“SIMON?” THE LADY publicist whispers. “Simon? Are you awake?”
Curled around a pillow on the studio couch at Power Station recording studio, Simon Le Bon stirs in his sleep. He mutters something that sounds like “Mmmmph,” then falls still. Three floors below on a sun baked Manhattan sidewalk, an army of girls too young to fall in love patiently maintain a vigil. Giggling and wiggling. Fiddling with Instamatics and gazing up at the windows.
“Simon?” Le Bon’s eyes open. He sits up. “Had the strangest dream,” he says, rubbing the circulation into his arms. The way he explains it, he was in a huge, tropical paradise of a room, wall-to-wall with people with no clothes on. Strangers mostly, he recalls. All giving one another back massages “like we’d do before making a video.”
BY DAN HEDGES
Now matter how hard they’ve tried, no matter how tight the musicianship, once you get past the hype, clothes, eyeliner and lavish videos, Duran Duran still haven’t gotten the respect they’re sure they deserve.
Wow! Club Med-meets-Caligula. Enough to make even James Bond blush. But Le Bon looks troubled. Seems his girlfriend turned up in the dream – a nice, romantic touch, no?
Maybe. Because when Le Bon stopped massaging and leaned down in the dream to kiss his girlfriend’s ear, the same girlfriend turned out to be . . . well . . . somebody else.
“She had the same hair,” he says, pondering what it could mean.
Better leave it to Freud.
“Yeah,” Le Bon says, chin in hand. A modern man, he shrugs off the prehistoric notion of the dream as Bad Omen, and stares at a long-stemmed red rose lying on the coffee table. A couple of pastel love notes lie alongside, all hearts and kisses and grammar school scrawl.
Earlier, one of the girls waiting outside composed herself long enough to present them to Duran Duran’s frontman as he arrived to finish mixing the first Arcadia album.
The other girls held back. As one cheerfully explained to anyone who asked, “We’re saving ourselves for Nick Rhodes.”
Le Bon, Rhodes and Roger Taylor’s Arcadia is the flip side of Duran Duran’s solo coin – one minted this past spring when bandmates John and Andy Taylor joined vocalist Robert Palmer and Chic drummer Tony Thompson in what was billed as a one-time project, the Power Station.
Lest the girls in the street fear all this extra-Duran activity hints at some internal battle of the bands, Le Bon stresses that Arcadia is no attempt to one-ups-manship, no copycat bid to cash in.
They were slaving away in Paris on So Red The Rose for months before the Power Station his the stores. And as Roger Taylor notes drily, “We haven’t done this to compete with ourselves. We’ve got enough competition from other bands.”
But where the Power Station threw pose and caution to the wind, cranked up the amps and let rip in decidedly un-Duran-like fashion, Arcadia’s angle is more careful. Studied. “Esoteric,” says Le Bon. Grumpy listeners might say the trio’s just playing safe.
Roger Taylor holds that it’s down to personalities, that the Durans have always had divergent interests (“that friction”) ever since they hooked up in Birmingham, England in the late ‘70s. “Nick’s always had that esoteric side, whereas Andy’s always been the real rocker,” Taylor says. “It would be boring if we were all doing the same thing. If we were like Andy, Duran Duran would sound like led Zeppelin. If we were like Nick, we’d sound like some obscure Brian Eno album.”
Aided by a cast of all-star guests (including Sting and David Gilmour), Arcadia have still stuck close to the Duran sound. As Nick Rhodes concedes, “I have a style of writing, which is bound to emanate through it, as Simon has a certain vocal style. What we’ve tried to do is stretch ourselves. We weren’t radical like the Power Station, but said, ‘Okay let’s try to do something different instead of sitting down and writing a Duran song.’ I mean, there’s only three of us. It takes five to make one of those.”
The era of big bands falling prey to solo delusions of grandeur, usually resulting in vinyl fluff barely suited for the bargain bins, is long gone. These days, there’s no room for self-indulgence.
The era of big bands falling prey to solo delusions of grandeur (usually resulting in vinyl fluff barely suited for the bargain bins) is long gone. These days, there’s no room for self-indulgence. And great art? Sorry. We’re talking sales, the music of the cash registers – things the hit factory called Duran Duran angelically claim to give no heed to when recording time rolls around.
“The only time we actually sat down and said, ‘Okay, we’ve got to write a hit single,’ was for a reason.” Rhodes recalls. “The record company contract was running out and we had to fulfil it. We had to do one more single, didn’t want to release anything else off the newest album, so we said, ‘Okay, we’ll write a hit.’ That happened once, and we wrote a dreadful song called ‘My Own Way,’ which was only released in England because we managed to put the embargo on it for America. Everybody hated it. Biggest mistake of our career. Ever. We’ll never do that again. But I think that with a lot of Duran’s singles, although they’ve sounded commercial and acceptable to a lot of people, we’ve gotten away with things most pop groups can’t. ‘The Union of the Snake’ isn’t exactly ‘She Loves You.’ “
During a recent Entertainment Tonight segment on Arcadia the host seemed convinced that, with this moonlighting stuff splitting the five into two autonomous factions, Duran Duran were now past tense. Le Bon rolls his eyes: this is becoming an old routine. "Did they use my bit about Robert Palmer being a wanker?" he asks drearily. Palmer's bail-out on the eve of the Power Station tour had nothing to do with him, yet he's plainly peeved. "He's a total wanker, dumping John and Andy in the shit like that. But no, it's not the end. Duran Duran is our bread and butter. It would be stupid to think of it any other way."
