BLITZ 2nd Birthday Issue
DURAN MAN GETS ARTY
INTERVIEW BY MARC ISSUE PHOTOGRAPHS BY MIKE OWEN
An interview with a pop star.”RIGHT THEN, it seems that Nick Rhodes is bringing out a book of his photographs, Marc. You want to talk to him about it?”
What? Talk him out of it? Talk him into it? Ask him about it and see what he says? I’ll just let him say his piece, find out what this photography business is all about. Take a very neutral position vis à vis his apparent plunge into the obscure and unpredictable world of coffee table book publishing from the sheltered milieu of pop superstardom.
“Sounds great, Marc. Do try and get this one in on time.”
I put the phone down. Nick Rhodes, photographer??? I really meant what I said about playing it straight, but there was clearly a great deal more to this one than met the eye. . .
I spent the first day of the story twiddling my thumbs while they did the photo session, five and a half hours’ worth of lurid paint and ultraviolet light. By the time everyone was satisfied with the results, time was short, and Nick suggested we go back to his flat to do the interview while they got ready to go out. He and his girlfriend are staying in this rather tacky Knightsbridge flat for six months while extravagant things are done to the house he’s bought. The flat, a temporary measure, is foul – it looks like a bridal suite in an expensive hotel. Nick is clearly rather embarrassed about the pictures on the wall, which are dove-grey and sky-blue prints depicting nothing in particular, and which, Nick impresses on me, are nothing whatever to do with him. . .
Nick Rhodes isn’t nearly as thin as he is photographed. He is also (you guessed!) rather shorter than I imagined. On the other hand he is an unexpectedly affable sort of a chap.
“. . . Well, we started the tour in October last year and it went on until early April this year – the last date was actually in San Diego. It’s difficult to say what was the best place ‘cos when you’re on tour you get to see so little of so much that it tends to fade into one big. . . trek, with little daylight. Cities are fun to play in – in America the audiences are much wilder than they are in England, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re better. I love playing in England. The audiences here are quite crazy, but a little more reserved than the Americans – Over there they don’t seem to be inhibited about anything – if they want to stand up on top of the seats or scream as loud as they can or dance around. . . you know, they don’t care what anyone sitting next to them thinks. Japan is a weird place to play because you’re standing there thinking, ‘Wait a minute, there’s twelve thousand people in this auditorium, and maybe ten thousand don’t speak any English. . .’ And they have funny little rules about concerts there – the kids are allowed to stand up but they’re not allowed to leave their seats – the rule is really strict and they stick to it. . .”
Are you playing to the same kind of audience all over the world?
“Yes, because we’re playing to a very general audience. There’s been a lot of press about the, er, younger following that’s developed with the band – girls that maybe wait backstage and make a hell of a noise. WHICH I WOULDN’T SWAP FOR ANYTHING because they’re so young and enthusiastic to play for – they’re the people who get noticed by journalists in particular because they’re louder, they’re brighter, they’re always down at the front and they’re always the first there – and you’re much more likely to notice three hundred loud girls than you are to notice three thousand guys with their girlfriends who’ve just come to sit and listen to the music or whatever, and now the varying successes of the three albums and so on, the audience is broader and more demographic than it’s ever been.
“We just do what comes natural to us. We don’t aim at anyone in particular, it’s for anyone who wants to come and listen to it and see it. It grows all the time in different directions. . .”
The little things that happen.WHEN YOU are a pop star, things that happen to everyone else make news when they happen to you. Everyone, for example, goes to the doctor once in a while. Nick had to go to the doctor last year. . .
“The medical name for it is paryxymal tachycardia – don’t ask me how to spell it – it’s something that an awful lot of people get and it can be caused by anything – what it is, is that your natural pacemaker throws out a double beat, and it can throw out triple beats – it’s very common, apparently, but it’s really scary when it happens. In books they call it The Fear Of Impending Doom – however, I went to see a specialist and asked him if I was having a heart attack and he sad ‘No, don’t be daft!’ He said I might never get it again in my life, or it might come back again next week, but not to take any notice of it ‘cos it’ll never do me any harm. It was just a little bit scary.”
I see. How was the birthday? (It was Nick’s birthday the day before we had our first meeting)
What did the boys give you?
“Simon gave me that lamp over there, it’s quite peculiar, but cute. I haven’t seen any of the others, they’re all working. Perhaps they forgot. . .”
