries and nerves that coursed through the purported good will and benevolence of 1985 Live Aid concert at which he performed twice.

It is that very access which is the cornerstone of the book.  Taylor’s remembrances are vivid and often unflatteringly honest.  Taylor’s account of his rise from a troubled childhood to becoming one of five very young men spoilt by too much money and not enough people to tell them ‘no’ is fascinating.  This is an inside look into those very heady, materialistic times and Taylor shows the readers the rust and corrosion beneath all the shiny chrome of the lives of one of the most successful pop acts of the 1980’s. Guess what? - Despite Bop! Magazine doing its best to convince its gullible audience that the band was just “tired,” those photographs captured evidence of a bunch of boys who had the world and everything they could ask for thrown in their laps and they really liked it, with Andy Taylor leading the indulgence charge most happily.  Tales of copious amounts of inhalables, imbibables and orgy rooms permeate the memoir and while judicious, Taylor doesn’t flinch from naming names, dates and locations.  Accounts of the band being physically attacked by random mobs for simply breathing and life-threatening drug intake are truly harrowing.  The group’s youth and stubbornness is displayed as Taylor marks out early contractual mistakes that in hindsight would give lawyers of today the vapors.  He explains the boys' club mentality that omitted females from Duran Duran’s inner sanctum and relegated them to other more useful purposes and the havoc when one perceived interloper invaded the plastic bubble.

The goss is here, folks. Much of it water well under the bridge as it is nearly thirty years since Taylor answered that fateful classified ad for a “Live Wire Guitarist.”  Even for fans familiar with the band’s history, it's eye-opening stuff, particularly his focus on the band’s early days in Birmingham at their Rum Runner nightclub HQ and their first experiments with drugs and scantily-clad New Romantic groupies.  For those unfamiliar, it’s still a delectable piece of on-dit and his attention to the brief, rougher times before fame hit helps legitimise their struggle as an actual band.  Taylor tells, but there are limits, and he seems to weigh carefully who falls under the microscope at any given episode, with drummer Roger Taylor and singer Simon Le Bon coming up with the least amount of dirt.  Having been closest to bassist John Taylor, Andy Taylor has a lot of stories about the manipulation and ordeals of the band’s “photogenic” one, but Taylor’s narrative is poised in a believably sympathetic light for his friend.  His recollection of witnessing John Taylor’s gory overdose shows the guitarist truly frightened for his mate’s life.  And then there is Nick…

While I think Taylor was careful in how much he dished on any particular member, I think the scales tipped a bit when it came to keyboard player, Nick Rhodes.  Had Wild Boy: My Life in Duran Duran not been chosen for the book’s title, I would have said, Wild Boy: Or Why I Hate Nick Rhodes, might have been equally valid. Taylor seems to sharpen his pen on the elfin keyboardist, who he first met when Rhodes was age seventeen and felt no need to employ any of those pesky white keys on his instrument. Andy Taylor saves most of the embarrassing band recollections for his keyboard player, including his plan for Rhodes to receive a very public lap dance during a concert and Taylor’s critique of Rhodes’ own dancing skills.  Taylor makes no bones about the complete differences in his and Rhodes’ approach to everything from songwriting to good manners to band management to Simon Le Bon’s armpits.  He has amazing recall of silly fights from three decades ago, seeming to still be bothered by many of their spats. Taylor dishes a lot on Rhodes for bullishly spearheading a lot of the unfavourable changes within the band. Yet, while supposedly on opposite sides of the spectrum, Taylor tells of keyboardist and guitarist forming an indomitable front when challenged and their similarities, including having a keen eye for the business end of things; Taylor is perhaps too close to notice.

Despite all the obligatory tale-telling on his old bandmates, there is no one Andy Taylor dishes more about than Andy Taylor.  Had there been a novel based on Taylor’s early years as a young boy in a secure family unit seeing his idyllic world turned to one of poverty and hardship literally overnight by the abandonment of an adulterous parent, I would have snapped it up.  His love of his family shines through the book and has clearly been Taylor’s anchor.  His apology to his devoted father after the band’s coke-fuelled exploits were exposed to the press is heartrending.  Taylor senior’s stoic, supportive reaction gets under the skin of what tabloid journalism does to the families of those flayed on the page.  Making it clear he is no role model when it comes to avoiding vice, Taylor’s gleeful consumption of drugs and alcohol comes under control via his own will and good Geordie sense, and, stunningly for today’s world, without a trip to rehab.  Taylor’s frank account of wife Tracey’s post-partum depression that nearly drove her to kill herself and their infant son is the stuff of nightmares.  The small peeks of his life away from Duran Duran made me a little disappointed that the book breaks in two from the point after he left the band to live in California with his family in 1985 and picks up again with the quintet’s reunion in 2001. Taylor’s voice in the book is so engaging; I wanted to know more about what had occurred with him during those missing years.

I’m not ready to hand out sainthood to Taylor for writing the World’s Greatest Rock Autobiography just yet.  There are issues with the book; mostly things I just don’t believe.  A big standout is the chapter dedicated to his side of the story of his second split with Duran Duran in 2006.  Taylor’s reasons for being AWOL at a particular studio session in New York that included co-writers/producers Justin Timberlake and Timbaland (- a move he makes clear he was not happy with in the same chapter) read like atypically passive-aggressive manoeuvring from the guitarist who, up until this point, seems to have no problem speaking his mind.  There are some moments that feel slightly reimagined to give Taylor perhaps more of a role that he originally had.  While not an excessive sin, if the band had been as beholden to Taylor’s musical guidance as he gives off in the book, then they certainly wouldn’t have been able to survive without him… oh, wait…  There’s perhaps one mention of his replacement in Duran Duran, Warren Cuccurullo, who Taylor makes conspicuous by his omission from the book.  Other than those nitpicks, this is one heck of a fast, fun read.

As it stands, Duran Duran is still trying to reach new and higher heights as a four piece and Andy Taylor is creating new music at his home studio in sunny Ibiza.  Taylorís recount of the 2001 reunion reveals a band with the will to make a go of reforming, but none of the communication to clear the air about things past.  The band-aid lure of reunion success placed over lingering wounds that had clearly not healed, could only have ended up disastrously for the quintet that should’ve have done group therapy before their venture.  With Wild Boy: My Life in Duran Duran, Andy Taylor has at least got his therapy on as the first member of the seminal 80’s band to come forward with his memoirs. Lucky for his readers, his literary Primal Scream is hilarious, heartbreaking, insightful and fun.

 

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

September 4th, 2008

 

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(Courtesy of the Hachette Book Group, USA)

 

 

 

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