It seems like Duran Duran has been a chart fixture since time immemorial. But barely four years ago their first Stateside gigs saw them dying a slow death in, as Rhodes recalls, "dingy little clubs holding two hundred people. Couldn't see records, nobody wanted to play us on the radio, and they wouldn't show our videos."
Presumably, it was wet-behind-the-ears optimism (coupled with relentless management) that kept the dream from going stale until "Hungry Like The Wolf" firmly entrenched them in the public eye - though as Le Bon has found, "it's incredible how naive those dreams turn out to be. A pop star is, like, adulation when you want it, lots of money, lots of birds who don't give you diseases, and that society jet-set lifestyle. very attractive when you're living in Birmingham on twenty-six quid a week."
From up here in the cheap seats, it doesn't seem like it's turned out so different (even if capsized racing yachts and near-drowning weren't part of Le Bon's rock star fantasy). By his standards, though, the dream-come-true is "very different. It didn't include hard work, being on the road for months on end a long way from home. But it's actually more fun. If it was like the dream it would be boring. Not being able to turn it off - that's the problem."
Nobody's handing out crying hankies at the door. But as Roger Taylor agrees, in the years since they started out at the Rum Runner club, fame has proven not to be all it's cracked up to be. "We'd get ten pounds a week, didn't have apartments, but we seemed happy. Now . . . we're all millionaires, got everything we've ever wanted, but sometimes we don't seem as happy as we were."
'We haven't done this to compete with ourselves. We've got enough competition from other bands.'
Trouble in paradise? Just growing pains, thanks - aggravated by one niggling thorn in the golden crown; no matter how tight the musicianship once you steer past the hype, the clothes, Nick Rhodes' choice of eyeliner and the lavish videos (a form le Bon now cites as "boring"), Duran Duran still haven't gotten the respect they're sure they deserve.
If you talk to John and Andy Taylor during their more expansive and/or inebriated moments, they'll swear that the screams are fading, and the screamers growing older. Le Bon doesn't buy it, "The original fans have grown older," he says. "But when I look out the window, their replacements are there."
Resigned? Slightly. At times, he admits, all that rampant teenmania has unwittingly helped "destroy a lot of band confidence. You look out there ad think 'Is it true? Are they just here because we take good photographs?' " He shrugs. "But then you listen to your music and think, 'Well, let's make a good record.' And you do."
Still, it must be tough sustaining a shred of human dignity - let alone artistic integrity - when you're half-deafened by pubescent screeching, knee-deep in strawberry-scented love notes and stuffed animals. "They're really not such a bad audience to play in front of," Le Bon sayd. "And artistic integrity in pop groups is a very overplayed thing. Everybody does things; you manipulate your audience. Elvis used to wobble his willy. Bono goes out and acts all . . . noble. Both are manipulation. Artistic integrity is more useful when you're writing a song than when you're actually performing it. On stage, you want to get through to people, get hold of them in whatever way you can." he smiles sincerely. "Besides, I've gotten quite addicted to the screaming. It's part of the show."
The five can't do much about it except grin, bear it, and hire extra accountants to keep track of the royalty checks - though as Nick Rhodes points out, "We're still very young. I'm only twenty-three now. I don't think we should start making 'older' music yet. Don't even want to make older music, to be quite honest. Middle of the road like all those groups churn out, album after album. Every Supertramp song sounds the same to me. I don't ever want to do that."
The follow up to Seven and the Ragged Tiger shld have been in the shops by now; the 1985/1986 world tour should have been half over. The offshoot projects threw the scheduling askew, however. It'll be months before Duran re-enters the studio, though they're already curious to see how these side capers will effect their shared perspective. At last count, for example, John and Andy Taylor - buoyed by the Power Station rock 'n' raunch success - were hoping to crank up the gas in smiliar fashion with Duran Duran.
"Everytime I speak to them, they want to do something different," Rhodes says. "Andy really likes the powerful guitar stuff, but says he's gotten a lot of that out of his system with Power Station. He wants the next Duran album to be really radical - though I don't know what he means. Basically, we get into a room together with five different ideas of what an album is going to sound like. Somehow those five ideas grow towards each other and mesh."
For now, Arcadia and the Power Station plan to run their courses. "We want to work these projects through properly," Le Bon says, glancing toward the window as a thin chorus of shrieks rises from the street. "It would be a waste of time, effort and money if we didn't. Duran Duran's at the point now where we can afford to say, 'We're going to do it our way.' "
A modern man, Simon Le Bon looks at his red rose and his teeny love notes, then pauses half a beat as if warding off the Evil Eye. "No," he says emphatically, "We're not going to be stuck on the treadmill."