(The lamp was indeed peculiar – a muscular male arm in black, holding up a bar bell with a strange translucent lamp on either end. I remember seeing young sun-tanned Simon on the floor of the EMI press offices earlier in the week, somewhat under the influence, wrestling with wrapping paper and sellotape and a large object, which was “Nick’s b’thday Present!” I had wondered at the time what it would be...)
Tell us about the book NickTHE BOOK is something that’s very close to me. And has been for a year and a half now, since I finished all the Polaroids. Since then we’ve been on tour and in the studio, and at the publishers. . . Malcolm Garrett has been doing the layout and it’s all finished really, but it’s not easy getting the kind of book that I want put out, quality wise, together with a decent price, and then have the publisher say, ‘OK we’ll do that’.
“It’s not something I want to make money out of, it’s something I’ve done myself and I want to get the thing out, as close as possible to the original photos if I can, and because they’re Polaroids there’s no negative, and because the colours in the pictures themselves are very vivid, it’s very difficult to reproduce them to a high standard. But there’s now publishers who’ve come up with deals that seem to be suitable, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed – it should be out by Christmas, I’m hoping for October. It’s going to be called Interference - it’s quite an apt title because it’s basically colours and textures from various light sources such as video monitors. You’ll have to look at them really, I don’t know how else to explain them. . .”
(Deep breath) It will sell, primarily, to Duran fans, though, won’t it? Be realistic.
“I don’t think so, no. I’m not planning on any of them rushing out and loving it. I’m hoping that will work to my advantage in that there are a lot of people who will be aware of this book coming out, and will give it enough time to go and have a look at it and see if they want to buy it, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the band, IT’S JUST A BOOK OF PHOTOGRAPHS.”
I’m not talking about the content of the book, I’m talking about the name on the cover.
“. . . It depends. I don’t know how far people take things. . . just because I like David Bowie’s records doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to like David Bowie’s films. I’d certainly pay attention to them to see what he’s doing, but I dunno, it’s difficult to say. . .”
Hold it just a minute, there. This is the narrator speakin’. I hear unkind whisperings in the back of the class, to the effect that Nick is bullshitting us – in the nicest possible way, of course. I don’t actually think that this is the case. Nick Rhodes appears to be an adherent to a very interesting Theory of Consumption, which states that:
Incidentally (!) I was talking to some of the girls who hang about outside EMI’s Manchester Square office (on the chance that they meet. . !). I told them that Nick’s book would be out before Christmas.
“What, the book of Polaroids???”
“Oh yeah, but he’s said it’d be out before. . .”
Yes Nick, they do know all about your book. They’ve been waiting in vain since you first thought of it – perhaps even before! – wishing and hoping. . .
Nick?! (Click!) - A few weeks later.TIME PASSES.I do other things. I get my hair cut. I actually get to see the pictures. I’m not sure what I think aout them at all as pictures, and I am supposed to know a bit about art.
Nevertheless, they are – but exactly – of the quality we have come to expect from, shall we say, from the Duran Duran camp? They will make a very nice product indeed. It will have no apparent subject matter, it will be attractively packaged, it will salute the technocratic production of ‘leisure items’, the smiling face of the video monitor, and it will look nice on the most expensive coffee tables imaginable.
This is what they want. Their many fans, of any and all descriptions, will not be disappointed. It seems that Nick might be a little naive in respect of his fans – some of whom admit to coveting nail clippings and fag ends from their boys if they were put on sale. It’s not as silly as it sounds. Think of the periodic Rock Auctions, and John and Yoko cutting off their hair and auctioning it for charity. . .
Nick meanwhile is in the studio in Fulham, recording the next two singles with popular beat group Duran Duran, of which he is still a member. The building is surrounded with ever-increasing numbers of female children, all wishing for some unspecified contact (on the chance that we meet. . .) with their boys. . .
We get inside. Nick shows up. You can tell he’s arrived because the noise level outside the studio abruptly doubles and trebles and goes frantic. Screams. (“You won’t tell anyone where this flat is, will you? NOT AT ALL I have terrible trouble getting in and out of buildings nowadays.”)
So how’s it going? What news?
“There’s one publisher sorted out. The contracts are in the lawyers being looked over. It all looks like it’s going ahead. . .”
You said that you wanted to use a publisher who understood the project. What do you think this publisher’s understanding of the project is?
“They have a certain empathy with me as a photographer on this project, instead of thinking they could publish this book and make money off the band’s name – but there isn’t a photograph of any other members of the band or anything like that in it. I’ve got a very vivid idea of how I want it, and we need to present it in exactly that way, otherwise it seems pointless to me to put it out at all – and that’s why I wouldn’t compromise with publishers early on who would say, ‘Sure, we’ll print a book of your photos, you give them to us and we’ll put them out’ – it needed to be the correct packaging over all. . .”
I think what he’s saying is that it’s a pleasure to do ‘Business Art’ with them. We are here, after all, to talk about art, and this here is glamorous Business Art inna Warhol style. Business Art requires, amongst other things, A Name. This allows people to recognise without necessarily understanding; we are observing what happens when names from other, ahem, disciplines such as Big Time Pop Music come to paddle in the Business Art Waterhole, where the Dress Code is casual but smart. Glamour is a useful ingredient in Business Art, as is the Theory of Consumption I told you about earlier. You might say they oil the wheels. Technical ability isn’t so important (“I know very little about technical photography. I’d be hopeless if somebody said to me, ‘OK I want you to take a photograph like that - set that up and do that’ – I just couldn’t do it. However if somebody said to me, ‘OK, you’ve got a studio for the day, here’s some lights, make what you will of it,’ then I could have a lot of fun with it.”) Content and subject matter of completely immaterial to Business Art. Negotiations and launch parties are the most fun parts of Business Art. But it’s alright –in the Business Art World, everything is Creativity, and Creativity, as they say, is just a word.
But so much for scepticism. When Nick says he isn’t doing this to make money, I tend to believe it. There is a good deal less money to be made from books than there is from records (unless your name is Harold Robbins or Jackie Collins) and I don’t think he’d bother himself if he was just doing it for the money. Nor will the inevitable critical flack bother him unduly. Young people – and Nick Rhodes is, after all, as young a person as any twenty-three year-old – have to express themselves. If Duran Duran had come and gone without hit records, the conspicuous adulation of small girls and the few million in the bank, the erstwhile Nicholas Bates might well have been coming to the end of a degree course in Fine Art or Graphic design at one or other of Britain’s splendid polytechnics. The difference between the work that is and the work that might have been is a matter of the price of Polaroid film, and the language he would have used in this interview.
Nick, you remember, isn’t in it for the money, but publishers are, indisputably so. Nick is in the position, because of his good Business Art Potential, to pass over those publishers who want to make their bucks fast and dirty, and go to those publishers who are happy to go along with the ‘concept’, providing it’s not too expensive, and make their fast buck relatively respectably, “whilst retaining the quality of the original photographs and keeping the price reasonable” – how a reasonable price can be determined for a product which is immune from any intrinsic value assessment is beyond me, but we’ll save that can of worms for another time.
If you’ve been reading this because you’re just crazy about the popular beat group Duran Duran, and you feel perhaps I’m talking over your head perhaps you ought to stand up. . .
Perhaps you have other reasons. Perhaps you prefer that I said Nick Rhodes is a pampered and cosseted little pop person who has this book coming out in time for Christmas because a long line of people have been over polite about his photographic doodlings? Would you prefer that I told you that this book will cause grave offence to countless thousands of hard working, dedicated and extremely talented photographers who can’t make a living out of Business Art because they haven’t got a Name?
All this would be missing the point. It would be almost philistine! People who say things like that have no appreciation of Business Art.
The General PublicTHE DAYS are getting shorter. By 7.30 or so, the sun has gone behind the tall buildings in Manchester Square, and the air is cooling. You, madam! Why do you follow Duran Duran around?
“Because we think they’re just fantastic.”
If someone thought you were fantastic, would you want them to follow you around dat and night.
“No, but when you;re in the public eye, you’ve got to expect. . . things.”
“We used to follow John but now we think he’s a rat. Julie over there went up to him for his autograph and he said no, he just ignored her. We like Roger the best.”
What about Nick?
“He’s nice. We went up to see his parents’ house in Birmingham. His dad gave us a lift to the station is his car. He’s really nice, his dad.”
The crowd begins to thin.
“Coming again tomorrow?”
Say goodnight, Nick.